A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff

 

By Matt Davis October 4, 2017
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HR is tasked with implementing strategies to develop the competencies of all employees within an organization. But often, it's HR's own staff that gets overlooked in the process. Phyllis G. Hartman's A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff (SHRM, 2017) is here to help. Hartman, who hold a SHRM-SCP, is the founder of PGHR Consulting and has more than 25 years of experience as a human resource professional. Her book helps HR managers understand the work of developing their staff in an organized, step-by-step way. 

The HR Magazine Book Blog recently spoke to Hartman about the book.

How does your new book take the mystery out of HR staff development?

Most HR professionals understand the traditional functional areas of HR but may struggle with the connection to competencies. Developing HR staff often seems overwhelming to HR managers as they are faced with daily challenges and demands. There is just not enough time in the day, and staff development may take a back seat. This book includes hundreds of ideas for developing competencies that managers can use immediately or as jumping-off points for their own or other employees' ideas.

How should HR managers charged with development of HR staff use the book?

The book can be used in multiple ways. As a broad text, it supplies managers with a total competency development road map, from assessing individual and group needs to developing HR staff. If an individual already knows what they need, he or she can get advice on how to assess their own proficiency levels. If a manager knows what is needed, the book provides hundreds of ideas, grouped in different approaches and activities that can help boost HR employee development. The strategies can be easily customized to fit the needs of the individual and the team.

One of the toughest challenges HR managers face with HR staff development is which competencies to focus on. Any recommendations?

It all goes to understanding the business or organization and its mission and goals. HR managers must know what is important to their organization's success. Collaborating with the management team to learn about the goals and then apply them to the HR function is the first step. Once that is done, you can identify the most critical competencies for the organization and HR. Next, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the HR team should be done. By determining the gaps and then prioritizing needs based on available financial and time resources, the manager can make a plan.

What are some direct and indirect ways of assessing current employees?

By communicating directly with employees using a focused set of questions that encourage discussion about specific competencies, managers can assess not just knowledge but the ability to appropriately apply skills. Discussions also increase the likelihood that the employee will participate in development and be engaged. Communicating with others can help managers evaluate proficiency, too. Indirect ways include reviewing existing documentation, career history and experiences, and examining certifications achieved.

How can HR managers create development plans for their HR staff, and for themselves?

Once managers know what is needed in terms of specific competency development, they can begin to determine activities that will lead to proficiency. Practice leads to proficiency. Development activities need to be planned with the interest and learning preferences of the individual in mind.

The other major factor to take into consideration is available resources, including money and time. This may require setting priorities as to who gets development when, but care should be taken not to neglect the manager's needs. The book provides a number of forms and references to make planning easier.

What were you surprised to learn researching and writing the book?

Probably the biggest surprise in talking to many HR professionals was learning that there is still some confusion about what competencies really are. At times over the last two years when I asked the question "What is the most important competency in your HR department?," I got answers that included things that are not competencies. I was also surprised to hear business managers talk about developing competencies by "sending someone to a class." Though knowledge is certainly a part of competency, the skills, abilities and other traits are equally important, and I'm not sure everyone understands that.

The book includes real-life examples and insights from current HR managers. Can you share some of your favorite top tips?

Fernán R. Cepero, SHRM-SCP, chief human resources officer and chief diversity officer of the YMCA of Greater Rochester in New York, says that one way his organization develops competencies is by recognizing the value of "internal sharing." This helps HR staff develop both communication and consultation competencies.

Having an organizational commitment to development is important in garnering resources. Often, not just time but also experiences are needed that go beyond what you can provide inside an organization. Beverly Widger, SHRM-SCP, senior VP of human resources at Mascoma Savings Bank in Lebanon, N.H., says her organization supports development and has an HR budget devoted to it. By working with local universities, her organization is able to offer high-level programs that go beyond internal classes and programs.

Tim A. Baker, SHRM-SCP, senior director for talent management and organizational development at Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools in Virginia, says his experience working in three very different school districts, as well as in the private sector, has taught him that every employee is different when it comes to development.

Matt Davis is manager, book publishing, at SHRM.


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