The world of work is changing and with it the world of HR. When was the last time you checked in on your own development journey to ensure you are cultivating the skills necessary to achieve success in your HR career in the long term?
It’s a given that the most successful HR professionals must first and foremost be subject matter experts with a deep knowledge of the domains and practical human resources skills that are considered fundamental such as talent acquisition, administrative HR, performance management, compliance, compensation, benefits, employee relations, and employee engagement.
However, priorities can shift and in-demand skills evolve with the times.
From adapting to remote working to the onset of the most advanced technological tools the world has ever seen, it’s more important than ever for HR professionals to continue to upskill to help lead the way for organizations in the new world of work.
Here I’ll take you through 10 key HR skills to work on to add greater value to your organization now and in the future.
10 Key Skills For HR Professionals
Interpersonal Communication Skills
One of the most important competencies while working in human resources is being able to communicate effectively.
As an HR professional, you must be able to deliver a message clearly, whether speaking at a company-wide meeting or writing an email.
Most of your daily responsibilities depend on good communication and interpersonal skills. Nowadays, there are tools such as generative AI that can help you write a job advertisement in mere minutes. But having authentic human interaction and face-to-face conversation cannot be replaced.
You will still need to conduct interviews, interact with team members at all levels in the company, present information to co-workers and potentially the public, manage labor relations, and have genuine conversations with current and prospective employees.
In addition to being a good speaker, being a trusted HR practitioner requires that you be a good listener by deploying the skill of active listening.
Active listening means being present and listening to seek true understanding, not just waiting for the chance to respond or to communicate your own point. It can help both parties learn something new, build relationships, and cultivate trust.
Advising and Coaching Skills
Being able to advise and coach your colleagues on the various business issues they face day-to-day is a regular on-the-job occurrence while working in human resources.
On any given day, you may need to serve in this role for a diverse range of people from new employees, to first-level line managers, to executive leaders.
If a manager in your organization is facing a sticky employee relations issue, advising them by drawing on your knowledge of best practices, legal employment frameworks, and company policy can help the company avoid a disaster.
Coaching is its own dedicated skill. Being an effective coach means not just “giving advice” or telling your coachee what to do, but asking exploratory questions and empowering them to come up with their own insights and solutions.
When done well, coaching supports building great leaders within an organization and is a valuable skill.
Related resource: How To Go From Manager To Coach
Data Analytics and Reporting
The need for data literacy skills among HR professionals is more important than ever.
People analytics is more and more becoming the very foundation on which business decisions are made.
Companies use data benchmarking for everything from financial forecasting to setting growth goals to building compensation structures. Having literacy in this area will make you a more informed and credible HR practitioner.
There is no shortage of tools on the market to support organizations in gaining visibility into their HR metrics and data, and even getting to grips with the humble Excel spreadsheet can benefit you greatly.
Where business leaders will continue to lean on HR departments is using the requisite tools to draw insights and present their stakeholders with relevant data in a way that is digestible and actionable. Pulling reports is one thing, telling a compelling story with data is another.
Related resource: HR Data Analysis: How To Use Your HR Data Effectively
The perception of HR is changing. These days, ambitious HR practitioners would be smart to position themselves in their organization as not just “the HR person”, but “a business leader who specializes in people.”
According to a 2023 HR Trends report from Maclean, “HR’s role as a strategic partner has steadily increased since 2020”, especially HR’s involvement in the broader organizational strategy.
It seems our long-called-for “seat the table” is finally becoming a reality. But to earn this seat, human resources professionals need to speak the language of their fellow business leaders and be knowledgeable about their organization’s operational models, financials, and overall company performance.
This will position HR to be a valuable partner in organization planning and execution while creating HR processes, policies, and initiatives aligned with overall company goals and help drive the business forward.
Ways you can build business acumen include:
- Building it into your individual development plan.
- Listening to earnings calls
- Building formal relationships with the leaders you have access to across the business and taking advantage of your time with them
- Tap into your internal network and arrange coffees of lunches to learn more about other business areas
- Surveys/interviews/focus groups/listening sessions with your employees and leaders
- Attending strategy meetings
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
It’s no secret that diversity, equity and inclusion are top of mind for both businesses and HR teams alike these days.
This area is important for any business leader, but the HR team especially is usually tasked with being the face of, and at the forefront of, leading the charge when it comes to DEI.
A business DEI strategy entails creating and maintaining a workplace in which all team
members are valued for their skills, experience, and unique perspectives.
When done well, it will also include opportunities to intentionally amplify diverse voices in the workplace, with the goal of creating a positive work environment of inclusion and belonging.
These activities should be seen as a strategic business priority. The skills you can bring to the table as an HR practitioner to support these efforts are cultural understanding, empathy and advising business leaders.
Additionally, this may require employing the skill of change management as you work with decision makers to analyze and disrupt the current state of business operations.
Your company’s DEI efforts should act as a North Star, and run as a common thread throughout all your business processes, in how you hire, retain, and promote your people.
DEI can be a sensitive and emotionally charged topic, not everyone agrees on the “right” way for businesses to lead in this area.
Start by having conversations with your employees, actively listening to their feedback, identifying priorities to address in your workplace, and then focusing on what is most important to your specific workforce.
The primary role of an HR practitioner is one of a business representative. This means occasionally having to have the not fun conversations—enforcing a policy to ensure consistency, denying requests, or even conducting a termination call when needed.
To deliver such a message with compassion while remaining calm and direct takes some practice.
