#1 Missing Skillset to Achieving Strategic HR

By Zac Ma – Associate Director, SEA Sales, Links International Singapore

Following my last blog on The Future of Work and HR’s Struggle in Driving Business Decisions, I had a few responses from readers asking “how could HR step up and initiate innovation to welcome the future of work in Asia”. 

In other words, what would help drive change and how could HR leaders initiate change to enable HR to exert influence on business directions and leadership behaviour?

Most HR business leaders in Singapore appreciate the value of what High-Impact HR can bring, but often have problems executing this vision. They might be extremely familiar with many of the 21st century business buzzwords (for example, gig economy, digitalisation, analytics, robotics, etc.), but are often left handicapped when driving HR transformation initiatives.


The HR Dilemma

According to PwC’s 15th Annual Global CEO Survey, more than 80% of CEOs in the US say they need critical talent-related insights to make business decisions, but only a small percentage actually receive relevant information.

There’s clearly a need, a call for help and HR can definitely assist. But why is HR still on the back foot?

For many of the HR business leaders who are challenging the status quo but have issues generating any real momentum, this might simply be due to decision makers not being fully convinced on the return on investment and are therefore not prepared to take risks. Change management focus resulting from HR initiatives are thus usually reactive (instead of proactive) unless drastic actions call for it (e.g. failure on audits, compliance, global/regional reporting needs etc.).

As a consequence to this, the most typical push-back amongst organisations that are stuck on status quo is related to the HR department being frowned upon as a cost centre and there are limited funds to maneuver.

Something has to give.

The #1 Missing Skillset

A couple of weeks ago, Links International held our HR Leaders in Retail event in Singapore co-hosted by Dr. Jaclyn Lee from SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design), a renowned thought leader in the HR space, on the topic of HR analytics.

After the event, I had chance to ask the question regarding how she convinced her decision-makers to ride on her ideas and give her extra budget and support on driving her HR initiatives time after time.

What she said to me is pure gold and I think it’s as straightforward as it gets.

Quoting her words exactly, she said “You just have to be a dare-devil and put your head on the chopping board!”

She further explains that besides having the necessary team with the right skillsets, HR business leaders, when innovating for change, must be prepared to put a stake in the ground and clearly illustrate the outcomes and benefits of the initiatives when presenting propositions to senior stakeholders.

What she said made a lot of sense; there’s no shortcut to this.

Through her presentation, I also understood what she meant by the illustration of outcomes and benefits. It is not just simply presenting the pros and cons, cause and effects, but rather the alignment of solutions to actual business challenges. Many business leaders might understand the challenges, but they struggle when trying to relate how strategic HR would have an impact on the decision-making process.

A great example of this would be the scenario I mentioned in my previous blog post about HR’s struggle in driving business decisions, where an HR manager in the retail industry decides to increase sales commission rates to counteract their challenges around retail staff retention.

The management team understood what the challenge was, but was not aware of how strategic HR could play a part in the decision-making process. The decision might be the right one come the end of the day, but the organisation will never move past HR being administrative because there was no attempt to relate big data to analytics on root issues from the very beginning.

Unfortunately, it seems like there is still a lot of catching up to do. The phenomenon of not being able to illustrate the outcomes and benefits is due to missing skillsets in the organisation to support strategic HR. See illustration below. 

Image courtesy of Dr. Jaclyn Lee, an illustration on missing skillsets.

This is not the just the responsibility of HR alone. Collectively, business leaders in the organisation need to realise that there is a gap at the moment and that adoption and change will naturally be slow, as corporate functions do not have the proper setup, skills and leadership to effectively drive HR innovation internally. It is therefore an organisation-wide issue.

Demand and Supply

It would be awfully misleading if there was ever a step-by-step guide to achieving strategic HR status. This is subjective due to the fact that each organisation is unique and might be at different stages of “predicament”.

However, organisations must be wary that the missing skillsets relate heavily to the demand for leaders with a background in data science and HR. The demand will continue to grow and there are already shortages of these skills in the job market. For example, statistics and analytics skills, I/O psychologists (experts in behaviour, knowledge transfer, attitudes, aptitude and statistical methods), etc.

To plug these gaps, organisations must be prepared to invest in People Development within HR as well, or they can go out to the market to recruit the rare candidate that has the necessary skillset to lead the charge on achieving strategic HR.

A Competitive Advantage… For Some

While the Singapore government has implemented the initiative to elevate the HR profession in developing and deepening related skills through the National HR Professional Certification Framework this year, there is still a lot more to be done on re-skilling and up-skilling programmes, especially on the missing skillsets mentioned.

Ultimately, as leaders continue to seek answers to important business questions during the era of the evolving workplace, organisations will have to hastily look at pro-active investments in their people and technology. There’s no way to leapfrog this process.

Unfortunately, for organisations that are off-pace and continue to choose to remain off-pace, they will soon realise that there’s a mountain too high to climb to get themselves back into the competition.

Links International is an award-winning one-stop human resources outsourcing provider in Asia Pacific. If you’re interested to know more about us, please contact us.