critical skills for HR managers

Who is the first person you get in touch with for a job? Who takes you through the job description, profile, and any other queries? HR managers, right?

I remember waiting in the lobby for my HR interview for my first big job. I was nervous as I did not know what kind of questions would be posed to me. My last few interviews had not progressed beyond few rounds. I used to prepare for the technical rounds, but took the HR rounds for granted, to be honest. While sitting at in lobby, I had realised that I need to come up with proper answers for the general questions asked like “Why do you want to work with this organisation? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?”

But when I walked in, the HR helped me ease my nerves, even offered me a beverage! Then the general questions began and I was doing pretty well, I thought to myself. After a few questions, the HR asked me a question that I was not prepared for. She asked me, “Why do you want to join in-house job instead of a law firm?” The honest answer was, I’d taken up any job that pays at the point. But I did not think that I could be that honest in an interview. Therefore, I mumbled some half baked answer which was not the whole truth.

The problem with being creative with your answers is that a seasoned HR will see right through it. So you have to either come clean or stick to your guns! She interviewed me over close to 40 minutes and she kept coming back to the same question again and again. Now whether she was not convinced with my response or she was simply testing my perseverance, I still don’t know. Needless to say, the experience trumped over the white lies of a rookie and I did not progress further in that interview.

My takeaway from that interview? Stick to your story, but don’t lie. It is a slippery slope. And most importantly, HR managers are super smart. Don’t think you can lie to them and get away.

Anyway, HR managers fascinate me, perhaps because they work with the human aspect of the workplace. They have to ensure that the workforce performs, and that results are delivered. That is no easy feat.

Respect to HR managers.

There has also been situations in jobs in the past when HR managers have come to my rescue or simply disarmed with me with the great contribution they make at the workplace, but those stories would be for another day.

If you have a great HR story, though, don’t hesitate to hit reply and share with me.

Also, I know some of you will find rest of this article irrelevant unless you have a keen interest in labour laws or HR function. In that case, please share this with an HR manager or executive you think will benefit from the following information!

If you are lawyer though, you can still read this to understand what kind of opportunities may arise for you.

Let’s get back to the real issue now.

I got to interact more closely with HR managers while working on our labour law course. While most of our other courses at LawSikho are taken up mostly by various kinds of lawyers and law students, our labour law courses have HR managers in overwhelming majority. That piqued my interest.

Why do HR managers value the knowledge of labour and industrial law so much? Most big companies have legal departments anyway, can’t they just lean on their legal colleagues when legal inputs are needed?

So I called up an friend who is an HR with about near seven years experience under her belt. I posed all these questions and asked her what kind of legal skills do HRs need and why. Do they need to know the compliances and labour laws? Do they take up labour law course in order to hone their skills?

Here is what I learnt:

The HR personnel need to interact with the management and employees. They have to bridge the gap between the two and maintain a healthy balance. For this their skill set are two-fold. They need to have technical expertise in order to do the day-to-day activities and tasks, but they also need to be adept at certain behavioural, interpersonal and soft skills.

# Support services and how law influences these

HR personnel are required to provide support services to the organisation. They need to provide the support services to the employers and employees alike. From operational skills like managing payroll, attendance, leaves, to talent acquisition, talent management, talent development and everything in between.

From selecting possible candidates for a suitable position, to their arranging their interviews, an HR needs to do it all. The work does not stop there. They also need to manage them and help develop the candidate through workshops and seminars, etc. If the service of an employee has come to an end, then the exit interviews, full and final settlement, paperwork, etc. are also handled by the HR. Then there are the recurring activities like payment of salaries, leaves management, and the likes. The HR personnel need to be constantly on their toes in order to facilitate these functions.

In the process, the HR manager deals with tons of very serious situations that may have legal implications. They sometimes have to even negotiate on behalf of the company, sometimes with an unruly employee, at other times with a disgruntled upper management honcho, or maybe with an inspector knocking on the doors to check out labour law compliances.

Having legal expertise can make a world of difference!

I asked my team to share some ideas as to where law can be useful, they pointed me towards the following:

  1. HR managers often handle complicated exits after confrontations and allegations between employees, or management v. employees
  2. HR managers often have to lead disciplinary actions
  3. HR managers often have to negotiate terms of employment, not only with entry level people but sometimes with CXO level employees, which can be tricky
  4. HR managers may get appointed to the board of directors later in their career where they will be expected to have an idea about corporate governance norms
  5. They are in charge of implementation of labour laws and company policies, including laws like anti-bribery, whistleblower or sexual harassment policy. These are tricky areas of navigate that require specific legal expertise.
  6. If there is any employee or staff related litigation, HR managers have to play a key role. They need to know which communications and documents to preserve and what is to be given to the lawyers at what time. This can make the difference between a win and a loss.

# Communication skills and legal aspects

HR personnel need to have interpersonal skills. They need to be aligned with the company goals. But they have to act as a bridge between the management and the employees. This is not an easy task. It’s almost like being a mom stuck in between an argument taking place between you kids and your husband. You can’t disappoint either.

They need to be transparent, empathetic and concerned towards the employees as well as the organisation.

They need to be able to interact with the employees at a ground level, understand their issues, and address them appropriately. A dissatisfied employee will seldom be as productive. Therefore, the HR personnel need to lend an ear to their concern and resolve the situation.

