Human Resource Knowledge and Skills Needed by Non-HR Managers: Recommendations from Leading Senior HR Executives
Van Eynde, Donald F., Burr, Richard M., Organization Development Journal
This study was conducted to determine which HR knowledge and skills should be taught to non-HR managers. A Delphi research methodology was used to survey the opinions of 16 leading senior HR executives who are members of the Human Resources Council, American Management Association. From a total listing of 57 HR-related topics, 33 were rated by the experts as important for instruction. Also included are the executives' recommendations regarding specific knowledge matter and skills.
To be effective, line and staff managers alike need to be knowledgeable in areas of Human Resources (HR) such as employment law, discrimination, employee recruiting and selection, and labor-management relations. One way that organizations supply this knowledge is through training. But what if the time for HR-related training is limited? Which HR issues would be the most important for a new manager to learn?
The same issue exists in the field of Business Education. According to the Society of Human Resource Management's State of Human Resource Education Study (American Institutes for Research, 2011), 58% of business programs require a course in human resources as part of the core curriculum. Other universities, especially smaller ones similar to where the authors work, offer only an elective course in Human Resource Management. Using one of the many mainstream Human Resource textbooks available, the classes teach the knowledge needed to become a Human Resource (HR) professional. The problem is that most of the persons who enroll in these courses are not destined for a career in Human Resource Management; rather, they are specializing in areas such as Accounting, Finance, Marketing, or International Business and take the course to learn what to do when they encounter a human resource problem as a manager. If the course content is designed to train people to become a Human Resource professional, then much of what is taught is not needed by a non-HR manager and some of what is essential is either not covered or not taught in enough depth.
So, it appears sensible to ask the question, "If we are almost certain that most of the people in such courses will never work in an HR department early in their managerial careers, are they being taught the right issues? The same question asked in a broader and more exploratory fashion is: "What human resource related knowledge and skills are critical for a junior level, non-HR manager to possess?" It is this question that this research study attempts to address.
When we began our review of the literature, our expectation was that we would encounter several studies related to our question. Much to our amazement, the literature was totally bereft of such information. We searched on-line, in the library, and even asked an HR research firm to see what they could find. Nothing...not a single shred of research information surfaced that was targeted to the question of what non-HR managers need to know about HR. A search of the internet revealed a plethora of companies that offered HR workshops for non-HR managers, but we were unable to uncover any information that the curricula were based on research findings. The information delete closest to what we were seeking was a curriculum guidebook published by the Society of Human Resource Management (2010), but a query to that organization confirmed that the guidebook and related studies were focused on topics specific to a student or manager seeking a career in human resource management.
It quickly became obvious that we were going to have to take a more indirect approach to discover the answer. We first decided to focus on what experts had to say about the value of HR-related knowledge and skills to non-HR managers. Ron Pilenzo (2009), an executive with over 23 years in Fortune 100 companies and the President of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) for 10 years, answered that question as follows:
HR must create a sphere of influence, driven by best practices, that involves the transfer of as many HR competencies as possible to managers and employees at all levels. For example, if managers are trained to become better interviewers, trainers, coaches, mentors, and communicators of HR policy, the result will be better selection, improved performance, and an increase in the quality of employees which in turn increases the effectiveness of the organization as a whole, (p. 69)
The idea of a competency-based approach was likewise suggested earlier in knowledge management research conducted by Tampoe (1996). His study suggested that HR can promote effective knowledge management by identifying behaviors needed for knowledge-based competencies and ensuring that the workforce has the required competencies.
Given these reminders that specifics about knowledge and skills would produce a more useful outcome, the study commenced.
The 16 senior executives participating in this study were all members of the Human Resources Council of the American Management Association (AMA). Membership in the Council is by invitation only to individuals meeting the following requirements: 1) they must be recognized leaders in their field and come highly recommended by their peers as substantial members of the management community; and 2) they must report directly to the President/CEO of their respective organizations. A thumbnail profile of the participants is displayed in Table 1, (see page 70).
