HR behavior competencies are critical for success today. Developing Proficiency in HR: 7 Self-Directed Learning Activities for HR Professionals provides a roadmap for HR professionals to help themselves and their HR colleagues develop the behaviors necessary to be successful. It is a pragmatic and easy-to-follow book that is filled with practical exercises and worksheets that will be useful to HR professionals—and to HR leaders. The book is designed to transform passive learners into active learners by helping HR professionals develop their HR behavioral competencies at their own pace and based on their own needs. Included is guidance on how to approach personal development in day-to-day activities rather than in a formal course setting. Self-directed activities such as role play, observation, and networking with a purpose—all of which are covered in the book—can be powerful drivers of learning and development.
About the Author
Deb Cohen, Ph.D., is an association executive with more than 25 years of experience advising, speaking, and guiding nonprofit, academic, and for-profit entities. With the publication of this book, Cohen is delivering talks and professional development highlighting how behavior matters to HR professionals and how to develop HR behavioral competencies. As a former senior vice president with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Cohen was responsible for a 50-person division covering knowledge services, original research, and the development of a professionwide competency model. A subject matter expert in HR, management, and organizational behavior, Cohen has expertise in creating and executing new initiatives that support and develop organization strategy. Under her direction, research services were transformed into a million-dollar revenue stream, a curriculum guide for the HR profession was established, and a competency model that forms the basis for a worldwide certification credential was created. She received her Ph.D. in management and human resources and her master’s degree in labor and human resources from The Ohio State University. She is a certified HR professional with the designation SHRM-SCP. She is co-author of Defining HR Success: 9 Critical Competencies for HR Professionals (2015) and a co-editor of Developing and Enhancing Teamwork in Organizations: Evidence-Based Best Practices and Guidelines (2013). Prior to joining SHRM, Cohen spent 15 years as an academician teaching HRM at George Washington and George Mason universities. She has published over 50 articles and book chapters and has been published in such journals as Academy of Management Journal, Personnel Psychology, Journal of Management, and the Journal of Business Ethics.
Read an Excerpt
Careers and HR Competencies
Darla was an HR generalist who graduated with a BBA in HR management. With two HR internships on her resume, she landed her first job in HR as a recruiter and HR assistant at a midsize engineering firm. Three years later Darla was promoted to HR manager. Now, four years after the promotion and a fair amount of growth in the engineering firm, Darla has secured a position as the assistant director of HR for a small IT firm. This role has a great deal more responsibility, and along with her excitement for the new challenge, Darla recognizes that she needs a better understanding of the competencies required as she transitions from the early part of her career to the mid level and beyond. She has her sights set on a promotion to the director of HR role when her new boss retires in four to five years. Who knows what will happen next!
What do I want to be when I grow up, I thought when I was a teenager — and again when I graduated from college — and again when I left my first job to go back to graduate school — and again when I started to look for my next position ... Focusing on your career is a lifelong process that encompasses jobs, learning, change, and development. Managing your career involves thinking about where you want to go and what tools are needed to ensure that you get there and that you do well enough along the way to succeed in your aspirations. In the opening vignette, Darla has clearly been thoughtful and has operated with intent as she has approached her career — and she recognizes that a focus on HR competencies is necessary to help pave her way to success.
Where Are You in Your HR Career?
How much thought have you given your career? More importantly, where do you want to be in your HR career in the next 5 to 10 years? Have you given much thought to your career plan? Career planning, regardless of whether you wish to advance or change your position, should be a continuous process. This process should include thinking about your work interests and your personal interests. Everyone has ideas about what they're good at or preferences about what they want to do. A career spans a person's lifetime, regardless of whether you stay in the same job, advance, or make a series of lateral moves. Typically, however, people often think of a career as having an upward trajectory and often view themselves or others as residing at a given level at various points in their career. If you're reading this book, it is because you've thought about your career and your competencies and you're interested in planning for what you need today and in the future, or what your staff may need in the future.
Before discussing HR behavior competencies in more detail, let's consider HR career levels and provide some context about where you are, where you want to go, or how you can help others think through where they are, what options they may have, and what competency development needs exist along a career journey. Keep in mind that the following is a general discussion and categorization; some individuals may describe their career level differently with varying amounts of experience. What follows is a guide to help create context for a general discussion of careers in HR.
Entry level encompasses jobs for which little to no experience is required. Individuals in these roles are typically beginning their career journey and have had limited exposure to the field of HR. Positions at the entry level are central to the organization because a lot of transactional work is done here, and at the same time entry-level positions allow individuals to explore their interests and learn more about the organization and the field. These individuals primarily support others in the HR function and carry out tasks as assigned. Individuals who wish to advance in the HR field may spend between two and five years at this level — possibly more if aspirations are for a steady state with little desire for more responsibility.
