Human resource competencies as perceived by executives.

AuthorSrimannarayana, M.


Human resource (HR) is moving away from the transactional, paper-pushing, hiring/firing support function it has been and is becoming a bottom-line business decision maker (Caudron, 1994). Subsequent to this transformation, HRM is facing a wide variety of issues and challenges from both internal and external environment. HR professionals have to address these issues and challenges. This makes HR professionals play different roles such as strategic partner, administrative expert, employee champion and change agent (Ulrich, 1997). To sustain the transformation of HR function, HR professionals must develop and demonstrate a new set of competencies to fulfill their changing roles and responsibilities (Yeung, Woolcock & Sullivan, 1996). These competencies are: knowledge, skills, abilities or personality characteristics that directly influence one's performance (Becker, Huselid & Ulrich, 2001). With growing emphasis being placed on HR competencies, significant research is carried out on this area. The present study makes an attempt to assess HR competencies demonstrated by HR professionals in India based on the perceptions of executives working in HR and non-HR areas in various organizations.

HRM in India

In India, HRM has been of comparatively late growth and has only developed on a wide scale since Independence. Government legislation has played a vital role in the evolution of personnel management/HRM in India. The other reasons would be business acumen, economic conditions, social set up that have also contributed in shaping personnel practices (Balasubramanian, 1995). Evolution of HRM in India may be traced in to five phases. The beginning is from 1920s to 1930s. During this period the status of the department was predominantly clerical and the activities were confined to statutory welfare, and paternalistic welfare programs. During the second stage (1940s-1960s), the personnel profession struggled for recognition by emphasizing on introducing techniques. In the third stage, from 1970s to 1980s, the profession has made attempts to impress with sophistication by emphasizing on regularity conformance, and imposing standards on other functions. The period of 1990s was the promising phase of personnel profession in India with a philosophical outlook by emphasizing on human values, and productivity through people. The year 2000 and onwards is a period of rationalisation in which the outlook has become strategic with emphasis on organizational performance. Over a period of time the role of HR has elevated from clerical to administrative, administrative to managerial, managerial to executive, and executive to strategic partner (Venkata Ratnam & Srivastava, 1991; Budhwar, 2009a). The challenges of HRM in India include the need to change the traditional role played by Indian HRM to a more strategic and proactive role, and HR challenges relating to strategic alliances. Despite such challenges, the present business context in India provides ample opportunities for HR function to make a mark (Budhwar, 2009b). If the HR function has to make a mark, the HR professionals need to possess the competencies required to perform their responsibilities.

The HR Competency Studies

Competencies for HR professionals may be defined either by the insights of senior managers and other internal customers or by an empirically tested conceptual framework (Ulrich, Brockbank, Yeung & Lake, 1995). They generally focus on the knowledge and abilities of HR professionals and the extent to which he or she could use HR practices to build business success (Ulrich et al, 2008). Over the last twenty five years, several HR competencies studies are conducted aiming at identifying appropriate HR competencies that influence firm performance. Ulrich, the pioneer of HR competency studies, has conducted several studies, over a period of time, with the help of his associates. The original HR competency study (HRCS) conducted in 1987 indicates that HR professionals needed business knowledge, HR delivery, and change management competencies regardless of position, industry, or geography. Ulrich, Brockbank & Yeung (1989) argue that if HR professionals are to add value to their firms, they must have knowledge of business, world class delivery of human resource practices in their specialty which include staffing, development, appraisal, rewards, organizational design and communication, and management of change process. In 1992, Ulrich, Brockbank & Yeung have conducted the second round of HRCS. Personal credibility has emerged as the fourth HR competency in this study. The third round of their studies conducted in 1997 identified that ability to manage culture is an important competency for HR professionals. Culture and change competencies are rolled into a new domain called strategic contribution in the fourth round of HRCS conducted in 2002. During this round of the study, another new competency called 'HR technology' has emerged. Ulrich et al (2007) have conducted their fifth round of HRCS at the global level that classifies HR competencies into six clusters such as credible activist, culture and change steward, talent manager/organisational designer, strategy architect, operational executor, and business ally. The sixth round of HRCS identifies credible activist, strategic positioner, capability builder, change champion, HR innovator and integrator, and technology proponent (Ulrich et al, 2013).

In addition to Ulrich and his associates, several other scholars have carried out studies on HR competencies. Eichniger & Lombardo (1990) suggest leadership areas for HR competencies, which include cognitive complexity and agility, achievement directed assertiveness, interpersonal effectiveness, personal management, business savvy, and job skills. Lawson (1990) identifies five competency clusters for HR executives such as business knowledge, influence management, functional and organizational leadership, goal and action management, and HR technical proficiency. Schoonver (1997) establishes a set of core HR competencies consisting of leadership style, management intuition, functional abilities and personal attributes. Huselid, Jackson & Schuler (1997) identify two broad competencies that help HR professionals to develop effective HRM system, namely, professional HRM capabilities and business-related capabilities. Professional HRM capabilities are related to delivery of traditional HRM activities such as recruiting, selection and compensation. In contrast, business-related capabilities reflect an understanding of the business and the implementation of competitive strategy. Both contribute to HRM effectiveness, which in turn have a substantial positive effect on several measures of firm financial performance. Bell, Sae-Won and Yeung (2006) examine the linkage between electronic human resources and the reshaping of professional competence in HRM. Ramlall (2006) suggests that HR competencies may vary by type of position within HR. Graham & Tarbell (2006) examine the importance of the employee perspective in the creditability competency of human resource professionals.

It is evident from literature that most of the research is carried out on HR competencies in the USA. However, there are some country-specific studies that are available in the HR competencies research. In their Singapore study, Khatri & Budhwar (2002) find that top management enlightenment and level of HR competencies together determine the role and status of the HR function in organizations. Selmer & Chiu (2004) establish an empirical basis for a framework guiding the direction and content of the future development of HR practitioners in Hong Kong. Based on the study conducted on European companies, Boselie & Paauwe (2005) suggest that personal credibility and HR delivery have a positive effect on the relative ranking of HR function and its professionals. Pietersen & Engelbrecht (2005), in the study on strategic partnership role of HR Managers in South Africa organisations, find that there is a positive relationship between businesses related competencies and strategic partnership role among the HR managers. Han, Chou, Chao & Wright (2006) suggest that in the Taiwanese high-tech context, HR competencies of field expertise and change management are strongly related to HR effectiveness as perceived by line managers and employees, while business knowledge is not. Haroon et al (2010) find that, in Pakistan, top management support and level of HR competencies together decide the role and status of the HR function in organizations. Abdullahi et al (2011) suggest the HR practitioner competency model with significant competencies in the domains of generic/behavioral, business, and technical HR for Malaysian cultural setting. In another study in Malaysia, Long & Ismail (2011) examines the competencies of human resource professionals in the domains of business knowledge, strategic contribution, HR delivery, personal credibility, HR technology and internal consultation. Premarajan (2011) describes a national-level certification drive for HR professionals in India based on a competency model that captures the technical as well as behavioural competencies required for HR professionals in the country.

Present Study

The objective of the present study is to assess the extent of HR competencies demonstrated by HR professionals in India based on the perceptions of executives working in different types of organisations. This study also makes an attempt to find out the differences, if any, in the perception of executives on HR competencies based on the type and size of organisations they work, gender, educational background, work experience, level of management and functional area (HR and non-HR) of the executives. The six-domain HR competency framework that consists of: credible activist, culture and change steward, talent manager/ organisational designer, strategy architect, operational executor and...

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