A great deal has been penned about the need for the Human Resource Department to become a 'Strategic' business partner. A lot has been spoken about how the HR Pros can turn into the 'catalysts' or 'change agents'. A great deal has been discussed about, "it is the time to reinvent the Human Resource Department". A lot of brouhaha has been around on why the HR Pros do not make it to the Board of Directors or the 'Think Tank'.
Relax. I don't intend to preach on any of the above. I have been a practitioner all along and simply wish to outline some attributes that I have observed in a few celebrated Indian HR Pros. Take a look at the data and we find that in the most instances, the CEO position has gone to either the Finance Head or the Marketing Head or the Operations Head or the Technology Head. Why not the HR Head? Though scanty in number, there are examples of the HR Pros having been inducted on the Board of Directors or given the P&L accountability or even appointed as the Chairperson of the Board.
So, here goes my list of attributes for the HR Pros.
Attribute I - Knowledge of the 'Business of HR' better than anybody else in the company. All the time.
This entails knowing all the facets of the HR as a Function as well as a Discipline, inside out. Let me explain what I mean.
Knowing well the basic & evolving theories of HR, OD & OB (taught in the management schools) and being updated on the newest developments in the HR arena, locally and globally. Having enough knowledge of the relevant legal statutes of the country & the state and having 'sufficient' information on the HR practices of the competing companies & the industries. Displaying managerial & leadership qualities in the business transactions in an 'impressive' manner and deploying these qualities in developing & strengthening interpersonal relationships.
In short, possessing the required soft & hard, knowledge & skills, with a confident & a suave disposition that conveys, "I know my business & the client, the best".
Attribute II - Knowledge of the company's business and the industry it belongs to
This is an absolute 'must do'. Without understanding the business of the Company and its industry, the HR Pro just cannot deliver effective results. Whether it is engaging the prospects in an exciting conversation or resolving the employees' concerns or deciphering the peer's 'language' or responding to queries in a management conclave or developing the most apt HR Systems & Processes; everywhere the knowledge of the company's business is a vital prerequisite.
This attribute is all about acquiring and/or exhibiting the 'business acumen', typical of an industrious entrepreneur who wants to outdo the competition in the shortest possible time.
Attribute III - Relentless inquiry and acquisition of knowledge about the key domains of the company's line of business
Needless to mention, all the management functions are absolutely interlinked. Besides, it is often quoted that the Line Managers are the 'real' HR Managers. Therefore, it is an utmost necessity for the HR Pros to speak the language of the Line Managers as they are a key 'conduit' between the HR and the employees.
So what is being implied? That, the HR Pros should possess & apply the basic knowledge of the Finance & Accounts (F&A), Marketing, Operations, Supply Chain, etc. functions. Interestingly, most HR Pros would have learned about these disciplines in their MBA course, but then when it comes to application, they are found wanting.
When the HR Pro speaks good 'F&A' language, the F&A Head likes to listen to her. When the HR Pro displays good grip over 'Marketing', the Marketing Head responds 'happily'. Knowing the Supply Chain function well helps the HR Pros apply themselves better while addressing its HR requirements. It is all about conveying that, "I understand your lingo & therefore your concerns". One need not feel awkward in asking questions to anyone at any stage of the career. Many a times, naivety can be a merit or a virtue.
Attribute - IV: 'Missionary Spirit'
This attribute is purely drawn from the book of Prof. T. V. Rao titled, "The HRD Missionary". This and another book, "Excellence Through HRD", have always influenced me a great deal in my career pursuit. I regard these books as the most basic for any HR Pro in India.
The attribute of 'Missionary Spirit' is about doing the right things in a right way at the right time for the right audience for the right cause. It could also mean, putting the organization ahead of the 'self' as far as the reasonableness permits and an ability to take others 'head-on', of course, logically & passionately, because the HR Pros are on a 'mission'.
Attribute - V: 'Pan-generational' approach
Any workplace typically has employees belonging to three different age groups. Each of them has distinct requirements as far as the HR Function is concerned. The elder generation is expectedly conventional & risk-averse, the middle generation is decidedly 'in transit' & generally takes a 'convenient' position, and the younger generation is always full of fire & willing to try out.
The HR Pros, irrespective of their age, should have equal comfort in dealing with each age group and they can actually act as a 'glue' to bond these generations together. When these age groups connect well, the knowledge repertoire of the elder generation seamlessly moves down to the younger contemporaries and the enthusiasm & firepower of the younger 'Turks' effortlessly move up the ladder. An interesting state of equilibrium!
Attribute - VI: 'Tech-savvy' outlook and mind-set
Whether it is about the configuration of PCs & laptops or about the knowledge of the latest communication technologies (Skype, Viber, etc.) or about the use of social media applications (like 'Facebook', 'LinkeIn', 'Google Hangout', 'Line', so & so forth) or about the 'smart' use of the smart-phones; not being tech-savvy borders on being technologically 'backward' or 'illiterate'.
Technology literacy is now an embedded element of every profession and hence, HR Pros better prepare themselves irrespective of their position on the ladder. No more excuses please!
Attribute - VII: A sought after 'communicator'
Proficiency (reading, writing & speaking) in the English language is certainly expected of the HR Pros. Be it HR Policies or communiqués for employees or a presentation during the business meet or internal/external mail exchanges, good drafting and editing skills in English are a must. Further, knowing the typical English lingo of the younger 'Turks' helps connect well with them.
As one goes up in the ladder, the proficiency in the English also has to correspondingly improve on the precision and contextual correctness. Also, dealing with the 'stage' fear is something that the HR Pros should manage early in the career as their 'business' requires them to be on 'stage' often. Last but not the least, the HR Pros can adopt '121' (one-to-one) approach of communication. It means running into each employee at least three times a year or once every four months. How nice the employees would feel!
To draw from the renowned works of Prof. T. V. Rao, a distinguished scholar, author & management thinker, the aspiring HR Pro ought to develop the art of thinking like a CEO or CXO or a Senior Manager, in terms of mission, values, goals, direction, etc. of the organization.
The seven attributes enumerated in this article might have overlapping points, but their charm lies in the application. If the Top Management and/or Board of Directors experience Human Resource Department as 'able' to link HR parameters to the current & projected business unquestionably and as 'adding' immense value to the business with a sensible outlook, there is no reason why the HR Pros cannot make it to the 'Board Room' at a calculated velocity.