Learning & Development

HR Pros Discount Knowledge of the Profession as Essential to Business Success


A survey of senior HR generalists found them scoring several other areas of business acumen more important than HR knowledge in achieving HR success.


OK, it’s finally happened.

After years of fighting in the trenches to better the company’s HR function, you’re being promoted to general management. They’ve given you a division to run, or perhaps the executive vice president spot. Maybe even COO.


But you first need to decide who will replace you in HR. Who best will preserve what you’ve built and take it to the next level? In other words …


“What skills, competencies, or characteristics will you look for in your successor?”


That last question is in quotes because it comes from an intriguing survey done by the research firm Discovery Surveys and HR placement specialist Gatti & Associates. The survey asked 276 senior HR generalists what three qualities would be most important in a successor. Their answers offered more than a few surprises.


First, would you think knowledge of HR would attract the most votes? If you did, you’d be wrong. And way wrong at that!



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Reflecting what we hear more and more in the profession, general business skills were chosen as a key skill set by the largest portion (57 percent) of respondents. Those skills were defined in open-end comments on the survey as “an understanding of P&L statements, budgeting, analytical forecasting and business operations.” Also mentioned: familiarity with “the various functionalities (marketing, R&D, IT, etc.) and knowledge of the industry.”


One comment put it this way: “HR professionals would be well-served by a rotational assignment in a line role at some point in their career.” This echoed former GE Chairman Jack Welch’s oft-repeated advice that the best HR director was probably someone who’d worked in marketing.


Did HR knowledge at least come in second? In a word, no. Business skills were followed by leadership skills (55 percent) and people skills (far behind at 32 percent).


Leadership skills were defined as having strategic focus and the ability to make (and motivate others to make) tough decisions. People skills included the ability to “accurately assess people” as well as to listen well and communicate clearly in verbal, written, and presentation situations.


In fact, HR knowledge did not show up until 4th place, with only 29 percent of respondents naming it as a top three ingredient for success. Put another way, possessing general business skills was considered nearly twice as essential as knowing HR … by HR managers. The respondents also de-emphasized the more mundane aspects of the profession. “You do not have to know every ‘nut and bolt’ of compensation, benefits or staffing,” noted one comment, but you do need an understanding of “how these intertwining functions impact overall company performance/productivity.”



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Following HR came such characteristics as the agility to make changes when needed (26 percent) and the ability to influence and counsel (21 percent and 20 percent, respectively).


The three characteristics that brought up the rear offered their own surprises. Only 15 percent of respondents felt integrity was a top three need, and only 13 percent cited problem-solving skills as in that category.


Last on the list, at 7 percent: intelligence.


For more information, e-mail info@discoverysurveys.com and info@GattiHR.com


Do you agree with the survey results? What would your top three ingredients for success in HR be? Use the Share Your Comments button and let your colleagues know.



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