HR Competencies: Skills and Behaviors That Drive Exceptional HR Outcomes
"HR is not about HR: HR begins and ends with the business," said Dave Ulrich, a renowned HR expert and industry veteran.
HR is not just about hiring and firing. It's evolved. Today, it's about influencing, strategizing, and sculpting the very DNA of an organization.
But how can your HR professionals equip themselves to deliver value for your people and your organization?
The key lies in HR competencies. With the right competencies, your HR team will drive strategic outcomes and foster growth for your organization while keeping your people engaged, motivated, and productive.
This article will scrutinize HR competencies:
- What they are.
- How they work.
- How the right mix of HR competencies will turn your team into strategic partners.
- How HR competencies need to evolve in the age of automation and AI.
🌟 What are HR competencies?
HR competencies are the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attributes that HR professionals require to perform their roles effectively.
With the right competencies, HR professionals support business strategies, promote a positive company culture, and drive organizational success.
What are HR core competencies?
HR competencies combine technical skills, soft skills, and business acumen.
Core competencies for HR professionals cover the fundamental skills required for all HR roles.
There are four pillars that shape HR core competencies:
- Data-driven—to read, apply, create, and communicate data to influence business decisions.
- Business acumen—to understand trends, apply strategic thinking, and align human resources in a manner that impacts business outcomes.
- Digital integration—to adopt digital HR solutions and leverage technology to drive value across organizations.
- People's advocate—to foster an inclusive organizational culture, promote open communication, adapt to change, and act ethically and sustainably.
The role of HR competencies for organizational success
How will the HR department at your organization drive success?
HR competencies are the tools that equip your human resources professionals with the expertise they need in three fundamental ways:
🕵️♀️ A classification of HR competencies
HR core competencies are all HR professionals' foundational skills and attributes, regardless of their specific roles. Beyond these, role-specific competencies cater to human resource professionals' varying needs and individual responsibilities.
Role-specific HR competencies may be categorized into:
- Strategic competencies—focusing on long-term thinking and aligning HR strategies with organizational goals.
- Technical competencies—specialized skills related to HR knowledge domains, such as HR laws and technologies.
- Interpersonal competencies—interacting effectively with others, such as communication skills, relationship building, and conflict resolution.
- Functional competencies—emphasizing the practical aspects relevant to HR roles, such as ethical considerations and biases.
🧑🤝🧑 HR competencies list: 31 HR skills and competencies
Let's look at the most important HR skills and competencies your HR team must cultivate.
Core competencies for HR professionals
These are broad competencies relevant to all HR personnel, so we'll consider how they're applied differently by HR management vs. HR generalists.
Data analysis—analyzing and interpreting data to inform HR decisions. HR managers use data to make strategic decisions such as workforce planning or predicting turnover. HR generalists analyze data to support day-to-day operations like tracking recruitment metrics or monitoring employee feedback.
Business acumen competencies
Commercial acumen—understanding an organization's business environment, strategy, and people practices.
HR managers use commercial acumen to align HR strategies with organizational goals. At the same time, HR generalists focus on how HR practices support overall business objectives.
HR knowledge—familiarity with human resource management principles and practices and the role of HR in organizations.
HR managers use HR knowledge to develop strategies and policies and oversee the HR department. HR generalists apply HR principles in routine operations, such as recruitment, training, and employee relations.
Organizational skills—structuring tasks, managing time, and prioritizing activities effectively. HR managers organize projects, set timelines, and ensure departmental goals are met. HR generalists manage daily tasks and ensure the timely completion of HR activities.
Problem-solving skills—identifying relevant issues and finding effective solutions. HR managers address complex organizational issues and develop solutions aligned with business goals. HR generalists resolve day-to-day challenges, such as employee concerns or process efficiencies.
Legal and ethical skills—maintaining knowledge of employee laws and ethical standards and how to apply them as an HR professional. HR managers ensure their organization complies with the relevant laws and ethical standards for HR practitioners.
