5 Common Attributes of Today’s HR Hero
Updated: Aug 7
I’ve been quite fortunate to work closely with many bold-thinking, highly competent HR professionals during my global HR/HR Technology practitioner years, and to sustain many of these relationships over a four-decade career. This personal network has also been a true asset in terms of refining or validating my various perspectives and insights, including views on what I’ll refer to as the common attributes of today’s “HR hero.” Five such attributes are explored here. (1) Skilled at assessing organizational readiness We know that when change management is brought up in relation to new HR Technology, it’s often in the context of the steps needed to ensure a successful technology deployment … vs. a way for HR Technology to ensure the success of major change initiatives. This is unfortunate, as whether an M&A transaction or a corporate restructuring scenario, launching new businesses or product lines, branching to new geographies or the prototypical business transformation effort, the success of a change program will often have a huge impact on an enterprise for years to come. Anyone that’s studied change management, including the methods and approaches of Lewin, Kotter, Prosci, etc. (something a former boss/CHRO encouraged me to do when I took over the HRIS function of a global investment bank) has learned about assessing organizational readiness for change, including with the help of technology. A change model from BCG particularly resonated with me. It’s what the premier consultancy referred to as the Ready, Willing and Able or RWA model. Its essence is as follows: Ready: employees and managers understand the (net) benefits of the change program to themselves, to their colleagues and to the organization overall. Willing: they are prepared to commit to the change(s) and do what is needed to support them. And Able: they believe they possess the skills and knowledge to support the changes and play a key part in them. While today’s HR Hero doesn’t necessarily have to be certified in Change Management, given the “max fluidity” of today’s operating environment, their organizations are depending on them to expertly lead organizational readiness assessments (essentially the font-end of most if not all change management initiatives); and to prescribe the best plans and actions to address key gaps. Obviously, this involves upskilling, re-skilling and focused hiring activities, as well as communicating extremely effectively before, during and after the change(s) are broadly felt. (2) Architect of the target culture Just as today’s HR hero can be relied upon to keenly determine the best ways to address readiness gaps around skills and competencies, they tend to be equally proficient at establishing a common vision across internal business leaders regarding target culture, and they’re able to clearly articulate why embracing and achieving it is in fact a business imperative. Of course, this starts with the HR aspects of the business case such as an elevated ability to attract and retain top talent; but HR heroes are astute enough to know there might be pushback or cynicism if the framing is mostly an HR-centric one. Therefore, much attention is also given to highlighting how achieving the target corporate culture benefits all aspects of the operation and enables realization of the entire business strategy. Beyond galvanizing the organization toward the target corporate culture, it’s arguably just as challenging to develop the blueprint of actions for achieving it. Finally, the HR hero ensures that the foundational corporate values that underpin organizational culture are promoted and leveraged as differentiated brand strengths that are pillars of business success. (3) Relentless communicator HR heroes understand the importance of relentless communication and are committed to practicing it, during steady state operating periods but especially during times of frequent or significant change. Circling back to the first HR hero quality, organizational readiness assessments are, again, basically the front-end of a change management life cycle or program. A universal dynamic at this same time that’s largely behavioral in nature is that when employees learn of impending changes, a period of destabilization ensues. Manifestations include large scale productivity losses from very distracted workers, a segment of whom are likely updating resumes and staying close to rumor mills or those that supposedly know what’s coming down the pike. The height or ‘amplitude’ of this destabilization curve is usually a function of the magnitude or significance of the change(s). The width or ‘latency’ of this curve, or how long this challenging stage might last is usually connected with one thing: the bringing to bear of effective, authentic and if possible, tailored communications. Without a doubt, this is HR hero domain, and those who have earned this reputation or personal brand often own this responsibility more than any other in their portfolio of accountabilities. (4) Adaptive HCM practitioner Adaptive HCM is a concept I’ve been speaking about at HR-related conferences in recent years. It refers to the ability to detect key signals, cues and triggers related to the workforce, and respond quickly, with optimal decisions and actions. A common, significant trigger (which can be viewed as more concrete in nature than some indirect cues or signals) is when the business results for a particular quarter are worse – or better – than expected. This usually leads to the updating of business plans and priorities, which typically has major implications across the complete spectrum of HCM processes and activities. Hiring volumes get recalibrated, as do learning and development priorities (to align with key skills becoming more/less important and relevant) and corresponding budgets, and in some cases, compensation and broader total rewards practices get retrofit to whether the organization wants to be a market leader or follower from a job pricing perspective. This last decision process is naturally linked with the trajectory of key skills as well. A competent and reliable practitioner of adaptive HCM is an attribute highlighted here because if the elapsed time between signal and optimal response is protracted, and – for example -- hiring volumes or L&D activities are not business justified or aligned during extended periods, costs and disruption will surely mount. And this is in relation to major, concrete business triggers. Cues / signals are usually less concrete, with examples ranging from themes surfaced during exit interviews, employee check-ins, surveys or something like Glassdoor ratings, machine learning-enabled sentiment analysis (curated in the aggregate from anonymized emails, discussion board comments or chats with HR service desk bots) and perhaps the most prevalent of all, what can be inferred from different people analytics. (5) Synergy master The final attribute of the five discussed here is that HR heroes must make the whole organization greater than the sum of its often-siloed corporate functions. Architecting this clearly has multiple dimensions. Culture, skills, organizational and job design, coaching and data insights all play vital roles. Indeed, the HR hero must be a “synergy master.” There is really no one else aptly suited for this, and moreover, the same can be said for all five of the HR hero attributes discussed.