Ulrich Group Study Points to 6 “Must Have” Competencies for HR Success

HR author and expert Dave Ulrich

Any time I get a something sent along that Dave Ulrich has a hand in, it gets my complete and total attention.

That’s because he’s Mr. HR, a guy who has probably forgotten more about HR and talent management than most of us will ever know. He’s literally written the book (a number of them, actually) on HR, and his last big effort — The Why of Work — was probably his best one yet.

So, this survey from Dave Ulrich, his RBL Group, and the University of Michigan that dropped into my mailbox right before Christmas probably didn’t get the proper focus given all the seasonal activities. That’s too bad, because it is an important piece of research worth a close look.

The 6 key competencies for HR success

The survey — the 2012 Human Resource Competency Studyis touted as “the largest global study ever on human resource professionals,” and it includes data from 20,000 respondents from around the world. In it, the researchers from Ulrich’s RBL Group and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business found that “HR managers play an integral role in the overall effectiveness of a company’s performance.”

That’s not a huge surprise, but the survey went on to point out six specific competencies that successful HR professionals must be:

  • Strategic positioners who understand evolving business contexts, stakeholder expectations and business requirements, and be able to translate them into talent, culture and leadership actions.
  • Credible activists who build relationships of trust and have a clear point of view about how to build business performance.
  • Capability builders who define, audit and create organization capabilities required for sustainable organizational success.
  • Change champions who initiate and sustain change at the individual, initiative and institutional levels.
  • HR innovators and integrators who look for new ways to do HR practices and integrate those separate practices to deliver business solutions.
  • Technology proponents who use technology for efficiency to connect employees and to leverage new communication channels, such as social media.

I don’t want to get into the tired old “seat at the table” debate, but if you ever want to know what HR needs to do to get brought into the C-Suite with the rest of the top executives, this list from the RBL Group research pretty much nails it.

“We can empirically show that when HR professionals demonstrate these six competencies, they are seen as personally effective and they impact business performance,” said study co-director Wayne Brockbank, a professor at Michigan Ross and director of its Center for Strategic HR Leadership, in a press release about the research.

The study is another part of the work that Ulrich, a partner and founder of the RBL Group and professor at the Michigan Ross School of Business, and Brockbank, have done for the past 25 years. They have continually explored the question of, “What knowledge and abilities are necessary for successful HR professional?”

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The bar has been raised

“This research shapes the HR profession because it defines what it means to be an effective HR professional and how to build an effective HR department,” said Ulrich, who also co-directed the study with Brockbank and RBL partner Jon Younger.

I haven’t seen a copy of the 2012 Human Resource Competency Study, but the RBL Group was kind enough to share a couple of articles that come from the research and will be published this month. One — The New HR Competencies: Business Partnering from the Outside-In (you will need to sign up for a free log-in at RBL.net to get access) has a lot of data from the HR Competency Study that is worth spending some time with.

The other article that was developed from the research — Human Resource Competencies: Rising to Meet the Business Challenge (it will be publisjhed later this month) — is really a manifesto (as my friend Laurie Ruettimann is fond of saying) for HR professionals that clearly articulates what they need to do to meet the new challenges the profession faces as we head deeper into 2012. As the conclusion puts it:

The business context required to succeed has raised the bar on HR professionals. HR professionals who would have succeeded 30, 20, or even 10 years ago would not be as likely to succeed today. HR professionals are expected to play new roles, and to be able to play those roles, they need new competencies. As a result of the Human Resource Competency Study, we have a greater understanding of the competencies needed by HR professionals and agendas needed by HR departments to affect business performance.”

Yes, the bar has been raised on all of us, whether you toil in HR or some other part of the talent management continuum. If nothing else, that’s something we all need to focus on as we move forward into the New Year.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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