9 Essential Core Competencies For Success In HR

9 Essential Core Competencies For Success In HR
JobsDB content teamupdated on 15 September, 2014


Imagine a professional golfer with a variety of clubs in his golf bag. He must be proficient in the use of each and every club in order to be consistently successful on the PGA tour. Likewise, to be successful at any level in the HR profession one must have a full complement of knowledge, skills, and abilities. I've given some thought as to what core competencies are essential for success in Human Resources and have outlined my eight top selections in alphabetical order below. In addition to naming the core competency, I have also provided my definition of each because my experience has been that if you ask two people (or twenty people) from the same organization to define a skill such as Decisiveness, you will receive a different response from each person.

A Bias For Action
This involves execution, getting things done thoroughly yet quickly, and enabling others to do the same. Speed is essential, as is the ability to see a problem or task through to completion.

Business Knowledge
One cannot significantly impact a business if she does not have a solid understanding of that business. This involves having a good grasp of what your organization does (e.g. the key success indicators, pricing and marketing strategies, who your customers and competitors are, what differentiates your product from those of your competitors, etc.) as well as having a keen understanding of the company's key financial data. This knowledge allows HR professionals to give advice and make decisions from a Knowledge base that views the business in the proper context.

These are two separate skills that are keenly interrelated. Decisiveness is the willingness and the ability to make a decision, within an appropriate timeframe, with the facts that are available. Anyone who has worked with or for a person who just couldn't make a decision understand the frustration it can cause. And what typically happens is that a decision is usually made by default because of the indecisive person's inability to do so. Judgment speaks to the quality of those decisions. It is particularly worrisome to HR professionals to have managers who will make a decision at the drop of a hat, but whose judgment is questionable. This is known as the Ready, Fire, Aim syndrome. When coaching managers I emphasize the goal of making the best decision we can given the circumstances. This is different than trying to make the right decision because it may take a long period of time to determine whether the right decision was made, and in many cases we may never know.

Emotional Intelligence
Emotion in the business world is not necessarily a bad thing. It is, for example, impossible to feel passionate about work without emotion playing some part. Expressing or demonstrating emotions too strongly or at inappropriate times can, however, be a liability. Emotional intelligence also speaks to an HR person knowing which issues are really important and need to be addressed, and which are actually inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. Moreover, it has to do with one's emotional investment in the final resolution of issues. That is, one cannot afford to view every issue in terms of win or lose. To do so requires expending an extraordinary amount of energy (which could be better used elsewhere), and tends to put the HR person in an adversarial position where conflict is unnecessarily created.

Listening Skills
Almost all of us have a need to be heard. Couple that with the fact that very few people listen well and the consequences include misunderstandings, confusion and general frustration. Real listening means being fully present with the speaker, not diverted by the many internal and external distractions that exist. It also means suspending judgment for as long as possible yet reaching an appropriate point of discernment in terms of what is true or not. It is an understatement to say that real listening is tough and requires both time and concentration.

Political Savvy
I abhor the whole political scene within organizations, but I'm not naive enough to believe that politics don't exist to some degree everywhere. The key here is to be effective without losing one's soul. It involves knowing what makes others tick including what they do and do not value. For example, asking someone to understand another person's plight, when they don't have an ounce of empathy in their body is pointless and frustrating, and makes you look foolish. Don't get hung-up on enforcing policies and procedures that make no sense. Know when to say "no." Understand that if you say no too often, line management will simply stop asking you. Think of alternatives to no - alternatives that will work for both you and your line managers. Then, when you absolutely must say, "No, we can't do that," your viewpoint will be respected.

Respect For All
My father was a blue-collar worker in a factory for all of his working life. He was also a union leader. Although I didn't fully realize it at the time, his role as an employee and as part of a union provided me with a unique perspective into working with all kinds of people. Nothing ticked him off more than a manager who gave the impression that he, the manager, was smarter or otherwise better than the "lowly hourly employees." There were also, however, a number of managers in my father's 40+ years of service with his employer for whom he felt great respect and admiration. These were the managers who treated everyone as equals and with respect, regardless of their occupation or job title. I have tried to always remember that.

Trust Builder
At the core of virtually every relationship is the (mostly unasked) question, "Can I trust you?" Building trust in relationships is so critical for HR professionals but can be extremely difficult simply by virtue of the roles and responsibilities of the job. Employees will sometimes assign ulterior motives to what HR says or wonder why HR is asking a particular question. If we are perceived to be constantly judging and evaluating others, they will in turn carefully measure what they say to us. This can make it difficult to get a candid opinion from them. HR must have the ability and the desire to demonstrate to all employees that we are on the same team, and that we are interested in catching someone doing something right, not doing something wrong. Our interest is in making everyone successful because that will make the organization successful. An ex-DEA agent once told me, "Nobody likes a snitch," and this was a man who absolutely relied on snitches in order to do his job.

I'll add one more "bonus" competency
I'll add one more "bonus" competency that of possessing compassion and empathy for others, and getting a great deal of satisfaction from seeing others succeed. This trait is often dismissed as "warm and fuzzy," and as having no place in today's HR department, and I say bullcrap. I look at the world today and, frankly, I don't see the cold and impersonal style being overwhelmingly successful. Employees are full of distrust. Many yearn for fulfillment on the job; for being valued for who they are in addition to what they can do, craving that sense of being fully engaged and passionate about what they do for a living. We have enough administrators measuring and policing everything we do. We need more people who care.

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