Let's face it: HR is a service department. We serve people at all levels through everything we do. We are the ones who partner with business leaders to ensure the right people get hired, developed, paid and are motivated to perform. We make sure our practices are in compliance with labor laws and the organization has people capable of meeting ever-changing demands.
What's the consequence of being a “service department"? Sometimes, we forget to service ourselves—particularly when it comes to career development and succession planning. When done well, succession planning ensures that an organization has future leaders within the company and employees have the resources to achieve their career ambitions. The benefits to the business are many: greater employee engagement, shorter time to fill openings, reduced recruitment costs and greater ability to retain key performers. HR is often focused on succession planning for the organization at large, but isn't it also important to focus on career development within our own department?
In talking with other HR leaders, their unanimous reaction is that we must engage in succession planning for HR. One driver is the perception of HR outside of our profession. In an infamous Fast Company article titled, “Why We Hate HR", the author states, “After close to 20 years of hopeful rhetoric about becoming 'strategic partners' with a 'seat at the table' where the business decisions that matter are made, most human-resources professionals aren't nearly there."
Another driver is continuity in HR practices. Alicia Goodman, global VP of people and culture at Alvogen, states, “At Alvogen, it's important to know the context of why decisions were made. Succession planning allows us to promote leaders who know the back story and can ease the transition." An information gap in HR can have the same detrimental impact as anywhere else in the business.
Here, three key strategies for ensuring we have a sustainable stream of talent to meet future HR needs.
Secure Executive Support
According to Bill Rothwell, professor of human resource development at Pennsylvania State University, 70 percent of succession plans fail within two years because they lose management support.
Business partners may not see the need to provide HR professionals with time or budget to develop in ways that are currently outside the scope of their role. For example, a call center director may not see the need for a recruiter to learn about measuring ROI. However, this capability (along with many others) can help her prepare for a future role where she may provide greater value to the organization.
The support of leaders is needed not only to overcome challenges, but also to get them to actively assist in developing specific competencies. For example, a Director of Finance may mentor an HR Manager who seeks to become an HR Director with budget responsibilities. Also, a Manager of Software Development may help a Recruiter learn more about agile development, so that he can better identify qualified candidates. Opportunities abound for the business to develop HR professionals for a mutually beneficial outcome.
Identify Individual Needs
If you want succession planning to work, you need to personalize it for each individual. Personalized succession planning is especially critical for top talent, who are more likely to leave if they don't see a future for themselves at your organization.
HR is constantly evolving and requiring different competencies, and individuals need to be exposed to the relevant experts if they are to become strategic HR leaders. A study conducted by researchers at Cornell University states, “Complex, uncertain and fast-changing environment has brought new HR challenges, which ask HR professionals to have additional competencies such as digital skills, agile thinking, and global sense."
Think Outside the Classroom
Often times, we think development can only happen in the physical or virtual classroom. We send people to seminars and webinars in order to learn. These opportunities are good to keep in mind when crafting a development plan. However, there are many more ways to learn. For example, gaming, mobile learning, stretch assignments, coaching and mentoring, and reading articles and/or books are some of the ways people can learn outside of the classroom.
The ironic thing is that we often recommend this to others in the organization and then tell our HR peers about a great workshop offered at the local HR Association. We should think broader about our development and take our own medicine.
The importance of succession planning can't be denied. To make sure HR professionals keep up with the changing work landscape, start succession planning with your HR team. If the organization doesn't have a formal process, create one and conduct a pilot study with the HR team. Make sure you measure the impact of succession planning in a way that is important to the business. Then HR will be leading the way rather than reacting.