Becoming an HR leader: Listen and know your business inside out

Do you have what it takes to become an HR director one day? What skills and behaviours do you need to achieve the highest-ranking HR position in your organisation? 

Senior people professionals from across the North heard the honest answers to these important questions, and many more, from senior leaders - at organisations such as Cox Automotive,  End., Leeds City Council, Morrisons and MAG Airports – at an exclusive event delivered by our Senior People Professional’s Network (SPPN). 

During the Network’s first in-person session – held at Manahatta in Leeds – HR leaders shared their inspiring and colourful career stories in a ‘What I wish I’d known before becoming an HRD’ panel and spoke about the importance of career development, including the benefits of a mentor/mentee relationship. 

Things I wish I’d known before becoming an HRD 

The importance of taking time to listen to people and manage relationships at all levels across the business is something the panel highlighted as key learnings and vital skills needed to become a good HR leader.  

The panel, which included Andy Dodman (Leeds City Council), Sarnjit Kaur (Cox Automotive) and Inji Duducu (Morrisons) also stressed the need to understand your business inside out, including different employee roles and the organisation’s finances. To achieve this, spending time out of your HR role and job-shadowing people in other areas of the business, whether that be on the shop floor, in the finance office, or the warehouse was recommended. 

Other learnings included the need to find the person in the business that manages the most people as this person will be able to provide greater insight into what is, and isn’t, working in a variety of roles and areas across the organisation. 

The panelists also agreed that engaging and connecting with other HRDs in different sectors and organisations has been valuable as it allowed them to learn new ways of working and best practices to implement within their own businesses. 

Vital skills for the future  

As the world of work continues to change and evolve at pace, the panel recognised that HR leaders will need to ensure they have the following vital skills to be able to adapt to future change:  

  • Empathy: the ability to understand other people’s differences and needs across the business. 
  • Curiosity: ask questions in order to make a positive difference.  
  • Influence and impact: demonstrate this with your peer group to help shape and deliver positive change. 

Career development: Never underestimate your impact 

Panelists, Lynn Perry (of fashion brand, End.) and Rachel Akili (MAG Airports) highlighted the benefits of mentoring for both the mentor and the mentee. Both acknowledged that having a mentor - at various stages in their career - has not only helped them identify and utilise their capabilities to make a better impact but has also boosted their confidence. 

Rachel spoke passionately about representation. Often being the only black woman in her department or workplace, she recognised that her mentoring relationship has provided a level of psychological safety to be vulnerable and have open and honest conversations. 

As a mentor, Lynn helps people achieve their potential by encouraging self-awareness in her mentees, and the ability to find the answers that lie within them, in order to shape what development they need to progress in their roles and career. 

Can you be a working mum and an HR leader? 

The panelists - who are both working mums - acknowledged that the juggle of work with parenting has been challenging at times, particularly when work responsibilities have prevented them from attending a key school event for their child.  

However, they stressed that the pandemic has changed things and more organisations are offering flexible and hybrid ways of working which can help parents achieve a much better work-life balance. They also offered encouragement to other working mums to not underestimate the role modelling of work ethics, adaptability and organisation, which they aim to pass on to their children in later life.

Find out about future SPPN sessions here.  

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