Navigating conflict while on the job might also mean conducting a mediation between disagreeing colleagues, or leading a group of business leaders to a decision that everyone can agree to. Doing this requires excellent communication and interpersonal skills, active listening, empathy and even influencing.
Although an uncomfortable exercise for many, successfully navigating conflict reaps many rewards when it comes to a well-balanced work environment. Well-managed conflict among a team can build confidence among its members, create an atmosphere of trust, inspire open and honest feedback, and drive high performance.
Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is to be able to identify, evaluate and effectively respond to the emotional needs of yourself and others.
It also involves being able to manage your relationship with yourself and others. This is a must-have skill for leaders and HR team members alike to be able to manage, motivate, and lead teams.
A leader who understands how the employees around them operate is a leader who understands how to inspire and engage those same employees.
Empathy, or the ability to relate emotionally to another person, is a component of EQ. As we speak, the news is currently abuzz with articles detailing how generative AI will continue to have long-lasting impacts in life and in the workplace. However, there is something that AI will never be able to do.
It will likely be a long time (if ever) before AI will be able to understand and share the feelings of another person.
It is incumbent upon us to keep the “human” in “human resources” and remember to relate to and empathize with our fellow colleagues no matter the challenges we face.
We are called on to do this in nearly every part of our job, from interviewing, to navigating difficult employee relations issues, to supporting a team member going through a difficult time, and even while delivering challenging news such as a termination.
This will remind us why we entered this profession in the first place, to bring value to our team members beyond processing their paycheck and position ourselves to navigate whatever comes next in this new world of work.
The HRIS (or Human Resource Information System) is the way in which the human resources team manages their business’ workforce.
In addition to housing employee information and sensitive data, almost all business tasks that involve employees, including managing performance reviews, administering benefits, running payroll, and more are conducted within the HRIS environment.
Therefore, it’s critical to have a well-maintained HRIS with up-to-date data, and an expert on the team to manage the system.
It's an important skill to be able to master these systems through hands-on experience. Most aren’t hard to navigate, but it does take some time and dedication to get familiar with them.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon to be called on to deliver reports to internal stakeholders on workforce and employee demographic information (see above, Data Analytics & Reporting).
Being a master of this tool delivers unique and critical value to the business.
In life and in work, the only true constant is change. The rate of change is faster than ever before in this day and age, and businesses have to pivot quickly to keep up with the evolving world.
Organizations must diligently prepare when implementing a major organizational change, and think through the impact on its processes, policies and people.
An area where HR can deliver positive impact is through change management. This could look like creating project plans for managing a change initiative, thinking through the needs assessments for how to deliver critical timely information to stakeholders, communicating the change to employees, and supporting the team with emotional reaction that may come following the change.
When done well, change management is a strategic effort, not just an operational one, that mobilizes and inspires the workforce to prepare for the next chapter of the business.
After all, while the business may plan for change, it’s up to the people to implement it and make it successful, and HR is in the business of people.
Skills you might need for successfully managing change are business acumen to understand the business rationale and desired outcomes, empathy as you think through potential impacts to team members, and coaching as you prepare managers to lead their teams through the change
By being a champion of change, HR can help support the success of change initiatives, thereby being a business partner in the company’s evolution and ability to be competitive in the market.
Networking is an important skill for HR practitioners, as it opens the door to build relationships with other professionals in the field and supports the ability to keep on top of changing trends in the industry.
Network can be uncomfortable for some, and requires social skills, interpersonal skills and sometimes even courage.
The benefits of networking are many:
- The opportunity to find peers in the industry who may be be facing similar job-related challenges, allowing thought partnership in working through solutions
- Finding a group of people to float ideas by or to gain inspiration from as they try initiatives at their own organizations (think leveling, developing hybrid working models, etc)
- Having a community of people that can relate to the challenges and unique stressors of the role
- The potential to find a mentor or coach to aid in professional development
- Potential new professional opportunities to explore.
Additionally, networking is not something to just practice externally, but internally at your own organization to build relationships. For HR senior leaders or HRBPs tasked with supporting a certain org, this can even support with:
- Gaining wider business knowledge, putting you in a better position to advise
- Deepening your understanding of DEI pain points and roadblocks across the business
- Understanding the realities of the day to day job of the people you support
While networking may not be the first thing that comes to mind as strictly an “HR skill”, it’s a skill and a competitive advantage that can help you grow professionally at an accelerated rate.
A resource to help here: 3 Ways To Build Your Professional Network And Make Meaningful Connections
Some Advice And Resources To Help You Build The Skills You Need
To help build workplaces of the future, HR professionals need to be constantly evolving their toolbox of hard and soft skills.
If, after reading the above, you’ve started to identify areas where you’d like to improve, I’d recommend any of the following resources to help kick off your development and expand your skill set.
- 2023 HR Trends Report - Mclean
- 2023 Human Capital Trends - Deloitte
- How To Elevate HR As A Strategic Partner Of The Business
- HR In The Boardroom: Why And How HR Should Help Drive Company Decisions
- The 25 Best HR Certification Courses
- 11 Best DEI Certifications To Take In
- 9 Best Learning And Development Certifications
- Top 15 HR Analytics Certifications
- 8 HRIS Certifications To Expand Your Technical Competence
- 13 Best Communication Courses
- 13 Best Compensation Courses For HR, Business Owners And Managers
- Human Resources Career Path: Your Options Analyzed
Feel free to hit me up in the comments with any questions or additions or join the conversation over the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business leaders passionate about building organizations of the future.