What it means to be an HR professional
Professionalism in HR as in other fields can be defined generally as the conduct exhibited by people who are providing advice and services that require expertise and that meet defined or generally accepted standards of behaviour. Work done by a professional is usually distinguished by its reference to a framework of fundamental concepts that reflect the skilful application of specialized education, training and experience. It is accompanied by a sense of responsibility and an acceptance of recognized standards. Even more loosely, people can be described as acting ‘professionally’ when they do their work well and act responsibly.
Professionalism in HR means working in accordance with a professional ethos. As suggested by Fletcher (2004) this is characterized by:
- the possession of specialized knowledge and skills;
- power and status based on expertise;
- self-discipline and adherence to some aspirational performance standards;
- the opportunity to display high levels of autonomy;
- the ability to apply some independence of judgement;
- operating, and being guided by, a code of ethics.
HR professionals are required to uphold the standards laid down by their professional body, the CIPD, but they must also adhere to their own ethical values. Additionally, they are bound by organizational codes of conduct expressed formally or accepted and understood as core values (the basic values adopted by an organization that set out what is believed to be important about how people and organizations should behave).
The demands made on HR professionals in terms of skills and expected behaviours are considerable although, nowadays, as Keegan and Francis (2010: 884) commented, ‘Success in HR roles is measured in terms of developing an effective business rather than people skills.’ Brockbank et al (1999) conducted research that led to a definition of the key HR competency ‘domains’ and their components, as set out in Table 3.1.
TABLE 3.1 Key HR specialist competency areas (Brockbank et al, 1999)
The CIPD’s HR profession map first issued in June 2009 (CIPD, 2013) listed the following behaviours needed by HR professionals to carry out their activities:
- decisive thinker;
- skilled influencer;
- driven to deliver;
- personally credible;
- courage to challenge;
- role model.