HR Competencies that Drive Organizational Excellence

September 06, 2022

Dr. David Ulrich walks us through the five HR core competencies that HR pros should master to drive their organizations forward.

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Human resources professionals are expected to guide employees through every stage of their unique career lifecycles while creating an organizational culture that inspires productivity. This requires mastery of a diverse set of technical and people skills. While you’re focused on others’ professional development, it can be challenging to define a path of your own. Take a look at these five HR core competencies as a framework to drive personal growth and organizational excellence.

What are HR Competencies?

HR competencies are the essential skills and knowledge an HR professional needs to be successful in their role, including both technical abilities and behavioral skills. Core competencies are often broader skillsets that can then be distilled down into more actionable and specific requirements tailored to a role or organization. Defining HR core competencies, and the subsequent related behaviors, can help you design an HR competency model or framework. Organizations can then use this framework to assess strengths and areas of improvement for HR team members and set the foundation for upskilling and reskilling.

Understanding the critical skills and competencies for HR mastery is more imperative than ever. In the last few years, organizations have seen that without employee engagement and retention strategies, success markers stagnate, which puts HR front and center of organizational success. An efficient and motivated workforce keeps organizations agile, and HR professionals are uniquely qualified to play the role of facilitator. 

“In the world we live in, the environment is changing so quickly that the things that we have been historically doing right are now the wrong things, but we keep trying to do what we once did well,” says Dr. David Ulrich, HR speaker, author, and co-founder of the RBL Group. “Now is the time for HR to step up and really reinvent ourselves.” 

5 HR Competencies for Maximizing HR Effectiveness

We can use Dr. Ulrich’s actionable model to explore five key HR competencies that maximize a team’s effectiveness in shaping business results: 

  1. Accelerate business
  2. Advance human capability
  3. Simplify complexity
  4. Mobilize information
  5. Foster collaboration

1. Accelerate Business

Today, HR’s role and responsibilities are far more expansive than they’ve ever been and are intricately linked to organizational outcomes. Therefore, it’s vital HR embraces a mindset that not only encompasses ongoing tasks like recruitment and payroll, but also considers HR’s impact on the organization’s end results.

Human resource professionals need to keep an eye on competitors while also generating business insights that empower the organization to advance. But it shouldn’t stop there. HR teams must be adept at building influence among organizational leadership to make sure things don’t just change and get done, but that the right things change and get done to create a more agile organization.

Upskill Your HR Competency: HR professionals need to zoom out and see the big picture to connect what they do with how it impacts their organization. Organizational culture has been intrinsically tied to achieving organizational outcomes. In fact, Dr. Ulrich’s HRC2S study found that culture is one of four capabilities that provide value for stakeholders.

One tactic to build culture is leveraging HR technology that embeds culture into the employee experience. Introduce culture during the hiring process by using video communication tools to personalize team introductions. Use an employee collaboration platform to encourage peer-to-peer recognition and facilitate connection through common interests and goals.

2. Advance Human Capability

Organizational outcomes depend on human capability. HR professionals must build a framework around human capability standards to derive insights on how talent, leadership, organization, and HR practices work together to create value. Why does this matter? In 2022, HR needs industry-wide standards for measuring impact so that leadership (HR and otherwise) can make better decisions about who, what, and how to invest time and energy.

For HR professionals, the new normal is all about practical creativity. It means getting in the trenches and delivering solutions and strategies to develop individual talent and elevate organizational performance. Plus, it includes championing diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility in tangible ways that improve business outcomes.

Upskill Your HR Competency: HR professionals can start advancing human capability by performing an effectiveness audit of your HR department. Use Dave Ulrich’s Nine Dimensions of an Effective HR Department to check the health of your HR functionality and measure against the four stages of delivering value. Once you have a clear view of your efficacy, you can create a roadmap for making improvements.

3. Simplify Complexity

The last few years have been complicated, to say the least. HR departments have had to rise to the occasion repeatedly, navigating a global pandemic, shifting work environments, and attracting and retaining talent during historic employment fluctuations. HR must be skilled at sifting through complex situations and guiding thinking towards the best solutions. That way, the organization can not only function, but also thrive.

HR teams excel when they can think critically and objectively about their organization’s challenges and then separate the signal from the noise to discover opportunities and competitive advantages amid those challenges.

Upskill Your HR Competency: One of the best ways for HR to simplify is to lean on automation to offset administrative burden, freeing up time and resources to focus on the bigger picture. Part of filtering through the noise is eliminating distractions. If your current HR and payroll solution includes manual functionality and lays all steps on HR’s shoulders, it’s time to upgrade.

