What are the Skills HR Professionals Need to Develop?


The lens on HR continues to intensify. McKinsey talks about the G3 the group of three Executives at the top of the company the CEO, the CFO and the CHRO. But how does a CHRO partner successfully with a CEO and the rest of the executive team?

That's the topic for this week's episode of the Digital Leaders podcast, David and our guest Jill Larsen, Chief People Officer at Medidata discuss how to transform HR to drive more business value. Jill has over 20 years’ experience in senior HR roles in companies like Cisco, EMC and SunGard. So, she is ideally placed to talk about how the role of the CHRO has changed.

This episode is a must listen for anyone working in HR or Business Leaders who want more from their CHROs and people functions.

In this extract taken from their conversation, Jill and David discuss a topic dear to all of our hearts and that’s the changing nature of HR skills and in particular the skills and capabilities that as a Chief People Officer she looks for in her HR function.

The Human Resources profession needs to change. It must become more digital and analytical to deliver greater business value. The digital age has brought with it sweeping changes to the way that employees and workers interact with each other, the way that work itself gets done and the amount of workplace data that when analysed properly can create tremendous amounts of value for organisations.

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As a consequence, there is an increasing need for HR professionals to become digitally and numerically literate – to acquire the skills necessary to process, produce and leverage digital information. When HR professionals, as core Business Partners, are analytically and digitally more literate, they will possess skills that will put their organisation in the best possible position to deliver greater value to all stakeholders.

Earlier this year, myHRfuture conducted a study looking into the critical skills HR professionals felt they needed to build, in order to be able to fully support the business through this period of transformation. You can download our white paper on the HR skills of the future to learn more on our findings.

While topics such as People Analytics and digital HR are discussed at length in academia and the business press, we also found in our skills of the future research that consulting and influencing, and stakeholder management were two skill areas that HR professionals felt were critical to succeed in a digital world. With the changing nature of the role of HR and the requirement to bring senior business partners along this transformation journey, such skills are a necessity in order gain buy-in and trust. Similarly, as Jill outlines the skills she feels are a necessity for her HR function, she advocates the need for her HR function to possess a blend of people that are both strategic but also really understand business consulting.

“It is a lost art of being able to consult and actually influence and do change management. There's also some element of negotiation and conflict management because HR and the role requires that there are some checks and balances and so you do have to say no sometimes to Executives who really don't expect you to say no and so the ability to do that I think is critical.”

According to Deloitte, People Analytics is now becoming much more mainstream, with 69% of companies reporting that they now have a dedicated People Analytics function. However, it was clear from our research that People Analytics remains one of the most in-demand knowledge areas among survey respondents, primarily because there is a lack of readiness in this area. Organisational leaders, like Jill, are looking to HR functions, and its people analytics teams to leverage people data and storytelling to derive insight that in turn drives business value and action. 

“I think analytics and storytelling around data is critically important. So, as you're looking at things what is it telling you? What trends is it telling you? I would take the curiosity even more on how do I connect the dots around disparate parts of the portfolio of HR and this data in HR. So, where am I? Who are the people that are most likely to leave my company? How do I know that? Are there certain leaders that have higher turnover rates? Why is that? Is that a leadership intervention issue? Is it a recruiter issue? What are the things? And really just taking a look at having some baseline metrics in your business thinking about that.”

As HR continues to evolve and embrace this digital transformation, we’re beginning to see a rise in speciality roles within the HR function, such as corporate social responsibility and recruiting, while other roles may start to be automated such as sourcing.

“And so I think for HR, there are a lot of specialty roles. I still think that compensation is going to be an area of specialisation. Benefits may be more in the international realm than I'd say in the US but wellness and some of the places we're going there. CSR has become a real specialisation there's a lot of possible strategic elements of that for the HR function. Recruiting I think is really interesting and is changing a lot because you've got all these sourcing tools now out there. I think the sourcing role is probably really going to go away and it'll be automated in a lot of ways. That's going to take a little bit longer with natural language processing and things, but I think it's going to happen. And then I think the role of the recruiter really is going to be necessary... It doesn't matter if these tools can find you if you get inundated with five emails, you're not going to care. If you don't answer emails, you still need a human to find you and then get you to come in the door or show up for the virtual meeting or whatever it is.”

We found through our research that not only are the skills required of HR changing but the way that individuals prefer to learn is evolving. It was revealed that the most important source of acquiring knowledge and skills is ‘blogs, social media, conferences and free video content’. However, most surprisingly, only around half of respondents are using training content provided by their company as a source of learning. This is a shift that Jill has observed in her role as CHRO for Medidata

“Learning is a really interesting area for us, lots of digital learning, thinking differently about how much... People don't want to sit down and go for 2 days to some place. They want to be able to do it on their own time. They want to do it on demand. A lot of your traditional Learning Management folks don't know how to do that..”

So being able to provide HR with not only the learning material required to build these skills but also the ability to learn in a way that best suits their needs, is imperative to upskilling your HR function with the skills required for success.

The HR technology market has exploded with a dramatic increase in new tools and vendors in recent years, many with machine learning capabilities, that are presenting new challenges for the HR function to evaluate and implement new technology. Leaders like Jill are recognising the opportunities that this growth in HR technology brings with it too, but also that it requires a new set of technical skills that haven’t historically been present within the HR function:

“There's a real opportunity for specialisation therefore folks that really understand APIs and have multiple HRIS' and ATS experience and can really think through how do we look at that ecosystem? How do we partner with our IT organisations and the CIO?. CIOs have a lot of power now in many organisations to make decisions around HR technology. So, partnering and collaborating is critically important.”

Every part of the HR function is evolving which brings with it many exciting and new opportunities as well as a few challenges. As we continue down this path “where we're reorganising, we're upskilling we're re-skilling leaders, we're all transforming, we're all digitising”, the skills landscape is really changing. Therefore, it’s important to build a team and function that has a blend of tactical, strategic and technical skills.

To learn more about the HR skills of the future, download our white paper today.  

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The myHRfuture academy is a learning experience platform for HR professionals looking to invest in their careers. Join now to get unlimited access to all of our online training courses on topics such as People Analytics, Digital HR and HR Technology, Workforce Planning and Design Thinking.


Ian Bailie is the Managing Director of myHRfuture.com and an advisor and consultant for start-ups focused on HR technology and People Analytics, including Adepto, Worklytics and CognitionX. In his previous role as the Senior Director of People Planning, Analytics and Tools at Cisco Systems, he was responsible for delivering the tools and insights to enable and transform the planning, attraction and management of talent across the organisation globally. Ian is passionate about HR technology and analytics and how to use both to transform the employee experience and prepare companies for the Future of Work.