Dave Ulrich – The 2017 HR Competency Study & What It Means For You

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David Ulrich - Tucana blog

Dave Ulrich
Speaker, Author, Professor, HR & Leadership Guru

This article is drawn from the book Victory Through Organization by Dave Ulrich, David Kryscynski, Michael Ulrich, Wayne Brockbank.

Sponsored by the Ross School at the University of Michigan and The RBL Group along with 22 regional partners around the world, we are delighted to present the results of the 7th (2016) round of the HR competency study (HRCS). These results are presented in more detail in Victory through Organization.  For almost 30 years the HRCS has empirically defined the competencies of HR professionals and how those competencies impact personal effectiveness and business performance.  In this round we collected over 32,000 worldwide surveys rating the competencies and performance of more than 4,000 HR professionals from more than 1,200 organization units.  The results simultaneously build upon insights from prior rounds and generate new insights for HR competencies.

Having researched and published on HR competencies for 30 years, we have identified 4 principles of defining the right HR competencies.

1. HR competence definition is NOT the goal, defining HR competencies that create positive outcomes IS the goal. Most competency models ask the question, “What are the competencies of HR professionals?”  This is the wrong question.  The question should be “What are the competencies of HR professionals that have greatest impact business performance?”   We have shown that different HR competencies have differential impact on three outcomes:  personal effectiveness of the HR professional, impact on key stakeholders, and business results.  HR is not about HR and HR competencies are not about the competencies, but about how they deliver key outcomes.

2. HR competencies are determined less by self-report and more by how those competencies are perceived by others. HR competencies should be assessed not only by the HR professional but by those who observe the HR professional.  People generally judge themselves by their intent; others judge them by their behavior, so it is important to evaluate both intent and behavior.

3. Global HR competencies exist, but they also may vary by geography, industry, size of organization, level in the organization, role in the organization, gender, time in role, and so forth. We empirically show that 50 to 60% of HR competences are essential to all circumstances, then 40 to 50% vary by setting.

4. Key HR competencies change over time. Having done 7 rounds of major studies over 30 years with over total 100,000 respondents, we can say with some certainty that every 4 to 5 years, 30 to 40% of HR competencies evolve.  For example, in recent rounds of our research, we have seen a rise in the importance of HR technology and HR analytics.

What are the competencies of HR professionals?

In collaboration with 22 regional HR partners, we examined 123 specific items of what HR professionals should be, know, or do.  We performed scores of factor analyses on these items to determine consistent domains of HR competence.  Figure 1 portrays the nine competencies we identified for HR professionals.  Based on the findings, three of these competencies were core drivers:

  • Strategic positioner: Able to position a business to win in its market
  • Credible activist: Able to build relationships of trust by having a proactive point of view
  • Paradox navigator: Able to manage tensions inherent in businesses (e.g., be both long and short term, be both top down and bottom up)

We also found three domains of HR competence that are organization enablers, helping position HR to deliver strategic value:

  • Culture and change champion: Able to make change happen and manage organizational culture
  • Human capital curator: Able to manage the flow of talent by developing people and leaders, driving individual performance, and building technical talent
  • Total reward steward: Able to manage employee wellbeing through financial and non-financial rewards

We found three other delivery enablers that focused on managing the tactical or foundational elements of HR:

  • Technology and media integrator: Able to use technology and social media to drive create high-performing organizations
  • Analytics designer and interpreter: Able to use analytics to improve decision making
  • Compliance manager: Able to manage the processes related to compliance by following regulatory guidelines.

Each of these HR competencies are important for the performance of HR professionals.

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How do HR professionals rate themselves and others rate them on these competencies?

Table 1 below shows the mean (1=low to 5=high) scores for each of the nine HR competence domains by different respondent groups.  The nine competence domains represent the rows and the five columns represent different respondent groups to the 360-degree exercise.  The pattern among the nine competence domains are quite similar (see scores in each column).

As the data show, HR professionals are seen by all raters (in Column 1) as having more competence as Credible Activists (4.33/5) and Compliance Manager (4.32/5) and less competence in Total Rewards Steward (3.88/5) and Technology and Media Integrator (3.92/5).  This same pattern holds regardless of who is rating the HR professional (self rating, Column 2; supervisor rating Column 3; HR associate Column 4; and non HR associate Column 5).  These results make sense in that HR professionals have traditionally been known for their personal credibility and their compliance roles.  We should note that we use 0.15 as a threshold for meaningful differences

The results by columns are quite interesting.  HR professionals self assessment (Column 2) are somewhat higher than supervisor ratings (Column 3), but lower than ratings by HR Associates (Column 4) and lower more than ratings by non-HR Associates (Column 5).  Supervisors who observe HR professionals doing their work may expect them to live up to higher expectations.   HR associates see their HR colleagues as having more skills than the HR professionals themselves, and non-HR associates have even higher ratings of HR professionals.

Perhaps HR professionals (Column 2) recognize their limitations more than those who rate them, perhaps they have limited self-confidence in their own skills versus how others see them, or perhaps Associate raters assume that HR professionals can do more.  We tend towards the third explanation and see these findings as a license for HR professionals to do more in these nine competency domains.   Their HR and non-HR associates already observe them as better than they rate themselves.   HR professionals sometimes lament how they are perceived by their peers, but their self-image and self-confidence may be a larger liability to their effectiveness.


David Ulrich - Tucana Blog

Conclusion and implications

In this research, we have identified what individual HR professionals should be, know, and do.  In future essays, I will show how these competencies affect three outcomes: [1] personal effectiveness, [2] stakeholder value, and [3] business results. We are confident that these findings and the subsequent implications for developing HR professionals and creating HR departments will enable HR to continue to add value.


This article was originally posted on LinkedIn


Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tucana.