HR Competencies for 2025 – A Future Standard

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Today’s HR professionals are facing a growing skills gap. A recent survey found that 60% of employees believe that their current skill set will become outdated in the next three to five years. This poses a challenge for HR. Not only will their existing skills become obsolete, but they will also need to develop new HR competencies to perform well.

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork and member of the World Economic Forum puts the half-life of skills around five years, highlighting the urgency of continuous skills development.

This is best illustrated when we look at the role of technology. According to the survey, 70% of organizations have introduced at least one new technology to increase employee capacity in 2019 – a number that will have increased significantly during the pandemic. Despite that fact, only about one-third of HR executives feel very confident about HR’s actual ability to transform into a technology-driven future, according to a KMPG report

This calls for a revision of the old HR competency models that organizations are using. In this article, we introduce a new HR competency framework for 2025, which we believe will become the new standard for HR.

The T-shaped HR professional

Traditionally, many HR professionals developed general academic skills in university before developing functional experience in their respective roles. Over the past decades, HR influencers highlighted certain skills that every HR professional needs to be effective in their role. The most notable example is business understanding. However, an overarching framework that specifies which skills and behaviors professionals need to make an impact was missing.

We believe that the most successful HR professional has a T-shaped profile. A T-shaped HR professional has a generalist’s understanding of the core competencies that are relevant to their work. They also possess a specialist’s understanding of their functional competencies. These are, for example, L&D, compensation and benefits, or people analytics.

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At AIHR, we have spent considerable time researching and defining the core competencies required to perform well as an HR professional. We have based our analysis on prior publications as well as our own research. This involved hundreds of conversations with senior leaders as well as thousands of interactions with individual learners and quantitative testing including well over 100,000 HR professionals. Subsequently, we have defined four critical capabilities that any HR professional needs to perform well in their role in 2025.

This results in our HR competency framework for 2025 with four core competencies, split up into two to four dimensions. Each of these dimensions has up to ten individual behaviors.

T-Shaped HR Professionals - HR Competency Framework

Let’s examine some of these core competencies and behaviors in more detail.

Core HR competencies

We recognize four HR core competencies when it comes to the base of the T-shaped HR professional. These include data driven, business acumen, digital integration, and people’s advocate.

HR Competency Model

We defined each of the four competencies in our HR competency model:

  • Data driven, also known as evidence-based, is the ability to read, apply, create, and communicate data into valuable information to influence decision-making processes.
  • Business acumen, also known as business savvy or business sense, is the ability to translate the organization’s purpose, mission, goals, and business context into strategy, positioning HR policies and activities to best serve the organization’s interests.
  • Digital integration is the ability to leverage technology to increase efficiency and to drive HR and business value.
  • People’s advocate is the ability to build a strong internal culture, communicate skillfully, get the best out of people, and act as a trusted employee champion.

To be relevant, competencies need to guide our behaviors. Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

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Data driven

The first core competency is data driven. Data driven consists of two dimensions. Data literacy involves reading and applying data, metrics, and KPIs, and analytics translation is about translating people analytics insights into actions.

Data Driven - HR Competency

Data literacy has five behaviors, as shown below. These include reading data, applying data, creating data, communicating data, and practicing evidence-based HR. Each of these behaviors has three proficiency levels: elementary, intermediate, and proficient. For each proficiency level, different behavioral characteristics are mapped out.

Data Literacy Behaviors

Take the dimension ‘applying data’. Someone with elementary proficiency struggles to make sense of data as displayed on a report or a dashboard. The more advanced, intermediate performer turns data into information on a regular basis within their own HR specialization. However, the proficient performer continuously turns data into value-adding information through diagnostic analysis based on different data sources. 

This framework helps map individual and group performance on a competency scale with three levels of performance. The behavioral cues help accurately identify the proficiency level for each dimension. It makes for a useful tool to identify skill gaps, use it for personal development purposes or as a performance management benchmark.

Business acumen

Our second core competency is business acumen. It refers to the ability to translate the organization’s purpose, mission, goals, and business context into strategy, positioning HR policies and activities to best serve the organization’s interests.

HR professionals who have business acumen understand the global context of work and the internal organizational dynamics. We call this process context interpretation. They understand the end customer and align HR policies with them to optimize delivered value. They are also co-creators of HR and business strategy.

Business Acumen - HR Competency

To give another example, we will zoom in on customer orientation. The ability to understand the end customers will lead to better HR policies. I’ve spoken with many HR professionals looking to create a more customer-driven culture without having an innate understanding of the end customer themselves. These initiatives are likely to fail or create a culture that is not fully aligned with the customer.

The first dimension in customer orientation is, therefore, external customer alignment. At an elementary level, professionals have a limited understanding of the end customers. At an intermediate level, professionals should have an understanding of the end customers’ needs. They actively position their HR activities in a way to serve the end customers better. Proficient performers deeply understand the end customers’ needs and align operational activities, tactical policies, and strategies to help the business serve the end customer in better ways.

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Customer Orientation Behaviors

Digital integration

Digital integration is our third core HR competency. It is the ability to leverage technology to increase efficiency and to drive HR and business value. Digital integration has three dimensions: technological awareness, technology embedding, and digital culture building.

Digital Integration - HR Competency

Each of these dimensions is important for the organization. However, I believe that the most impactful one is the digital culture builder. The digital culture builder aims to create a digital culture in HR, a dimension we call ‘digital fostering’. They help build a company-wide technology-first culture, which we call ‘digital capability building’.

Other behaviors include digital leadership and learning champions. Each of these behaviors helps HR position itself as a digital leader and advocate, leading the organization in digitalization by example.

Digital Culture Building Behaviors

People’s advocate

The final core HR competency is the people’s advocate. This competency includes the dimensions that are more traditionally associated with HR, such as culture building, people practices, workplace champion, and communication expert.

Each of these is vital for good performance as an HR professional. At the same time, we also see that of the four HR core competencies, this is the one that people are most proficient in.

People's Advocate - HR Competency

Here again, each of the dimensions has multiple behaviors. You can find all of these in the full HR competency framework. Below you can see what behaviors constitute being a workplace champion:

Workplace Champion Behaviors

Developing these HR core competencies will require dedicated effort to learn and upskill. Examples include formal training, project groups, mentoring, peer coaching, leadership development plan, and other interventions. Keep an eye on our blog – we’re planning to publish more about this in the near future.

Function-specific HR competencies

A T-shaped professional also has a deep understanding of their specialization. Whether you work as a manager in compensation and benefits, as an L&D specialist, or as a strategic business partner, you need to have the same core competencies – although the required proficiency level may differ.

However, the most significant difference is in your function specific competencies. That’s why at the Academy to Innovate HR, we are creating certification programs for each of the different functional specializations in HR. You can participate in certificate programs on learning & development, diversity & inclusion, talent acquisition, people analytics, and the HR business partner 2.0.

Later this year, we will launch a leadership certificate program, as well as an organizational development & change, compensation and benefits, and a talent management certification program. Each of these helps to create HR specialists with a deep understanding of their respective fields.

For a full overview, you can download the HR competency framework here.

If you want to future-proof your HR skill set and develop new HR competencies, check out our All You Can Learn Certification Program!

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