· Features

HR needs to harness curiosity

The CIPD’s HR Profession Map was developed to help map, plan and benchmark throughout our careers. It sets out standards for HR professionals by outlining four bands of competence and 10 professional areas, and defines eight behaviours that detail how an HR professional needs to carry out their role and make a contribution to organisational success.

One behaviour caught my attention: 'curious'. This isn't something that most people would suggest if you asked them what makes a good HR professional. You might expect to hear collaborative, influencer, personally credible, all of which are described in the map - but not curious. The CIPD define 'curious' as: "Is future-focused, inquisitive and open-minded; seeks out evolving and innovative ways to add value to the organisation."

Let's be realistic, we're in business and most HR professionals would vigorously assert that they believe that HR wants to be, should be, a trusted adviser to business leaders. We want to make that contribution to organisational success.

But a new study Oracle/IBM C-suite perspectives of HR carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit finds that most chief executives regard their HR heads as the poor relations at the top table. It seems 30% of chief executives feel their HR director is "not of the same calibre as other C-level executives'". Over 40% think HR is "too focused on process and rules" and over a third said it did "not understand the business well enough".

It would seem that HR as a profession stand, once again, accused of not being good enough at business. HR professionals do not display the business acumen that is displayed by their colleagues in finance, marketing, operations: can that be true? I think probably, sadly, it is the case and I have long urged my colleagues that for HR to make a real impact, we need to have a good understanding of business.

However good and well qualified you are as an HR professional the plain fact is that the CEO wants someone interested in the future and predictive analysis.

It's not enough to be good at HR or putting in place the HR policies and processes that make the organisation function. Not just about implementing the people management strategy but about being informed and qualified to shape that strategy. It's about being aware of your organisation, industry and sector and the economic environment in which they operate so as to help drive the organisation forward. As a business-orientated HR professional you are taking something meaningful to the boardroom table so you deal with other professional managers on an equal footing and from a comparable knowledge base that our colleagues can take seriously.

It's about being aware of your customers and marketplace too, it's essential to keep up to date with the changing demands of customers and how these affect your business. Being curious would mean asking questions about your customers; perhaps, going out with one of the sales team to meet some of them face to face. It's obvious: if you understand what your company sells and how it sells it, then you are better placed to help lead the organisation in servicing those customers better, which is what you are in business to do, after all.

You need to understand the business well enough that you not only recognise the challenges ahead but are able to mobilise resources efficiently to seize opportunities as they arise. Winners move fast. HR is crucial to building and coaching a talent pool that is able to quickly exploit opportunities; creating optimum levels of engagement so that the workforce and management capability are there to deal with the tough economic environment we're dealing with. Curiosity, as personal and professional trait, will enable you see the relevance of wider organisational issues, sector trends or contextual developments to your organisation and role.

Every employee should understand the link between what they do and the bottom line. Do you know how well your organisation is doing, and how it relates to competitors? What are the points of competition - price, quality of service, technological advantage? Curiosity is about observing and understanding the world beyond our own small sphere. Taking an interest in what makes others successful and reaching for knowledge beyond our own industry area will help. If you work in a high-tech business then observe the food industry. How do they do business? What are their models? What's their marketing approach? Observe what you can, and learn from it.

So are you curious? Would you peers and senior colleagues recognise you as a knowledgeable and tuned-in practitioner? Do you shape and develop HR activity and practice to make use of cutting edge insights for your organisation?

Michael Moran (pictured) chief executive and founder of 10eighty