- Advertisement -

It’s time for HR professionals to develop our own

Avatar photo
Ben Brookshttp://www.pilot.coach/
Ben Brooks is the founder and CEO of the career development platform PILOT. Share your reactions to this column on LinkedIn or @benbrooksny. He writes the Coach's Corner column for HRE.

The start of a new calendar (and Lunar) year can be a wonderful opportunity to reflect, refocus and define our priorities. As we move forward in 2023, I urge all HR professionals reading this to make the development of our HR colleagues a key initiative—which aligns well with what HR is broadly concerned about, including leader/manager effectiveness and employee retention. So, as we think about changing our organizations, let’s remember the great author Leo Tolstoy, who once said: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

- Advertisement -

Part of the reason I believe developing HR employees is so important is its role in combating the self-imposed imposter syndrome our function has long carried. In my first HR role, I would hear my colleagues quipping with a sigh that working in HR was akin to “the shoemaker’s children having no shoes,” which always left me feeling angsty. Over time, I developed a practical understanding of why this was: Much like a marketing agency that does poor marketing of itself, or a management consultancy that lacks its own business strategy, being good at providing other parties with a service often results in an insufficiency of that same element back at the roost. Annual performance reviews, talent management assessments, DEI initiatives, new HR tech implementations and many other cyclical and big-event initiatives can all quickly gobble up HR’s valuable time and mindshare. For instance, LinkedIn Learning’s 2022 survey found that learning and development professionals spent 23% less time developing themselves than colleagues in other roles.

Related: What’s the next phase for corporate learning? 

But the Eisenhower Matrix (plotting the urgency of a task against its importance) should remind us that development (of HR staff or any other talent population) is seldom urgent, but at the same time, critically important. At its core, developing HR staff is a matter of integrity, of walking the walk. How can we expect executives and managers to define developmental objectives and have career conversations with their teams if we’re not leading by example ourselves? In fact, one could argue that HR’s development is critical to staving off the function’s massive attrition and burnout risk (86% of HR feels their stress has increased, and 44% said the recent uptick was “dramatic”), as development acts as a powerful counterbalance to such trends.

A best product management practice is to have the teams building a product use it themselves. At PILOT, we call this “tasting the soup” (a phrase I vastly prefer to the more common one used among engineers of “eating our own dog food”). By engaging in the developmental motions—including HR systems, frameworks, tools, training and processes we’ve designed for our organizations—we’ll develop a much more empathetic sense of how useful, easy to use and practical they really are. My prediction is that you’ll identify many opportunities for (potentially quick and easy) improvements in what HR provides in this arena.

See also: Josh Bersin’s 9 areas to focus on this year

- Advertisement -

So, as you start the year, be sure to invest time in developing yourself and your teams. Start with your side of the street, and define at least one compelling developmental objective for yourself. And then share that with your manager and your teams for alignment and support (I even shared mine in a LinkedIn post last year).

When it comes to developing your employees, remember sage advice from Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics (my mother sold their products when I was a toddler in Austin, Texas): “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says ‘Make Me Feel Important.’ Not only will you succeed in business, but you will also succeed in life.” This can be as simple as saying, “I want to spend more time this year focused on your growth and career advancement, so we’re going to set up time to have recurring conversations about your future here and as a professional in our function.” Make sure to separate these from work status or performance management conversations to create a safe and future-focused context. In addition, try and keep developmental objectives aspirational and achievable, and ideally, select just one to focus on. Hold the time set aside for these conversations as sacred, even going so far as to let employees know what you had to ignore or postpone to make their growth a priority. Ensure that they’re doing the work of reflecting, asking for feedback and taking action.

Just imagine the impact this could have across your organization, with HR modeling a powerful growth mindset and continuous incremental professional development. Let’s do it.