HR generalists apply their knowledge of law and ethics in their daily HR activities, e.g., recruitment and employee relations.
Privacy and confidentiality—ensuring sensitive information is kept secure and not disclosed inappropriately. HR managers set policies to ensure the security of organizational data. HR generalists handle sensitive employee data and maintain its confidentiality.
Digital integration competency
Remote collaboration—working effectively with teams and individuals virtually. HR managers lead virtual teams and foster collaboration across different locations. HR generalists routinely collaborate with remote colleagues on HR projects and tasks.
People's advocate competencies
Communication skills—conveying information effectively and promoting an open dialogue. HR managers communicate with senior leaders and present HR strategies in a way that gets buy-in. HR generalists communicate with employees and address their concerns openly and transparently.
Adaptability—adjusting to changes as they arise and remaining effective in varying situations while considering the needs and expectations of employees. HR managers adjust HR strategies in response to changes in organizational structures, direction, or external events. HR generalists adapt to varied tasks, depending on circumstances, in a manner that supports employees' well-being.
Employee experience expertise—understanding and addressing the needs and expectations of employees. HR managers shape policies and strategies to enhance employee experience. HR generalists interact with employees to ensure their needs are met, and their feedback is addressed.
Strategic HR competencies
Let's now consider the role-specific competencies your HR professionals rely on, starting with strategic competencies.
Change management skills help your HR professionals guide and support your people through organizational change. These skills involve understanding change, communicating its impact, and keeping affected employees engaged and informed throughout the change process.
The change management approach varies by industry. Suppose your organization is in the pharmaceutical industry, for instance. In that case, your HR leaders might focus on the impact of changes to regulatory compliance, research developments, or patent-centric initiatives.
Alternatively, suppose your organization is in the financial services industry. In that case, shifts in financial regulations, financial market dynamics, or digital transformation trends may be more relevant.
Leadership is about inspiring and motivating teams, setting clear direction, and making decisions that drive success for your organization. Your HR leaders use their leadership skills to bring this to life while fostering a positive culture and mentoring your people for growth.
Your HR leaders also have a significant role to play when it comes to people enablement.
As Richard Branson famously said, "Clients do not come first. Employees come first." Branson's Virgin Group achieved significant success with this philosophy, driven by enabling its people.
Your HR leadership is uniquely positioned to engage and enable your people to drive strong outcomes for your people and your organization.
Strategic alignment from an HR perspective is ensuring that your HR strategies and initiatives align with your broader organizational goals. It involves understanding your organization's commercial landscape, anticipating its future needs, and positioning your HR department as a strategic partner.
Depending on their roles, different HR team members may take different strategic approaches.
Your HR managers, for instance, would keep your recruitment, training, employee relations, and other HR initiatives in line with your company's strategic objectives.
Your HR compensation and benefits manager would focus on positioning your company's compensation and benefits packages in line with your strategic objectives, e.g., to be an employer of choice by offering competitive packages or supporting organizational values, such as sustainability, by including green travel allowances or wellness programs.
Talent management skills
HR teams use talent management skills to attract and select strong candidates and develop and retain high-performing employees. Beyond this, talent management is a comprehensive approach encompassing processes and strategies that optimize your workforce to meet your organization's current and future business objectives.
🆚 Check out our in-depth analysis of 8 the best talent management software. You will also find a feature comparison table.
The ability to structure tasks, set priorities, and manage resources efficiently towards desired HR objectives relies on the organizational skills of your HR team.
As HR teams are often responsible for large amounts of employee information, much of it with significant privacy requirements, your HR professionals' ability to manage and organize your people's data is important. Maintaining accurate systems helps to minimize discrepancies in your people's administrative records and supports a smoothly functioning HR department.
Your HR team is instrumental in designing and managing the succession planning framework at your organization. It involves proactively identifying and developing talent to keep key roles filled with competent and skilled individuals in your organization, supporting business continuity.
The approach taken differs by role.