These senior executives are especially well qualified to address the research question. First, they have first-hand knowledge, confidential and otherwise, of the areas in which managers experience the most difficulty in HR-related matters. Second, they are extremely knowledgeable and experienced in the field of Human Resource Management-i.e., they know the subject matter well.
The Human Resources Council functions as an advisory group whose members provide a link between the American Management Association and the management community. Except for one member from academia, all are from for-profit organizations. Although members are frequently in contact with each other during the year via electronic means, the Council comes together as a group semiannually. These meetings are designed to provide a confidential forum in which members can share information about problems and opportunities and keep each other apprised of the latest developments and challenges in the field of human resources. They also provide the Association with expert opinions and advice regarding the development of services.
Methodology and Measures
Our goal in this study was to determine the opinions of these experts regarding the research issue and to see if, by sharing their information with each other, we could bring them into closer agreement. This would prove to be difficult given that the participants are geographically dispersed throughout the country and come together only two times per year for a face-to-face meeting. Further, when they do come together, there is insufficient time to conduct one-on-one interviews of all the participants.
The solution to these problems lies in a research methodology called the Delphi technique. This technique owes its name to the Greek oracle at Delphi who was believed to make predictions about the future. It is a qualitative forecasting method in which experts respond individually to a series of questionnaires before reaching a consensus. The Delphi technique requires individual submission of, and response to, the questionnaire on the topic under investigation in order to avoid the effect of a dominant personality influencing a group discussion. A summary of the written replies is then distributed so that responses can be revised in the light of the views expressed. This cycle is then repeated until the researcher is satisfied that the best possible agreement has been reached (Delbecq, Van de Ven, & Gustafson, 1975; Linstone & Turoff, 2002; Skulmoski, Hartman, & Krahn, 2007).
The senior executives from the Human Resources Council responded to three surveys which were electronically distributed. The first questionnaire (Survey 1) consisted of three pages and began with the research question: "What human resource related knowledge and skills are critical for a junior level, non-HR manager to possess?" This was followed by a statement asking the respondents to assume that they are the Human Resource Management expert on a business advisory board to an undergraduate business program at a university and to consider which aspects of human resource management are the most critical for non-HR managers to learn prior to assuming their first managerial job.
To provide our experts with an initial framework, Part I of the survey asked the participants to respond to a list of 35 topic areas compiled from a review of the contents of 10 latest edition human resource management textbooks. Fourteen of these topic areas fell under the heading of "Compliance Items" and 21 were grouped under the heading of "Other HR Related Topics." To widen the framework beyond that already provided, space was also provided in the questionnaire for the respondents to add any additional topic areas they thought were relevant. To assess the relative importance of each topic relative to the research question, our experts were asked to rate each topic in this part of the questionnaire on a five-point scale (5 = critical; 3 = important; 1 = not very important). Arithmetic mean ratings for each of the original 35 questions were computed using EXCEL.
Part II of the initial survey contained two open-ended items. The first open-ended item invited our experts to list a specific knowledge or skill they wished to be taught in relation to one or more of the general topic areas in Section I. For example, with regard to the topic, Recruiting and Selection, they might want non-HR managers to know proper interviewing skills. This allowed us to focus on specific competencies. The second open-ended item simply asked for any "additional thoughts or comments."
Survey 2 was similar in format to Survey 1 but revised to include the results of the first round. When respondents were asked in the first survey to indicate other topics that they believed were important to an HR curriculum for non-HR managers, 22 new topics resulted. The second survey, therefore, contained 57 questions/topics - the original 35 plus the 22 new ones - and was divided into three headings, "Compliance Items," "Other HR Related Topics," and "New Topics." The mean importance rating for the 35 topics on the original list was also presented, thus allowing the participants to see how the other experts had responded. The second survey was distributed electronically, and arithmetic mean importance ratings for the now 57 questions were computed.
As was hoped, the results of Survey 2 began to show a convergence of opinion on many of the topics. No additional HR topics were added following this round.
Survey 3 was identical to its predecessor, except that the arithmetic mean importance scores for each topic reflected the results for Survey 2. It, too, was distributed electronically to Council members, along with a cover page, requesting their participation one last time. The preliminary results of the study were presented to the HR Council at its next meeting and members' comments and observations were recorded.
