SHRM Competency Survey Reveals Leadership Gap

By Kathy Gurchiek Mar 8, 2016
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Leadership and navigation—the ability to direct and contribute to initiatives and processes within the organization—is the most critical competency for business units now and in the coming decade, said senior executives in a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report released March 1.

However, this ability is something candidates—HR and non-HR candidates alike—in the labor pool lack, according to 39 percent of the 510 senior business unit executives responding to the survey.

“Over the years, many business leaders have openly voiced their concerns about a leadership gap in their organizations,” said Joe Jones, Ph.D., SHRM’s director of HR competencies, in a news release. “The survey results provide further evidence that business executives are seeing a disconnect. Competencies—particularly leadership and navigation—are critical for the overall success of business units, yet many employees and job candidates lack them.”

Competencies are individual characteristics—knowledge, skills, abilities, self-image, traits, mindsets, feelings and ways of thinking—that, when used in the appropriate roles, achieve a desired result.

SHRM’s report, Using Competencies to Achieve Business Unit Success: The Executive Perspective, is based on responses from an online survey conducted December 2015 and January 2016 with senior business unit executives—in and outside of HR—in organizations with 100 or more employees. It looked at which competencies business leaders believe are necessary to be successful across different functional areas now and in the future.

It found that 93 percent of respondents think the use of formally defined competencies is important for the overall success of their business units. IT business units, SHRM found, are more likely than administrative/executive, finance and accounting, and sales and marketing business units to use a formally defined set of competencies in their processes and systems.

The implication for HR professionals, the report suggested, is that they will need to “cultivate deep business acumen and technical knowledge” to accurately define the technical and behavioral competencies that employees in those units will need to be successful—particularly leadership and navigation. HR professionals, the report suggested, will need to work closely with business unit leaders to define the competencies needed for specific roles and functions in those units and will need to develop organization-wide leadership development strategies.

HR and Competencies

The survey also delved into what competencies executives consider important but lacking in the HR labor pool and how to address those gaps.

Nine out of 10 senior non-HR leaders (91 percent) think competencies are “important” or “very important” for overall HR department success. The survey also found that 93 percent of respondents think competencies are “important” or “very important” for overall business success in their business units.

By 2026, HR expertise, communication and relationship management will continue to be the top three competencies critical to HR professionals, according to the findings. However, senior business executives think job candidates for HR positions lacked communication and critical evaluation competencies.

Those competencies—along with leadership and navigation, critical evaluation, global and cultural effectiveness, consultation, business acumen and ethical practice—are included in the SHRM Competency Model for HR professionals.

The best approach to closing the leadership and navigation gap in HR and other business units, more than one-fourth of senior business unit executives said, is to promote from inside the organization. This is likely to lead to more-focused efforts from HR to develop the next generation of leaders in their organizations, the report noted. Other strategies include training/professional development and hiring from the outside (both 20 percent) and coaching and mentoring (19 percent).

“Because competence in leadership and navigation impacts the entire organization,” Jones said, “HR will not only have to work on developing this competency within specific business units, including HR, but will need to develop organization-wide leadership development strategies and initiatives. This requires thinking of leadership from more of a systems perspective.”

Finding HR professionals with proficiency in leadership and navigation is a key challenge to HR, according to Business and Human Capital Challenges, a report SHRM released in December 2015. The HR professionals SHRM surveyed from its membership cited leadership as the second most critical HR competency, just behind HR expertise. It will be “imperative,” the report noted, that HR professionals receive every opportunity to develop the competencies they need and for organizations to invest in their staff by helping them develop those skills.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor of HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter

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