TalentLearning & DevelopmentFour skills the HR leader of the future needs to thrive 

Four skills the HR leader of the future needs to thrive 

HR and people leaders have been quick to deploy new skillsets to respond to the recent pandemic, but research reveals a lack of confidence in new HR leaders’ own skillsets. Jessica Fuhl, Sage People outlines how HR leaders can get ahead.

What a year it’s been in HR. Have you had a chance to catch your breath yet?

The global pandemic has been a huge challenge for HR and people leaders, but HR has stepped up. In many cases, it has expedited existing HR priorities, catapulting things like remote working and digital transformation to the top of the business agenda.

HR and people leaders have been quick to respond, pivot, and deploy new skillsets to respond to unexpected challenges.

How would you rate your skills as a HR leader?

Despite HR’s stellar response over the last few months, many HR leaders we polled before the pandemic didn’t rate their own HR skillsets highly, or have confidence in them. In fact, surprisingly, fewer than one in three said they’d rate themselves as experts.

It seems worrying in the first instance. Yet, with increasing demand for skills such as people analytics, behavior science and employer branding, it really reveals the increasingly expansive role of HR in organizations today. If HR leaders need to be a jack-of-all-trades, then it’s inevitable they may sometimes feel like a master of none.

More is expected from HR and people leaders

We know that progressive companies who want to get ahead know the value of putting people at the top of the business agenda, and even more so in difficult and turbulent times. As a result, more is expected from leaders of HR teams as they move from being traditionally seen as a backroom function, to offering more strategic value and contributing to business growth in this area – even more so after the recent global pandemic and subsequent role HR played.

Combine this with new and increasingly complex compliance regulation in HR across the globe; new work styles such as the growth of the contingent workforce and gig economy, the varying expectations of a multi-generational workforce, stubbornly low productivity and engagement, and the emergence of new digital technology in both the workforce and HR – then it’s no surprise there’s huge pressure on HR leaders to call on a wider range of skills as they respond.

Four skills the HR leader of the future needs to thrive 

The fact that new skillsets are required was one of the biggest findings from Sage People’s research report ‘The changing face of HR’. In fact, 86% of HR leaders we spoke to think that the role of HR Director will be unrecognizable in 10 years’ time.

Interestingly, the top skills HR leaders identified as important for the future were also the areas where they feel they have the biggest gaps:

  1. Communications: This was cited as the top necessary skill for the future. Over three-quarters (76%) said they thought communications will be vital, but just 25% rated themselves as pro at this.
  2. People analytics: Over three-quarters (76%) of HR and people leaders thought people analytics would be mission-critical. However, just 28% felt that their current people analytics skills were of an expert-level standard.
  3. Creativity: 73% of HR and people leaders said creativity would be important, yet only 28% rated their creativity skills as expert-level.
  4. Tech savviness: Digital technology is one of the biggest drivers of change, and almost three-quarters (73%) of HR and people leaders thought tech savviness would be important in three years’ time. However, just a quarter (25%) of leaders currently think of themselves as competent in this space.

Leading HR into the future: plugging the skills gap

Following seismic disruptions in the world of work this year, plugging these skills gaps is more important than ever.

Analyst Mollie Lombardi said: “Disruption brings several challenges into much sharper focus […] HR must be more flexible and agile to changing business and employee needs.

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“All HR and people leaders of the future will need to continue to adapt, develop new skills, and deliver on emerging key roles. Organizations are increasingly looking to HR to lead them into the future.

“As we continue to navigate this period of immense and unsettling change, we should understand that we are also being given an immense opportunity to grow not only as a function, but also to grow as leaders in the business.”

Expectations of HR and people teams are changing

Yet, these new ways of working require different approaches and skills: analytics, marketing and communications expertise, tech savviness, creativity and behavioral science. The HR and people team of the future will include an army of experts in each of these fields.

Ultimately, the leader of the future must be a leader of all these trades, and an expert in one: choreographing these new roles and responsibilities, driving people decisions with commercial shrewdness across the business, and demonstrating value as a result.

The big question is: how will you lead your HR team into the future?

Find out how to upskill in these four areas. Download the paper ‘Leading HR into the future, written by analyst Mollie Lombardi in partnership with Sage People, to get started today.

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