Critical Human Resource Competencies in the Next Decade

Linda Gravett, Ph.D, SPHR

I was curious about what my colleagues in the Human Resources field think about the skills and competencies we'll need to be successful in the next ten years. So in October, November, and December of 2000, I interviewed 100 colleagues across the U.S. in various types of companies. In this article, I'd like to share with you the results of those interviews, in which communication and building collaboration were the competencies rated highest as being critical for the next decade.

The competency that surfaced first and foremost as important was the ability to communicate effectively. This competency isn't simply verbal virtuosity; it's the ability to clearly and convincingly express one's thoughts, ideas, and perspectives in several types of settings and to a diverse group of people.

Today's HR professional, the interviewees said, must be able to express ideas and perspectives in a variety of sophisticated contexts. We're called upon as internal consultants to advise and guide line managers as well as CEO's about issues ranging from legal compliance to building a collaborative team environment. We need to be active listeners so that we clearly understand the requests and problems of our internal customers. Our communication competency doesn't stop with active listening and verbal agility; we must also possess the ability to write letters, reports, and policies that colleagues within and outside the HR field can understand.

Human Resource practitioners also find themselves in the position of persuading others - to follow a policy or guidelines, perhaps, or engage in coaching for their staff. The ability to understand another's position and select words that will compel that person to change their viewpoint or behavior is a critical communication competency mentioned by those I interviewed.

The communications competency also includes public speaking, either in formal or informal settings. I asked the HR practitioners about the contexts in which they engaged in public speaking, and there were many:

  • In-house seminars: facilitating or introducing workshop facilitators
  • Staff meetings: presenting ideas, new policies, or trend updates
  • Presenting at external meetings, such as professional association conferences, to share their organization's best practices

A close "second" among the competencies noted is the ability to foster teamwork and collaboration. This competency encompasses building rapport with staff and colleagues, treating people at all levels with respect, and drawing on the entire team's talents and expertise.

After talking with this group of HR practitioners, I realized how necessary it is for us in this field to act as a catalyst to bring together and promote the idea generation of those within our organization who have creative approaches, perspectives, and expertise. In our profession, we're in a unique position to understand our organization's long-term objectives and to recruit, select, and develop those people who can help the organization meet those objectives. Our role is to coach line managers to become effective mentors and guides so they, who have the most influence on line staff, can elicit the contributions that all employees have the potential to offer.

As our organization's internal consultant on the development of employees, we often find that building trust is as necessary as teaching team techniques like affinity diagramming or multi-voting. Before team members employ these techniques, we have to compel them to attend meetings in the first place and come with a willingness to work alongside people in other departments or divisions, or who serve different functions within the organization. The Human Resource professionals I interviewed indicated that the ability to craft effective ways for employees to learn about each other, such as "brown bag" lunches; highlights about employees in newsletters; and informal social activities is a critical component of the HR person's role.

Have a look at your job description. Is there a section on competencies, in addition to a functional description and listing of tasks? Are Communications and Fostering Collaboration included as competencies?


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