Back in the day, when I was a college junior being pressed to choose a major, I didn’t have a clue about what type of job I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Times were different back then, kiddos. We thought we had to work at the same place until we died.
After very little research, I pronounced that I wanted to work in human resources. Why? Well, because I thought HR would provide me an excellent opportunity to work with all employees in the business, and that I’d be the boss of as many people as possible.
I was a millennial before being a millennial was cool.
Of course, after starting my career in HR, I quickly realized how misguided my thinking was. I wasn’t actually the boss of anybody – except for Paula in payroll. But I did have responsibilities that affected all employees, and if I ever wanted to advance into the executive ranks, I had to figure out how to work with and influence others to get things done.
So, I did — and over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it really takes to advance as an HR professional.
here are five key areas of focus I believe are necessary to advance to the top HR spot:
1. Focus On Others: Build and collect relationships like precious gems
The most effective leaders are those who are able to build strong and supportive relationships throughout their organization, their profession, their industry, and their communities.
Everyone needs help from others to succeed, and bosses, peers, and colleagues tend to support those who have also helped them along the way.
You will add tremendous value by working with colleagues to find common ground, and by being a person whom people at all levels of the organization trust to provide constructive feedback and coaching where necessary. Building positive relationships is a must – even with colleagues you don’t like.
2. Focus On You: The ability to influence others creates opportunity
You don’t get influence through control. You get influence through other people’s positive experience of you.”
I couldn’t agree more! It’s a waste of time for HR leaders to be clamoring for a “seat at the table” to have influence in the organization. Instead, focus on being known for consistently sharing informed opinions and ideas that move the business forward, challenging the status quo in a non-threatening manner, and not taking disagreement or healthy conflict personally.
Executives want to hear from people in the organization who bring forward solid ideas and ask smart questions that open up untapped potential. Make sure that’s how you’re perceived.
3. Focus On The Business: Think business first – not HR best practices
The higher up you move in the organization, the more complex the problems are that must be dealt with. If your eye is on the top spot, focus on understanding the biggest problems your business and industry face today and in the future – and what you can do to help solve them.
Always keep in mind that you’re first and foremost a business leader – not an HR leader. Focus on the enterprise objectives first, and the day-to-day requirements of HR second. Never make it about HR first, or about getting others to see and value HR.
4. Focus On The Future: Make things happen, be bold, and be decisive
I spent several years as an executive recruiter and partnered with many organizations to fill top HR leadership roles. Before starting each search, I would ask the CEO, “What do you want from the new HR executive that you didn’t get with the prior one?” The majority of CEOs responded with a statement like, “I want him or her to make decisions, use their expertise and knowledge of HR, and tell us what we need to do.”
Executives want to work with other leaders who use their education, expertise, and knowledge of external factors affecting the business to make decisions and create plans for what needs to be done. Do this.
5. Focus on Impact: Prioritize talent acquisition and talent development
Without a doubt, maintaining a relentless focus on solving the most important problems of the business to create the most impact is required to advance your career.
The most pressing challenge facing companies today (and for the past three years), according to the annual global CEO Challenge survey conducted by The Conference Board, is human capital.
If you’re in HR, this should be great news! Why? Because the spotlight is now on HR to ensure that organizations have the talent they need to meet strategic objectives. Simply put, this means that you absolutely, positively have to get the talent acquisition and development parts right to succeed. Enough said.
Getting to the CHRO level will take time, and it won’t be easy. Stay focused on the business needs, build strong relationships to actually influence and get things done, and provide leadership through the talent shortages and skills gaps, changing workforce behaviors, and demographic shifts ahead – and you can get there.
After almost 30 years of working in HR and with HR leaders, I can safely say that my decision to go into HR all of those years ago was the right one – and it would be an even better choice today.
The CHROs of the future will be key players in their organization’s success – and that sounds like an excellent opportunity.