State of Human Resource Profession

A student from the City Business School in Russia recently interviewed me on the status of HR. For those in or considering entering the profession, I hope the following is helpful.

  1. What does a career in HR mean today?

A career in HR has both expanded and specialized in recent years. Originally, it morphed from “personnel” – a largely administrative function to a “Generalist” role that was primarily focused on providing basic employee relations services. It then changed again with HR professionals being known as “Business Partners”. During this phase, professionals were expected to provide consultative services that extended beyond company policy and procedures and were more reflective of actual business decisions. This is where you would hear a lot about earning a “seat at the table.” In truth, many professionals struggled to make the transition from “company watch dog” – those who habitually say no, to true business minded partners that help a company achieve strategic business goals.

Today we are seeing both specialization of the profession where people can build whole careers in a specific discipline e.g. leadership development, talent management, compensation, organization design; and the need for true general HR managers where professionals are expected to know a bit about all HR functions and have strong managerial and leadership skills.

Regardless of the path you take, the best results will come from expanding your resume beyond HR. That can come from taking a job outside the function early in your career i.e. marketing, sales, operations etc. and ensuring you develop core business skills like financial management so you can truly speak the language of business.

  1. Is the desire to climb the corporate ladder congenital or acquired?

Like most traits there is likely a certain element of motivation that is based on the nature side of the equation. We are all born with various traits that increase/decrease the likelihood that we will succeed in one direction or the other. For example, one’s dyslexia could produce a tendency to avoid reading aloud in class and thus an aversion for pursuing formal schooling.

However, I believe that nurture side of the equation is much more influential and really the only aspect that one can have a major influence on. If I associate with others who have overcome obstacles e.g. dyslexia, and learn how to do the same, I can grow beyond my original traits. I see this all the time in assessment centers where people develop “work-arounds” for weakness in a specific competency.

In the end, if people make a connection between career success and an intrinsic motivation they will succeed with much less effort. Simply knowing the real reason you want to climb the ladder will actually help you do it. If you are vague in your intention, you will lose focus and fail.

  1. Why do people change jobs more frequently than they have in the past?

I believe this has more to do with social expectation and opportunity. In my grandfather’s generation it was expected and seen as status to be a company man – to build a career with one organization. But you have to consider (like a good Organization Development professional) the larger factors involved. Companies promised security which was critically important in a post WWII/Great Depression era. They also offered pensions, which provided for some financial security in later years – thus it would be foolish to bounce about.

These days Gen Y and X – even Boomers are much less concerned with stability and as we’ve learned, most companies lack the wherewithal to provide it. Given this change and the increasing opportunities brought on by technology, it’s not surprising that people change jobs many times. Also, given the relatively easy access to training and education, it is no surprise people can also change careers one to three times during a working life.

  1. How could bad habits influence one’s career?

In the same why they could affect your health or relationships. While there are certainly pivotal moments that can expedite your career success – taking a job with a start-up that becomes successful or being selected for an international assignment, most often careers are shaped by positive daily decisions or habits.

Just as the person who makes time to exercise has a greater chance of living a healthy life, the person who consistently learns, helps others, and exceeds expectations at work, will build a healthy career.

  1. Please give some advice for professionals who have already succeeded to some degree.

The following points will help ensure you continue your journey toward future success:

  • Never Stop Learning and asking questions. Everyone has something to teach if you are open to it
  • Admit Mistakes: Integrity matters and it’s one of the greatest things you can demonstrate to others
  • Remain Humble: It’s important to celebrate success, but I often remind myself that there are many people for whom my greatest success is a simply line item “to do” for their average Tuesday. There is always the next goal.
  • Be Thankful/Remain Hungry: One of the biggest dangers to continued success is contentment. It’s easy to become lazy when the belly is full. I find it helpful to revisit the place I grew up and then do two things: first express thanks that I was lucky enough to make it this far. Second – get excited about the potential to take the next step (whatever that means for me) and potentially help others.

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