Emerging from Covid: What We Have Learned in Building Strategic HR Competency

By Joe Hanson | October 21, 2021

Key Takeaways:

  • We have learned some important lessons though the Covid era as we have partnered with organizations around the world to identify and build HR professional’s competencies in accelerating the business, advancing human capabilities, simplifying complexity, fostering collaboration, and mobilizing information.
  • Developing HR professionals’ ability to clearly anchor business success within HR outcomes and individual competencies is critical need for HR departments to have impact and be seen as true partners to the business. 
  • The collective model for the organization and individuals will have 10x the impact of the individual alone.
  • Virtual leaning with both asynchronous and synchronous components is more effective in building competencies than a simple online course.
  • An organization- wide approach led by a senior leadership team sets the stage and platform for individual competency development and greater impact.

One of the impacts of the disruptions to business over the past year and a half has been increasing focus about what the critical skills for the future look like. We are clearly in a period of intense disruption that offers opportunities for rapid change and increased impact, and HR is no exception. Through this period of disruption, The RBL Group and the University of Michigan (along with 19 global HR associations who partnered to shape and collect the data) have captured some critical findings regarding HR competencies that drive business impact. Overall, we know clearly now that HR’s ability to drive business impact requires a combination of collective HR competencies, HR department effectiveness, and business capability, as shown in this graphic.

"There’s so much wonderful material that we can leverage. I’m already seeing us applying the principles that have been taught here."

Victor A., SVP of Organizational Effectiveness

The challenge many are now facing is how to build these HR organizations and the professionals who bring them to life with the competencies needed to deliver business capability. Since every business is different, there is not a cookie cutter solution to fit every organization’s future needs. We have learned some important lessons over the last year as we have partnered with organizations around the world to build HR professional’s skills in accelerating the business, advancing human capabilities, simplifying complexity, fostering collaboration, and mobilizing information.

Content matters

The first lesson is that content and perspective around an integrated business, HR department and individual model matters. It’s more than just a random set of trainings for competencies that seem to be currently popular. The first element of an integrated model for business success lies in knowing your stakeholders and knowing their business and defined capabilities that will be differentiating to customers.  

Second, HR as an overall department needs the ability to organize to deliver Human Capability outcomes needed for business results. These abilities include developing the right organizational capabilities to succeed in the new economy and identifying the HR outcomes in organization, leadership, and talent required to deliver strategy and target capabilities.  

Third, we know there are both critical individual competencies as well as team and department priorities that can have outsized impact on delivering business results. HR professionals need to develop individual competencies across a range of strategic areas as well as specific functional knowledge. Building individual skills in critical competency areas and understanding and reflecting on how to better impact the business are important components of any HR development program. 

These fundamental, yet revolutionary concepts, form the basis of The Dave Ulrich HR Academy [LINK to the academy landing page] which has been designed to help HR professionals’ clearly anchor business success within HR outcomes and individual competencies. It is folly to believe that an HR professional can simply take a few online courses to improve selective skills and make a dent in the business. The collective model for the organization will have 10x the impact of the individual.

How you deliver the content matters too

Another key component of successfully evolving the competencies of your HR professionals is in the structure of the program. The flood of new technologies aimed at improving—or revolutionizing—how individuals learn and the accelerated experimentation in applying these technologies to corporate development programs through the COVID era has helped both consumers and providers rapidly evolve virtual development. We are finding that, when done well, virtual learning can approximate much of the original classroom experience while creating some important benefits. The most successful programs combine some asynchronous elements with synchronous events.

Asynchronous elements (work sessions competed on your own time) should be designed to convey the most critical content in bite-sized modules that fit around people’s busy schedules. They can teach key concepts, suggest ways to apply new behaviors or approaches to participants’ daily work, and encourage personal or group reflection.  Videos, short readings, mini-assessments, worksheets, chats, etc. all allow participants to learn, apply, and reflect on critical content in ways that fit around their regular work demands.

Synchronous events (sessions done collectively at the same time) supplement the individual learning and improve outcomes significantly. These consultant-facilitated live sessions enable a level of engagement, networking and trust to tackle complex learning discussions and approximate a classroom/team coaching environment. They also create accountability to one another for completing the individual activities and can be customized to focus on the discussions and implications that are most critical for your business.

Together, synchronous and asynchronous events build a program that is flexible, virtual-work friendly, and delivers results of higher completion rates, better leaning and application, and high engagement.

“What I also appreciate is the balance of the model, the theory, the concept with the very tactical, actionable takeaways.”

Jill K., Manager, Program Delivery

In Practice: To illustrate how to deploy this kind of content and structure to create a virtual program that actually delivers impact, we can look at a recent example. A national healthcare organization recently enrolled 20 of their most senior HR leadership team in our Dave Ulrich HR Academy. These initial 20 participants worked with their CHRO as they went through the program.  

Each week they identified the key issues they needed to address as a leadership team in applying solutions and techniques to their 2022 operating plan. They developed operating plan initiatives and mapped these to all of the HR program modules and tools that could help them along the way.

Their next step was to enroll 80 individuals from the next level of their HR professionals in the program with the 20 people from their leadership team as their guides. A key strength of the program is the strong connection between the ideas and what's needed to put them into practice to create impact. This aspect, along with senior leadership coaches allows the organization to align and work better together with leadership. In the words of one participant: “What I also appreciate is the balance of the model, the theory, the concept with the very tactical, actionable takeaways.”

In Friday discussions they described learning implications and fit for their operating plan. Mid-course, participants listed twelve question areas and Dave Ulrich presented a 90-minute webinar to share his answers. They were able to deep dive on emerging issues and shared responses. The questions themselves were an opportunity to find organizational alignments and places to build better team understanding.

These questions included: 

  • What insights, experiences, research and best practice approaches can you share that address the major challenges facing many companies, on retention, recruiting, and well-being? 
  • How are exemplar companies championing and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion?
  • What watch-outs would you share that could most adversely impact the ability for the organization to optimize our new HR organization and what is your guidance on how best to mitigate such derailers?
  • Which of the HR Competency Study Round 8 competencies are most relevant specifically for CHROs/HRPBs and senior COE and HR Service Center leaders, respectively? Which one(s), if any, are equally relevant for all three? 

Mid-course data from the second group of 80 participants showed that engagement was 50% above the mean, with a high understanding score and outstanding participation rate. 70% of participants are on track to completion which is 10 times the general 7% completion rate of comparable online courses. With this level of completion from their participants, they will be better positioned to contribute as a cohesive team with an aligned understanding of value, goals, and strategy going into 2022. 

Even more importantly than this data are the comments of participants that share the impact the program is having on how people work. In the words of the SVP of Organizational Effectiveness: “There’s so much wonderful material that we can leverage. I’m already seeing us applying the principles that have been taught here.”  

Check out the upcoming available cohorts for the Dave Ulrich HR Academy and clarify your organization’s leadership and HR strategy. 

Joe Hanson is a Partner with The RBL Group and an experienced consultant recognized for his work leading businesses through turnaround and transformation.

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