Why the HR Professional needs to Become T-Shaped to Create Impact

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Layoffs. Talent shortage. Restructuring. Employee engagement concerns.

The list of complex problems faced by HR professionals today goes on and on. These problems can’t be solved by individual stars. Instead, multi-disciplinary teams must be formed that approach organizations as complex, holistic systems and recognize the value of collaboration to create an integrated approach.

Yet, not everyone in HR is on the same page. In large organizations:

  • HR is characterized by specialized centers of expertise that create isolated solutions for internal clients they rarely meet.
  • The client-facing HR business partners are often working on operational activities that require them to reinvent the wheel. 
  • HR specialists are single-point topic owners that rarely communicate with one another. As a result, they fail to create integrated HR practices and solutions that create true value.

Smaller organizations face problems as well:

  • HR is seen as a transactional activity, mainly responsible for payroll and training.
  • HR professionals are often left out of the budgeting cycle because many lack financial acumen.
  • HR professionals don’t fully understand their own strategy, or even how it can impact the organization’s bottom line.

Despite decades of rapid evolution of HR management as a discipline and science, HR often fails to become strategic or make a business impact.

The T-Shaped Professional as a Problem Solver

Some believe that these problems are caused by a lack of tools or skills. The harsh reality is quite the opposite. In many cases, HR is too isolated from the business – and often from itself. There is an increase in demand for HR professionals who have expert knowledge in their respective HR disciplines and can collaborate cross-disciplinary with different clients to manage a wider variety of projects.

This next generation of HR talent is called the T-shaped HR professional. It relies on a new kind of professional who breaks out of the traditional HR roles to interact freely with internal stakeholders (the horizontal part of the “T”) while remaining fiercely committed to their specialist performance (the vertical part of the “T”).

These kinds of professionals need a new set of HR competencies. There are several advantages to this T-shaped HR professionals:

  • They can operate in a more agile way, working more collaboratively and sharing knowledge. This helps them to create integrated HR activities that create business impact.
  • They communicate using data to influence decision-making and leverage technology to boost productivity. 
  • They better align with business stakeholders and as a result come up with solutions that better serve the business.

To measure how T-Shaped you – or your HR professionals – are, use our T-Shaped Assessment. This is part of the AIHR competency framework.

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Let’s explore these in more detail to learn why becoming T-shaped has never been more important for HR:

1. An Agile HR Professional

Senior leaders frequently ask me how HR can become more agile. Although agility is far from the silver bullet to most of HR’s problems, a more agile approach will help reduce the common issues and experiences that organizations face with HR operating models.

Part of this is forming multi-disciplinary project teams. These teams should have client-facing HR business partners, specialists from centers of expertise, and data and automation experts to ensure that solutions create value-adding data and are scalable to avoid increasing HR’s administrative burden. To realize maximum impact, these team members must possess functional expertise and a generalist mentality.

One of the best ways HR can add value to the business is through integrating HR practices. HR has a rich set of powerful instruments that can enable the organization to reach its strategy through building workforce capabilities.

Oftentimes, HR solutions lack strategic integration. Encouraging people to become more entrepreneurial through training will fail if it is not supported through performance management, compensation, and selection practices that aim to achieve the same. Creating this integration requires a more collaborative, T-shaped approach. This need is even greater for larger organizations as they offer more opportunities for specialization, increasing the available HR expertise.

2. A Customer-Oriented Professional

Face it. Many HR professionals don’t fully understand their business. Some fingers point to the way the operating model is structured. For example, centers of expertise often come up with isolated solutions. Take a company that digitized its workflow management system into an ‘accessible’ online app. Sounds great, except when complaints start flooding in. Apparently, its engineers – who often worked on very remote locations – could not reliably use the app due to limited internet connectivity.

In this scenario, part of the solution is the involvement of client-facing HR business partners as they better understand day-to-day business practices. Or better yet, a more T-shaped HR professional should have a minimum level of business acumen and design thinking. They would know to involve the employee in the development of the app in the first place.

3. An All-Round Professional

At large organizations, some HR professionals can afford to be hyper-specialized. These companies have more resources to deepen the vertical part of the “T”, making more room for specializations.

However, smaller organizations operate in a different space. To be impactful, HR practitioners need to understand multiple domains in-depth, meaning they need to evolve into T-shaped professionals as well. They must develop a new set of skills:

  • Financial and business acumen to design budgets and better understand the business.
  • Data-savviness to track how the business is doing, assist where the business is struggling, and set up strategic HR KPIs (key performance indicators) that add value.
  • Technology savviness to ensure that the right questions are being asked, the right HR systems are then purchased and implemented, and the right data is being solicited and analyzed.

Solving Problems and Creating Impact

Over the past few decades, the HR function has developed at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, its impact on the business has lagged, making it one of the biggest untapped sources of competitive advantage.

How T-Shaped are You?

The most successful HR professionals in today's digital business environment have a T-shaped competency profile. Take the free assessment now!

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By evolving your HR staff into T-shaped professionals, organizations can build a highly effective HR team with the necessary skills, competence, and agility to leverage its functional expertise through increased collaboration. This can help to enhance current HR operating models, build a better understanding of business stakeholders, and improve internal alignment and collaboration.

So, unlock the door. Assess how T-shaped your HR professionals are. Upskill them in future skills, and encourage them to step out of their traditional HR roles. You may be surprised at how effective they will be at solving today’s complex problems and driving business results.

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