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The HR Report Card

What does HR see when they hold up the mirror?

The responsibility of growing talent falls to the HR group, but HR isn’t benefiting from the leadership programs that it is creating. So how can they be better poised to succeed?

“Perhaps the most important consequence of HR’s profile is its underrepresentation in leader candidate pools. HR leaders are increasingly rare among those being considered for higher-level roles. HR leaders who are being considered have a distinct profile from those who are not.”

The HR Report Card

Do HR’s Skills Rival Those of Their Business Partners?

HR’s responsibilities include growing the strength of an organization’s talent, while gauging any risks to the health of its workforce. But how healthy is the HR function itself? With major publications making dramatic pronouncements, such as HBR’s “It’s Time to ‘Blow Up’ HR and Build Something New” (July/August, 2015), HR faces rampant criticism; yet, information is lacking about its true capability profile. We fill this gap by comparing HR leaders to their peers from other functions, using two assessment reference points: an in-depth behavioral simulation of leadership skills and a detailed personality test. We answer the questions: When on equal footing with leaders from other functions, where do HR leaders stumble? and Where are HR leaders poised to surge ahead?

Evidence

Overall, the profile of a typical HR leader is characterized by a few expected peaks and a larger number of telling gaps. The HR Skill and Personality Profile graphic summarizes notable differences between HR and other functions.

HR’s skill strengths, relative to other functions, start with building organizational talent, where HR leaders are (as we’d hoped) extremely strong compared to leaders of other functions, particularly Marketing, Engineering, and Finance. HR also excels in several interpersonal competencies, with the exception of compelling communication, where its leaders are stronger than those in Engineering yet weaker than Marketing’s.

HR’s weaknesses cluster around financial acumen, business savvy, entrepreneurship, and global acumen, which align to and extend the stereotype of HR lacking expertise in core business concepts. More surprising is customer focus, where HR underperforms most other functions; that is, attentiveness to internal and external customers and end users permeates HR far less than other functions.

Shifting to a personality view, HR leaders are stronger in interpersonal sensitivity but weaker in ambition and inquisitiveness. That is, they not only are less likely to exhibit a passion for growth, but also may not even question why this is holding them back.

Looking across the full skill profile, the single most distinct function from HR is Engineering, followed by Marketing and Finance. HR’s profile is most similar to Operations, followed by Sales and IT.

Perhaps the most important consequence of HR’s profile is its underrepresentation in leader candidate pools. HR leaders are increasingly rare among those being considered for higher-level roles (see the graph at right). And, HR leaders who are being considered have a distinct profile from those who are not. (see Action .06)

Action

  1. Recognize which assumptions about HR are accurate and which are overblown. This research provides specificity about proven skill gaps.
  2. Build partnerships that connect HR with functions possessing complementary strengths. HR can both learn from and advise these groups on key skills.
  3. To remedy a pervasive weakness, prioritize a form of customer focus that will reflect HR’s role in connecting with internal and external constituents.
  4. Adapt the HR success profile and selection/promotion tools to break patterns of deficiencies while reinforcing strengths.
  5. Orient HR toward being an “anticipator.” HR anticipators are more strongly connected to strategic planning and provide more valuable talent analytic data to business partners.
  6. To improve HR’s almost nonexistent representation in executive-level roles, prioritize financial acumen and business savvy—the two skills that differentiate HR leaders who are candidates for top leadership positions from HR leaders in lower-level candidate pools.
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High Resolution Leadership
A Synthesis of 15,000 Assessments into How Leaders Shape the Business Landscape

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