Building a career in HR


This entry is for all those who are starting their career in HR, whether it’s by choice or by chance. And also for a certain young, talented and somewhat impatient HR practitioner (A.C), who’s recently asked me a ton a questions pertaining to this very topic.

This is a very interesting topic for me to blog about. For one, I embarked on my career in HR purely by chance. I got my education in computing, and after finishing a PeopleSoft upgrade project with the HRIS department, I was offered the option to stay on with the company and move on to the other less “techie” roles within HR. I took the plunge and the rest is history.

Being a HR practitioner for more than 10 years now, I came to appreciate the complexity of the trade. I agree that the administrative and “boring” aspect of the job still exists, and rightfully, they should. However, the role a HR practitioner had since evolved, allowing various specializations to develop over time.

This gave rise to the question of “specialization” for many of us. Should I start my career as a “generalist”? Which “specialization” is more suitable for my personality? Or even, which “specialization” pays more?

No, I’m not going to be answering all those questions here. We all have our opinions, and to be honest, there is no right answer to these questions.

The truth is, each specialization within HR is closely knitted and related to each other. There is no way you are going to be able to function with a silo mentality, without interacting and working closely with others.

The worst thing that can happen is when the walls come up and each of the functions starts acting independently. When this happens, “HR” as a department loses its ability to function collectively, causing inefficiency which many of us attributes to a “lack of communication”. (I happen to find that “excuse” most cliché)

So, if we are looking at becoming (or grooming) good HR practitioners, shouldn’t we be trying to break down that silo mentality that’s plagued many modern HR organisations?

There is no silver bullet, but I’ve always been a big fan of job rotation. Personally, I’ve rotated within and out of the HR organization, building strong knowledge and awareness of the functions I’ve served in. The cumulative experience resulted in a strong sense of appreciation of the blind spots and pain points in each of these functions.

I came to realize that within each of functions, there are blind spots with how we go about performing our jobs. Sometimes, these blind spots result in less than ideal downstream effects, which add on to the tension and conflict within the organization.

The solutions to these problems often involve policies, procedures and processes being setup, resulting in a systemic breakdown of communications, where everything is being “spelt out” clearly, thus it is assumed to be understood by all. I call this the “Clear as mud” syndrome!

Thus, like it or not, every HR practitioner should plan in their career rotations into the different HR functions. Don’t tie yourself down with choosing something that you’re passionate with too early on in your career.

I would try to tackle the function which I find most challenging (or hardest to understand/ appreciate).

Be patient. If you think you can learn everything in a month or two, you are better off reading a book. Sometimes, it takes a few repetitions (or cycles) for the problems to surface, thus by slapping on a new job title on your name card is not going work. Especially when things are not going your way. That’s part of the training as well. If things are going too smoothly, you’re not digging hard enough.

Lastly, seek our mentors to help guide you along. This will save you a lot of pain with banging your head against the wall and potentially save your life when you decide to drown yourself with the water cooler.

Enjoy the journey. The thing about career building is, every part of the journey is different. The different jobs, departments, companies and people come together to give you a different set of experience. Some good, some bad. Learn from it; copy the good and remember the bad. Keep a list.

One day, you will be running a HR department of your own. Bring out that list and you will know what you need to do and what you need to avoid.

Have a good career!

Eric

Advertisements

Link


Career Savviness Survey 2013

I did a survey on how savvy we are with our careers. Here’s the finding.

86% knows their market value and only 56% feels that they are paid inline with market value!

Near 100% of the respondents feels they are responsible for their own development, but only 39% knows what their organisation had planned for them!

Read more about it here.

Cheers

Eric

BYOC – Build your own career


All of us here are pretty familiar with the term BYOD.  That’s “Bring your own device”. Depending which side of the fence you’re on, the arguments for or against will go on for this one. However, we cannot ignore the trend and the behavioural changes it’s brought along.

Recently, I’ve noticed a similar change in the way we look at our own career. It seems that we are getting a lot savvier in the way we manage and make decision around our careers.

