There has been this craze on "Strategic HR" for years. Every HR conference seems to revolve around it or has at least a couple of sessions on this topic. Suddenly, even entry-level HR people were talking of strategic HR. However, I believe it is not the strategic aspects that these personnel and most HR people need. They need guidance on the skills for the real world - the operational day-to-day world. Yes, maybe we need to think strategy but that comes once we have mastered the operational level issues. For a good take-off, we need a good runway.
When HR personnel ask me what skills they should master. I tell them the following:
1. Transaction skills: Yes, HR is going to involve a lot of transactions - responding to employees on queries, preparing reports, organizing events, coordinating interviews, and so on. One needs to manage these transactions well. This requires skills for good planning, multi-tasking, prioritizing, and knowledge of tools, such as Microsoft office etc.
2. Responsiveness: HR personnel have to deal with a lot of internal customers. And, just as in any other relationship-building activity, the key is responsiveness. This involves getting back to people promptly, giving an honest opinion (politely), picking up the phone and talking when required (not always relying on emails and chats), and closing the loop.
3. Assertiveness: The expectations from HR personnel are always high as they are caught between the needs of employees and constraints of a business organization. It is difficult to satisfy everybody all the time. Maybe that should not even be considered a goal. The goal should be helping employees to manage their expectations and making organizations improve their people processes, within the constraints of business. However, more often HR personnel become frustrated because of over-sensitiveness to employee needs, indifference or helplessness.
4. Problem-solving: HR is into problem-solving just as any other function, for example manufacturing or finance. In this case, problem-solving involves people, and hence, it is more challenging (numbers and technical issues are easier). Careful analysis based on facts, understanding the context of the behavior or perception (involving people), and suggesting possible solutions is a required skill. As one goes up the HR ladder, this will be called for time and again, maybe the complexity will be higher at higher levels.
5. Systemic thinking: HR does not operate in isolation. It has strong interrelationship with other entities, within and without the organization; for example, the line function and other staff functions internally and externally with legal authorities, vendors and so on. HR needs to assimilate information and knowledge and connect them to the HR function in one's company.