13 Future HR Skills You Need to Start Building Now

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13 Future HR Skills You Need to Start Building Now

The dynamic reality we live and work in requires HR professionals to develop new skills if they want to contribute to their organization’s goals and help their businesses thrive. While HR skills like HRM expertise, strategy creation & execution, teamwork, reporting skills, and commercial awareness are not going anywhere, HR practitioners need to be deliberate about future-proofing their skill sets.

Let’s have a look at 13 future HR skills you need to start building now!

Contents
The need for future HR skills
1. Change management and change consulting 
2. Risk management
3. People analytics
4. Stakeholder management
5. Management of strategic deals and alliances
6. Integrating cultural differences
7. Ethics and data privacy
8. Critical and systems thinking
9. Negotiation skills
10. Inter-departmental collaboration
11. Resilience and being SAFE
12. Project management
13. Organizational design

The need for future HR skills

As an HR practitioner, you are creating strategies to build and retain a robust and diverse workforce that will help your organization succeed while juggling administrative and compliance tasks. This leaves you little time to look ahead and consider what skills you need to start developing now to be successful on your HR career path.

However, this should still be a top priority for HR practitioners.

According to a report by IBM, 70% of HR executives say that the HR function is ripe for reinvention. Research from BCG has found that HR is one of the highly disrupted industries in terms of skills. That means that HR roles and the skills they require have changed rapidly and significantly, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

And according to our AIHR competency research, only 41% of HR professionals are able to improve efficiency and drive business value through skilled use of technology and data.     

What’s more, about 40% of work-related skills will change by 2025, and 85% of organizations have picked up the pace of their digitization since the start of the pandemic. It is clear that a lot (more) is already expected of HR compared to a few years ago.

Because of the accelerated needs of the business, as well as HR’s central role in upskilling the workforce and supporting the business through these changes, HR needs to change first. And this means that HR professionals need to upskill in order to drive that change.

Changes such as digitalizing and automating administrative processes, creating new HR operating models, and boosting employee experience, for instance. With the right skills, you can be the key to advancing your organization to a new era of work, tackle workforce issues with confidence, and become your best HR self.

So what are the skills that will help you do that?

Let’s dive in.

1. Change management and change consulting 

Organizational change has become a constant in companies today. If this wasn’t already the case before Covid, then it certainly is now. Org change comes in many different shapes and sizes:

  • implementing new technology;
  • changing organizational design and structure from, for instance, divisional to matrix;
  • cultural transformation;
  • creating a new department;
  • redesigning a process;
  • etc. 

No matter the size or extent of the organizational change, it’s necessary for HR professionals to understand at least the basics of change management and to develop change management skills so that they will be able to lead and support the changes happening in their company.

Future relevance

Digital transformation is an ongoing process, not a destination. Change is the new normal, and HR professionals need to be prepared.

Looking at the increasing frequency of changes within organizations, it isn’t hard to see why change management is an important skill to have in your future-proof HR toolkit. 

Just think about the shift to hybrid work, the continuous rise of digitalization, the need for massive up- and reskilling of people, or the impending arrival of the metaverse in the workplace

In all of these cases, HR will need to help employees navigate change. For example, they’ll need to deal with resistance, provide training on new technologies and/or processes, and communicate the need for the change and the change process itself.

“Change has always and will always have two sides of the coin. There’s a technical side of the coin. How do we design, develop, and deliver the solution to meet the issue or opportunity in front of us? And then there’s the people side of the coin. How do we ensure that people engage, adopt, and use the solution we brought forward?remarks Tim Creasey, Chief Innovation Officer at Prosci, on our podcast All About HR.

“[B]oth HR and change management run into this misconception that … the people side of change is the soft side of change. But oh, no, it’s by far the much harder side,” he concludes.

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How to develop change management skills

What you can do right now:

Please note that we have not tried this course and other courses mentioned in this article ourselves, with the exception of AIHR’s courses.

​​2. Risk management

Risk management for HR is about analyzing the risks that a complex workforce might pose to the business. This then enables HR professionals to prevent issues or resolve them quickly if they do arise.

Now, what is a complex workforce? Pretty much any workforce in today’s world of work comprising a combination of ‘traditional’ employees, contractors, temps, and other contingent workers who may or may not be working remotely across multiple locations with different laws and regulations.

Risk management also comes with scenario planning in a form of regular multidisciplinary workshops in which HR is actively involved. Various scenarios are being run to prepare for what the future holds. For example, what if half of our workforce becomes unable to work due to another pandemic? Or what if our frontline workers can’t come to work anymore because of a global energy crisis?