My job in talent acquisition allowed me to interact with many candidates. A common observation I’ve made is, they all seemed to know what they want and have somewhat of an idea of where they need to be at what stage of their life.

I guess the hours spent with their career coach paid off. However, when asked the question of “why are you looking to leave?”, I’ve always got answers that would fall into the “Grass is greener on the other side” category.

However, the point I’m trying to make is, the rationale behind the candidates thinking that the grass is greener on our side of the fence, seemed to had came from the fact that they’re not talking openly with their managers on what they want in their careers.

On one hand, they had a grand plan in what they want to do and achieve, and on the other hand, they don’t openly engage with their managers and organization in making their job a dream job.

I hate to think that if this is the mindset of the general workforce, does this mean that this is happening to everyone of us?

In a recent article published on the “The New York Times” – “Hone the Job You Have Into One You Love” By SHANE J. LOPEZ, published on May 25, 2013, by studying people who love their work, he came to realize that almost none initially landed the jobs they loved; rather, they landed ordinary jobs and turned them into extraordinary ones. (Ref: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/jobs/honing-the-job-you-have-into-one-you-love.html)

This can only happen when you are open with your managers on what you have in mind regarding your job and career, and work with them to fine-tune what you’re doing now to what you like to be doing.

It does takes two to tango, so keep an open mind and know that it does takes time and patience to make things happen. The world is not perfect, and as much as your managers would like to, you may not always get your way. Work on the incremental steps on how to get there.

Even if you fail, you know you’ve tried. And there’s no shame in failing, but more shame in quitting. I like to believe that everyone enters into a new job with a sense of passion, hope and excitement that this is the job of a lifetime, you are going to make it happen.

The truth is, just like in any relationship, it never is as simple as it seems. Keep that passion in mind and with the right amount of effort and communication with your manager, I am sure your job will be a engaging one!

Now, if you have difficulties talking with your manager, here’s some tips.

  • Bring up your outlook calendar, and put in an invite for an hour of 1:1. The rest will fall in place.
  • Be precise with what you are looking for. It helps to write it down.

You can structure your discussion as follows:

  • Start with what you want, but don’t let this dominate the whole discussion. I would spend not more than 5 mins on this. Keep it short and sweet
  • Talk about what you like about your role now, and how that aligned with your wants. I suggest 5 mins, but10 mins tops.
  • Talk about the gaps. It can be something that you want to do, but is not doing, or something that you would like to do but is not there yet. Try to be concise about what these are and be realistic about aligning this to business needs. You can’t be saying that you want to be able to bake a cake for the team every month, unless if you’re a baker. But, what’s stopping you? J
  • Next, talk about how you think you can work on getting to where you want to be. Call out your assumptions. It’s ok to sound silly. I told my manager I wanted his position one day. The idea is to work on a plan together to get there.
  • Reach a closure. Sometimes it’s ok to disagree. It’s not the end of the world. Remember, things change. You can always revisit your plans in future. Setup milestones in which the both of you can connect again. Usually, a 6 months interval is ideal. This would give you time to work on what you need to work on.
  • You may find it useful to document this and I would suggest logging this in on your company’s performance management tool.

You may also be looking at moving across functions into a different role. I always suggest talking to your manager first, but if that is not possible, there is always the friendly HR person you can reach out to.

Also, you may also find it useful to setup time with the manager of the department you are hoping to move into. This will give you insights into the role. Share your plans with them, and you can get a good picture of what is required. One thing to note is that, moving across functions is always tough as you many not have all the necessary skillsets. However, there’s no better place than your current organization to “try” out a new role.

Be realistic about your expectations, and know that you may need to start early to work on some of those developmental areas before you make the move. I would suggest planning this at least 1 year in advance. Ask for projects that you can be involved in to gain the experience required for the move. This would also allow you to “show off” what you’ve got and earn the strips

Have you spoken with your manager today? I know I had!

Cheers

Eric

The truth about “Talents”


In a world of opportunities and rapidly compressing business cycles, we find ourselves having to evolve faster than before just to keep up.