For example, your HR organizational development specialist identifies critical roles within your organization and assesses the skills and capabilities required for the roles. Then, they develop internal talent pipelines to support those roles.
Your HR talent acquisition specialist, on the other hand, focuses on external sources to fill leadership gaps. They create strategies to attract external candidates or maintain relationships with potential candidates to ensure a suitable talent pool is available when needed.
Technical HR competencies
The next set of role-specific competencies relates to technical skills.
Your HR team's recruitment skills are used to attract, assess, and select the best candidates for your organization. It involves understanding the job market, leveraging recruitment methodologies, and targeting a strong fit between candidates and your organization's culture and requirements.
Your HR professionals know how to craft job descriptions that attract good candidates and how to conduct interviews that support well-informed hiring decisions. They may also proactively build talent pools of promising candidates through information gathered from social media, industry events, and professional networks.
Remuneration and benefits
Designing competitive compensation structures that attract, retain, and motivate your people—while working within your organization's financial capacities—is a vital competency for your HR professionals. Compensation structures should regularly be evaluated and updated based on market trends, organizational goals, and employee feedback.
While specialist HR roles exist, such as compensation benefits managers, your HR leaders provide direction and set the strategic vision for compensation structures. They also communicate the rationale, impact, and benefits of proposed compensation strategies with your executive suite to seek buy-in.
Digital tools and platforms enhance the HR function in modern organizations. HR technologies cover a range of functional areas, including recruitment, employee engagement, people analytics, and state-of-the-art performance management frameworks.
Knowledge of labor laws
Your HR team needs to understand employment regulations and standards deeply to ensure that your organization remains compliant and avoids potential legal issues.
Interpersonal HR competencies
Interpersonal skills relate to interacting with others effectively.
Using their coaching skills, your HR professionals provide guidance, feedback, and support to your people. This helps your people grow professionally, overcome challenges, and achieve their career goals.
More specialized HR practitioners employ techniques such as performance coaching. This involves identifying the strengths and areas for improvement for those employees who need assistance with achieving their goals and reaching their full potential. Your HR team guides them through goal-setting, feedback, competency development, and ongoing support to bring out their best at work.
The ability to mediate conflicts is an essential HR skill for high-performing organizations. It involves constructively identifying, addressing, and resolving disagreements while keeping relationships positive and productive.
To manage conflicts effectively, your HR professionals will engage with the people involved and proactively communicate with them to understand their issues, use active listening skills to help build a mutual understanding, and assess the situation to take appropriate action.
Team building and collaboration skills
Team building is about creating a cohesive work environment where your people can collaborate harmoniously, share knowledge, and achieve common goals.
High-performance teams communicate well, have a shared sense of purpose, have clear individual roles, and work together with mutual respect. Your HR professionals have a vital role in promoting these conditions through policies, procedures, and training programs that create an environment of psychological safety that incentivizes collaborative behaviors.
Recognition and reward
Your HR department leads initiatives at your organization to show appreciation for the contributions and achievements of your people. Recognizing your people's efforts boosts their sense of well-being and belonging at work while enhancing morale.
There are many reasons to celebrate your people, including anniversaries, milestones, awards, promotions, and personal endeavors. Your HR department skillfully devises meaningful recognition ideas tailored to reap benefits for your people and your organization.
Diversity and inclusion
DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) involves championing a workplace culture in which all of your people feel valued and included and where biases are understood, recognized, and addressed. Your HR professionals are well-versed in finding ways to promote DEI at your organization.
DEI is essential in modern workplace culture, with 99 percent of Gen Z workers reporting that DEI is important for them. Your HR professionals have a pivotal role to play in fostering this environment.
Empathy is about the capacity to understand and resonate with others' feelings and perspectives, building trust and open communication among your people. There are many examples of how to foster empathy at your workplace, and your HR professionals play a crucial role in implementing these strategies.
Functional HR competencies
Functional competencies emphasize the practical aspects of HR roles.
