Wall Street's HR Staffs Focus on Advisory Role

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Human resources professionals on Wall Street will continue to hone their workplace advisory skills during 2007.

The demand for HR professionals who can advise managers and employees as internal consultants mirrors a national business trend that is transforming the field, industry observers say. As outsourcing and off-shoring absorb administrative duties like benefits management, investment banks have come to depend on internal HR staff to assist with employee retention and workplace development.

At Deutsche Bank, HR is a key player in the company's talent management practices, according to Robert Dibble, head of human resources for the bank in the Americas. Deutsche Bank is in the midst of a global streamlining of core HR processes, such as data management and payroll, via outsourcing and off-shoring to other Deutsche Bank locations. As a result, Dibble says, the bank is able to heighten its focus on the strategic advisory abilities of HR staff.

Deutsche Bank is highly selective about its choice of HR professionals, since clients now demand a much higher level of strategic advisory skills. "There's a demand for HR people who have worked with businesses in recruiting, retention and development. We're looking for people who have made a difference for their clients in these areas," he says.

Higher Skills in Demand

"The HR role is shifting, so there's a lot more demand in terms of skill levels. The HR person needs to understand business realities such as economic trends and changing demographics. They need a more sophisticated sense of an organization's strategy," says Katharine Esty of Ibis Consulting, a Waltham, Mass.-based firm specializing in diversity and organizational development. A growing recognition that corporate culture impacts profitability is a main reason driving the change in HR responsibilities, she says.

Managers at Deutsche Bank also rely on HR professionals for their perspectives on employee motivation, says Dibble. Employees who may be inclined to leave a firm are often less concerned with compensation than with specific needs that aren't being recognized, such as flexibility and work-life balance. "But when managers and employees feel they're supported by a strong advisor, they develop the right partnership," says Dibble.

Corporate risk management will also drive the expansion of the HR professional's skill set during the coming years, both within the financial services sector and in other industries. HR staffers who are familiar with changing workplace issues and employment law are often more effective advisors. "It's important to stay on top of these issues. Managing risk is a significant component of good advisory work in HR," says Dibble.

Diversity a Key

The ability to recruit diverse employment candidates will also continue to be a highly desirable skill on Wall Street in 2007, according to Mitch Feldman, President of A.E. Feldman, a New York-based executive recruiting and management consulting firm. "Diversity is number one on the menu. The bigger the organization, the more demand for diversity HR specialists," he says. "Companies are continually trying to be more creative about recruiting diverse candidates."

As the role of HR on Wall Street continues to change, professionals in the field can seize opportunities with significant and meaningful responsibilities. "Management has raised the bar," says Dibble. "They still expect excellence in the traditional services provided by HR, but they now look for an enhanced strategic partnership."