This rate of change is not helped with the invention of computers. What’s more, it has been further accelerated by the reach of Internet.

The explosion of economies resulted in a variety of professions and trades, making the traditional apprenticeship model obsolete, thus restricting it only to certain professions, generally in trades of craft.

What about Talents? The truth about Talents is – it is relative.

Everyone can be a talent, while one can be more talented than the other.

A play with words you might say, but the simple truth about Talents, and we do mean Top Talents is; they are fast!

They are fast in all aspects. Coupled with an insatiable appetite to learn and evolve, they adopt faster the others, and gain mastery in anything they do quicker than the rest.

That, we all know! However, the flip side to that is, they are restless and can’t sit still. Forever seeking more!

More to learn, more to do, and more to master. A true talent will not stop at being a master of one, their minds are hot wired to challenge norms, and push boundaries. Seeking that platform to prove their theories and show the world that they are right. They are not happy with just a sandbox, they need a stage to perform and shine.

They have no fear of mistakes, or consequences.  Charles Goodyear, the American inventor who developed a process to vulcanize rubber in 1839 was to be rich man from his early business ventures, bankrupt himself with his persistence pursuit of invention. Without his discovery, we wouldn’t have known rubber as what we see today.

This focus, arrogance and confidence can be easily found among top talents.

However, the truth and reality doesn’t always correlate. We all know what top talents look like, but we don’t always have the platform, the infrastructure, and the stage for them to flourish.

Bringing this back into context, organizations today places too much emphasis on role based performance, often overlooking the holistic impact a talent could bring to an organization.

This is the result of departmentalization. The idea behind such structure is critical to ensuring organizational efficiency.

Thus, if you want stability and have someone to stay in the role for an extended duration, just hire an average talent who has neither desire nor ambition to climb to the top.

Having said that, shouldn’t 50 percent of the organization be made up of talents with that caliber? Else, how should we enforce a standard bell curve when it comes to performance?

That is all good. The problem lies with the identification and development of top talents. If organizations is unaware of who those top talents are, or blindly subject their top talents to the “standard” developmental programs, they will lose these talents in no time.

Remember, they are fast! Fast to learn and fast to deliver. And if they can’t see what’s next for them within their roles and organization, or are being told to get in line and wait their turn for recognition and a larger portfolio, they will be fast to move!

This phenomenal is what’s happening in a lot of emerging countries right now. Talents are relative. With the emerging markets, there is an overly inflated demand for talents who knows just what to do. Not necessarily talents who are masters at what they do.

As such, everyone can be a “top talent” somewhere somehow, causing the existing talent shortage, and short stints in employment we all see today.

So, if you are not going to recognize your top talents and create an accelerated development plan for them, someone else will.

Even if they do not have a world-class developmental plan in place, they will still be able to acquire your top talents. This is because, it is easy to bring in someone into a larger portfolio, and stretch the person to do the job. If this person is indeed a “top talent”, he’ll excel.

By than, a third company will come along and acquire them for the skills that they’ve developed.

Thus, being perceived as “fair” to all have a backlash effect to an organization where you will be very successful in keeping all your average talents, but not your top talents. Since the process is “fair” to all and not “fast” to some!

Always remember, “Acquisition” is easy, “Retention” is hard, the key is “Development”!

Ultimately, having a transparent system where everyone is clear of the selection of “Top Talents” can have both a motivating effect on the rest of the workforce, as they know what they need to do to be there, and also a positive impact on retention of your “Top Talents”!

On the origin of careers (Hiring for potential, hiring for eco-balance)


Drawing a parallel comparison to Darwin’s Origin of Species, where nothing is stagnant, the same can be said about one’s career and its evolution.

The math tells us that successful evolution is an exception, while millions of species died in the process for a few to survive to modern time.

It is a romantic thought to have that with each new job we take on, we progress and evolve for the better. However, that may not be always the case.

As in Darwin’s observations in the Galápagos Islands, where after a visit of only four islands in five weeks, observed that the creatures differ from island to island, with their adaptations to the different harsh environment of the islands.

