The One Thing You Need For Future-Proofing Your HR Department

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In less than a year, the role of HR has fundamentally changed. From being previously perceived as mostly administrative, HR now plays a more strategic role. CEOs and board members increasingly rely on CHROs to provide leadership that will help their businesses become more competitive in the flexible and hybrid world of work. But for HR professionals to further advance this new strategic role and help their companies succeed in the post-COVID era, they will need to do one thing: upskill themselves. Through the training of thousands of HR professionals from many international companies, we at AIHR have developed a new T-shaped competency framework that will help every HR professional become future-proof.

During COVID-19, HR professionals made the impossible possible

When last year Amazon saw its demand surge to an all-time high due to COVID-19, the company was faced with a colossal challenge: how to successfully hire and onboard tens of thousands of new workers to continue to satisfy its customers’ needs. Other companies such as IBM pulled out all the stops to (practically overnight) transition their employees from working on-site to working remotely.

But whether it be online retail giants of the likes of Amazon, technology companies such as IBM or millions of other small, medium or large-sized businesses, they all shared one thing in common: in their hour of need, they turned to their HR departments for leadership and guidance.

COVID-19 has written many business stories, but none of the successful ones would have happened without one essential character – the one that has, among other things, overseen the recent world of work revolution: HR professionals.

New strategic role – will it last?

As a result, the past twelve months have transformed the HR’s role and how HR is perceived by organizations’ leadership. HR professionals and CHROs have an increasingly more significant impact on how organizations are run, and vice-versa, board members and CEOs increasingly rely on CHRO’s advice and insights when making decisions. 

According to Sage People’s research, 87% of C-suite executives credit their HR departments with having accelerated change throughout their organizations during COVID-19. For instance, chairman and CEO of the medical company Pfizer says that he is sometimes “more involved in discussions with [his] HR heads than with [his] research heads”, and The Adecco Group’s chairman Jean-Christophe Deslarzes now wants more considerable involvement of the board of directors in talent management because the company’s success depends on having the right people in the right place. After all, managing human resources is just as strategically impactful as discussing the company’s financials.  

One thing is clear: HR has never been more important than it is today. In the words of Allan Jones, CEO of Bambee, a Los Angeles-based human resources company: “the way that I look at it is: COVID acted as a giant, year-long Super Bowl ad about how businesses need HR.”

And yet, HR professionals should not take their newly acquired position for granted! Half of C-suite leaders (52%) believe these new changes to HR are only temporary, and thus, HR professionals will need to keep proving themselves even after the pandemic. 

So what exactly can HR professionals do to reaffirm their new strategic role?

New challenges require new human resource competencies

The answer lies in three words: skills, skills, and yes, you guessed it, skills. At the time when our economies and labor markets are marred with continued uncertainty, challenged by growing skills gaps (according to the OECD, we will need to reskill more than 1 billion people by 2030) and conditioned by accelerated digitization and automation, the greatest asset companies have at their disposal is their people and their skills. And the more complex issues businesses and organizations have to deal with, the more advanced those skills need to be. 

This is undoubtedly true for HR professionals. The new world of work revolution has thrown at them a curveball, and they have been trying to adjust to it and turn it into an opportunity for their organizations. 

And thus, this new era has emphasized new competencies that were previously not recognized as essential. Namely, competencies that allow HR professionals to collaborate and innovate across disciplines and their companies’ departments so as to not be too isolated from the business – and from themselves. 

HR professionals who have successfully steered their companies through the COVID-19 pandemic share one essential trait: they all have moved beyond their HR specialization and developed these additional and more general HR skills.

Such double-hatting has propelled them to the board rooms, given them a seat at the table and allowed them to partake in the strategic decision-making process. 

We have seen this double-hatting play out in various places and companies over the past year: 

  • We have witnessed HR departments reinvent the companies’ employee communication by deploying, for instance, new technology (as was the case at Burger King Brasil); 
  • We have seen data-driven businesses adjust to the remote and hybrid way of work much faster and successfully than their competitors (as was the case of the US-based IT services firm Cognizant); 
  • We have observed HR professionals becoming the advocates of their company’s employees to build a more suitable environment and flexible work culture (as can be illustrated by the experience of the American tech giant Dell);
  • And we have seen that as many workers demand more and more flexibility and wish to work in a hybrid way, companies are having to rethink their HR policies – policies that, in turn, need to reflect the changing nature of the business and the broader world (such as in the case of Facebook and Twitter and the change of their pay policy to keep up with the new remote way of working).

By relying on more than just their narrowly specialized skills (such as talent acquisition or D&I), these companies’ HR professionals have expanded their possibility to collaborate better and develop innovative solutions to new problems.

The future of HR is T-shaped

In essence, HR professionals whose skill sets are a combination of both the general (i.e. horizontal) and specialized (i.e. vertical) competencies are T-shaped. That is because the horizontal and vertical skills, when put together, take on the shape of the letter “T”, which then represents both the breadth and depth of their HR knowledge. 

t shape hr professionals

An HR professional who has T-shaped skills is digitally savvy, data literate, a people’s advocate, and they show a strong business acumen. 

It is someone who, on top of being an expert in at least one of their disciplines, also:

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  • understands new technology and actively integrates it into their organization to make HR and the company run more efficiently; 
  • is able to read, apply, create, and transform data into valuable information to influence decision-making processes to increase productivity, innovation and revenue;
  • understands that there’s no HR without humans, who aims to build a strong internal culture, communicates skillfully and acts as a trusted employee champion to make HR more human;
  • has an excellent understanding of their business, its purpose, mission, goals and strategies and is aware of significant developments in the broader world of work to help the organization exceed its expectations.  

T-shaped HR professionals benefit the whole organization 

Therefore, this new T-shaped HR 2025 competency model will benefit individual HR professionals by helping them become better at their job. But as they grow to become agents of change within their own teams, their organizations will benefit too! 

T-shaped professionals are leaders. They possess a wide array of soft skills, including collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. T-shaped HR professionals also bring unique added value to the board room, helping their companies make better decisions. Their ability to comprehend their workforce and combine that with the knowledge of both their business and the wider world is indispensable. 

Become an agent of change. Become T-shaped

From COVID-19 to digitization, automation, demographic changes and globalization – the world of work is changing. And it is changing fast. The recent trends such as remote hiring and onboarding, remote work and more emphasis on diversity, inclusion and equality have thrust HR professionals into action and board meetings. The role of HR has shifted dramatically. It has grown in importance, and it has become a lot more strategic. 

But this new role will only last for as long as HR professionals themselves are up to the job. For as long as they have the skills to keep up with the changing world and growing demands. To that end, as an HR professional, if you want to become a positive agent of change within your own organization, you and your team need to become T-shaped. You need to upskill and develop both specialized and core HR competencies such as data literacy, digital savviness, people advocacy and business acumen.

You don’t know where to start? Use our assessment tool to see how T-shaped you already are and discover how you and your HR team(s) can develop the necessary skills to become future-proof. Upgrade your and your HR department’s skills today and help your organization strive in the new world of work.

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