Mid-level HR professionals are those who exercise more independent judgment and who apply their knowledge and experience to more complex assignments. Mid-level professionals may (or may not) have supervisory responsibility, and they may have typically between 3 and 15 years of experience. How many years will depend on personal preference for position advancement or responsibility. A mid-level professional supports staff in the organization and in the HR function and typically does not drive strategy. HR professionals can stay at the mid level for their entire career if they so desire. These individuals can be quite competent, enjoy managerial responsibilities, and have latitude to direct projects, initiatives, and budgets. Mid-level professionals have more exposure to leadership and have opportunities to practice leadership if so desired, particularly if their goal is to move to the senior level in their careers.
A senior-level HR professional is likely to have deep expertise in a particular area or be a generalist with 15 or more years of experience. In some cases, senior-level HR professionals are at the top of the HR function in their organization. People at this level are highly networked both inside and outside the organization. They have extensive experience and likely advanced education, supplemental credentials, and expertise in HR as well as in business. They most likely have experience managing others. They have problem-solving expertise as well as expertise in forming and executing strategy. They have a high degree of autonomy. This person may be the senior most HR person and report to the president or CEO, or he or she may report to another, more senior, HR executive.
Executive-level HR professionals are likely to have at least 20 to 25 years of extensive experience in HR and/or in business. They have significant influence and are the top HR person in their organization reporting to the president or CEO. They have substantial responsibility and operate at the executive level both inside and outside the HR function. That is, they are executives interfacing with other executives and have organizationwide impact. They manage budgets, have profit and loss (P&L) accountability, and are responsible for setting HR strategy. These individuals are likely to have advanced education in either HR, industrial psychology, or business.
Greg graduated with a degree in business administration. He spent three years in the Peace Corps working in Ecuador. Upon his return to the U.S., he took a job as a payroll specialist since the role aligned with some of his task assignments in the Corps. Greg was a quick study, and coupled with his bilingual talent, was promoted within a year to payroll manager in a facility in Texas. During his time as a payroll manager, Greg attended college part time and after two years completed an online master's degree in HR. Wanting to explore a variety of possibilities, Greg took a lateral move to talent acquisition manager. He looked for opportunities to broaden his experience base and volunteered for a number of special projects and initiatives. When a senior expatriate assignment in Ecuador came open, Greg thought he was a perfect candidate and applied. After the initial disappointment of not securing the assignment, Greg approached the VP of HR at his location and asked for advice. Indeed, he was told, you will be a perfect candidate for a role like this in the future. In the interim, here are some of the HR behavioral competencies that you need to develop to be prepared to succeed in such a role. The VP provided further coaching and explained that excellent technical skills and his added bilingual skills would serve him well as would his master's degree. Seasoning and experience, the VP said, would be needed for him to develop the behaviors and his proficiency in both the business and in HR.
In this vignette, Greg was thoughtful in approaching his career, but he assumed that the technical expertise that he gained along with the specific skill of being bilingual and having experience in Ecuador would give him an advantage and entry to a position that the organization sees as senior. However, the HR VP has provided excellent coaching by directing Greg to focus on the behavioral competencies he needs. He may secure such an assignment with fewer years of HR experience due to his in-country experience, but he needs seasoning and experience in HR to be successful in the role.
HR competencies have behaviors associated with them that can be described as either effective or ineffective, and these behaviors can be delineated by level. An entry-level HR professional is not expected to demonstrate executive-level behaviors or knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs), but an executive is expected to have the proficiency of the HR professionals who are below him or her in the chain of command — whether or not the executive still demonstrates those behaviors on a daily basis. HR competency as described in the proficiency statements found in the SHRM Competency Model build on one another from level to level. Regardless of your career level, thinking about where you have been and where you want to go is important. Consideration about your career should be done in conjunction with reflection about your preparedness and your competencies with respect to each position and each career move you consider.
Why Focus on HR Competencies?
Developing competencies means that you must first know what HR competencies are essential for you and your role, and you must be aware that you need to focus on them and develop them. HR competency development takes place over time. It does not happen by taking a class — though this definitely contributes to your development — and it does not happen by just attending a conference — though this too can contribute to your development. Awareness is critical because it means that your need and motivation for developing your HR competencies are part of your consciousness. In fact, when you are cognizant of your HR competency needs, all the things you do, like taking seminars or attending conferences, will be even more effective in your development efforts. The need for focus is simple; we must demonstrate our competency every day. Our situations and needs are constantly evolving, and we must therefore continuously learn.
Awareness starts with understanding the eight behavioral and one technical competency that Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research has shown HR professionals need to demonstrate. Second, you must analyze personal proficiency in each competency and understand this in the context of your current role as well as of roles you may aspire to in the future. Even if you deem yourself or others deem you highly proficient in one or more of the competencies, continued focus and awareness are still warranted. New situations, experiences, and people will always be encountered, and the more we hone our skills, the better prepared we will be to handle them. Third, in addition to thinking about areas for your own development, you need to be aware that development can occur in many ways and through personal efforts. Through your motivation and focus, you can work on your development with or without people formally knowing you are doing so and with or without a lot of fanfare. It works like an air conditioner or heating system — always on and working seamlessly in the background. Awareness of our HR competency needs is a little bit like a diet; most of us know how to diet. We may be aware that we have a few (or many) pounds to lose, and we may be aware of our problem areas (such as portion control, too much fat or sugar, or too many carbs). However, without the motivation and focus as well as the proper tools, our dieting efforts will be less effective.
