HR Roles Continue to Become More Complex, Study Finds

Have HR professionals taken on new HR competencies over the last three decades?

The answer is "yes," based on the findings of a comprehensive study of more than 4,000 HR practitioners at over 1,200 organizational units. A new book, Victory Through Organization, details the findings of 30 years of research and provides empirical evidence on the HR profession’s evolution.

HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®) is a partner in the research effort, which includes new results from the seventh (2016) round of the HR competency study known as the HRCS. The HRCS represent nearly 30 years of work led by HR guru Dave Ulrich, a Professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and partner at The RBL Group. Ulrich is joined by David Kryscynski from Brigham Young University, Michael Ulrich, from Utah State university, and Wayne Brockbank from the Ross School.

HRCI asked the researchers to shed light on the HRCS findings. This is the second in a series of blogs on the changing model of HR competencies detailed in the book.

Attention HRCI credential holders! Read Victory Through Organization and receive three Business Credits toward recertification. This is a pre-approved activity (seminar) credit.

The HR Function Grows in Complexity

The competencies required to be an effective HR leader have continued to evolve. Over a 30-year span, Ulrich and team have conducted seven rounds of independent study on HR competencies. In each round, the research has found as much as 40 percent of individual HR competencies to change as the complexity of HR, itself, has grown.

In 1987, the research found three essential HR competency domains: business knowledge, HR delivery and management of change. Four domains were found in 1992 and five in 1997. In the most recent research, nine domains of HR competency have been identified.

"Being a competent HR professional has become increasingly complex, with some of the recent competencies (analytics designed and interpreter [and] technology and social media integrator) reflecting how HR competencies reflect general business trends," researchers say.

Based on the research of performance (1=low to 5=high) scores, HR professionals have dramatically improved from 1987 to 2016:

  • Business knowledge scores improved from a rating of 3.17 to 4.13.
  • HR delivery: 3.50 to 4.02.
  • Management of change: 3.70 to 4.01
  • Personal proficiency, first measured in 1992: 3.78 to 4.33.

HR Professionals Are Their Own Toughest Critics

Still, researchers say, HR professionals have not recognized their own progress. HR practitioners often rate themselves lower than others in an organization. HR practitioners, in the 2016 findings (see table below), have self-assessments that are lower than non-HR associate ratings.

"HR professionals tend to be harsh on themselves, perhaps having an inevitable identity crisis," researchers say. "This self-criticism shows up in essays on the HR profession, often bemoaning what is wrong with HR efforts . . . in performance appraisal, HR governance, business partner models and so forth. Maybe it is time to build on HR strengths and successes while creating a better future."

Clearly, some HR professionals are not as effective as others. But the researchers warn that this is no reason to generalize perceptions about the HR profession as a whole. The HRCS demonstrates that the profession continues to transform with business needs and goals.

"Instead of bemoaning what HR professionals lack, maybe it is time to relish the progress that has been made," researchers conclude. "Do these results imply that HR 'has arrived?' No, there is always more to do, but the base forward is strong and getting stronger."

This is one of several HRCI blogs on the HRCS study and the new book, Victory Through Organization. In addition to learning about the nine emerging competencies for HR, read more about how HR roles have become more complex, the need to HR must navigate paradox, how to be viewed as a "HR as Strategic Positioner" and the importance of HR and credible activism.