Top tips for aspiring HR directors

HR leadership can be a lonely place. You are the confidant to the organisation and coach to the exec, but often no one plays that role for you. Focusing on your own development and building a supportive network are key. To help address these challenges and to build the next generation of HR leaders, the CIPD launched our Aspiring HRD Mentoring Programme in 2019, matching up-and-coming HR leaders with those who have already made it to the top.  

We recently held a reflection session for the mentees across our first two cohorts, sharing their experiences from the programme. Some clear themes emerged across the group. Listening in, these are the three areas aspiring HR leaders need to consider.  

Be strategic about career planning 

As HR professionals, how much time do you spend counselling other people about their career options? Now think about how much time you put into planning your own. Great careers don’t just ‘happen’. You need to be strategic and think about the key experiences you should have under your belt to put yourself in the best position for moving on and up.  

For example, if you aspire to be a CHRO in a large corporate, you need significant reward experience. Without it, how will you cope thrown into a RemCo (remuneration committee)? Similarly, having done leadership development and succession planning will help ifuture exposure to NomCos (nomination committees). While it’s useful to have generalist HR experience, spending some time in specialist areas could help sharpen your skills for the future. You might want to consider taking a role outside of HR, to learn more about the business outside the people function.  

It’s ok to be ‘selfish’ about your own development 

As alluded to above, HR can often be the ‘cobbler’s children’ when it comes to prioritising its own development, all while helping and investing in the rest of the organisation. A common theme among all our mentees was that they had learned ‘it’s ok to be selfish’ sometimes, when it comes to taking time to prioritise your own development. Many reflected that the programme had taught them that is acceptable, even desirable, for those in senior HR position to free up time to think about themselves, their development and their own career path. Taking this time has proved enormously helpful.  

This includes taking the time to develop external networks, looking outside your organisation and finding peers in other businesses and sectors to connect and share with, as well as learn from. It’s all too easy to get ‘tunnel vision’ in times of crisis, putting your head down and focusing on the internal issues your company is facing. But it is by looking upwards and outwards that enables you to gain valuable perspective, discover innovative ideas and challenges your thinking.  

Imposter syndrome is real, but can be overcome  

Many of our mentees reflected that they suffered from ‘Imposter Syndrome’: that persistent nagging feeling of self-doubt, concern that you are a ‘fraud’ and that will only be a matter of time until you are ‘found out’. While often not discussed, these feelings are common, even among senior leaders 

Confidence was the main benefit that participants in our programme felt that they had gained, helping them to overcome this Imposter Syndrome. Being confident enough to challenge other business leader and to get involved in subjects beyond ‘the people stuff’ in executive and board meetings is a critical component of HR leadership. Take heart from the fact that even the most successful HRDs aren’t immune to feelings of Imposter Syndrome. So, while you might never escape it entirely, you can rationalise it and stop it holding you back.   

Summing up, CIPD membership director David D’Souza offered his top 10 tips for aspiring HR leaders…  

  1. Don't aspire to the role. Aspire to the opportunity to make a difference. 
  2. Speak out and up and with  you are paid because you have a brain. 
  3. Create a space for people to speak out and up and with  you are paid because you understand other people have brains too. 
  4. That means you need to manage to be confident and humble. They are not opposites. 
  5. Use evidence and research. Don't follow fads. Your time is precious. 
  6. You need to move the whole system. Initiatives fail. System change is harder but sticks. 
  7. Technical expertise gives you credit in the bank to take other risks. Operational excellence can give you strategic opportunity. 
  8. Your work matters. You know that because bad HR causes incredible pain and failure. That's why good HR matters to people and organisation. 
  9. Invest in yourself. It's not selfish, other people need you to be good. 
  10. It's lonely and needs bravery under pressure. That's why you need a network and a clear sense of your principles. Or they will drift and so will you. 

The CIPD Aspiring HRD Mentoring programme is now open for applications for mentees for 2021. Applications for the 20 available spots are open until 25 January. Find out more and apply here.

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.