Exploring and defining which competencies are necessary for your success in the HR profession at any given point in your career can help you do the following:
Ensure that you demonstrate sufficient expertise in performing your job.
Facilitate greater success in recruitment and selection when searching for a new position or promotion.
Evaluate your performance more effectively.
Identify your skill and competency gaps more efficiently and effectively.
Provide guidance for customized training and professional development.
Plan sufficiently for succession for yourself or for the position in which you reside.
Facilitate change management more efficiently and effectively so others see your development and recognize your growth.
The SHRM Competency Model
The SHRM Competency Model was created to address a need within the HR profession (for additional details, see Appendix B). For decades, HR professionals have been developing themselves with a variety of approaches, and over the years the theme of being a business professional, not just an HR expert, has taken hold. Over the previous decades a variety of HR competency models and approaches have been successfully launched by SHRM and others in the profession. In recent times, as the business environment has become more complex, litigious, and global, it became clear that these approaches and models were no longer sufficient.
As a result, in 2011 SHRM undertook an unprecedented comprehensive study and effort to create an HR competency model that covers every level and every aspect of HR competency — not just functional HR knowledge. The result has been groundbreaking for the profession. The model has already been used and admired by tens of thousands of HR professionals across the globe. It forms the basis for the SHRM certifications (SHRMCP and SHRM-SCP) and is an organizing principle for conference and professional development for the society. More than this, individuals, organizations, and universities have embraced the model. See the text box for some recent comments. The model is comprehensive and focuses not only on knowledge of HR but also on the behaviors an HR professional needs to display and master to be successful in HR. Figure 1.1 illustrates the SHRM Competency Model.
I think SHRM has arrived at a very good definition of what constitutes success in the HR profession. — Richard Wellins, senior vice president of Development Dimensions International We conducted a "criterion validation" study, which showed the positive correlation between the skills identified in the SHRM competency model and organizational performance. — Bette Francis, vice president of HR, Wilmington Trust Corporation
We want competencies; they are the things that make us successful. — Sharlyn Lauby, HR Bartender
What is exciting is that they are competencies that can be identified early and worked on as you progress over time! The "model" from which you can identify strengths, target opportunities, and develop a growth plan is available through SHRM. If you haven't had a chance to review the SHRM Competency Model, I highly recommend you do so. SHRM has invested several years of research and plenty of resources to create a comprehensive model for the HR careerist. — Robert Mayfield, director of HR
The SHRM Competency Model was conceived to help the HR profession by providing a roadmap of what KSAOs are necessary to be successful in helping HR professionals in organizations meet all of their people issues. In HR, whether you are an independent practitioner, just beginning your career in HR, or a senior practitioner, you need to be competent. As HR executives, we also need to ensure that our staff members develop the competencies they need. One way to become competent throughout your career is by learning how to learn, by practicing that skill of continuous learning, and by developing your KSAOs. Competency development as a required element throughout your career should not be treated episodically but rather as a lifelong investment. Professional development and specifically competency development should be viewed like an insurance policy. You need to pay in regularly to ensure that the benefit is there when you need it. If you wait until you need insurance, it will take much longer for you to obtain it or benefit from it, it will cost a great deal more, and it may not result in providing you with what you need. And like dieting, the less you focus now, the more you have to focus at a later time rather than continuously being conscious of our everyday food choices.
As an HR professional, how do you distinguish yourself from your peers both in and outside HR, and how do you ensure that you have the competency necessary to be successful? Consider the following questions:
How do we become competent?
How do we know if we are competent for our current level or for the level to which we aspire?
How do we get better at what we do?
How do we develop our skills and abilities?
How do we decide what we need to be able to do versus what we need to know?
How do we know when we need to develop our skills and abilities beyond where they are?
Excerpted from "Developing Proficiency in HR"
Copyright © 2016 Society for Human Resource Management.
Excerpted by permission of Society For Human Resource Management.
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Table of Contents
Section I: Setting the Stage,
Chapter 1. Careers and HR Competencies,
Chapter 2. Assessing Behavioral Competencies,
Chapter 3. Developing Your Proficiency with Self-Initiated Activities,
Section II: Developmental Tools for HR Competencies,
Chapter 4. Role-Play,
Chapter 5. Networking,
Chapter 6. Case Studies,
Chapter 7. Purposeful Discussion,
Chapter 8. Purposeful Observation,
Chapter 9. Volunteering,
Chapter 10. Portfolio,
Section III: Concluding Thoughts,
Chapter 11. Pulling It All Together: How to Effectively Develop HR Behavioral Competencies,
Appendix A: Additional Reading for All HR Competencies,
Appendix B: Development of the SHRM Competency Model,
Appendix C: Adult Development and Competency Development,
Appendix D: Sample Worksheets and Exercises,
About the Author,
Additional SHRM-Published Books,