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Each month Andrew Leigh poses a tough question to the UK’s top HR practitioners. This month’s Question: “What in your view is the core competence for a senior HR person for the next two decades and why?”

This month we welcome: Kay Willis, HR Director of Lovells LLP.

"In thinking about this question two things struck me. The first is the sheer range of competencies that senior HR people need to deploy to be effective in their roles. Secondly, the frequency with which this question tends to be posed!

The rapid changes in the economy over the past year very much illustrate the first point.  Eighteen months ago, many of us in HR were engaged in supporting the business in designing strategies to develop and retain talent. 

These were typically forward-looking, long-term interventions which took time to bear fruit and for results to become apparent. Contrast this with the experience of recent months, where many HR teams have been propelled into centre-stage roles operating to much shorter time horizons and where results are much more immediate, whilst of course not losing sight of those longer-term projects. 

This situation has required us to trade on different competencies to those deployed in more benign times. Significantly, it has also provided the opportunity to reinforce the key role that commerciality and an understanding of the business play in our core skill set. Based on this recent experience the single or core competence I can perhaps suggest is versatility! 

This question of the core competency needed for a senior HR person in the next couple of years seems an issue that has preoccupied our thinking as a profession for a while; certainly much has been written on the theme.  

Is there something inherent in this need to be versatile and to adapt to the demands of the business that makes it difficult to articulate a core competence or value proposition?   

As long ago as the late 1990s, Ulrich argued that there was a “consensus on what successful HR professionals need to know and do”. Instead his exhortation was that we needed to get on and do it!  “HR must give value or give notice”.  

If the core competence is not Ulrich’s famous "attitude", then can I suggest confidence? Timing is of course key to any endeavour. With the very visible contribution many HR teams have made over the past year, now would be a great time to show both the right attitude and demonstrate high levels of confidence."  

Lovells is one of the largest international business legal practices, with over three thousand people operating from 28 offices in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the United States.

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