Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | March 6, 2012

How Competent Are Your HR Competencies?

How Competent Are Your HR Competencies?

By Mike Deblieux, SPHR-CA

HR Competencies: Mastery at the Intersection of People and Business, by Dave Ulrich, et al., is a book you must find time read, study, and apply if you expect to be a respected HR Professional. It is a book full of statistics, regression analysis, and correlations from in-depth studies of HR every five years since 1988. It quantifies what is working and what is not working in HR. It illustrates the impact of HR based on organizational size, geography, practitioner, non-practitioner, industry, and other perspectives. In 226 pages it paints a complex picture of you and your career.

This is not an easy book to read. But then, no one ever said that HR was an easy profession to practice, much less explain. It is an important book for two reasons. First, it draws on detailed research and statistical analysis to define Human Resources. Second, it is replete with practical recommendations to create effective HR Professionals who have an impact on the business success of their organizations.

Ulrich and his colleagues draw from their most recent study to depict an HR Professional with effective skills in six competency factors within three categories:

  • Relationships
    • Credible Activist
  • Systems and Processes
    • Operational Executor
    • Business Ally
  • Organization Capabilities
    • Talent Manager/Organizational Designer
    • Culture and Change Steward
    • Strategy Architect

Together, these competencies enable the HR Profession to effectively merge people management with business success. All six competencies are important. You should invest time to understand each of them. Let’s look at one of them – Credible Activist.

Credible Activist
To be credible is to be believed, convincing, or respected. To be an activist is to vigorously take a position on an issue – often a controversial issue. An HR Professional as a Credible Activist is admired up, down, and across the organization for knowing what they are talking about – for offering insights based on reliable data rather than subjective opinions. They are willing to put their job on the line in the right situations to advocate for organizational actions and programs.

The two concepts are intertwined. You cannot be successful if you know what you are talking about, but are weak at presenting it to decision-makers and constituents. Conversely, you cannot succeed by vociferously arguing a point that is grounded in the foundation of a porous pillar.
HR Competencies describes four key factors in the successful make-up of a HR Professional who is a Credible Activist:

  1. Delivering Results with Integrity
    • Principled and ethical actions
  2. Sharing Information
    • Communicating with clarity and sincerity to audiences at all levels of the organization
  3. Building Relationships of Trust
    • Operating with dependability and consistency
  4. Doing HR with an Attitude
    • Saying what needs to be said, where and when it needs to be said

So what do you do to become a Credible Activist? Make no mistake, you start with credibility. It must come first. You must know what you are talking about before you start talking about it. You have to do your research and understand it before you can take an informed position on an issue. Performance reviews offer one real life example. In too many cases, they are the result of an opinion, a hunch, or feeling about what is needed. In too few cases, they are based on a review of the literature, an analysis of the specific needs of the organization, a robust pilot project, and a predetermined success measurement process.

Ulrich and his colleagues offer numerous examples of steps an HR Professional can and should take to develop their skills as a Credible Activist. Some examples include:

  • Measuring HR Activities (Integrity)

The 2011 PIHRA Conference included a presentation on the HR Scorecard. It was well attended. It should have been standing room only. District 6 brought the speaker back for a monthly meeting presentation. If you are in District 6, it was a “can’t miss” meeting. If you are not, it would have been worth the drive to hear it.

An HR Scorecard is one example of measuring HR success. A Credible Activist uses it and other evaluation tools such as Six Sigma to validate assumptions, recommendations, and actions.

  • Communication Skills (Sharing Information)

A Credible Activist does not take their communication skills for granted. Instead, they open themselves up to feedback and constructive criticism. They put themselves into situations that invite others to tell them if their message is clear and effective. They write articles, give speeches, speak up in meetings and then seek feedback on their performance that they take seriously to hone their communication skills.

  • Valuing the Seat (Trust)

Interestingly, HR Competencies argues that HR has at long last gained a seat at the “table.” The chair, however, may not be taken for granted. It requires special care.

A Credible Activist is keenly aware of their impact on others. They know if others are rolling their eyes when they walk in the room or embracing and inviting their presence. They have a sixth sense that tells them when a relationship with a key colleague is faltering. They confront the issue in a timely, objective, and supportive manner. Importantly, they say “we” more than “I.”

  • Standing Strong and Proud (HR with an Attitude)

A Credible Activist stands on solid ground. They know and practice their own values. They know when to speak their mind and stand their ground. They are willing to elevate a business debate based on business principles without unnecessarily creating personal animus. They make decisions and take actions around a strong principle of “doing the right thing.”

Of the four Credible Activist factors, this one requires the most self-evaluation. It depends on an HR Professional listening to and understanding the positions of others. It is grounded in an ability to know when compromise is the right or wrong course. In simple terms it means knowing in your heart when to put your job on the line based on a principle that is worth the risk and the cost.

Being a Credible Activist is not an easy task. It is an essential ingredient in the formula that leads to your success as an HR professional. It is one of five that Ulrich and his colleagues argue you should learn more about and refine for your use in your career.

HR Competencies (SHRM 2008) is not a book for the faint of heart. It is not a book for the HR Professional who believes that they have a lock on what it takes to be successful in this dynamic and changing field.

It is a book for an HR Professional who really wants to understand the job, the career, and the challenge of Human Resources. If you accept the challenge to read it, read it one section (not chapter) at a time. Take time to digest the detailed data and concepts that it offers. Keep a mirror at your side. Look in the mirror often with a self-critical eye to determine how really good you are at what you do. Use the lessons you learn to develop your own long-range personal HR development program.


Mike Deblieux, SPHR-CA, designs and presents on-site seminars and workshops for front-line workplace leaders. He provides coaching support for first-line supervisors and supports HR professionals through special projects to help their organizations achieve strategic goals. Mike writes HR Concepts to help HR professionals better understand and use fundamental HR principles. Share your feedback on this article with Mike at


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