Results and Discussion
Once all the surveys were returned, an overall analysis followed in which the mean rating of each question was assessed from the perspective of its initial mean to the final mean. As would be expected in a Delphi study, some means decreased from survey to survey; others increased; and some fluctuated. However, there were topics under each of the three headings that had consistently strong mean ratings. Of the 57 topics in Surveys 2 and 3, 33 had final mean importance ratings of 3.0 (important) or higher. Of those, 8 topics were included under the heading of "Compliance Items;" 12 under "Other HR Related Topics;" and 13 under "New Topics."
The Delphi Method resulted in a solid trend when we used the demarcation of a mean of 3.0. Thirty-three HR-related topics were identified as important or above. In the process, we saw that the remaining 24 topics either remained below a mean of 3.0, or dropped to that point as the reassessment process continued. If the Delphi Method had been employed further, based on the patterns established to this point, we believe that questions with means of less than 3.0 would have continued to diminish in relative importance.
This section contains three tables that present the results of the Delphi questionnaire for the top 33 items. Also included are selected skills or knowledge by topic that were added by our experts in their questionnaire responses and pertinent remarks by members at a Human Resources Council meeting (2010) after being shown the results of the study.
Tables 2, 3 and 4 display the top 33 human resource topics in order of their perceived importance to be learned by a non-HR manager. Table 2presents those topics with an average importance rating of 4.0 and above and represents the five areas considered by our experts as the most critical to be learned. Table 2 represents the second-highest rated group of topics-those with an average importance rating of 3.5 to 3.9. Table 3 represents the third-highest rated group of topics and has an average importance rating of 3.0 to 3.4. A complete listing of all of the survey topics and the average importance rating of each is presented at Appendix A.
The number in parentheses following a topic represents its mean importance rating on a scale from 1 (not very important) to 3 (important) to 5 (critical); e.g., Sexual Harassment (4.3).
Highest - Rated Topics
Table 1 displays in rank order the five topics that received a rating of 4.0 (very important) or above. These topics represent the HR areas considered by our experts as the most critical to be learned by a non-HR manager. They were also the ones most commented on by the Council members.
Sexual Harassment, with a mean rating of 4.3, was tied for most important. The fact that this, along with the other compliance item, Title VII (4.0) (discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, and national origin), made the top category came as no surprise. Despite attempts to eradicate discrimination and harassment in the workplace, such practices, although slowly diminishing, still persist and prove costly (financially and emotionally) to organizations where they occur. Our experts recommend that training in these areas be focused specifically on 1) increasing managers' sensitivity to these issues; 2) the potential impact of discriminatory practices on an organization; 3) how a manager should respond when made aware that an issue exists; and 4) knowledge of specifics of the law. In addition, two Council members recommended that training in these areas be expanded to include harassment of all types.
Performance Appraisal was the other topic with a mean rating of 4.3. This, coupled with the fourth highest item, Handling Poor Performers (4.1), reflects the feeling of Council members that many managers are not yet fully competent in the appraisal and feedback processes. Regarding Performance Appraisals, our experts recommend specific training in 1) goal setting; 2) how to write and how to deliver performance appraisals; 3) the importance of honest appraisals; and 4) employee accountability. One Council member noted that there are many different ways to appraise performance and that some techniques work better than others depending on the culture in which they are utilized.
Recruiting and Selection (4.2) was the remaining item in the top category. The recruiting and selection of highly qualified candidates involves practices that many managers have yet to master. One Council member commented that when training managers in this area, it is important to provide managers with applicable skill training in matters such as: 1) how to look for talent; 2) how to compare the content of resumes with job specifications; 3) behavioral interviewing techniques; and 4) how to check references.
Second Highest Rated Topics (3.5-3.9)
Table 3 displays in rank order the 15 topics that received a mean importance rating of somewhere from 3.5 to 3.9. These topics represent the HR areas considered by our experts to be very important for a non-HR manager to learn but not as important as the five topics in the top category discussed above.
