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Strategic HR impacts on business performance

IN this Question and Answer article, Brett Chulu (BC) engaged Jon Younger (JY), co-author of a new book, HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources, to share his insights on the future of global HR based on his and his colleagues’ latest global research.

Report by Brett Chulu

Dave Ulrich, the world’s number one strategic HR thinker, who has in the past been interviewed in this column, is one of the four co-authors of this book.


Urich and Younger  are partners at RBL, a highly-ranked strategic Human Resources consultancy group based in the United States. Younger leads the strategic HR practice at the RBL Group and is also a director at the RBL Institute; a world-renowned think-tank on strategic HR. Excerpts below.

BC: Together with Dave Ulrich, Wayne Brockbank and Mike Ulrich, you co-directed the sixth round of the Human Resources Competence Study (HRCS). What is the HRCS?

JY:  Together with the Ross School, University of Michigan, my colleagues and I at RBL have been engaged in a 25-year study of how HR professional and organisational competencies are evolving. Our current book describes the findings of our sixth round of study. The study is unique in four respects.


First, it is global, representing 20,000 respondents from every major global region. Second, both HR professionals and line managers participated; more than  7 000 line managers responded.


This is important; how can you talk about HR competence without involving the business? Third, we have had very broad participation; men and women, juniors and seniors, directors and relatively new HR professionals. The results are truly a competency model for all seasons, so to speak. And fourth, the results really show the evolution of what is expected of HR, where we are strong, becoming stronger, and needing to grow in new areas.

BC: You have just released a book, HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources on the findings of the latest round of the HRCS. Could you unpack the key ideas locked in this book title?

JY: The fundamental message of our research confirms and reinforces what we’ve learned in our consulting, educational and assessment work with a wide range of corporations and governmental organisations. Business leaders increasingly realise that to adapt to changing business conditions and customer/stakeholders expectations, they have to do more than articulate a compelling strategy. They have to ensure the organisational skill, agility and resilience to actually make it happen.


The role of HR is to directly and meaningfully turn aspirations into results by focusing on:

[1] Talent: Do we have the skills and engagement of our people?

[2] Culture: Do we have the organisation capabilities that convert strategic intent into real organisational alignment?

[3] Leadership: Do we have leaders throughout the organisation who are focused on the right things?

HR professionals should be architects of talent, culture, and leadership as they help line managers deliver what they promise. Behind these three fundamentals are a set of HR professional competencies that define how HR professionals must contribute to make this real.

BC: Your research identifies a set of competencies grouped under the compass of Strategic Positioner. What are the key characteristics of a strategic positioner?

JY: This is a very interesting and challenging time. Technologies are disrupting not just industries but entire societies. Think about the impact of Facebook on social and political change in the Middle East. HR must perform in three areas:

(1) Help their colleagues to assess and respond to external challenges facing their organisation, for example, technology disruption or demographic changes.

(2) Understand the experience of customers in dealing with the organisation and how that bond can be strengthened.

(3) Ensure the strategies and priorities of the organisation fully consider and address the external trends and challenges to which the organisation must respond.

BC: In the fifth round of the HRCS you had, among others, the Strategy Architect competency. What are the key differences, if any, between a strategic positioner and a strategy architect?

JY: Strategic Positioner is an evolution of the Strategy Architect competency we identified in the last global study. In essence, it expands on the architect contribution in two important ways: First, it reinforces the importance of HR’s ongoing responsibility to chart external trends that will impact on the performance of the business or non-profit organisation. For example, what is the impact of industry consolidation, or technology-based disruption or changing customer buying patterns? Second, it reinforces the importance of HR professionals as co-creators of the strategic agenda. It’s not enough to understand how the external environment is influencing the future of the organisation; HR must have the courage to apply that knowledge in developing the future strategy.

BC: Your latest HRCS includes African participants. How does the African HR professional compare with other sub-regions according to your research?
Younger: We are delighted to have had the participation of African HR professionals. Let me defer my response to this because the book describing regional differences has just been turned in to the publisher. Once it’s published in November, perhaps we can review this in detail.

BC: There are a number of HR competency studies that have been conducted by other bodies. What makes the HRCS distinct from other HR competency studies?

JY: We think the RBL/Michigan research is unique in several respects: (1) Partnership with HR associations in all major regions.

(2) Participation by both HR professionals and line managers. We think it is critical to involve business partners as well as HR professionals in assessing HR competency requirements, strengths and gaps.

(3) A large and truly global sample. More than 20 000 respondents were involved.

(4) A global emphasis. Only 35% of participants were North Americans. We are excited about sharing a truly global perspective on HR competencies,
(5) The methodological rigour of our approach.

(6) A focus on both HR professional assessment, and business impact. For example, we found it very interesting that the Credible Activist competency has the greatest impact on perceptions of HR professionalism, but other competency domains had a stronger impact on business results.


In other words, a strong relationship of trust with business partners creates the potential for impact, but it is other competencies that build on the relationship and deliver real results, for example, effectiveness in change management.

BC: What would be the value proposition of reading your latest book for senior executives such as chief executives in Zimbabwe, other than HR professionals?

JY: Many executives don’t expect enough from their HR organisations. Our data indicates that HR has a very significant impact on business performance by innovating and aligning HR practices in talent, culture and leadership.


Executives who want their organisations to remain strong over time need to be attentive to the talent they attract, invest in building the organisational capabilities that enable sustainable strategic performance, and the leaders and leadership needed to convert customer expectations into employee behaviour.

BC: How can interested managers and senior executives in Zimbabwe get hold of your latest book?

JY: At most bookstores or through Amazon.com or other online booksellers. Or go to our website RBL.net. I would enjoy hearing from any of your readers about the book. My email address is jonyounger@rbl.net.

  • Let’s discuss at brettchulu@consultant.com.


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