The conventional way of getting promoted or moving into a new role is to look at the capabilities required, assess how you match up and then undertake some development to fill the gaps. I want to challenge that approach and tell you that you are missing a trick – you'll stand a far greater chance of success if you take a more holistic approach and in particular work on your identity.
Why is this important? Because you can never be something you don’t believe you are or could be. Can you really picture yourself as an HR director? Try it now. What thoughts and feelings come up? Do you feel comfortable with that image, or is something holding you back? If in your heart of hearts you don’t see yourself as an HR director, you never will be one, no matter how much you develop your capabilities. The good news is you can work to change your identity and self-image, just as you can work on your capabilities.
Talk to role-models & peers
Focusing on the right identity lifts you beyond the capabilities – a successful HR director has more than that; for instance they know how they contribute to the organisation, they have clear principles, they feel they have a right to be heard. So how do you get to see yourself as one?
Go and talk to some HRDs to find out the answers, especially those you regard as role models. Here are some questions to ask:
- What beliefs do they hold? For example, how do they regard the HRD’s role at the top table – is it just about HR? Or something broader? What right do they have to challenge their peers – on the full gamut of business and ethical issues? How do they feel about doing that? Where do they see themselves and their directorate in terms of importance to the organisation?
- What are their values? How do they reconcile and balance them? For example, profit vs people, openness vs need for confidentiality, loyalty to superiors vs team/employees. How do they view the customer?
- What do they focus on? Detail vs big picture, business agenda vs HR agenda, home vs work?
- Who do they spend their time with? Who do they have to influence? Where do they get inspiration from? How do they learn from other organisations? Who challenges them? Who supports them in times of difficulty? How do they get time with the right people?
- How do they see their purpose? Is it simply providing a service to the business or making a fundamental difference?
If you dismiss this advice because you don’t think you are important enough to ask for an HRD’s time or don’t know how you’d get them to agree to speak to you, this is exactly the negative outlook I'm talking about. Begin by working on those limiting beliefs – why shouldn’t you ask? I recall a colleague when we were junior HR managers in a massive organisation and she told me her mentor was the company HRD. I was so impressed and asked her how she’d got her to agree. How? She asked.
Turning words into action - career steps
Ask these questions to establish the gap between where you are and where you want to be – your development activities will be very different than if you just focus on capabilities – for instance you may want to network at a higher level to get a feel for what it really is like being an HRD and understanding how they think; take a different approach and focus in your current work from what you learn. The more you get to think and be like an HRD the more quickly you will become one.
Then you need to follow through on this during all stages of the recruitment process:
- Write your CV from the perspective of an HRD
- When you make your application ensure you think about what and how you say in the way that an HRD would do
- When you go for interview ask yourself: “What would a successful HRD be like in an interview?" How would they enter the room, how would they introduce themselves, how would they respond to the questions? What questions would they ask the interviewers? How would they regard the interviewers and the job on offer?
In this article, I’ve drawn on a model called ‘Logical levels’ which was developed initially by Geoffrey Bateson and built on by Robert Dilts. They identified a hierarchy of levels:
Do you think like an HRD?
If you analyse your career aspirations in all these respects you will have far more success than just focusing on one. Visualise the role you want and work through the levels – from thinking about the environment you want to work in, what would you be saying and doing (behaviours), what would you believe in and value?
Another key principle is that to change something at one level you have to change something at least one or two levels above – hence you need to alter your values/beliefs and identity if you want to improve your capabilities. It’s as Einstein said: “You can’t solve a problem from the same thinking that created it”.
From my years of coaching and being coached I have found this is a far more successful strategy than focusing on capabilities alone. Think and act like an HRD and you’re far more likely to become one.