Coaching for Peak Performance was the highest rated item in this category with a mean importance rating of 3.9. From a skill standpoint, this topic is related to others such as Performance Appraisal (4.3), Handling Poor Performers (4.1) and Career Planning and Development (3.5). Involved here is the need to work with employees to achieve and maintain performance excellence at work. Some of the coaching skills needed include: 1) goal setting; 2) passive and active listening; 3) feedback; and 4) helping others to explore options.
Within this grouping of topics there were several compliance items with slightly different importance ratings: Age Discrimination (3.8), Family and Medical Leave Act (3.7), Americans with Disabilities Act (3.6), and Preventing Violence (3.6). During the Human Resource Council meeting (2010) where the preliminary results of the study were reviewed, one Council member stated that for training purposes most, if not all, of the compliance items should be treated as one topic. Most of the other Council members appeared to agree with him. Consideration might be given to training in all these areas, giving priority attention to higher rated topics such as Sexual Harassment (4.3), Title VII (4.0), Age Discrimination (3.8), Preventing Violence (3.6) and Pregnancy Discrimination (3.4). For almost all of these topics, Council members recommended that the knowledge and skill training include: 1) a basic review and understanding of the law; 2) the need for policies and procedures; 3) the impact of the law on managers and legal exposure to organizations; and 4) actions to take when a manager is made aware of a claim of discrimination or harassment. Additional recommendations regarding Preventing Violence include knowing how to defuse a situation and when to get help. One of our experts noted that case studies were especially useful in teaching such topics.
Not surprisingly, our experts also thought it important to teach non-HR managers the Role of HRM in Business Strategy (3.8). In this arena the Council members were not looking for a deep and comprehensive understanding of the HR function. Rather, what they sought here was a broad understanding by non-HR managers of how to use HR as a business partner and the impact of Human Resources on the business of the organization. One expert recommended the use of a case study here also.
Team Building was added as a topic by a Council member and quickly drew the assent of our other experts with a 3.8 importance rating. One of our experts opined that this topic might be better taught in a course other than HR. (The authors tend to agree with that position.)
Two related items in this general category were Leadership Development (3.7) and Employee/Managerial Training (3.7). The knowledge areas that our experts would like non-HR managers to have include: 1) a general overview of the training process; 2) an appreciation for the importance and long-term value of continuously developing people's skills; 3) the different types of training that can be employed in developing employees and leaders; and 4) the need to see a return on investment for training given.
Change Management (3.7) was added by a survey respondent as a new topic. After reviewing the survey responses and talking with a Council member, it became evident that some respondents were unclear about the difference between the terms, Change Management and Organizational Change/Development (3.4). As we analyzed the data, it became clear that some resondents were thinking about Organization Development (the management of planned change) and others were referring to an area known as Integrated Talent Management. It also became clear that information regarding two topics, Organization Development and Integrated Talent Management, had become intertwined. Traditionally, Organization Development involves the management of planned change, and Integrated Talent Management refers to the development and management of the top talent within a company (see Morgan & Hardin, 2010). Important knowledge to teach in traditional change management (in either an HR course for non-HR managers or in a course on organizational behavior) is: 1) the importance of organizational systems and interdependent subsystems; 2) models for change; and 3) practical techniques for bringing about change. Key knowledge areas for Integrated Talent Management involve: 1) techniques for identifying, hiring, and developing the best people, and 2) placing top talent in the most important jobs to achieve strategic business objectives.
The first of the topics with an importance rating of 3.5 was Compensation. Based on their written comments our experts emphasized that the knowledge areas of this most complex subject should be limited to information that non-HR managers have a definite need to know: 1) an overview of the meaning of compensation; 2) basic knowledge such as the different types of pay systems and benefits available; 3) the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees; and 4) the importance of internal equity and marketplace equity
Another topic in this range was Career Planning and Development. Knowledge and skill areas recommended include: 1) what Career Planning and Development actually means and having an appreciation for the positive impact it can have on both the employee and the organization; 2) coaching techniques; and 3) the necessity to impress upon employees that they, too, have a role in managing their own careers and keeping their skills current-i.e., gone are the paternalistic days when the responsibility of career planning and development fell solely on the shoulders of supervisors.
