During a recent session I participated in at TRU London, we were discussing leadership and the conversation turned to whether or not someone even needs a background in human resources to BE in human resources.  A couple people came out and said you could just take an operations guy or marketing guy and move them to HR, no problem.

Well, as someone who has been trained in HR, this immediately made me want to wave a red flag!

Sure, you can take someone with a background in other areas and migrate them successfully into HR.  But, that needs to be done with quite a bit of on-the-job and external training on employment law, compensation planning and strategy, recruitment and sourcing strategy, just to name a few.  That said, I know it can be done successfully.

For me, the key is not having one “perfect” HR person who encompasses all the skills and abilities.

It’s about building your HR TEAM so that collectively you have strong HR skills, strong business skills (finance, marketing, communications), social media skills, etc.  Then, the team can cross-train each other so that everyone becomes a stronger player on the team.

But, for those people who ask me what skills I think the “perfect” HR pro needs, I’m including a post I wrote last year that outlines that.

Building the Perfect HR Professional

Sugar and spice and everything nice?  No, that doesn’t sound right.  Maybe it’s more like Steve Austin, the six million dollar man- building someone who is stronger and faster.  No, that’s not it either.  So what does it take to build the perfect HR professional?

I’ve heard people who say that in order to be successful in human resources, you must have a Human Resouce degree.  Others say you MUST have a PHR or SPHR certification in addition to your degree.  Still others say you should not have a HR degree or certification, you should be an MBA with real-world experience.  Just this past week at the Senior HR Executive Conference I heard some of these ideas plus executives who believe that you can take someone with operations experience and turn them into the perfect HR pro.  So, who is right?

The answer is simple: there is no “perfect” recipe. It depends on the company, work environment, culture, and role the person will fill.  Certain skills are paramount to being a strong business professional regardless of whether that person is in HR, marketing, advertising, finance, or operations.  What this conversation and debate tells me is that there are currently HR professionals out here who could be doing more to demonstrate their value.  I assert that if you only have a HR degree, certification, MBA, or operations experience, you will not be the ideal HR pro.  You need to have skills from each of these components in order to truly be a successful business leader.  There are some key skills you can focus on obtaining or improving that will ensure you will be able to remain relevant in 2010 and beyond.

Strong human resource knowledge

This is a MUST.  Now, obviously this can be learned in a degree program or by studying for certification, but it goes beyond that.  It involves REAL LIFE experience working with employee issues.  You must have experience

  • actually picking up the phone and recruiting candidates
  • interviewing candidates in person for all levels in the organization
  • investigating reported issues
  • coaching and counseling
  • understanding and applying HR related laws
  • handling the compliance (I-9′s, Visas, etc.)
  • developing talent through strategic and tactical approaches to training

Finance and Internal Communications

These are areas where many HR professionals are weak.  From a finance and accounting standpoint at a bare minimum you must be able to understand general accounting principles and be able to read and interpret a balance sheet.  If you cannot do that, you need to set that as a goal.  How can you advise your CEO, CFO, and other company leaders if you cannot interpret the financial results of the company?  Strong financial acumen will help you drive the business forward.  Then, in terms of internal communication, you need to be able to effectively communicate the policies of the company in a way that aligns with the company strategies.  For more detailed information on how to improve your skills in this area, check out the HR 101 series by Victorio at the Creative Chaos Consultant blog.


The HR professional of today and the future needs to have the spirit to innovate.  It is critical to success.  If you plan to sit back and just do the day-to-day role, you will not help move the company forward.  Our world changes fast and innovative ideas will be the catalyst to propel your HR career.  Challenge yourself each day or week to come up with an innovative way to handle something differently.  Hold your feet to the fire to make sure you are accountable for keeping your department from getting stagnant.

Global Effectiveness

Technology has made the world a much smaller place.  More companies are global than ever before, so more HR professionals need to have an understanding of what is going on in global markets.  Are you making yourself aware?  Are you reaching out to gain understanding of other countries laws, financial systems, and culture?  This is something you should focus on if you are not already.  Today’s HR leaders are responsible for driving the success of people around the world.

HR Technology

To the average HR generalist or specialist, HR technology is the “big bad wolf” of the story.  It’s the one thing we’re all afraid of.  In order to really be successful at running an effective human resources department, you need to have a solid understanding of your current HR technologies as well as staying abreast of emerging technologies.  You will need to understand how to evaluate your systems effectiveness as well as be able to identify technologies that will support the data needed to make strong business decisions for the company.  A good place to start is by reading and following blogs by Naomi BloomSteve BoeseMichael Krupa, and Bryon Abramowitz.  You should also follow the writings of Bill Kutik at Human Resource Executive Online.

So, how do you measure up?  What other skills do you believe are critical to being a successful HR professional in the future?  Let me know in the comments.