If the employees feel that their concerns are being heard and communicated to the right channels, they are bound to be more connected to the organisation. They also need to be able to communicate to the management effectively of the issues and policies that affect them and the organisation.

However, an often overlooked aspect of any HR managers job is that they represent the company, and their words are often legally binding on the company. What they communicate may have serious implications on the company in litigations or investigations later on. Unfortunately, HR managers are often not adequately prepared to deal with this legal aspect of communication skill.

If an HR manager learns to use simple disclaimers and qualifiers in their communication, based on a clear understanding of the legal context of their work, it can make a work of difference in hairy situations.

# Knowledge of domain specific laws and compliances

HR personnel are often given a handbook to follow for legal compliances. Unfortunately, labour law is always evolving and HR managers need to keep up to date. Also, in order to effectively comply with any laws, they also have to understand the letter and spirit of the law. They have to not only implement policies, but as they grow in career, they also have to come up with effective policies that deal with the challenges of the company. HR personnel need to know laws related to labours, contracts, etc. Read this article to know more about the laws that HR personnel must know.

My HR friend informed me that they need to know the dispute resolution mechanism when it comes to sexual harassment and other employment disputes. They often have to instruct lawyers on behalf of the company and attend conferences with lawyers where needed. They also need to know the laws pertaining to working hours, working environment, payment components, and the likes. In many industries, such as real estate, tobacco, cement, security etc, there are specific labour laws that they also need to learn.

They need to create, operate and manage grievance redressal mechanisms, policies that need to be introduced in the organisation, ensure labour and industrial law compliance and handle various inspections and raids. Of course, not all HR managers start with this kind of legal acumen, but acquiring these skills can make a world of difference. Which is why, many HR managers benefit tremendously from pursuing a specialized labour law course.

# HR analytics and data protection law

This one was a new concept for me – HR analytics. According to Technopedia, “Human resource analytics (HR analytics) is an area in the field of analytics that refers to applying analytic processes to the human resource department of an organization in the hope of improving employee performance and therefore getting a better return on investment. HR analytics does not just deal with gathering data on employee efficiency. Instead, it aims to provide insight into each process by gathering data and then using it to make relevant decisions about how to improve these processes.”

In order to ascertain the impact HR department has on the entire organisation, HR analytics are helpful. HR analytics is about data analysis to establish between the action of HR and its effect on business outcomes. It helps to create strategies based on that and take relevant actions on the issues at hand. These days companies are hiring personnel for managing HR analytics.

However, this has brought another legal aspect to the radar of HR managers. Core of HR analytics is data. How this data is collected, stored, and used is now strictly governed by data protection laws. In Europe, there is GDPR which has impacted MNCs across the world, but then even India is coming up with a new data protection legislation that is going to be a gamechanger.

HR managers, whether they like it or not, are custodians of massive amount of data, and will be in charge of important functions of data protection policies on every company since they manage employees who have access to massive amount of data.

HR managers who know data protection law, can create policies and implement data protection practices are in great demand right now. The pay grade is also much above the usual for HR managers who come with data protection expertise.

These skills can make HR personnel really stand out, not only in interviews but also in the company. When you are not only a great HR manager but bring some legal skills to the table, it can help you to progress faster in the hierarchy compared to your peers, because you will be entrusted with bigger problems of the organization.

After all, what’s the shortcut to growing fast in your career? It’s all about how useful you are to your organization.

As an HR, the more you know the better.

How do they gain these skills? How does one become an HR? A number of MBAs with a major in human resources are often recruited for these posts. To a certain extent, psychology majors are also hired as HRs in companies. Do these courses go into the depth of teaching everything that an HR professional is required to know? I doubt.

While an MBA is a management degree, and psychology is the science of understanding how the mind works, no one teaches HR professionals the laws that they need to be fully aware of in order to assess situations at work better. Yes, any decent management school would have a class on labour laws and basics of business laws would definitely be touched upon. Is that enough?

Tomorrow, as an HR if you are approached by a woman who claims that she has been sexually harassed by her manager, would you know what needs to be done next? Do you have an internal complaints committee in your company in place? Do you know how to conduct a hearing and record evidence? Can you implement the principles of natural justice?

You would be expected to.

Let’s say the management wants an employee to leave the company on grounds of non-performance. However, you are very well know that the decision was made due to insufficiency in funds. How would you as an HR deal with this situation? Would knowing the rights of the employee help? What would be the consequences of such an issue?

Let’s take something much simpler. You are in an organization that operates in 6 different states. You realise that each state has different number of required holidays in their Shops and Establishment Act. How can you create an uniform leave and attendance policy that meets the criteria in all the states?

What can you do if a labour inspector is visiting your factory and asks for some strange documents and registers you haven’t even heard of? Can you keep computerised versions of such registers? Is that ok?

We built a course that can help you with such practical issues. If you want to know more about how we can help you to climb faster in your HR manager role, please hit reply to this post and let’s schedule a time to have a quick chat over phone.

If you are not an HR manager, share this article with an HR friend. They will be grateful later!



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  1. It is a very interesting and useful article.I am a MBA HR fresher seeking for an opportunity in this field and want to make a career. I got to know a lot from this and looking forward to more of these.