Learning and development
Your HR team cultivates learning and development (L&D) by assessing your people's organizational and individual learning needs, then designing and implementing training programs to bridge knowledge gaps and deliver L&D strategies to drive growth and performance.
L&D is recognized as essential for driving business strategy, so your HR department is pivotal in tailoring L&D programs to achieve organizational objectives.
Workplace critical thinking skills help people make better decisions, find more creative solutions, and avoid costly mistakes. Your HR professionals are no exception—critical thinking helps them analyze complex situations and make informed decisions for talent acquisition, policy formulation, conflict resolution, and other HR responsibilities.
HR also has a role in fostering critical thinking at your organization by designing and implementing relevant training programs and encouraging open dialogue that challenges established practices and ideas.
HR gets involved in discussions between executives, other employees, or department heads to reach beneficial agreements. Balancing the needs of an organization with those of employees or external partners requires well-honed negotiation skills that HR professionals need to have.
Onboarding and integration
Implementing processes to smoothly integrate new hires into the organization is a primary responsibility of HR, either through direct involvement or through designing the procedures for it. Ensuring that new hires understand their roles and the organizational culture while feeling welcomed and motivated is among the most important HR skills.
🧬 The evolution of HR competencies: From admin to strategic business partners
Historically, HR departments' roles were primarily administrative, managing payroll, hiring, and compliance tasks. This has changed over time. HR's role has evolved to being more strategic and collaborative and pivotal in shaping organizational culture, driving change, and influencing business strategy.
As a result, modern HR competencies cover a broader range of skills than they ever have before.
HR business partner competencies
HR professionals collaborate with senior leadership teams as business partners and align talent strategies with business objectives. Your HR department ensures your organization has the right people in the right roles to achieve success.
HR business partner competencies must include strong business acumen, i.e., understanding their business's financial, operational, and market dynamics. HR professionals need to develop a deeper understanding of their industry and competitive landscape than they did in the past. This brings valuable insights into workforce planning, talent development, change management, and succession planning.
HR teams also need a firm grasp of data management and analytics to provide clarity and support for evidence-based employee performance, engagement, and retention decisions.
➡️ See how a competent CHRO can lead your organization's people function by leveraging evolving HR skills and competencies
What are the emerging HR competencies in the age of AI and digital transformation?
As AI is integrated into HR functions, a transformative shift is occurring as AI tools leverage powerful techniques to streamline and enhance HR processes.
Accompanying this transformation is a need for evolving competencies to harness AI's potential, requiring enhanced HR skills in:
➡️ Enable HR competency development with Zavvy
At Zavvy, we know competencies! We have the tools, knowledge, and innovative approaches for building your people's skills and competencies.
With Zavvy, you can evaluate your HR team's competencies and offer them the training and development resources needed to bridge gaps.
Zavvy's competency development tools include:
- Competency management—to measure, manage, and build your people's competencies and promote role clarity, meaningful feedback reviews, and intelligent training suggestions
- Career pathing—to create crystal-clear requirements for every role, build career pathways based on unbiased, objective data, and motivate your people along their career paths
- Employee development—to build a cycle of continuous growth by putting your people in the driver's seat, turning people managers into coaches, and integrating skills, development plans, and training measures
📅 Book a free 30-minute demo to see how you can bring out the full potential of your HR team through a comprehensive approach to skills and competencies management.
What are the 5 competencies of an HR manager?
The 5 competencies of an HR manager include the 4 core competencies—data skills, business acumen, digital technology integration, and people's advocacy—along with strategic competencies related to long-term thinking and alignment between HR and organizational goals.
What are the six domains of HR competencies?
The six domains of HR competencies are strategic positioning, talent management and people development, policy and compliance, data analytics and reporting, employee relations, and organizational development.
How can HR professionals develop their skills and competencies?
HR professionals develop their skills and competencies through employee development initiatives such as continuous learning, attending workshops, gaining practical experience, seeking mentorship, and staying updated with industry trends and best practices.