This fall we’re deep in the thick of helping a number of Clients plan and execute extensive multi-year implementations of leadership and culture development processes to dramatically boost customer service, product/service quality, safety, employee engagement, succession planning, efficiencies, and another key elements of organization effectiveness. Since leadership and culture development are clearly people issues, we end up doing quite a bit of work with HR managers and executives.

We continue to find stark and sharp contrasts between those HR professionals who are strong strategic leaders and those who are more tactical HR administrators. Since I speak at HR conferences about keys to HR leadership, I am always watching for research on the best practices of the best HR leaders.

The RBL Group’s major and ongoing HR research study reported in “Developing the Skills of HR Business Partnership” is an insightful look at the competencies of strong HR leaders. They conclude, “the HR community has work to do. Both groups (HR and operational managers) reinforced the need for HR to increase professional skills in consulting and managing change.” RBL found that the best HR leaders balance People and Business skills in these clusters:

• Talent Manager/Organization Designer
• Culture and Change Steward
• Strategy Architect
• Operational Executor
• Business Ally
• Credible Activist

This research is consistent with the Six Steps to Strategic HR Leadership that I give to HR professionals in HR conference keynotes and workshops:

1. Coach/Develop Your Top Management Team to Better Balance Technical, Management, and Leadership
2. Have/Foster Courageous Conversations to Address the Moose-on-the-Table
3. Model and Facilitate Two-Way Communication versus Information Dumps
4. Pull the Pieces Together with an Integrated and Strategic Approach Linked to Critical Organizational Goals
5. Search for Systemic/Root Causes and Teach Holistic/Strategic Thinking to Recurring HR Issues
6. Build-in Higher Flexibility and Change Adaptability with Shared Leadership at All Levels

If you’re an HR professional use The RBL Group HR competencies and the Six Steps for a self-assessment. Better yet, get an assessment on these critical competencies and skills from your operational managers and executives. If you’re a senior manager or executive with HR professionals reporting to you, use the most relevant HR skills and competencies you’d like to see to clarify your expectations for the HR function and provide coaching/career discussions with your HR leader.