Building the future-proof HR professional: Skills needed to thrive in a changing world


Professional Development

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Building the future-proof HR professional: Skills needed to thrive in a changing world

It is more important than ever for HR professionals to up their game to stay relevant and deal with different challenges presented by modern workplace dynamics.
  • Sanjay Chaturvedi

11 Jun

A huge slew of transitions and transformations have occurred in the past few years that have shaped the way we work. | Representative image | Photo by cottonbro studio via Pexels

As the future invades our lives and impacts us in few known and many unknown ways, businesses have to look at how they can adapt and cope with these changes. A huge slew of transitions and transformations have occurred in the past few years that have shaped the way we work. Let us look at the few most significant ones.

COVID-19 pandemic: The pandemic had a profoundly disruptive impact on businesses around the world, forcing businesses to adapt to new ways of operating, including remote work, virtual meetings, hybrid work and digital transformations. Many businesses have had to adopt new strategies to survive and thrive in the pandemic economy. One very visible example is how supply chain improvements led to the growth and maturity of  new businesses such as food delivery during the lockdown. As people could not go out and depended upon food delivery aggregators such as Zomato and Swiggy, these companies rose into prominence — a significant pivot into a new market.

International trade: Major economies like the US and China are still battling each other on many issues related to trades and tariffs, significantly impacting cross–border trade. The uncertainty and volatility in international trade have driven businesses to rethink  supply chain strategies and diversify  operations.

Political instability: Political instability and unrest have affected businesses in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Hong Kong, and Ukraine. These have led to changes in government policies and regulations that have global impact on  sectors such as the global oil economy.

Climate change:  Focus of governments on climate-related risks have required businesses to adopt sustainable practices such as ESG reporting, invest in renewable energy, and adapt to a changing environment.

Technological changes: Perhaps the most significant and fastest change is being brought about by new technologies. Of the innumerable examples, the latest hot disruptor, ChatGPT,  will force businesses to fundamentally rethink many processes and even organisation designs.

Also read: Future-proof your career: How to stay relevant in the changing job market

In this transformative environment, what skills do HR professionals require to stay relevant? We can divide these into two quadrants –

Personal skills

Communication skills: Brought on by the advent of remote working, HR professionals have already adapted to different channels of digital communication such as emails, zoom, MS Teams and company internal platforms such as Yammer. They would however, need to train the workforce on this adoption for better productivity.

Anticipation: A little talked about skill is that of anticipation – the ability to understand environmental changes, imagine possible impacts on the organisation and workforce and anticipate outcomes. HR needs to lead this for the simple reason that lag in change initiatives tend to slow down learning and productivity of the organisation.

Networking: A logical follow-through from anticipation is the ability to grasp how other businesses are responding to changes. This requires active networking with other professionals, organisations and peers, and generate a wealth of information.

Agile mindset:  With rapidly changing  conditions HR needs to keep pace and adapt with  an agile mindset. For example, a sudden spurt in attrition in a particular function needs to be studied in the context of what is happening in the market for skills in that function. Based upon this study, agile action to plug the gaps needs to be developed.

Empathy: Today more than ever, HR professionals need to feel what it means to be in another person’s shoes and look at things from their point of view. Knowing others’ expectations,  perspectives and priorities is a huge learning input to design the organisation of the future.

Ability to engage the workforce: Significant research exists to support a positive correlation between employee engagement and the growth & profitability of organisations. Having reassessed their priorities, employees are looking for different prospects and opportunities. HR managers have to be very skilled at keeping employees engaged and committed, through meaningful policies, processes and initiatives 

Functional Skills

Digital savviness: Technology-led disruption of business is now ubiquitous and continuous. HR needs to be up-to-date with changes that are occurring in the digital economy and their expected impact on organisations. HR will also have to initiate and/or support suitable strategies to manage these technology-led changes.

Cross-business/border collaboration: With organisations becoming more global in nature, working cross-functionally, as well as across borders, are a necessity. Developing globalisation skill sets will be a key requirement for HR.

Organisation change & restructuring: Organisations are examining new, innovative ways of working that are effective and can adapt to newer pressures. Robust and flexible organisation designs by HR can be elemental in responding to business changes. 

Talent clusters: With newer demands organisations need to look at creating talent clusters that bring together people with specialist skills. These teams need to be formed quickly to address a particular task or project and disbanded equally fast. With growth and restructuring happening at a rapid pace, HR needs to build capability to manage succession pipelines for positions that get either created or vacated. Another important point is the buy vs build decision – how can the pipeline be fulfilled internally or externally.

Sustainability: Compliance with ESG frameworks is becoming a key driver of business. HR will be a key partner in supporting ESG initiatives, especially involving employee participation and organisation design.

Coaching: Capability building as well as organization changes requires HR professionals to be good coaches. This is now a prime need of the hour so that people can be developed faster internally.

Overall, for businesses to adapt to new challenges and change their strategies in order to survive and grow in a rapidly changing world HR professionals need to up their game.

Also read: Emotional intelligence skills are key to workplace success

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