Most HR professionals get into the field because they are social by nature and enjoy helping others. But while these are certainly useful attributes for an HR pro to have, a truly great HR leader needs much more. If you want your HR career to be successful rather than so-so, here are seven things you’ll need in your toolbox:
Great HR leaders don’t wait for the organization to define what role HR should play. Instead, they have a vision for where they want to go and why. HR is most effective when it’s proactive rather than reactive, so don’t be afraid to explore the bigger picture and develop your own goals for the future. For example, do you want to create a workplace culture that encourages long-term career development? Or perhaps help your organization to improve its flexible work policies to better attract and retain top talent? Research what other organizations are doing, network with your peers, and become your own expert on what’s possible. Don’t forget to include the leadership team in your thinking so you can get critical input and buy-in from an early stage.
The ability to think strategically
At its best, HR is more than just another department—it’s a critical tactical element that understands organizational goals and knows how to support those goals most effectively. This requires strategic thinking skills, including the ability to get from the what and the why to the how. If your company wants a lean and empowered team, for example, it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve that objective, whether that’s by working with management to reorganize the institutional hierarchy or by designing self-service HR tools that allow teams to enter and retrieve their own HR data.
It probably goes without saying, but excellent communication skills are essential if you want to make the leap from good HR professional to great HR leader. If this is an area that you struggle with, it might be a good idea to get some training with an organization like Toastmasters. Even a little bit of this kind of preparation can go a long way toward improving the effectiveness of your speaking style. And it’s not just for your own benefit, either. Remember that it’s part of your job to help others communicate more effectively as well, whether they’re giving presentations during a meeting or working out a conflict with a colleague. So the more you develop your own skills, the better able you’ll be to support others.
Today, with HR functions and processes relying more and more on technological solutions, it’s no longer possible for HR leaders to get away with leaving the “software stuff” for IT to deal with. The technical element of HR is now a critical part of developing a vision and thinking strategically, so it’s vital that you understand what technology can and can’t do for you, how to use it most effectively, and how to articulate your ideas and participate in discussions about it. If you’re not a technology lover by nature, this is another area where some special training can be very valuable.
Because of the major shifts that are taking place in the workplace (a new generation dominating the workforce, technological advances dramatically transforming how we work, etc.), HR is changing rapidly. Still, many HR pros are not keeping up. As a great HR leader, you need to be flexible enough to move beyond what you know and are comfortable doing and embrace the changes ahead. Keep abreast of new issues and best practices, look at policies that need to be updated, and figure out effective ways to support your team and your organization through periods of change.
A good grasp of numbers
In today’s competitive economy, HR has to fight for what it needs, and that means that a strong HR leader must be able to crunch the numbers to demonstrate the value of proposed initiatives. For example, you might be thinking about including a substantial period of supervised training as part of the onboarding process. If the only thing that management sees is how much that initiative will cost, it likely won’t get approved, but if you can show that the investment will significantly reduce turnover and thus cut down on the costs of recruiting and hiring, your argument will be far more persuasive.
As a great HR leader, one of the most important things you can do is make yourself accessible to your employees. Don’t stay in your office and hide behind policies; instead, get out into the workplace, meet employees where they are, and show that you are part of the team. By making yourself more present and available, employees and managers alike will trust you more and have greater confidence in—and respect for—your decisions.