Throughout my career, which spans over thirty years as an HR professional, I have been a keen observer of our profession. I now find myself in a position where a large volume of information about the development and changing nature of HR crosses my desk, and I have the luxury and time to consider, reflect on, and speak about my experiences and insights on the future of the HR profession. My perspectives are shaped by the various roles that I have held. I’ve been manager, director, and VP of HR for a number of companies, run my own HR related business for ten years, and for the last six years, been Director of the Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) at Queen’s University. In this article I argue that the CHRP designation is not sufficient for HR professionals, and point to some of the work being conducted internationally, to illustrate the kinds of training, learning, and professional development opportunities Canadian organizations should be considering for their HR professionals. Enhancing learning beyond the CHRP will, in my view, facilitate raising the bar on HR in Canada.
I always enjoy meeting with and talking to active HR practitioners. I especially like to learn about the problems and opportunities that my professional colleagues face every day. These conversations are a rewarding component of my role with the IRC, and, in part, help to shape the focus of my own HR research. As IRC Director, I am uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between the practitioner and academic communities – two communities that, historically, have had difficulty communicating with each other. In 2007, for example, the Academy of Management Journal addressed the issue of “rigour versus relevance” in a series of articles (see, for example, Volume 50, Issues 4-6). In the IRC’s own practitioner-focused research, Alison Hill and I have sought to discover those things that keep you awake at night and disseminate relevant and up-to-date information and insights to facilitate HR professionals’ success in their multifaceted roles.
Perhaps like me, in your career you have worked with a number of MBAs who know a lot about academic theory, but perhaps not so much about how to work with people and apply their knowledge. I tend to agree with Henry Mintzberg, from McGill. In his book, Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development (2004), Mintzberg argues that the MBA curriculum teaches the wrong people, the wrong content at the wrong time. Undoubtedly, the HR profession has made great strides forward in the past twenty years, advancing the skills, knowledge, and credentials required by practitioners, increasingly enabling our field to be perceived as a true profession within organizations and amongst the general public. As HR professionals, we now have an opportunity to explore, reflect on, and shape the future of our profession.
The CHRP is firmly established in Canada as the entry-level designation to the HR profession. It is a sought-after credential that promises a certain level of recognized knowledge and ability. HR professionals require skills and knowledge that go beyond those offered in the CHRP. In its current form, I don’t think that the CHRP is sufficient; it does not, and can not, solely provide professionals with the level of competencies required in the field. Accordingly, I firmly believe that the HR profession needs to re-examine what qualifications HR professionals need to succeed and the ways in which they can achieve success. I am increasingly concerned that organizations spend a great deal of time and effort developing and promoting Mission, Vision, and Values, but stall when it comes time to articulate the Behaviours that are needed to support them. Time after time, in the IRC’s HR programs, we hear that Mission and Vision are well-documented and supported, but Values and articulated behaviours fall short, or may even be non-existent. This is a serious problem, the consequences of which we deal with on a daily basis in HR.
I am surprised with the number of organizations that continue to pour money into developing competency frameworks, but do not support the continued use and integration of those competencies into their corporate DNA. The result? Wasted effort. Please don’t misunderstand my argument. I am not against competency frameworks. In fact, I am a proponent of this vital tool. I am, however, opposed to the installation of competency frameworks with no plan to keep them current and inadequate resources to support them. Many, many installations fail for this reason.
I am a strong supporter of the work of David Ulrich from the University of Michigan and his work on HR competencies. I think this is solid research, and appreciate Ulrich’s pragmatic approach. Ulrich’s competency framework can be implemented to support HR leaders, in any HR unit, as they endeavour to support the development of their organization. Ulrich’s work is longitudinal, multi-national research that resonates across the HR profession and provides a link to the business side of what we do – a link that CEOs and Chief Executives so often say is missing from their HR staff.
There is some very interesting work being done on HR Governance, both in terms of the design of the HR function itself and the changing role at the most senior levels between the CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer), the CEO, and Board of Directors. The IRC has been working with Deloitte to publicize and promote the intensified exploration of HR Governance. Concerns about global issues influence us as HR professionals, regardless of what kind of organization we work for, as issues such as globalization, global warming, and sustainability move higher on the corporate agenda. In particular, younger employees are asking challenging questions of management, demanding higher expectations of their employers. HR frequently finds itself in a key communications and leadership role.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has been doing some excellent work. Representing approximately 130,000 HR professionals in the United Kingdom and Ireland, CIPD has, in recent years, completely redesigned their “HR Profession Map” (see: http://www.cipd.co.uk/cipd-hr-profession/hr-profession-map/). It is a fascinating look at another way in which the educational needs of HR professionals can be met. It has the unique advantage of articulating bands, or levels, of competence. Having drawn the conclusion that one size does not fit all, the CIPD has designed a challenging, but flexible, model that gives HR professionals (and specialists within HR) a plethora of opportunity to design their careers.
CIPD continues to conduct research on the impact of HR on organizations. Recently, CIPD published papers on the impact of downsizing on the UK public sector, and on corporate sustainability. It is the CIPD’s contention that HR is uniquely placed within organizations to provide insights that might otherwise be overlooked or forgotten, but are critical to organizational success.
Having been formed by the merger of the national training organization and the national personnel organization (an insight that has not been able to make its way across the Atlantic, except in Saskatchewan, a story that I don’t have time to discuss in detail here, unfortunately) the CIPD offers an extensive syllabus of programs at all levels to its membership. Viewing the additions each year to their catalogue provides a snapshot of hot button issues, as the CIPD moves to meet its members expressed needs.
CIPD has, for several years, been working very hard at the senior level of the UK government to gain support for their strategic initiatives. Recently this bore fruit, as the CIPD now is allowed to issue the designation of “Chartered HR professional.” As you are likely aware, this designation parallels historical developments in the accounting profession.
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) investigated the idea of licensing HR professionals in the 1990s, but abandoned it as simply being too complicated to implement across fifty-plus jurisdictions in the United States. Instead they have chosen to extend their PHR (Professional in HR) designation to an SPHR (Senior Professional in HR) and GPHR (Global Professional in HR). The SPHR includes 25% strategic content. It is not easy to earn a SPHR designation. The year that I wrote the examination, only 51% of those writing passed, and that included those writing for the second and third time. SHRM exemplifies the globalization of our profession, having offices and operations now in China and India (see: http://www.shrm.org). Thus, as we can learn about the HR profession in England by seeing the courses CIPD offers to its members, we can see the changes in the US HR landscape by looking at the SHRM website listing for HR disciplines.
As we all know, the pace of change is not slowing and the HR profession is being buffeted by global forces which influence us all no matter what our HR role, size or context of our organizations. Yet, it is a time of opportunity for all of us, and an exciting time. I am proud to be involved in the HR profession and optimistic about its future.