I’ve written quite a bit on building your career, from finding your career superpower to drawing a map for yourself, and I would be mistaken not to give a sample of how I’ve put my career plan together myself, and how I believe I fare compared with what I had in mind.
One thing to keep in mind is that when I started my current career, I knew next to nothing about Human Resources, careers or the peculiar mix of diplomacy and planning that is required to manage the various aspects of training, development and information management that is at the heart of capability development. My specialization had always been process management and -design, and while my efforts at improving efficiency and smoothing out errors was appreciated, I had been far too insular and introverted to really show what I was capable of.
My manager agreed that I had a development need, but what exactly this entailed was not too sure at this point. In that year I tried to reinvent myself, challenging my fears and reservations, interacting more with people at different levels, and trying my hand at different tasks. Running a workshop, for example, or running a project to put together the mid=term plan for our senior management.
These tasks and projects showed me that I was much interested in dealing with people and building up new things than I was content to stay backstage and tinker with existing processes.
I’ve said before that often we find our way in our professional life through the lucky breaks and opportunities that we find in front of us. Rather than being certain of what we want, we stay the course until something gives us an indication we can move on to other things. When I moved from our Service Desk into Presales it was because a colleague recognized that I had a structured way of thinking and could handle more complicated tasks, and so recommended me to their manager.
My current role, however, I had purposefully applied for. I was given the opportunity to assist in one of our major departmental change projects. This offered me the opportunity to visit our offices throughout Europe, and meet a lot of great people and hear how they handled their processes, routines and the inescapable gaps that sometimes occur between process and reality. By being part of this project, I was able to catalog a lot of such issues, but also consider how solutions made up in one country might be of use in another country.
I routinely scouted out our internal job openings looking for opportunities where I could apply myself beyond my current role. I had decided that I wanted to develop further in the HR/people management direction, and that I had a great interest in training and development. When I saw the role for Head of Capability Development appear, I felt excited because it was exactly what I had been looking for. It was also an emotionally heavy time for me, because it was the first time that I applied to a job where I felt that I’d be going into a make-or-break situation. I felt ready and prepared, I thought my ideas were sound, but if I had not yet reached the required maturity, I might have to look for a long time to find another such opportunity.
Fortunately, I did pass the bar and for almost three years I have gone through the joys of building, experimenting, tasting both success and failure and above all – improving myself.
The Road Ahead
My active decision where I wanted to focus myself and how I wanted to develop myself have been working out very well for me, and I could not be happier at my life at this moment. A career plan doesn’t just focus how your job will develop, but it also gives the peace of mind that comes with being able to instantly tell when a move is good for you or not. Being able to confidently say why and how you want to fill a particular role, but also being able to decline offers where you know you will not go where you want to.
This is a degree of freedom and confidence I did not know before I took an honest look at myself and decided what I was really good at and what I really wanted.
Right now I am looking to increase the depth of my knowledge in a specific number of topics that are going to be increasingly important: HR Process Automation, Performance Management and Advanced Workforce Analytics.
HR Process Automation
With advances in technology come greater speed, precision and insight at lower costs. This leads to dangerous grounds when this means Human Resources becomes increasingly split into an operational (day to day) and policy (leadership) part. You want to avoid a situation where the operational part becomes too far removed from Human hands and HR leadership loses sight of the actions undertaken (possibly without their knowledge or approval). So keeping people motivated and caring for the results of “simple tasks” is very important.
Additionally, a more positive view is that automation provides a lot of extra assistance in recruitment, handling suggestions and complaints, communication and talent/performance management. Automated systems can help speed up and simplify a lot of processes, leaving more time to focus on the employees. How wonderful would it be if a performance session was five minutes of ironing out the results, and the rest of the time was spent on actual discussions on improvement and development?
Another topic that’s focus of a lot of discussion, I am very interested in the theories and practices of Performance Management. It requires a deft touch and being able to read the room. You want to be able to address any areas of improvement in a positive manner, remaining respectful towards the person you’re effectively judging, but also be able to separate legit concerns from making excuses for poor performance.
Some companies swear by the annual performance review, others spread this burden across the year and maintain a series of “check-ins” to be able to spot-check for problems, motivation issues or team members suffering under the pressure. As our supporting technology improves, I see a great opportunity here to move to quick app-based check-ins and video discussions to make the process less formal while providing sufficient documentation as well.
Above all, performance is a measure of the person at current level dealing with the demands of the role as it is now – including temporary setbacks, structural problems or unofficially added responsibilities. A person might seem to be under-performing on paper, but when taking a good look at the reality of things, it might be the system failing the person and not the other way around. Process improvements, stress management, education and capacity management are key components of a performance management system. One shouldn’t just ask the question “did you meet the bar?” but “how can we safely raise or lower the bar based on how we plan to move as a company?”
Advanced Workforce Analytics
Knowledge is power, and a company knows an awful lot about its employees. Rules and laws regarding what companies may know, and how they store this information, are being altered and perfected as time goes on. This leads to many questions and sometimes an HR department scrambling to complete their basic functions. Do we know enough to do our jobs? Can we do better? Is everything secure and according to the rules? If we can’t know certain facts, how can we replace that knowledge so we can do the analysis and judgement calls previously based on this knowledge?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the information management required of the HR department as time goes on. Systems grow bigger, rules more complicated, and if you want to be a discussion partner at the manager’s table, so do the questions you have to be able to find the answers to.
In all cases, workforce analytics provides the answers required to take measured and informed actions. The greater the quality of the analytics and the conclusions drawn, the better informed the actions taken can be. This doesn’t just limit itself to the systems and the data gathered, but also the quality of the people doing the analysis. Those people involved in the analysis require top-notch skills to avoid false causality, hasty conclusions and immersive bias.
The answer to this is to foster a culture where the quality and truth of the answers are more important than the speed at which they are delivered or how much they support the pre-made conclusions of management. Analysis must be done timely, but accurately. With leeway, but honestly. And if you want to be a true strategy partner, your Chief HR Officers needs to have the strength to base their decisions and management advice based on data, not emotion.
HR Layer Cake
I am hoping to learn more about these important topics because it gives me three “layers” to the cake. The operational level, where HR interacts with employees and external partners. The tactical level, where HR interacts with management and performs its recruitment, analytics and development programs. And finally the strategic level, where the future of the business is determined.
It is my goal to achieve a role at the strategic level, which means I will need to know a lot about each of these three levels, but also of the technological, human and business factors that determine the movements of each. I expect to follow the old 70/20/10 principle – only 10% of what I need can come from formal education, 20% comes from what others can teach me, and 70% comes from experiences in the roles I already fulfill.
So like I always advise others: learn what you can, meet whom you must – but always keep an eye open on how you can creatively use what you already know.