“I haven’t met many HR functions which are running scenario planning. And the reason I’ve been given, which I think is a ridiculous reason, is that people don’t want to be scared,” says Naomi Stanford, Organization Design author & consultant. However, scenario planning is very helpful for future-proofing your workforce and your organization.

Future relevance

According to a survey by Deloitte, identifying and managing new risks is a priority for 61% of organizations in terms of risk management. 

As such, we’re seeing a shift when it comes to HR’s involvement in risk management. Where (before Covid) organizations would often ask their HR people ‘What has happened and how did we react to it?’ they are now increasingly asking them ‘What do you think is going to happen and how can we prepare for that?’ 

In other words, HR’s involvement was previously more from a compliance point of view and is now moving towards a planning ahead kind of role; hence the relevance of this skill for future-looking HR professionals.

How to develop risk management skills

What you can do right now:

  • Download an HR audit template to start identifying key risk areas of your people processes
  • Find peers with experience in risk management and have a (virtual) coffee with them to hear about their experience
  • Team up with a department in your organization that is experienced in risk management, or a dedicated risk manager, to organize a workshop on the basics of risk management for your HR team
  • If you’re part of an HR community, drop the question in there (and if you aren’t part of an HR community yet, join one!)
Future HR Skills

3. People analytics

No, not every HR professional needs to become a people analytics specialist. A certain understanding, however, of the value data can bring to the organization and the ability to demonstrate this are important. So is the ability to use the insights gained from this data to make data-driven decisions. 

This is the essence of evidence-based HR, the practice of making decisions supported by data to help ensure that you can reach the desired business outcomes.

Future relevance

As more and more organizations become data-driven, so do HR departments. In a recent report, BCG puts it this way: 

“People Analytics is becoming more and more integral to HR professionals, as better data are available inside and outside the company on current and prospective employees, skill levels, career paths, and the results of new ways of working. Thus, data skills are increasingly requested across many HR roles.” 

BCG also reports that companies see the growing importance of these topics and that they are actively looking for HR colleagues who possess people analytics skills, among others. Companies are increasingly investing in HR Analytics tools – the market is likely to grow from $2.8 to $9 billion within the next ten years.

Examples of emerging data skills in HR mentioned in the BCG report are Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, and KPIs.

How to develop people analytics skills

What you can do right now:

4. Stakeholder management

As HR is moving more and more from an administrative to a strategic role, stakeholder management is gaining importance in creating effective people strategies. Stakeholder management refers to building and maintaining relationships with people involved in or affected by your work activities.

HR professionals need to balance the interests of various stakeholders: different types of employees, managers, senior leadership, but also the wider society.

Future relevance

To successfully navigate work relationships and create impact, HR must build solid stakeholder management skills. These include stakeholder mapping and stakeholder engagement and communication. In short, relationship building with the stakeholders requires both empathy and the ability to deal with conflict.

Something else worth mentioning when it comes to stakeholder management is the ability of HR to influence both up and down the organizational ladder.

“If you don’t have that ability to influence and to communicate, to make a compelling argument and back it up and stand by it firmly, it’s going to be really hard,” observes Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify and Redefining HR Accelerator, and author of the best-selling book, Redefining HR.   

How to develop stakeholder management skills

What you can do right now:

5. Management of strategic deals and alliances

The management of strategic deals and alliances refers to partnerships, joint ventures, and mergers & acquisitions, among other things. 

An example of a strategic alliance/partnership is the one between Spotify and Uber. Both companies joined forces to improve the customer experience by offering personalized music to Uber riders.  

In all of these types of, often cross-border, collaboration, HR has a significant role to play. Take a situation in which two companies merge, for example. There will be a different way of working and culture in each organization. Not to mention the way each company approaches performance management, learning and development, compensation and benefits, etc.

The biggest risk – and therefore, a task for HR – perhaps lies in employee turnover. Studies show that approximately 50-75% of key managers leave voluntarily within two or three years after a company has been acquired. 

Aligning culture and HR processes such as the ones just mentioned takes time. It requires managing different types of collaboration in and outside the organization in order to implement and/or adjust existing HR practices.

 HR is one of the most disrupted industries in terms of skills.

– BCG

Future relevance

The number of mergers and acquisitions has increased significantly. Over 63 thousand transactions took place globally in 2021 compared to just over 50 thousand in the year before.

According to McKinsey, the M&A outlook is getting more complicated. This is due to, among other things, uncertainty about the geopolitical situation, rising inflation, and more regulatory scrutiny.  

