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HR Leadership Column

Developing Future HR Leaders

An informal survey of 10 Fellows of the National Academy of Human Resources provides a glimpse into some best practices for developing HR professionals who have the business savvy and skills to help lead an organization to success.

Monday, July 11, 2011
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With few exceptions, when a company brings aboard a new chief human resource officer, he or she inherits a team of HR professionals, some of whom may not have the skills necessary to help the CHRO take the company forward.

How do CHROs develop their HR teams?

That was one of the topics on the agenda of the annual one-day program for new CHROs, held every June by the National Academy of Human Resources and the NAHR Foundation. Taught by Fellows of NAHR (of which I am one), this invitation-only, intimate event focuses on the real-world challenges facing new CHROs, including issues such as executive compensation and working with a board of directors.

Fellows of the Academy share their expertise and many years of experience, and provide insights on lessons learned from their own careers. At the same time, HR leaders are able to network with peers and benefit from the perspectives of other senior HR leaders.

In anticipation of a discussion on ways new CHROs should consider organizing and developing their own talent -- or how to avoid being the proverbial cobbler whose children have no shoes -- I sent out a brief survey to some other NAHR Fellows.

It wasn't intended as a scientific survey, but instead is a brief insight into what some very successful CHROs have done to build their teams. Ten Fellows from retail, IT, finance, insurance, professional services and healthcare, in companies ranging in size from 20,000 to 500,000 employees, shared their thoughts with me.

New CHROs should know they are not alone in their concerns about the capabilities of the HR team they now lead.

When seasoned CHROs were asked what percentage of their global HR team they believed to be well-equipped to help their company going forward, they were surprisingly consistent. Most said only about 70 percent of their HR team was well-equipped for the future.

In other words, the general consensus of the Fellows was that nearly one-third of their HR team wasn't prepared to help take their organization forward.

There was also consensus on the top areas needing professional development. The majority identified business knowledge/literacy, while half selected the ability to understand, develop and use metrics/analytics to make a compelling business case.

Just as important as what was identified as needing development was what was not identified. No one selected HR knowledge, functional expertise or employee-relations management as areas needing work.

So, HR leaders feel pretty confident about HR's ability to handle traditional HR. But opportunities remain for HR to understand how business savvy can be used to leverage traditional HR activity to result in business advantage.

It's no surprise, then, that the Fellows most frequently identified these competencies needed to develop HR: business acumen/literacy, influencing skills, change management/consulting skills and embracing challenge/courage of conviction.

So what are these experienced and savvy CHROs doing to develop their HR talent?

All 10 of their companies identify high-potential HR professionals, and eight of 10 inform them that they are considered high potential. Special developmental opportunities are provided to these candidates, with about half using formal programs and half using informal assignments.

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All provide HR professionals with developmental opportunitiess through rotational assignments across functional areas within HR and across divisions/business units. More than half provide HR professionals with developmental assignments into non-HR positions.

Obviously, the information provided by a small sample of companies is interesting, but not conclusive. But it provides a glimpse into the practices of companies that collectively employ more than 1.5 million employees and many thousands of HR professionals.

Some HR leaders may shrug and say that it's easy for big companies to provide developmental opportunities for their HR team, but argue that small companies don't have the resources to do the same thing.

My response: So what?

You may not be able to do the same thing, but there are things that can be done. Development opportunities may be limited to special projects, job redesign or short-term rotational assignments. They may be provided by simply allowing time for additional online learning or leaving early for a meeting with other HR professionals.

After all, can you really lead your HR team if you fail to focus on their professional development? Are you so confident that your team is fully capable to help you take your organization where it needs to go?

Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.

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