Anyone who wants to get the top job in HR needs to have a thorough understanding of the business. Successful HR directors must be strategic planners and proactive, according to new research by recruiting experts Hays.

The report – ‘DNA of an HRD: The Makings of an HR Leader in Asia’ - is based on a survey of 570 HR leaders across Asia. Other essential skills identified include stakeholder engagement and influencing, people management, commercial acumen, communication skills and change management.

Bin Wolfe, EY’s managing partner for talent in Asia Pacific, is a firm believer that HR leaders must have a comprehensive grasp of the business to be successful.

“One of the most important things is to be a business person first and an HR person after that. You need to understand where the business needs to go and then translate that into human capital and develop a strategy. That’s several skills in one,” said Wolfe.

During Wolfe’s career, she has seen HR evolve from being seen largely in an operational context to being involved with key business decisions at a top level. While boards used to be made up exclusively of those with a financial background, she sees a slow shift to HR directors taking a seat at the table.

EY is one of the more enlightened firms at the forefront, leading this change, but there is still a long way to go. The report found that despite the important role played by HR, only 17 per cent of respondents held a seat on their company’s board.

For those HR directors who have a seat on the board, they must not only have strong business acumen, but also be able to talk the talk.

“HRDs need to be well versed in the industry and speak the language of business,” said Wolfe.

The report found that strategic planning was a critical skill for HR leaders because their decisions need to support an organisation’s development and growth. In Wolfe’s experience, strategic planning is only good if you have the ability to follow through.

“You’ve got to be able to execute what you plan for. With so many competing priorities, the strategy doesn’t mean much if you can’t execute it. And you’ve got to be proactive. Business cycles are so fast nowadays, you’ve got to be able to anticipate change,” she said.

The survey built up a picture of the average HR director in Asia as being a woman (59 per cent) aged 35 to 50 (71 per cent), who works an average 46 to 55 hours, but longer hours are not uncommon. Typically they have a BA degree (97 per cent), a Masters degree (32 per cent) and an additional HR qualification or certification, such as those offered by the CIPD (36 per cent).

Most HR directors surveyed had at least 10 years of HR experience before landing their current senior role (86 per cent) and had worked for multiple organisations (only 12 per cent had only worked for just one organisation) while 52 per cent had worked outside HR at some point in their career.

“What this tells us is that experience in different professions and industries can help prospective HRDs gain a deeper understanding of an organisation’s various business functions and departments,” said Simon Lance, managing director of Hays in mainland China.

A broad experience, working for multiple organisations across a number of countries will stand HR directors in good stead for what Wolfe believes is an increasing critical skill – being able to manage a business from a global perspective.

“Really understanding how things work not just in your market, but having a global mindset and the ability to make decisions and look at human capital from a much broader perspective is increasingly relevant,” she said.

Media Centre

If you’re a journalist or member of the press looking for more information or to speak to one of our experts, please contact our press team. 

Callout Image

Championing better work and working lives

About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.