However, as pointed out in the McKinsey article, even if we would see fewer mergers and acquisitions going forward, companies are then likely to move towards more strategic partnerships, joint ventures, and alliances instead. 

In other words, being able to manage strategic deals remains an important skill to have in your future-proof HR toolkit.

How to develop strategic deal management skills

What you can do right now:

6. Integrating cultural differences

In an increasingly globalized world, HR professionals need to understand how cultural differences impact the business, global interaction, and day-to-day team effectiveness.

Knowing how to manage cultural differences is also vital when you want to build truly inclusive and productive workplaces.  

Future relevance

You might think that integrating cultural differences is a minor concern because your company isn’t a large multi-national or based in multiple countries across different continents.

Nevertheless, you probably already have various nationalities and ethnicities represented in your organization. Or perhaps you work with gig workers and contractors based in another country or continent. 

Here at AIHR, for example, we are based in the Netherlands, but we have people from all over the world working at our company, and we’re still a scale-up.

Given the current situation on the job market and the difficulties that many companies encounter in trying to find talent, the likelihood of people with different cultural backgrounds joining your organization only increases.   

How to develop skills linked to the management of cultural differences

What you can do right now:

7. Ethics and data privacy

As we’ve seen above with people analytics, organizations and HR departments are becoming more and more data-driven. As such, they also collect more data on their candidates and employees. A good example of this is an employee listening strategy.  

This development sparks a need for HR professionals to understand the ethical implications of using data and to be people advocates. Ask yourself questions like: How do we ensure our organization doesn’t misuse the data it collects from its employees? How can we protect our employees from this?

Future relevance

We saw that data skills are increasingly requested across many Human Resources roles. From the moment companies start gathering data about their employees (or customers, for that matter), a discussion about ethics and data privacy should be held, and a policy should be put in place. 

Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends report also stresses the importance of ethics. It shows that 75% of organizations say that ethics related to the future of work are either important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months, while only 14% say that they are ready to address this.

As the demand for data skills keeps growing, so does the need for HR professionals with skills related to ethics and data privacy. This involves both the compliance and ethics parts, meaning that People teams will also need to develop knowledge of the (different local) laws and regulations around data privacy. 

How to develop skills linked to ethics and data privacy

What you can do right now:

8. Critical and systems thinking

Let’s start with a brief definition of each term: “Critical Thinking involves examining and challenging thoughts or ideas, while Systems Thinking focuses on examining the effects of actions or ideas on a system.”

Critical thinking is applied to, for example, interviewing new job applicants without bias and assessing large quantities of data to draw logical conclusions. Systems thinking helps HR see how different aspects of their function and their organization interact with and influence each other.

Both types of thinking can help HR professionals with problem-solving and enable them to deal with complexity. As such, they can become more flexible in their way of thinking, which allows them to find new solutions, make informed decisions, and be more effective. 

Future relevance

As we saw earlier, HR is becoming increasingly strategic. In strategic conversations (with internal business partners), critical thinking is central to the HR professional’s role.

There’s another reason why critical and systems thinking are indispensable for future-proof People teams. In today’s world, there is a lot of information available that HR professionals need to:

  • be able to view an issue from multiple angles,
  • identify relevant sources of information,
  • be aware of their own biases,
  • consider how various challenges are interconnected,
  • and be able to make the right decisions.

How to develop skills linked to critical and systems thinking

What you can do right now:

9. Negotiation skills

Another essential set of skills related to navigating relationships at work is negotiation skills. Disagreements are common in the workplace, whether they’re about processes, solutions, or goals. What’s more, the interests of the organization are not always 100% aligned with those of the workforce or job candidates.

HR professionals must be able to communicate effectively to achieve a result acceptable for all parties involved.

Future relevance

With the growing number of strategic partnerships, alliances, and joint ventures, and the importance of stakeholder management, the ability to negotiate at work will continue to increase.

When asked about their preferred capabilities for their people, CEOs, MDs, and Sales Directors have identified negotiation skills as their top preference.

Negotiation and persuasion skills are also important in recruitment – and will remain so in the future –  since they are unlikely to be automated, and the added value of the ‘human touch’ here is high.

How to develop negotiation skills

What you can do right now:

10. Inter-departmental collaboration

Many organizations are already familiar with the challenges created by organizational siloes. If HR departments are to work effectively, create impact, and add even more value, they will need to collaborate with other departments, such as IT, finance, marketing, communications, and PR.

When it comes to inter-departmental collaboration, the role of HR is not only to engage in such collaboration themselves but also to facilitate and drive this across the organization, enabling teams to work together. 

