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HR professionals expected to take increasingly forthright strategic role, new study reveals

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A major new study has revealed that the future HR function will be expected to take on a more forthright strategic role and a key driver of organisational change.

The research, conducted by specialist HR recruitment firm Wade Macdonald, surveyed over 150 HR leaders to gain insights into the skills and strategies required to climb the HR ladder.

Accordingly, the role of HR professionals has evolved to include more strategic, business-focused activities such as business partnering, talent management, and organisational development.

The practical skills rated as most important for future HR leaders have shifted from the L&D, Reward, ER and Compliance of the past and been replaced by a greater focus on Change Management (50 per cent), Cultural Development (44 per cent), Business Partnering (42 per cent) and Data Analysis (39 per cent).

In other words, HRs are now expected to be in the driving seat of change, rather than merely managing changes that have come down the pipe from senior leadership.

Respondents to the survey rated ‘change management’ skills as most important – with HR professionals playing an increasingly critical role in managing organisational changes such as mergers & acquisitions and reorganisations.

The inclusion of cultural development as a top skill is reflective of the recent trend of titles changing to ‘People and Culture’ professionals and a greater emphasis being placed on aligning culture to goals.

Business Partnering is also a recurring theme in the report, with HRs needing to build a network of allies and supporters, in order to be more effective in advocating for HR initiatives and driving change.

If change is the aim, then Data appears to be the weapon. HR leaders have pointed to a need to utilise Data in order to inform their decisions, with Data Analysis becoming a crucial tool within performance management, talent management and employee engagement.

Caterina Glenn, Director, sees these figures as further confirming what they already knew: “HRs and ‘People and Culture’ professionals are becoming increasingly involved in curating the culture and strategy of the business.

“Their sphere of influence has expanded into areas which has implications on organisational culture and are increasingly in positions whereby they can influence decisions – such as joining company boards or becoming part of Senior Leadership teams.

“In these positions, HRs will begin to take a much more active role in driving initiatives around improving organisational culture such as mental health provisions, EAPs and diversity and inclusion strategies.”

This new strategic generation will be needed soon. 40 per cent of current leaders do not expect to be in a similar role in 5 years’ time, due to a mix between retirement, moving out of HR, becoming an interim and starting their own business. So upcoming HR professionals should look at honing these skills and becoming more comfortable in strategic positions.

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