Thus coming to a conclusion that the species underwent a natural selection process, which resulted in a transmutation of species.

Looking back at ones career; a similar observation can be form where no two person can have the same career evolution.

There are numerous variants that may affect the course of one’s career evolution; from latent variance such as personality, interest, upbringing, education, cultural, religious and personal beliefs, to more obvious parameters such as the career progression and roles the person undertakes in the course of his/ her career.

Bringing some context to our argument today, how would we put a value to one’s talent at the point of hire? Given that in this move, the new hire would have to undergo certain level of transformation to adapt to the new enviornment.

Thus, shouldn’t we be looking out for evidence of successful adaptations and evolution in similar enviornment? Also, should we not place too much emphysis on one’s failure to adapt to enviornments that differ from the hiring organization’s?

As such, we can be sure that our new hire would be successful in fitting into the existing ecosystem.

Having said that, we also need to make sure that our new addition doesn’t cannabilize the rest of the species.

Ps. Special thanks to Maurice Ling (http://www.linkedin.com/in/mauriceling) for helping me with the Darwin’s analogy. I have to admit that I had a hard time with the 500+ pages of the original book!

Cheers

Eric Wong

Your career is your greatest asset and investment


This is probably one of the most important but yet underappreciated entries in your big portfolio of assets and investments. The fact that many of us don’t recognize “career” as part of that portfolio is worrying.

After all, your income and career stability are factors which banks use to evaluate your credit worthiness before they grant you that loan.

Putting it in investment terms, this is also one of the few investments with fixed repayment, which comes in form of paychecks. For the most people, this income is consistent and predictable.

Despite the value in which having a good career can bring to your overall asset portfolio, we haven’t been paying a lot of attention on how we manage, plan and invest in our career. Many of this is down to chance and fate.

Having being recruiting for so long, I come across candidates that would make the worst career choices for the most misguided reasons. The job change happens due to either a “push” or “pull” factor.

Either they are really fed up with where they are, or someone comes along with a bigger carrot.

I would admit that those are valid reasons to consider a job change, however shouldn’t there be a more structured and organized way to doing it?

We seldom hear of anyone that’s mapped out what they wanted to do in their careers in entirety. What it looks like now, what’s next and what ifs.

Granted that things may not be as utopic as what we wanted it to be, but as in any investments, we would had set up parameters in which we would cut our losses or cash in on the profits.

If that’s the case, why is it that many of us can’t say with certainty where we would like to go tomorrow? And for those who know where they would like to go, can you tell me how you would get there?

The Missing Link – Talent Management for tomorrow


Being a sports fan, I often watch with interest the level of intensity of debates in who the team hires. I believe in the sporting industry, we call it “transfer”, or “trades”.

As HR practitioners, most of us are strong believer that it is the “Talents” that drive a company forward. However, I believe no other industries take this as seriously as the sporting industry.

We can easily find examples in any one of those rich European football clubs where transfer fees goes into tens of millions of pounds (Sterling). When Cristiano Ronaldo moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009, 80 million pound was paid in transfer fees. That is a lot of money! I sure know what I could do with that for a staffing budget!

Whilst many would not link the transfer system in the sporting industry to how we run staffing in a business organization, there is still a number of parallel comparisons we can draw and perhaps learn from.

No, I’m not suggesting that we should pay exorbitant transfer fees, or sell one of our talents to our competitors! Come to think about it, maybe that’s how staffing can become a profit center! Hmmm, what a thought!

Hiring in any industry is both a risky and potentially costly business. Often when the hire goes wrong, the downstream implications is disastrous. Moreover, “proven” talents come with impressive price tags. Did you know that Christiano was signed by Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon for just 12.24 million pounds? This is truly an impressive return on investments!

However, there are many horror stories in the sporting arena where expensive talents fail to integrate and deliver on the promise for performance. Thus cost may not always guarantee performance.

A shrew recruiter (or manager) is able to pick out the diamonds in the rough. This can be a competitive edge in recruitment over the competitors.

