Want to be a Great HR Professional in 5 Years? Master These 4 Skills

September 25, 2017

These are the skills HR professionals need to learn to stay ahead over the next five years.

There’s arguably no department that has more to gain over the next five years than human resources (and it’s many related functions, like learning and development and recruiting).

Virtually every expert we talked to for our future skills campaign said something along these lines: there will be a lot of change over the next five years that’ll require “mentally agile” people to accommodate that need. Unfortunately, those people are hard to recruit and even harder to keep around.

That’s where HR can step in. It’s on HR to build the types of people processes that are essential to recruiting and engaging great talent over the next five years. It just requires a highly refined skillset.

What are those skills exactly? To find out we consulted with these four HR leaders:

  • Catherine Mattice Zundel, an international HR consultant and president of Civility Partners. 
  • Katherine Sharon, a leadership development consultant with more than 20 years of experience in talent management.
  • Wayne Cascio, a professor at the University of Colorado and a former chairman of SHRM who has authored or edited 28 books on HR management.
  • Joanne Simon-Walters, a director of strategic HR business at the International Capital & Management Company and a keynote speaker.

The four highlighted several skills that – thanks to changes in both market conditions and demographics – will become increasingly more important to HR professionals over the next five years. They are:

1. Strategy

The most important on this list. HR departments need to transcend tactical tasks that’ll increasingly become automated – payroll, compliance, etc. – and act as strategic partners to the business.

“HR professionals must not wait for permission,” Zundel said. “Stop this whole conversation about a seat at the table! Please! Just sit down. Prove your worth by operating like a business partner rather than a cost center. Tell it like it is, and don’t take no for an answer when you know something has to be a certain way in order for the company to be successful.”

This really comes down to understanding the needs of the business and seeing how HR fits in, Simon-Walters said.

“HR leaders who understand the organization’s strategies and products and services can target processes, programs and structures to provide direct support and not get in the way,” she said. “HR teams with a business mindset can target hiring, manage talent and develop leaders in a way that has the most impact.”

Big picture – for years, HR felt like a necessary evil; a department filled of forms and burdensome processes. That can no longer happen. Today and moving forward, HR needs to understand what the organization’s people needs are and develop data-backed solutions that solve for them.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach that skill:

2. Developing leaders

Leadership is so important to recruiting and engaging employees. And yet leaders are retiring at a historic rate, forcing millennials and others with no management experience into the role of boss.

It’s up to HR and their related departments (i.e. L&D) to overcome this challenge. A person with no management experience doesn’t know what it takes to be a great manager; it’s up to HR to teach them.

“In growing organizations, leaders need to play the dual role of executing the business strategy as well as motivating and inspiring their teams,” Simon-Walters said. “It’s hard to balance. HR needs to identify the critical skill gaps and develop managers and leaders quickly in innovative ways without relying on the traditional training approach.”

Zundel agreed, saying this is clearly an area where HR can become that strategic partner highlighted in the first point.

“For example, in HR we’re all talking about killing the annual performance evaluation,” Zundel said. “What we mean by that is things change so much in a year that annual isn’t nearly enough, and managers shouldn’t be evaluating. Managers should be having ongoing, regular, collaborative conversations not only about how the employee is performing, but what the manager and organization could be doing to help them perform better, feel valued and grow professionally. Employees get to evaluate the organization and the manager just as the manager gets to evaluate them – but HR is responsible for leading that charge.”

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach that skill:

3. Creating a dynamic, engaging culture

Creating a great work culture isn’t some aspirational buzzword; it’s an essential part of any winning organization moving forward. And HR plays an essential role in building that culture through its people processes.

“The right culture fosters innovation, promotes inclusion, engages employees and contributes to business success,” Simon-Walters said. “It’s what makes the company tick. HR can set in motion the creation of company values, programs and leadership practices to build a unique culture that becomes a company’s competitive advantage.”

What are those processes, exactly? Zundel said it starts with going from compliance-focused to being people-focused.

“For example, yes, you have to do sexual harassment training if you’re in California,” she said. “But don’t do it because it’s compliance, do it because you want to teach people how to have respectful positive relationships and make that the focus of the training. Yes, you have to give people time off, but stop focusing the process of time of requests and approvals, and start focusing on the fact that time off shows employees you care about their work/life balance. Change your lens from compliance and rules to creating a workplace focused on people.”

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach that skill:

4. Instilling diversity and inclusion

Going along with the last point, you can’t build a high-performing culture if your workforce is homogenous. Not only is diversity the right thing to do and the expectation of top talent, research shows diverse teams outperform ones that are less diverse.

The problem? The majority of people don’t discriminate intentionally. They discriminate subconsciously, which makes it very hard for them to stop – unless HR leads the way with awareness and training, Simon-Walters said.

 “HR’s role is to assess the current environment, educate leaders and employees, build processes and programs to raise awareness of these issues and ensure that the environment is an inclusive, respectful and welcoming one,” she said.

Zundel made the point that diversity and inclusion doesn’t just cover race or gender. It also means curbing bullying in the workforce – something that happens far too often and can affect any employee.

“People are demanding they be treated with respect, and you have to deliver,” Zundel said. “You also can’t ignore all of the research around the value of employee engagement and positive work environments. It really does have a positive impact on the bottom line. Creating positive culture means using the core values in everything. All. The. Time.”

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach that skill:

The takeaway

The next five years will be tremendously challenging for HR pros. As any HR pro already knows, change can often cause great angst among employees. And the world of work will change faster than ever over the next five years, meaning an all-time high of employee angst – if it isn’t handled correctly.

To avoid that, HR needs to be proactive. And that means adopting a strategic mindset, where processes aren’t instilled to avoid lawsuits, but to drive business results.

The following four skills speak to that. By implementing them, HR pros not only will gain a seat at the table – they’ll become arguably the most critical department to the organizations they serve.

This article is part of a series on the future of skills that you and your team will need to succeed moving forward. Our other articles cover:

Topics