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Can safety learn from human resources?

July 11, 2003
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A recently completed toolkit from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), University of Michigan Business School, and the Global Consulting Alliance identifies five key competencies human resource (HR) professionals must have in order to impact business financial performance.

The parallels to necessary safety and health professional skills are evident. There's always been a close connection between the "caring" professions of HR and safety. Consider what's being asked of today's HR managers, and apply it to safety:

Five major categories or domains of HR competencies emerged when the differences between HR professionals in both high-performing and low-performing organizations were analyzed. The domains are as follows: Strategic Contribution, Personal Credibility, HR Delivery, Business Knowledge, and HR Technology.

Strategic Contribution - The study finds that strategic contribution accounts for nearly half of HR's total influence on business performance. The four sub-categories or factors of strategic contribution are culture management, fast change, involvement in business decision making and leveraging customer information to create unified and customer focused organizations.

Personal Credibility - HR professionals must be credible to both their colleagues and the employees they serve. The research finds it critical that HR have effective relationships with key people inside and outside the organization. They must deliver results and establish a reliable track record. In addition, HR professionals must have effective written and verbal communication skills.

HR Delivery - This competency encompasses the HR activities that are traditionally associated with the HR function. There are six major factors within this domain: staffing, development, organizational structure, HR measurement, legal compliance and performance management.

Business Knowledge - The fourth competency domain is business knowledge. To become key players in the organization, HR professionals must understand their organizations and the industries in which they work. However, knowing this information is not enough. The study indicates that HR professionals in high-performing firms know as much about business as HR professionals in low-performing firms. The difference between the two is that high-performing HR professionals use this knowledge to make strategic contributions.

HR Technology - Technology is increasingly used as a delivery vehicle for HR services. The study finds that HR professionals need to be able to use HR technology and Web-based channels to deliver services to employees. But it also shows that the promise of HR technology to noticeably impact the overall financial performance of the firm has yet to materialize. Many companies who have moved aggressively into this arena are still working out the bugs.

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