Look for an HRIS solution that streamlines your HR workflow through automated processes. Invest in an employee self service portal that encourages workers, instead of HR teams, to manage their own information. An intelligent HR analytics dashboard can provide real-time reports that eliminates manual data-crunching and gives you and your team more time for critical thinking, strategy, and ultimately, simplification.

4. Mobilize Information

HR professionals often wear many hats, but one of the most vital contributions you make to your organization is mobilizing information. Ultimately, you synthesize the art and science of information sharing to drive business outcomes. Not only does HR have to effectively gather and store data, but it also must interpret, communicate, and implement change based on evolving data sets.

HR needs to be comfortable accessing and capturing HR metrics that empower leaders to home in on tailored, relevant human capital strategies. By leading with data, organizations can identify employee patterns — retention rates, employee satisfaction, time to productivity — on a level that leads to impactful changes and better results.

Upskill Your HR Competency: As Dr. Ulrich recommends, HR must incorporate more than just benchmarking and best practices. Instead of only comparing your organization to others, consider what you can do to level up your skillset. Measure your success based on where your organization was last year, not just where your competitors and peers are now. A great place to start is to design and distribute employee surveys to find out what’s working, and where the organization needs to focus its attention. Then continue to use employee feedback to measure the impact of your initiatives.

5. Foster Collaboration

Dr. Ulrich’s research on HR department efficacy found that a collaborative and positive relationship between HR and all stakeholders—investors, leadership, employees, etc. — fostered better outcomes. And in 2022, when HR efficacy hinges on whether the organization thrives, it’s in HR’s best interest to prioritize and facilitate collaboration.

HR leaders must know how to build and nurture a collaborative environment. However, it takes more than people skills to accomplish this. According to Dr. Ulrich, fostering collaboration requires self-awareness, the ability to build trust and inspire, and a knack for building relationships that bring people together.

Upskill Your HR Competency: Take some time to evaluate your relationship-building strategy. Dr. Ulrich suggests developing specific skills to ensure your efforts to build a collaborative environment land. There are six to master—share a common purpose; respect differences; govern, accept, and connect; care for the other; share experiences together; and grow together.

Identifying a common purpose for your organization and the people in it is a great first step. Ask what you’re all working towards? Is it improving employee satisfaction? Is it offering the best customer service in your region? Is it reaching new levels of organizational performance? Use common purpose as a north star to build a collaborative culture.

How to Develop HR Skills

Knowing the essential HR core competencies that make a good HR professional are great, but how can teams improve their skills and apply this to their day-to-day?

Just as those in HR help the workforce through training and talent development, HR professionals need to take the same approach to their growth and invest in themselves. Dr. Ulrich emphasizes that HR professionals can expand their horizons by stepping out of their comfort zones and being intentional about exercising curiosity and creativity. He recommends following the “50/30/20” approach and allotting time to specific HR skills and competencies.

  • 50%: Dedicate 50% of your time to getting out of your comfort zone by pursuing new experiences across the organization. For instance, consider joining a task force for an emerging market or new product under development. “Don’t just sit and do what you’ve always done. Learn from experience,” advises Dr. Ulrich.
  • 30%: Get involved in development and training initiatives that aren’t “tourist activities.” Be intentional about exploring how training is done differently in different departments and regions and make it collaborative.  Have teams or customers attend, invite business leaders to present, and lean into opportunities to involve a wider variety of participants and teachers. 
  • 20%: Learn outside of work. “Increasingly today, the boundaries between work and life get blurred,” says Dr.  Ulrich. He encourages HR professionals to explore new things. “I have a friend who loves to repaint her walls. She’s constantly trying to discover new signs and visions and images,” he says. So don’t hold back. Feed your curiosity, exercise your creativity, and watch as it transforms how you approach your job. 

HR Competencies are at the Forefront

Mounting research clearly shows that HR plays a key role in adapting to new changes and business challenges if companies hope to achieve organizational excellence. In fact, companies with a strong HR function are more likely to innovate and profit, not to mention be better positioned for growth, retention, diversity and inclusion, and a host of other areas critical in today's modern workforce.

“On the one hand we’re facilitators, architects, and advisors on the digital business strategy,” said Dr. Ulrich, “and on the other hand, we’re using digital technology and HR not just to be more efficient, not just to be innovative, but to really provide information that helps the business succeed.” 

It’s critical for teams to master these HR competencies to drive organizational growth in this era of change. Take the open seat at the table and rise to the challenge of harnessing data and technology to lead organizations into tomorrow — while keeping people at the core of everything you do.

Learn more about how to fortify your organization with the right strategies by downloading your free copy of 6 Ways to Future-Proof Today with HR and Payroll Solutions.

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