Focus on You: Taking Control of Your HR Career

Traditionally, HR professionals have focused their efforts outwards to others in their organizations; overseeing Learning & Development departments, developing succession planning models, and promoting career management programs for employees. It’s sometimes a bit like the cobbler’s children who have no shoes, isn’t it?

If you work in HR, its time to ask the question “Am I taking the right steps for the sustainability of my career?”

As with any career management process, you’ll want to focus on where you are, where you would like to be, and how you’ll get there. There are various tools and exercises you can use to launch this process, and, at the end, you should find yourself setting short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. When setting intermediate and long-term goals, you’ll more than likely be a bit more open-ended and less specific; after all, it’s difficult to fully predict the future or know where life may lead you. Short-term goals, however, can be easier to formulate, plan for, and achieve, as they tend to be mapped out with a timeline for accomplishment within just one to two years.

After going through this exercise you’ll likely develop some very specific goals such as, “I would like to receive my CCP certification by 2018” or, “Within 5 years I want to be leading the Talent Acquisition function for Company X.” When tackling short-term goals however, there are a few areas you can focus on immediately that will provide some swift gains in the rapidly evolving HR profession:

Increase Knowledge

It’s imperative in today’s fast-paced and often complex business environment that HR professionals stay abreast of trends affecting the workplace and the global economic environment. While it’s necessary to stay on top of employment legislation and outcomes that impact foundational HR, there’s a significant career benefit when HR professionals expand their knowledge base by seeking out and consuming content pertinent to either their specific industry (i.e. trade journals) or general business. An easily attainable short-term career goal may be to commit to regularly reading content from periodicals such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, or Fast Company and then finding ways to leverage this new knowledge within your HR role.

Build Relationships

HR professionals often feel as if they are confined to a box within their organizations; they only socialize with each other in the mistaken belief they need to do so for the sake of neutrality. As a result, they never go grab lunch or a drink after work with peers or colleagues from other departments–and that needs to stop. If you’re the HR director, make it a point to ask the Accounting Director to lunch, or invite the head of Sales out for a quick drink after work. Getting to know your colleagues on a personal level strengthens the working relationships that will make you successful when you seek support and ask for commitment and buy-in for HR initiatives.

Get Involved

I’ve been a long time volunteer leader with various HR organizations including SHRM and ASTDm and I’ve found the experience invaluable. I always encourage HR professionals to get involved and hone their leadership skills with professional organizations. But it’s even more beneficial when you grow capabilities by participating in a larger sphere by volunteering with a local non-profit agency or seeking out opportunities to serve on an advisory committee or community-based Board of Directors. This enhances your own professional development, gives you greater visibility throughout your local business community, and provides an excellent opportunity for you to strengthen your business competence as you’re called upon to formulate the strategic direction of the agency.

Share with Others

One of the best ways to further your own development is to share your knowledge and experience with others. Not only will this help you career-wise, but it will also set you up as an intelligent thought leader in your business or within the larger human resources community. This can be one-one-one sharing, such as offering to mentor a student from a local university HR program or advising job seekers in a local career transition program. To further expand your influence, you may decide to start your own blog, publish posts on LinkedIn (using the new Publish feature), or actively participate in discussions in professional online forums.

The human resources profession has undergone tremendous changes over the last decade, and what we do as HR professionals will continue to shift and evolve. The very definition of “how people work” is changing due to a variety of factors at play: the widespread use of technology and collaboration tools, the growth of personal social networks and increased global connectivity, and the increasing emergence of remote and/or contingent workers. These dynamic shifts mean that today, more than ever, it’s critical that we take charge of our own HR careers so that we are fully prepared for the future.

Taking the first step to thoughtful career management can begin today if you first take stock of where you are, determine where you would like to be, and finally, map out a plan for how you’ll get there.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu

Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

Robin Schooling, SPHR, with 20+ years of HR leadership experience, is Managing Director /Strategist with Silver Zebras, LLC where she works with organizations to develop integrated HR and Talent management strategies. She has a popular blog at the HR Schoolhouse and regularly speaks at events around the country on HR and business topics. She’s been named the Greater Baton Rouge SHRM HR Professional of the Year, has served on the Boards of Directors for Geaux Veterans and the Louisiana Business Leadership Network and was named one of the The Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts On Twitter by the Huffington Post. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, has been known to search out the perfect French 75, and gets pretty loud and rambunctious during New Orleans Saints games.

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