The DNA of an HRD – proactive, versatile and ready for constant change

The DNA of an HRD:
Proactive, versatile and ready for constant change


HRDs need to have a thorough understanding of every aspect of the business they work for, plus be proactive, versatile and able to balance the needs of the organisation with those of individual employees, according to new research released today by recruiting experts Hays.

The research is outlined in a new report, the ‘DNA of an HRD’ designed to provide insight into what it takes to succeed in an HR leadership role in Asia. The report is based on an extensive survey of 570 HRDs and a series of in depth face-to-face interviews.

The ‘DNA of an HRD’ reveals that most respondents believe strategic planning is the most important professional skill an HRD must master, while being proactive is the most important personal trait to possess.

“The advice from HR leaders is to develop a broad range of skills as no two days are ever the same for an HRD,” says Tom Osborne, Regional Director of Hays Malaysia.

“In addition to strategic planning, our respondents named five other ‘must-have’ skills for HRDs. In order of importance they are stakeholder engagement/influencing, people management, commercial acumen, communication skills and change management skills,” says Tom.

More than half of respondents (51 per cent) say ‘being commercially aware’ is their top piece of advice for aspiring HRDs.

“We’ve been recruiting HR professionals for nearly 50 years globally and we have certainly seen a strong and growing trend for HR professionals to develop a deep knowledge of every aspect of how the organisation operates in order to truly partner with the business,” says Tom.

“Respondents told us that the biggest challenge facing HRDs is how to keep employees engaged. They also said that in the next five years, they expect the bulk of their role to be identifying and retaining key talent and succession planning,” he says. “This is no surprise given that employment engagement is seen as the greatest challenge they expert to face.”

Despite the important role played by the HRD, only 17 per cent of respondents hold a seat on their company’s board and nine per cent a seat on other boards.

The ‘DNA of an HRD’ also found that the majority of HRDs in Asia are typically women (59 per cent) aged 36 to 50 (71 per cent) holding at least a bachelor’s degree (97 per cent). Only 16 per cent of degree holders studied HR with the degrees of 31 per cent focused on business, commerce, finance or economics.

Most HRDs 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 the one organisation) while 52 per cent had worked outside HR at some point in their career.

Only 29 per cent of respondents had worked outside of Asia at some point during their career with 65 per cent of those spending more than two years overseas. Destinations included North America (43 per cent), Europe (31 per cent), the UK (22 per cent) and Australia and New Zealand (21 per cent).

Interestingly, 45 per cent of respondents consider working outside their home country a must for career development and 47 per cent are currently considering working overseas.

According to Hays’ survey:

  • Women are well represented amongst HRDs (59 per cent of respondents);
  • Most respondents (71 per cent) were aged between 36 and 50 at the time of the survey and 26 per cent 41 to 45;
  • Most HRDs are happy with where they are and would choose to embark on the same career again if they had the opportunity to do it all over again;
  • The average working week for an HRD is 46 to 55 hours but longer hours are not uncommon;
  • 29 per cent of HRDs have worked outside Asia. Of those, 43 per cent worked in North America, 31 per cent in Europe; 22 per cent the UK and 21 per cent Australia and New Zealand;
  • 52 per cent of HRDs have worked outside HR at some point in their career.
  • 97 per cent of the HRDs with overseas experience say it has benefited their career;
  • 97 per cent of respondents hold a bachelor’s degree with 31 per cent holding a business, commerce, finance or economics degree and only 16 per cent a bachelor’s degree in HR;
  • 32 per cent of respondents hold a maters degree, 17 per cent a post graduate degree, 33 per cent an MBA and three percent a doctorate degree;
  • 36 per cent of respondents hold additional HR qualifications or certifications including from CIPD*, HRCI* and SIX Sigma;
  • The majority of respondents (36 per cent) reached HRD after working 11 to 15 years in HR;
  • 86 per cent had more than 10 years’ post-qualification experience in HR when appointed HRD of which 24 per cent had more than 20 years experience in HR;
  • 30 per cent of respondents had more than 16 years experience in HR before reaching HRD and 12 per cent secured the role with less than six years experience in HR;
  • Depending on the size of the organisation, most (40 per cent) respondents reached HRD in two to three promotions, 35 per cent in four to five and 12 per cent six or more promotions;
  • Looking ahead to the next five years, 58 per cent expect identifying and retaining key talent and succession planning the be the biggest part of their role;
  • 55 per cent believe designing and managing organisational change will play a bigger part in their work in the near future;
  • 42 percent believe employee engagement will be the biggest challenge of the coming year followed by aligning strategic requirements with operational budget and workforce (41 per cent);
  • Other challenges in the coming year include company culture (38 per cent) retaining employees (38 per cent) dealing with the economic environment (37 per cent) and attracting and recruiting new talent (36 per cent);
  • 44 per cent see organisational politics as a key challenge;
  • Top 10 personal attributes for HRDs are being proactive (59 per cent) adaptive (47 per cent), goal focused and ethical (each 41 per cent), collaborative, influential, credible (each 39 per cent) resilient (37 per cent), confident (36 per cent) and hard working (32 per cent);
  • Attending external events is the number one career development tool (56 per cent) opting for networking events (73 per cent) and technical events (57 per cent)
  • 41 per cent use social media to network to get in touch with HR peers;
  • 88 per cent of respondents use LinkedIn, 47 per cent use Facebook, 40 per cent WeChat. Of the respondents from mainland China, 91 per cent are on WeChat;
  • 73 per cent social with friends and family in their free time while 59 per cent play sport or exercise to wind down after work.

The DNA of an HRD is the third in the Hays DNA series in Asia and follows the ‘DNA of a CFO’ and ‘DNA of a CIO’.

* CIPD denotes Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and HRCI the Human Resources Certification Institute.

A total of 570 HR leaders were surveyed for this report through an extensive online survey and five in depth face-to-face interviews. Women comprised 59 per cent of the senior HR leaders taking part. At the time of the survey, 71 per cent of respondents were aged between 36 and 50-years-old, of which 26 per cent were aged between 41 and 45 years old. Also, 38 per cent of respondents held the title of HR Director or Director of HR, 20 per cent Head of HR, nine per cent (Senior) Vice President of HR and 33 per cent other titles including Chief HR Officer, GM HR and Divisional HR Manager.

Respondents were based in mainland China (34 per cent), Japan (21 per cent), Malaysia (20 per cent), Singapore (17 per cent), Hong Kong (seven per cent), and other Asian countries (one per cent). A total of 36 per cent worked in companies headquartered in Asia while 27 per cent worked for companies headquartered in North America, 26 per cent in Europe and 11 per cent elsewhere. The majority of respondents (87 per cent) worked in commerce and industry companies. For the purposes of this survey, commerce and industry includes any sector (e.g. Financial Services) that is non-government. A total of 56 per cent of these companies were listed and 31 per cent non-listed. HR leaders were asked about their educational background and qualifications, career pathway, international experience, skills and attributes, responsibilities and challenges in the HR field and their work including work life balance. For the full report please visit here.