A basic staffing model is relatively easy to deploy as recruiters and hiring manager will try to look out for the best candidate in the market for their staffing requirements.

It is easy to identify performing talents. In sports, the stats are tracked meticulously by various media. In the business world, there are KPIs which we look for. For example, when interviewing a seasoned sales person, we look at the size his sales numbers and year to year growth. A naive recruiter can probably tell you, “This guy should be good. Just look at the size of his paycheck!”.

Thus, if everyone has one of those standard vanilla staffing department in place, staffing will have to work harder, smarter to differentiate and create the competitive edge.

On another hand, recognizing and working with an unfinished product is something else. It takes an experience recruiter (or manager) to access a different set of criteria, and hire for the potential.

Let’s now look at the youth program in the sporting industry. This, in my opinion is a world-class University/ Collage recruitment model.

The amount of investments in time, infrastructure and resources that being put into identifying potential talents before they join the workforce is amazing. In the US, talent scouts from the major sporting leagues such as the NFL and NBA spends an enormous amount of time and effort trying to get access to “hidden” resources on the next batches of sporting graduates.

We can argue that unlike the real business world, in sports, the young athletes are doing what they were supposed to be doing when they grow up. A basketball player plays basketball when he’s in collage, than enters the draft, joins a NBA team. A football player plays football, than draft, than joins a NFL team. Thus, the assessment and selection criteria are simple – if they play well in collage, naturally they should do well when they graduate.

Isn’t it about time that we put that kind scouting framework in our corporate environment?

Today’s “Staffing” operates in a relatively a silo, transactional manner. At an operational level, this is essential as it ties back to an organization’s “ramp” or “capacity” plan. The business volume will proportionally drive the recruitment numbers.

“Staffing” will need to evolve into a more holistic “Talent Management” model. – I know what you’re thinking of. “Talent Management” is not new!

Look at all those sexy “Talent Management” programs out there. They are either too “Training and Development” centric, “University/ Collage Relations” centric, “Succession” centric, “Recruitment” Centric, or even in one instance – “Organizational Development” centric.

In my humble opinion (IMHO – *Wink*), I felt that “Talent Management” should be simple. We over-complicate things.

Common in every company is a 3 stage (Buy-Make-Sell) model. Talent is acquired, developed and …?

Exactly my point!

A lot of focus had been placed in the first 2 stages. There are a thousand and one best practices out there on how to acquire and develop talent. However, what’s missing is the ability to track and manage talents out and back to the organization.

Let’s just say that we’ve got our front end hiring and development strategy right. We hired the talents with the right potential, trained and developed them well. Rotated them around the organization a little and that kept them happy for most part of their career.

What happens next? We will inevitably come to a stage where good (not the best) talents are due for promotion, but are face with stiff internal competition. Logic dictates that we can’t promote them all (unless if the company that you’re working for is grown at an exponential rate!). We will lose good people along the way. What’s more, we’ll lose them to our competitors (especially the smaller ones) who would gladly give them that position they so wanted.

Here’s the missing piece of the puzzle.

Have any manager ever tried incorporating external opportunities into an employee’s annual review? We talk about career and developmental plan all the time. Sometime it’s come to a stage where it becomes a “lip service” where “if someone works hard enough, he/she will get there… eventually”.

Think about the impact it would create if an actual development plan consisting of internal-external-internal progress is put in place for an employee.

This way, the employee not only sees the value of work he/ she is producing and how it correlates to increasing his/ her future value. The employee would also feel that the company has a genuine intent to develop and groom him/ her. To the point where the employee knows what he/ she has to do (or the knowledge/ skills to acquire) when leaving and rejoining the company.

I know this is a controversial step, but we have to admit that employees will not stay with us forever. The earlier we face that reality, and put together a (no BS, no nonsense) plan which is a win-win for company and employees, the sooner we can tighten our talent management strategy.

What this gives us is access to strong alumni who will continue to maintain close ties with the company for mutual benefits.

The approach is different, and in my opinion, this is the missing link to making the any talent strategy click.