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Nick Greer

University of Liverpool

Director of Studies, Online HRM Programme

Read more about Nick Greer

How is postgraduate education helping HR professionals become more strategic?

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Traditionally, the Human Resources function has served primarily as the systematising and employee-policy arm of executive management. The role of HR professionals was closely aligned with personnel and administrative functions that were sometimes viewed by the organisation as “paperwork”. However, the sector’s shift in professional designation from personnel to human resources has been part of a movement to acknowledge employees’ value, as well as to remove the long-held stereotypes of slow, bureaucratic personnel departments.

In recent years, an increasing number of pressures on organisations (such as globalisation, technological changes and the sagging economy) have brought a call for HR to become a true strategic partner. Globalisation means that HR professionals are now often expected to manage international workforces – groups of colleagues from different cultures with different beliefs and values from all over the world – and demonstrate they possess the skill set to lead this challenge. Just like their colleagues in other functional areas, HR professionals now have to demonstrate that they can contribute to significant business decisions and play a critical role in helping organisations navigate through the various transitions that arise to reach their strategic goals. In other words, HR professionals now have to have a seat at the table too.

Adding credibility and value to the business

With the economic downturn squeezing budgets and every investment keenly evaluated, HR must achieve more results with fewer resources. Organisations are acutely aware they can no longer afford to have an HR function that isn’t able to understand the core business functions and objectives that contribute to enhanced company profitability. HR departments need to guarantee their ability and viability to help achieve the organisation’s overall strategic goals and add value. To do this, HR managers must start to see themselves (and have others see them) as strategic partners. But what skills and knowledge can HR professionals develop or enhance so they succeed in this environment?

Firstly, they must have a core business understanding. For professionals to help set and implement the strategic direction of an organisation, they should comprehend business strategy and how it relates to organisational capabilities. They need to understand the full scope of business operations and objectives so that they don’t just switch off when the discussion turns to finance and accounting or marketing. Engagement and critical questioning from an HR perspective are vital to ensuring that the decisions being made not only affect the HR function, but contribute to the overall performance of the organisation.

The new HR professional must also demonstrate a sense of business credibility in order to be taken seriously, and this may include confidently demonstrating the value they add to the organisation and speaking in a language their colleagues can understand. Ultimately, if they can’t communicate that they are actually adding value, they may be in danger of being seen merely as a cost to the business.

Making the transition: No longer just a support function

While there are many ways HR professionals can upskill for a successful transition, postgraduate education can have its advantages. For example, postgraduate programmes such as MSc’s in Human Resource Management are designed not only to reinforce some of the traditional functions of the HR role but also to introduce HR as a strategic partner by firmly establishing the mind-set for the shifting role of HR.

Since today’s HR management is not a standalone activity, professionals must develop strategic skills alongside general HR skills. Through postgraduate education, HR professionals learn the knowledge and skills to negotiate in the new business environment as well as to understand the context and research behind why the transition is needed.

One of the skills that professionals develop through further education is the ability to manage financial resources, which gives them a working knowledge of the role accounting and finance play in supporting the HR function. By providing this understanding of the basic frameworks for financial accounting, managerial accounting and corporate finance, students in the are also prepared to fiscally manage HR projects as well as understand the wider financial strategy of their organisation.

One of the main benefits to students choosing to study online over campus based learning in their postgraduate studies is the global classroom that they are part of; in this environment professionals gain unique exposure to working in multicultural teams with professionals from all over the world. This helps develop a global viewpoint, putting HR professionals at an advantage over others who may not understand the cultural differences within their organisation.

The role of HR is likely to continue to change in many new and different ways in the future. But up skilling through postgraduate education offers a solution to meet that challenge, providing working HR professionals with the opportunity to acquire the skills they need to move ahead with these changes, adapt to them while on the job and become valuable leaders within their organisations. 

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Nick Greer

Director of Studies, Online HRM Programme

Read more from Nick Greer
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