Six Competencies for Human Resources Professionals

 Six Competencies for Human Resources Professionals

It is no secret that our economic world is undergoing strong and dynamic changes. Human Resources Management is right in the middle of it all.

Companies are struggling to compete against aggressive and nimble competitors.  Within the company, professional disciplines such as Human Resources are being pressured to deliver more than administrative perfection.  They are expected to become business allies and strategic architects that directly help line managers do their job and generate above average returns. The alternative, from the leadership perspective, is for HR’s functions to be minimized, digitalized, outsourced, or otherwise marginalized.  

Fortunately, progressive thinking business leaders are demanding, and getting, more value from their HR teams.

 University of Michigan Professor David Ulrich proposes six competencies that Human Resources professionals must master if they are going to provide a value-added service within their organization.  They are:  

  • Credible Activist
  • Cultural Steward
  • Talent Manager/Organizational Designer
  • Operational Executor
  • Business Ally
  • Strategic Architect

This overview will focus on two of the competencies: Business Ally & Strategic Architect.  Future articles will concentrate on the remaining four competencies.

 Business Ally

A Human Resources business ally is one who knows well how the company makes money, its state of financial and non-financial health, why our customers buy from us, and our competitive advantage.  They are, above all, business professionals first who then specialize in Human Resources.

HR professionals are masters of their technical specialties such as recruiting and compensation.  But they also know how to link their work to the objectives of the company and the business plan.  For example, well crafted compensation schemes are used to attract, hire and retain the high quality people who work for us. The design of such a program considers not only the costs, but the relationship between those employee costs and the company’s ability to generate acceptable profit margins and its desired market share. A higher cost of labor reduces profitability factors.  Business allies know this and can now generate options to reduce labor costs for line managers to consider.

HR business allies are fluent in the language of business and the functions that they support.  In order to support a production facility, they must understand how it produces a product that is valued by the customer and at a price that the customer is willing to pay. In order to fulfill this obligation, business allies focus their work so that the production managers can achieve their objectives.  

Strategic Architect

A strategic architect does not merely do the work that others have assigned to it. Strategic architects are business partners who align HR functions to the business strategies. Human Resources architects help to define how the company will react to changing market, economic and social conditions within its industry.  They have the ability to recognize local and global trends that impact their business and respond accordingly.  For example, digital imaging is fast replacing film for cameras and e-publishing is replacing printed books and magazines. Strategic architects within those two industries acknowledge these trends and factor them into the business plan. HR then modifies its recruiting, hiring, compensation and training functions to meet the new realities.  

What can HR do to prove that they are business allies and strategic architects?  

  • They must define the desired HR outcomes that are valued by line managers and CEOs.  The work that HR does for a production department must directly relate to whether or not the production manager achieves his goals in whatever manner they are defined.
  • They must measure and communicate the value created by HR activity that is meaningful to the recipients.  For example, it is the responsibility of a warehouse supervisor to arrange for the efficient scheduling, loading and unloading of delivery trucks.  It is the responsibility of the HR manager to insure that the warehouse supervisor has the proper number of people to do the work when scheduled and who are properly trained, compensated, and led for their work.   
  • They must master basic business finance and how HR decisions impact the company’s financial performance.  Financial awareness does not always lead to a correct decision.  However, without understanding the quantitative side of business, qualitative arguments will not be seen as very credible.
  • Stop talking about being a business partner and strategic architect.  Just do it.  This typically requires HR personnel to step outside their experience level and increase their business and financial literacy. All professional disciplines must be able to read and understand their company’s financial statements so that they can link their work to those pressure points that govern executive decision making.  

Six Competencies for Human Resources Practitioners – Part II


University of Michigan Professor David Ulrich proposes six competencies that Human Resources professionals must master if they are going to provide a value-added service to their organization.  A previous article examined the competencies of a strategic architect and business ally to the business.  This article examines the competencies of a credible activist and a cultural steward.

Credible Activist

A Human Resources credible activist focuses his work on relevant actions and desired results, and not just on theory and academic  intellectualism. In addition to the traditional and transactional work that HR departments must perform flawlessly, HR’s credibility is significantly enhanced when their results of these activities have a direct impact on the performance metrics of other disciplines that HR supports, such as production, sales and marketing.   

A credible HR activist must speak the language of the department managers that he/she is supporting. This includes understanding the basic concepts of production schedules, inventory controls, accounts receivable, and basic balance sheet and income statement calculations.  By speaking the same language, individuals can build trusting relationships that can influence others in a manner that is beneficial to both parties, to the organization, to the customers, and to the owners. 

Credible HR activists share information not only about what needs to be done from their perspective, but how it will benefit both parties.  

For example, if HR wishes to purchase a significantly improved, but expensive, software package, it must justify the expense by showing how it will benefit not only HR, but multiple managers and executives within the company.  This could include improved security relevant to personnel data, ease of controlled data access for managers in remote locations, reduction of payroll errors, and skills development data on a manager’s employees. 

A credible activist has a strong internal value or ethics system that helps to keep the organization and its people away from temptations that could lead to fraud, safety violations, corruption, non-compliance, and dishonesty. The temptations to cut corners in order to improve or maintain selected performance standards often leads to poor decisions that adversely impacts everyone.

Cultural Steward

A cultural steward recognizes and helps shape the company’s culture, which in turn is heavily impacted by the national culture in which the company resides. They do this by helping employees navigate the culture.  In the United States, there are four generations working together in the same company.  In the wrong hands, this can be a recipe for conflict.  Each generation views life and work differently from the others.  Yet a cultural steward will bridge these differing viewpoints by leading development skills and turn potential conflict into opportunities for success. 

Cultural stewards recognize multiple cultures that may exist within an organization and use them to provide a more positive environment for their employees, e.g. young-old, male-female, risk taking-risk averse, etc.    These cultures are neither good nor bad – just different.  National cultural norms of Turkey, for example, may be significantly different that the cultural norms of Japan, Germany, or the United States.  HR cultural stewards are aware of these differences and help all employees to adapt successfully. 

They encourage open dialogue when change is apparent or when conflict arises.  They help shape productive problem-solving methods of the organization and the people who work there. 

Human Resources is developing its active leadership role not only by performing its administrative duties flawlessly, but by guiding other departments create an environment whereby its people can also do their work perfectly and to the best of their ability.



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