8 traits HR leaders need to succeed today

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As employers and HR leaders navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter alongside their more conventional challenges like recruitment and engagement, experts are advising that it is more important than ever that they remain agile.

Josh Bersin

Even before this year’s unprecedented workplace upheaval, analyst and HRE columnist Josh Bersin was working to identify the commonalities between high-performing businesses and high-performing HR business partners. So he gathered a dozen industry leaders last year to discuss the role of the HRBP in modern business. Their conversations ranged from how the HRBP role has changed to the traits and skills required to the kind of training and development activities that would help HR professionals move into the role of HRBP.

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The leaders compiled a list of crucial individual competencies, which still hold up today. The following segment is quoted directly from one of Bersin’s earlier columns:

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Intellectual curiosity and empathy. HR business partners must have a desire to learn all aspects of the business and understand its goals. In fact, an HRBP should view these goals as a critical measure of his or her performance. Additionally, HRBPs must have deep caring for the business workforce and be a proactive force behind workforce strategy.

Problem solving. HR business partners must be comfortable working with business leaders and managers to address workforce challenges or issues. And, rather than viewing problems as “yours,” they should view them as “ours” and be an active part of the solution.

Risk taking and courage. HRBPs must be comfortable saying “no” and offering alternative opinions or actions to business leaders. They also must be ready to fail (and have the air cover to allow for failure).

See also: Is risk management on your HR radar?

Digital acumen. This is one of the most important characteristics, meeting attendees said, due to the increased availability of people-related data. Today, HRBPs must have the ability to analyze and interpret data, to use it to help business leaders better understand workforce needs and to incorporate results into workforce strategy and planning.

Business-language knowledge. To ensure credibility, HRBPs need to be able to speak “in business.” This comes with knowing the details of the business they are serving and understanding its jargon and acronyms.

Networking skills. “Knowing who knows” within the business unit, as well as externally, is critical, as is the ability to develop relationships with those who have knowledge and decision-making power.

Change-management skills. HR business partners must have the ability to facilitate discussions around change and transformation. Additionally, they must be able to identify in advance where and when change management will be needed and proactively participate in developing plans.

Discretion. Several attendees who have served as HRBPs in their careers stressed the importance of this. Business leaders need to trust their HRBPs with sensitive, “insider” information. For instance, a sales manager needs to know a conversation about potentially missing sales goals will be kept confidential.

To read Bersin’s full report, “8 Skills HR Business Partners Need for Success,” click here.