Future relevance

As more organizations are moving towards a remote/hybrid/multi-location way of working, inter-departmental collaboration becomes even more important. Furthermore, collaboration positively impacts the bottom line – it helps increase company sales by as much as 27%.

In some cases, this hybrid reality adds an extra dimension to the mix, namely that of asynchronous working. This, in turn, requires HR professionals to develop asynchronous communication skills to effectively serve their organization and facilitate a smooth inter-departmental collaboration for their and other departments.

How to develop skills related to inter-departmental collaboration

What you can do right now:

11. Resilience and being SAFE

HR professionals are under a lot of pressure. Since the start of the pandemic, they have continuously been in ‘crisis solving’ mode. As we speak, they are dealing with things like increasing workforce complexity in an unpredictable market. 

Organizational expectations of what HR teams should be able to do – now and in the near future – have never been higher.

Future relevance

Considering the challenges of recent years in combination with these high expectations, it’s no wonder that more and more studies show that a worryingly high percentage of HR professionals is on the verge of a burn-out (no less than 98%, according to a Forbes article).

Therefore, perhaps the single most important skill for HR to work on is building resilience. This, in combination with making sure they are in their best possible form both physically and mentally, is extremely important.

Julie Turney, the founder of [email protected] Consulting Inc., has come up with SAFE HR, a mini framework for HR practitioners to take care of themselves. SAFE is an acronym for:

  • Self-awareness
  • Act
  • Forgive
  • Educate

She held a heartfelt TED talk about being SAFE, which you can watch here, and also discussed why HR needs more support in the All About HR podcast.

In short, if HR professionals don’t take care of themselves first, they won’t be able to take care of the people in the rest of the organization. 

How to develop resilience

What you can do right now:

12. Project management

HR project management is about using and applying project management skills and principles for HR purposes to streamline work and achieve project goals. 

More specifically, project management for HR involves various types of projects. A project can, for example, be the development and roll-out of an employee listening strategy, the creation of a DEI dashboard, the implementation of an HRIS, or even organizing a team event.

Future relevance

Apart from specific HR projects, People teams are also becoming increasingly involved in strategic, organization-wide projects that could, for instance, impact how employees work.

For these projects to be successful, it’s important that HR professionals are able to scope the project realistically, divide tasks and oversee the execution, and implement learnings in their next project.

Human Resources professionals also need to have the skills to continuously improve and refine workflows and processes and eliminate redundancies within them. This continued iteration of HR processes is a different kind of project management and the key to long-term success. That’s where agile HR and lean HR project management approaches come into play.

How to develop project management skills

What you can do right now:

  • Read our HR Project Management Guide
  • Meet with experienced project managers within your company and ask them to share their learnings and tips 
  • Try following the project management methodology in your next small project, e.g. a team-building event for your People department
  • Learn how to design and implement an agile and project-based approach to HR with our Strategic HR Leadership Certificate Program

13. Organizational design

Organizational design is the creation of roles, processes, and structures to ensure that an organization can achieve its goals. HR plays an important role in this because they have insight into, among other things, work design, job design, and organizational culture. They can, therefore, act as a partner to the organization.

Given the challenges currently facing the business, the design, development, and implementation of operating models, processes, and technologies to enable organizational capability and delivery are skills that are going to be increasingly important for HR professionals. With these skills in place, HR practitioners will be better able to help their organization operate effectively in the ever-changing business environment.

Future relevance

Organizational design is among the top priorities for HR leaders in 2022. According to a survey from Gartner, 48% of the HR professionals surveyed indicated this is a priority for them.

Additionally, companies that have successfully undergone an organizational redesign experience meaningful improvements in many areas, such as performance management, business processes, governance, and culture.

Businesses often hire organizational design consultants to help them outline how their organization should be structured to improve performance. HR practitioners then use their own OD skills to understand the why behind the changes and implement them. This goes hand in hand with HR change management skills.

How to develop skills related to organizational design

What you can do right now:

Over to you

The role of HR within the business is evolving, and so are the skills that Human Resources professionals need to be effective and help organizations transform and succeed.

Many of these skills are part of the wider HR competencies that help you become a T-shaped HR professional. T-shaped HR professionals have a broader set of skills beyond their specialization, which enables them to lead the organization through different challenges and times of change.

Embracing continuous learning and developing relevant future HR skills will empower you to be a productive HR practitioner. What’s more, you’ll be a key player in shaping the organizational strategy and transforming the role of HR in boosting organizational performance and bringing the business into the future.

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