How does HR fare against other functions?


When on equal footing with leaders from other functions, where do HR leaders stumble?

HR is often pitted against other functions of the organisation, especially on its strategic role in the overall growth of the company. Its responsibilities include growing the strength of an organisation’s talent, while gauging any risks to the health of its workforce.

DDI, a global talent management consultancy, has drawn a parallel between the several functions of an organisation, such as engineering, sales, operations, marketing, IT and finance. It has used two assessment reference points: an in-depth behavioural simulation of leadership skills and a detailed personality test.

The study reveals that the main competence of HR leaders seems to be building organisational talent. The other strengths of the HR function lie in coaching and developing others, compelling communication, cultivating networks, influencing others and leading teams.

However, when it comes to being customer focussed, that is, attentiveness to internal and external customers and end users, it lags far behind the other functions, such as engineering, sales, marketing and IT. On this parameter, HR is at par with the operations and finance functions.

However, when it comes to being business savvy and having financial acumen, it is far behind the finance function.

In terms of global acumen, HR lags behind sales, marketing and operations.

In fact, when pitted against marketing—a department which has an external role to play like HR— the latter still has to match up on parameters, such as compelling communication, customer focus, financial acumen, global expertise and also an entrepreneurial bent of mind.

In terms of personality traits of the HR function, it has interpersonal sensitivity, and to some extent, sociability but lacks ambition and inquisitiveness.

Sales, operations and marketing are considered to be more ambitious, while engineering, sales and IT are believed to be more inquisitive. This implies that HR is not only less likely to exhibit a passion for growth, but may not even question why this is holding it back. When it comes to being sociable, HR is behind the sales and marketing functions, but ahead of engineering.

Looking across the full skill profile, the single function most distinct from HR is engineering, followed by marketing and finance. HR’s profile is most similar to operations, followed by sales and IT. Perhaps the most important consequence of HR’s profile is its under-representation in leader–candidate pools. HR leaders are increasingly rare among those who are considered for higher level roles. And, HR leaders who are considered have a distinct profile from those who are not.

Organisations need to recognise which of these assumptions about HR are accurate and which are overblown. On the basis of this, organisations need to build partnerships that connect HR with functions possessing complementary strengths. HR can both learn from and advise these groups on key skills.


  1. Good research. If possible, please share details about research methodology used in this research like sample size, survey method, respondent demography etc.

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