Commerciality & the HR professional

I remember being the first HR specialist recruiter to request “commercial savvy” and basic financial knowledge as key criteria in my European job ads.  It wasn't a radical request in the USA market, but was certainly an unusual ask for the European countries at that time.  Now, everyone is using this request in their advertising. And every HR practitioner claims to have both of these in spades.

But here’s the rub. When we ask some basic questions to evidence these claims, most HR practitioners cannot give a successful or convincing answer.

Try these couple of easy tests of commerciality for yourself:

1. Give me an example of one of your initiatives which has directly increased revenue streams for the business (most practitioners launch into a cost cutting example which does not answer this question; or mutter about how their initiatives never had a measurable outcome)

2. What was the quantifiable outcome of your training/engagement/OD/recruitment/etc initiative?  (most practitioners at this point mumble how it is not their job to measure results and/or that the company culture doesn't measure success in this way and/or that the initiative was never designed to be measured – ouch!)

Another very easy check for us, is whether our  HR leaders can understand basic accounting principles.  After all, how can you be trusted with budget responsibility for your own function, if you don't know how to track and understand the numbers?   And how can you really be taken seriously by business leaders, if you don’t truly understand the financial factors that affect their decision making?   

We recently advertised concurrently across our network, for a particularly interesting and challenging international HR VP role, based within Asia.  Each ad was viewed by over 5000 people within a week.  One ad received over 400 applications.  The second ad, received just 7 applications.  Same location, same six figure salary package, similar hiring criteria advertised in precise detail so job seekers would be crystal clear on the requirements and challenges.  So what was the difference? 

The second role very clearly stated that applicants would need to be able to understand and interpret P&L reports and balance sheets.  And that this would be tested as part of the hiring process.   Interesting and disappointing for the profession, that there were so few people prepared to have their financial knowledge checked.

In fairness many HR functions around the world still hire for HR technical skills only.  But there is a growing breed of company which has a very different approach to the commerciality expected of HR, and where it is expected to deliver beyond being just another support function cost centre.  

Yet despite years of HR clamouring to "get a seat at the table", and marketing themselves today as HR Business Partners, we continue to see 2 very different camps of HR job seekers.  Those who think and talk purely like HR practitioners, and those who think and talk like business leaders who just happen to have the HR specialism in their "toolkit".

Which one are you?