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Many human resources competencies are non-negotiable, because a lack of them could mean the difference between business success or failure. No smart business owner with employees will — nor should — discount the impact of human beings and their contribution, connection, communication and emotion when conducting business. This should be where human resources comes in. Here are seven essential HR competencies for business success:

1. Effectively navigate the hierarchical structure: It is not easy to align groups, grapple with politics, communicate in a way people can hear and more. Many departments think others don’t work as hard. Many executives think employees don’t appreciate what they have. Many individuals think they are “the one” that makes it all happen. Human resources gets the awesomely challenging responsibility of giving everyone that “check” needed to remember it takes a team.

2. Have a vision aligned with the CEO: It is truly like a marriage, because human resources leaders must align their vision of company culture with the CEO’s vision of profits. Once there is alignment here, HR gets the distinct honor of convincing everyone else on staff to align under this shared umbrella. Staying true to facts and a vision is as important as proactive, ongoing communication and alignment directly with the CEO as climates and markets and profits change. It’s up to human resources to bridge the gap between employers and employees and then get everyone moving the same direction. 

3. Exhibit influence: Without influence, which can only come from consistency in character, human resources leaders will not succeed. There is no way around it. This takes an extremely competent person because the only way to gain influence is to be more proficient than the majority — and, in doing so, win more battles than you lose. If HR cannot be respected overall, they cannot be effective. There is no shortcut to take.

4. Have personal integrity: HR leaders have the toughest job of all when they are positioned smack in the middle of opposing conflicts between multiple levels of leadership and their staff. It truly takes a special skill to bring these entities together as one unit. As already stated, the only way to move people is for them to believe in your character and integrity. 

5. Navigate with ethical consistency: Human resources is the place where it is ultimately decided, with managers and leaders, who stays and who goes. It’s the place where it is decided if sexual harassment occurred and what the consequence is, if so. It’s where investigation, confrontation and consequence happens for bribery, conflicts of interest, discrimination and competency management. It’s even where it’s determined if and when it’s OK to bring children and pets into the workplace — not to mention, HR is the final say regarding the legalities and ethics of hiring and firing real people with real families and real personal needs. Each of these situations must be navigated with equal diligence and ethical consistency.

6. Expertise in behavioral communication techniques: Building relationships, creating and leading a team, behaving with emotional intelligence, managing conflicts, building trust, negotiating, effectively communicating and then translating, leading diversity initiatives, understanding business implications, leading organizational and operational change management, etc. — the list is endless. Human resources has become a sort of catch-all for executing, evaluating and redirecting all departments’ and employees’ behaviors and communications.

7. Know technical human resources laws and practices: These include benefits, EEOC, FLSA, OSHA, HRIS, ATS, sexual harassment, employment laws (by state), recruiting, payroll, compensation strategies and benchmarking, strategic planning, talent acquisition, employee engagement, learning and development, total rewards, organizational structure, operational effectiveness, workforce management, labor relations, technology and risk management, disaster recovery, auditing, security, corporate social responsibility, mission/vision/values … just to name a few. Know this list is certainly not all-inclusive, and that it is imperative for HR leaders to be well-versed with technical acumen, real-world best practices and SOPs.

Required competencies for HR professionals are vast, and executing these takes character and strength — not just overnight or whimsical character and strength, but the hardcore kind that’s not easy to come by. It’s not a profession for the meek, and choosing HR leaders wisely is one of the most important things that CEOs must get right. It takes absolute superstars to navigate the complex world that falls under the term “human resources.”

If you don’t recognize these terms or your HR leader doesn’t have these responsibilities or competencies and instead just processes new hires, writes policies and oversees the monthly birthday cake and company parties, then you are exposed and potentially in danger as a business. And even more importantly, you are leaving tons of money on the table, rather than in your pocket. Make finding and keeping the right human resources leader a high priority.

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