Cultural Differences (3.5) was a new topic added by one of our experts. This person simply wanted to remind us that the approach to all of the topics under consideration may differ depending on the culture in which the organization operates. This should take on added importance as the trend toward globalization continues to increase.
The remaining two topics, Employee Engagement and Employee Relations and Communication, in this overall category were also added as new topics, but no comments were received concerning specific skills or knowledge to be taught. It is the opinion of the authors that these two topics could also be taught in a general management or organizational behavior course.
Third Highest Rated Topics (3.0-3.4)
Table 4 displays in rank order the 13 topics that received a mean importance rating of somewhere from 3.0 to 3.4. These topics represent the HR areas considered by our experts to be important for a non-HR manager to learn, but less important than any of the topics previously covered.
Pregnancy Discrimination, another compliance item, tops the list in this category with a mean importance rating of 3.4. The knowledge called for by our experts is the same as with other compliance items: 1) increased sensitivity toward this issue; 2) the potential impact of discriminatory practices on an organization; 3) techniques for how to respond when made aware that an issue exists; and 4) knowledge of specifics of the law. As noted previously, consideration should be given to group this item with the other compliance items for purposes of training.
Organizational Change/Development (3.4) - See previous discussion under Change Management.
Succession Planning (3.4) is a topic of high interest to all managers, regardless of function. However, because most junior- and mid-level managers are not actually involved in this process, our experts recommend that only a general overview of the subject be provided.
Internal Customer Focus (3.4) was a new topic added to the survey by a Council member. This topic involves looking closely at internal relationships and managing internal mechanisms to generate teamwork among people and departments. No suggestions were received regarding specific knowledge or skills to be taught.
HR Planning (3.1) is another topic which Council members say deserves only a broad-brush treatment in this context. However, in addition to a general overview, our experts recommended the process of forecasting staffing requirements also be covered.
Employee Rights and Responsibilities (3.1) is a subject of consequence to HR managers because one of their first and most important roles is to be a spokesperson for the employees and to champion their rights (Schein, 2010). Today, most employee rights are legislated in areas such as the following: the right to refuse work under unsafe conditions; discipline rights; rights on political activity; union/group activity rights; whistleblower rights; workers' compensation rights; injuries and illness rights; and employee pension rights (Dessler, 2011). In turn, employees also have certain responsibilities such as: 1) giving an employer 30 days advance notice of the need to take Family and Medical Leave when the need is foreseeable; 2) being honest when reporting the number of hours worked; and 3) submitting to a drug test unless discrimination exists or an individual's privacy is being violated. Almost all of these subjects are best covered at the time the applicable legislation (Title VII, Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, etc.) is introduced during the training.
The Cost of Hiring (3.1) is a new topic introduced by a Council member during the survey process. This topic is concerned with the total costs of adding a new employee that include expenses such as wages and salaries, benefits, travel, training, equipment, etc. (Kaiser, 2009). This is likely to be important information to most managers and could easily be incorporated into training on Recruiting and Selection.
Affirmative Action is a compliance item that had a mean importance rating of 3.0. Our experts suggested that the non-HR managers know: 1) its history-why affirmative action was considered necessary-and its current status; 2) the basics of the law; 3) the impact of the law on an organization; 4) the difference between the "goals" and the "good faith effort" approaches; and 5) the mechanics of data collection and the hiring process under this law.
Compensation (Employee Benefits & Services) (3.0) is an extremely complex topic and it is that complexity that Council members suggest be avoided. Their counsel was: 1) that non-HR managers be given only a overview of the topic, along with a general explanation of the benefits most commonly offered by organizations; and 2) if the training is to be conducted in-house by corporate personnel, that the content should include sufficient details of the company's benefit package so that the non-HR managers would be better able to recruit job candidates.
Employee Safety and Health (3.0) is a topic that is often neglected inside organizations until something unfortunate happens. This topic calls for education in two areas: 1) protecting employees from on-the-job injuries; and 2) preventive safety and health. Within these two contexts, our experts only look for a basic overview of the topic, accompanied by specifics on the actions a manager should take when a complaint is received or an injury happens.
