In my experience, HR practitioners from all walks of life are committed to strengthening their organisations and developing the profession.
Each year, I have the privilege of participating in two weeks of intensive HR development with aspiring HR professionals at the University of Michigan and at the The RBL Group. The participants that come are always varied. They work in large and small companies, in public and private sectors, have long-term HR backgrounds or may be new to their role, work as generalists and specialists, and represent multiple countries and belief systems.
While they are diverse on many dimensions, they share a common commitment to discovering how to add value to their organisations, employees, the HR profession, and themselves. I have the privilege, along with exceptional faculty and support staff, of teaching and coaching one-on-one with these remarkable HR professionals each year.
Some of the positive attributes I see time and time again include:
They are caregivers
In recent years, we have come to appropriately regard first responders as heroes. When disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes hit, first responders risk their personal safety and put aside their personal belongings to rescue others and offer support to those in need. Likewise, in organisations today, emotional traumas such as restructuring, strategic reorganisation, and other disturbances hit many. HR professionals are caregivers who put aside their personal emotional demands to offer support to others facing professional and personal disruptions. They are the emotional first responders, heroes, and the front line in helping individuals understand and manage the inevitable challenges of change.
They are learners
Like most other things in our lives, the field of HR has changed and continues to change. These disruptions pivot HR from an internal focus (employee) to an external focus (customer and investor), from delivering employee value and experience to organisation capability and culture, and from HR scorecards to business impact. These HR professionals have a growth mindset as they work to learn about ideas that will impact their future success. As learners, they are willing to put aside their own beliefs and assumptions and explore new ideas that require curiosity and risk.
They are committed
As I coach these high-potential HR pros, I recognise that they each have a personal professional journey often combined with:
- the inevitable challenges of managing work and life trade-offs (families and relationships),
- overcoming failure and rejection (by taking personal and professional risks),
- working with good and bad leaders (both inside and outside HR), and
- being overburdened by their success (because they are so good, they often get asked to do more).
But in the face of these realities, they continue a virtuous cycle of learning by trying and improving.
They are competent value creators
For many, competencies are a list of desired attributes about what someone knows and does. For these professionals, they are not just interested in their personal competence, but how their competence delivers value to others. As value creators, they focus their competencies on helping others become more effective. The “others” may include employees within the firm (and their extended families) and organisations as entities that require capabilities to deliver strategy; but they can also include customers, investors, and communities outside their organisation.
They have zest
In a more personal evening session with a group of 30, I asked the question, “What inspires you to stay engaged in HR?” The answers showed remarkable insight:
- to establish a system that helps individuals
- to create value for others
- to face unique, not routine, people and organisation challenges that require evolving judgment
- to scale and leverage my personal impact to thousands
- to change and improve lives
- to stay ahead of challenges
- to school leaders and push them for the value they create.
I sense a zest among these colleagues. They not only have competence to do their work well, but also a commitment to give their best and a sense of passion and purpose to help themselves and others find meaning. Many feel they have callings rather than jobs as they see the impact of their work in the wellbeing of those they serve.
Moving the business forward
I am not a Pollyanna who only sees the good (although I try to be more optimistic than pessimistic in my outlook). I recognise that those committed to two weeks of structured learning are high potentials who have the ambition, agility, and the ability to continue to achieve, and they often work in companies willing to invest in these improvements. But, I see and feel from these remarkable colleagues a dedication that has moved the HR profession forward. Our research with large data sets shows the progress in competencies among HR professionals over the last 30 years; these more intimate and personal training and coaching experiences communicate the feeling and personal passion of HR professionals.
While I (and many others) write and present to tens of thousands of HR professionals, these close and personal experiences renew my hope for our profession. As we try to shape and create the future of HR, I realise that this field is in very good hands.
So, a tribute to those aspiring HR professionals who will make a true difference and add real value to so many.
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Dave Ulrich FAHRILife is a Rensis Likert professor of business, a University of Michigan partner, and co-founder and partner of the RBL Group.
This is an edited version of his LinkedIn article.