My New Year's resolution for HR: Career planning

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Helen Pitcher advises HRDs to take a structured approach to career planning in 2017

January is as good a time as any to reassess life and career goals. However, as with nearly all New Year ‘resolutions,’ it is important to ensure it is not a seasonal ‘flash in the pan’.

What is more conducive to effective career planning is a six month rolling review of whether you are achieving your stated goals. This however implies that you have taken time, soundings and articulated your stated goals in the first place! And that you do not review your goals achievement in isolation, but use a trusted mentor, coach or experienced friend to walk through progress and obstacles.

Ask yourself: do you have a plan, or are you operating the ‘pin ball wizard’ approach to career management and ‘pinging’ off to wherever life takes you? As we know from ‘pin ball,’ while there are successes through purely random movements, experience, skill and practice pays dividends.

There are now many more opportunities for HR to take a broader career direction. These emerge from a number of trends: a more educated HR population, degrees, Master’s degrees, MBAs, a more open career field especially for women, and the emergence of HR as a mainstream business player and increasing area of focus for the board.

At the highest levels of organisations, the below areas of HR are becoming increasingly important:

  • Integrated and coherent remuneration strategy
  • Diversity
  • Top team development and strategy, including the oversight of the leadership pipeline
  • Behavioural cultural oversight for the board

And while the worker representation on the board has faded, we are left with a requirement for the board to bring the employee population more directly and visibly into the stakeholder mix. So all to play for. The only question is: have you got the right skills, profile and experience to deliver at this level?

A realistic and achievable plan over a three-year period, regularly reviewed and adjusted, is needed. A career change and especially one which is focused on the top level, does however come with a ‘price’.

The time spend building a strategic network… The additional qualifications needed… The management of ambiguity as you focus at a more strategic level… The leadership of non-HR people and non-professional employees… A critical question to ask is: are you willing to pay that price?

There are three key elements to focusing on your future, any one of which can act as a brake to attaining your goals. These are contained within the personal change concept of ‘Ready, Willing and Able.’ As you develop your strategic goals and plans you will need to assess your current state in each of these areas:

  • Able - the confidence in your abilities, skills and experience to achieve your goals. You may need to clearly identify and realistically evaluate how you benchmark against them.
  • Willing - is this what you really want, not just what you think you might like. Do you have the motivation to get through the tough times, the resilience to succeed? Are you willing to pay for you own training and coaching if the organisation is not supporting you?
  • Ready - what is important to you right now? You may want and need to do an MBA to get you to where you want to be, or take a step sideways, but is it a priority over other things?

The key is to discuss your three-year strategic plan with people, and not do it in isolation. It also requires you to put aside limiting beliefs and blockers and be clear of your own skills and capabilities at a detailed level. Speak to people who know you well and can support, clarify and confirm your thinking. Simple to say, but difficult to execute, requiring time effort and self-insight.

Helen Pitcher is chair of Advanced Boardroom Excellence, a consultancy that focuses on individual and collective director effectiveness

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