Layoffs and Terminations (3.0) was a topic that drew significant comments from Council members in terms of specific knowledge and skills to be taught. Specifically, they would like non-HR managers to: 1) be aware that this is usually an HR led function; 2) be given a general overview of both the layoff and termination processes; 3) be clear about the specific roles of a manager versus that of an HR person; 4) not be hesitant to seek advice from HR personnel; 5) be able to demonstrate that they know how to properly terminate the employment of one of their followers; and 6) be aware of the potential impact that layoffs and terminations can have on an organization.
Mediating Employee Complaints (3.0) was a topic added by a survey respondent and is concerned with conflict in the workplace. Knowledge and skills to be learned in this area are: 1) to know if, when, and how to intervene when hostilities develop; and 2) the ability to focus on results. This topic is ideally suited for a case study or role play approach. This is another topic that can easily be taught in another course such as Management.
Corporate Social Responsibility is the last topic in the series to have a mean importance rating of 3.0 (important). This item was also added by one of our Council members but drew no comments from any of the other members regarding specific knowledge and skills to be taught. Although it is certainly appropriate for a course in Human Resource Management, it is more often taught in other courses that address ethics and social responsibility.
This particular study was conducted for the purpose of determining what HR knowledge and skills should be taught to non-HR managers. From a total listing of 57 HR-related topics, 33 were rated by 16 leading senior HR executives as important to cover with business students who in all likelihood would not end up in Human Resources early in their managerial careers. Instead, these students were most likely to have a career in the other traditional areas of business: Accounting, Finance, Marketing, or International Business. For most of the topics, there is an accompanying list of specific knowledge matter and skills that our experts recommend be the focus of training.
An important issue is how best to utilize the results generated. The primary variable to be considered when designing a university course in Human Resource Management is the amount of time available. Given that there are approximately 45 contact hours available in a semester, most, if not all, of the recommended material in the 33 topics can be covered. This is especially true if lecture is the predominant form of teaching methodology to be used. However, several of our experts recommended the use of case studies and experiential learning as more effective teaching methodologies. Since these forms of teaching require more time to cover the same material, it might be necessary to shorten the list of topics to be taught.
As suggested in the Introduction to this article, the study results can be used by organizations for in-house training of non-HR managers. In such instances, there is most likely less time available for such training than in a university. In this case, the rank-ordering of the topics may prove to be of special significance.
For in-house training of non-HR managers another variable - criticality of the data to the specific organization - should also be considered. For example, a Senior Vice President of Human Resources stated that, given the increased efforts of union organizers as of late, she was surprised to see the topic of Organizing and Collective Bargaining ranked so low (2.5), especially since union organizing seems to be on the rise lately. The point she was trying to make was that in organizations where unions are trying to gain a foothold, training in Organizing and Collective Bargaining take on added importance.
To conclude, our hope is that HR professionals in education and business organizations will conduct other studies in this area. The research question is too important to have only one data-set as evidence.
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Don Van Eynde is a Professor of Management at Trinity University in San Antonio where he teaches management, human resource management, organizational behavior and Leadership Alaska, an annual summer trip with students to learn more about leadership and group dynamics in a wilderness setting.
Donald F. Van Eynde, Ph.D.
Department of Business Administration
One Trinity Place
San Antonio, Texas 78212-7200
210-999-7670 (office); 830-377-6670 (cell)
Richard M. Burr is a Professor of Quantitative Methods at Trinity University where he teaches statistics, supervises international internships, and leads student groups abroad to study the European Union and the economic development and globalization ofVietnam.
Richard M. Burr, Ph.D.
Department of Business Administration
San Antonio, Texas 78212-7200
210-999-7290 (office); 210-999-8134 (fax)
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Human Resource Knowledge and Skills Needed by Non-HR Managers: Recommendations from Leading Senior HR Executives. Contributors: Van Eynde, Donald F. - Author, Burr, Richard M. - Author. Journal title: Organization Development Journal. Volume: 29. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2011. Page number: 67+. © O. D. Institute Fall 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.