What skills will the HR leader of tomorrow need? | 8 experts reveal how HR skills are changing

Jess Fuhl
Published on 28th July 2020
3 min read

What a year it’s been in HR. Have you had 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 HR agenda. In the words of Josh Bersin, “All the talk of ‘seat at the table’ is over – HR professionals are leading the charge.”

We’ve used this opportunity to take stock: how is the role of HR evolving? Our ‘changing face of HR’ research report revealed four skills vital for the HR leader of the future – communications, people analytics, creativity, and tech-savviness. So, we asked eight HR experts: how can HR and People leaders upskill in these areas? What skills do they think are needed for the HR leader of tomorrow?

They reveal their top tips, share how HR leaders are building capability in recent months, and how to get ahead.

1. The most important step starts in the mind

“To stay relevant as the world around us changes, we must drastically re-imagine values and beliefs about our profession, and the relation we have with other stakeholders in our organization,” explains CEO of Jumpstart HR, Joey Price.

“HR leaders are being forced to don new identities that are agile, tech, and data-oriented, and readily embracing change. That battle will be won in the mind of the professional before it can be won within an organization.”

Joey adds not to underestimate the need to be tech-savvy to improve workplace culture and give you a competitive advantage also. “For quite some time, HR leaders have shied away from technical conversations because we’ve felt the greatest value that we bring to an organization is our heart,” he explains. “But we must accept the reality that the world has evolved. We are not in the same professional landscape as we were a year ago.”

2. Creativity is vital, but it cannot happen without learning from mistakes

Modern research organizations create breakthroughs in science not by following one path, but by trying thousands of experiments until one gives the results it needs.

“The best HR leaders I know pilot new ideas, with a view that four out of five may fail,” explains Anthony Ryland, CEO, Tap’d Solutions. “It’s the learning and adapting that they see as a key part of creativity. This needs an open culture of learning by mistakes.”

3. Communication is more important than ever

Communication goes beyond typical rhetoric and needs to be emotionally engaging, believable, stretching, inclusive and timely, says Perry Timms, Founder of People and Transformational HR. “With so much ‘corporate propaganda’ people need to believe in what’s being shared, so HR’s sense check on what makes a difference – acting as internal communications auditors and evaluators – should not be underestimated.”

“Those open organizations seem to have weathered recent changes in the world of work, because they have been strong in communication as their starting point.”

4. HR leaders need to be ‘super-connectors’

HR and People leaders must show that they can be “super-connectors of an organization” and build collaborative networks while breaking down barriers or silos to keep people engaged, says Exaqueo’s Employment Brand Strategist, Emily Fritz. “The workforce is becoming increasingly more virtual and dispersed, needing HR leaders to become more creative in how they connect with employees.”

5. Follow the money

Founder of HRnB Consulting, Talia Edmundson, suggests considering how a COO or CFO reports to the person in the company’s driver’s seat. “They’re direct, succinct, and matter of fact,” she says. “Practice phrasing. Learn how to read a P&L. Follow the money. Understand your company’s market and customer. Most importantly, communicate like a business leader.”

6. Early tech adopters will get ahead

Paul Falcone, CHRO at Motion Picture and Television Fund, believes that HR leaders that demonstrate a natural inclination to pursue technology will thrive in tomorrow’s HR world. “Early adopters of data-driven intelligence will have a significant advantage over their competition and remain in high demand,” he says. “Now, more than ever, the time to capitalize on these new tools will cement your place in HR’s future.”

7. It’s not data that’s important – but what you do with it

For Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, “People analytic skills is not the key competence, but HR needs to be able to ‘do’ analytics to deliver business results.”

He explains: “HR dashboards, scorecards, and insights are less important than creating information asymmetries that help a business win in the marketplace.” Ultimately, talent, leadership, and organization analytics need to link to business outcomes.   

8. Shape business needs, don’t just respond to them

“Throughout much of history, HR professionals expected the organization to define business needs, and then HR would respond by designing and implementing competencies and capabilities,” says Wayne Brockbank, Clinical Professor of Business at Michigan Business School. “HR leaders need to shift from away from being reactive to business needs, to being proactive.”

‘HR leaders can lead with courage in today’s uncertain world – if they have the confidence to step up’

“Ultimately, business leaders are asking HR and People leaders about the best way to navigate the gig economy, pandemics, artificial intelligence, the largest multi-generational workforce of all time, and other topics – all at once,” says CEO of Jumpstart HR, Joey Price. “These are challenging times that are demanding; HR and People leaders are uniquely positioned to lead courageously and with confidence.”

What skills will the People leader of tomorrow need? Download our eBook ‘The People team of tomorrow’ to find out more about how you can get ahead for tomorrow’s world of work today.

Get the research