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A future-fit HR leader is a HAPPY leader

Successful HR leaders will need a certain set of attributes – known as the HAPPINESS attributes

Are you a happy people leader? I truly hope you are in the conventional sense. But do you also have the personal ‘HAPPINESS’ attributes you need to be a future-fit HR leader?

Today’s people leader deals with a complex and growing set of demands to meet the needs of organisations fighting to survive, let alone thrive, in an era of new business models, digital technologies and exacting external and internal customers.

A modern people function requires different emphasis and new professional skills. Culture, employee experience, organisation design, building critical skills, talent, technology, data and analytics are all key focuses for the HR leader of today and tomorrow.

But this new world of work also requires its people leaders to have a new mindset. Just as a fixed model doesn’t work today, nor does a fixed mindset.

Continuous learning, and indeed unlearning, is critical to success in such times. According to IBM’s Institute for Business Value: “Today’s top CHROs ensure that leaders of the organisation are continuous learners, able to spot threats to their industry and business.”

Meanwhile Gartner says just 9% of chief human resource officers (CHROs) agree their organisation is prepared for the future of work and 46% report their employees lack the skills necessary to drive future performance.

But as the pace and scale of change accelerate, what both organisations fail to add is that HR leaders themselves must also be continuous learners. There is a need to invest in their development just as much as in that of their people.

Having met and interviewed thousands of HR leaders and thinkers over the past decade, common themes emerge as to the attributes needed to succeed in the digital world of work. At The People Space we call them the HAPPINESS attributes. These are being a Horizon Scanner, Action Taker, Problem Solver, People Value Creator, Influencer, Network Connecter, Ethical Data Sustainer, Sense Maker and Self Investor.

While there isn’t room to delve into each of these here (for a definition of each you may like to check out this page), I would like to pick up on a couple to illustrate my point.

A Horizon Scanner has the ability to spot emerging issues and changes in the external world, identifying the opportunities and threats before they affect your organisation. In other words: exploring the bigger picture within and outside your industry and profession beyond the HR silo.

Steven Director, professor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, puts it this way: “An understanding of one's industry, business, customers, products and internal operations comes with experience. There are certainly many cases where bright individuals are siloed within the HR function, denying them the opportunity to gain the necessary insights into their firm's internal and external business context.”

He goes on to say: “An understanding of the business context is critical but not sufficient. HR professionals also need a set of tools they can use to analyse that business context and evaluate alternative courses of action.”

I agree, hence the ‘A’ in Happiness being Action Taker. It is all very well learning about the wider context and discussing its impact but to effect the change needed to prevent obsolescence and to flourish this understanding must translate to action. No ivory towers for today’s HR leader.

But, and this is an important but, to be an Action Taker you also need to know when to take that action and when to stand back and reflect. We are in an age of overwhelm: information overwhelm, choice overwhelm, work overwhelm – and in the face of that overwhelm it is easy to fall back on deep-rooted biases as we face the pressure to make the hundreds of decisions we make every day – and fast.

At our recent event with influential leadership thinker Richard Boyatzis, author of a new book Helping People Change, he talked about the importance of renewal. He also outlined why many of the people practices of today are not only failing to deliver positive behaviour change but actually achieving the opposite. We focus too much on fixing people when we should be helping them find their passion and helping them fulfil their dreams.

So as life and work increasingly move towards human and machine collaboration, to algorithms and data, and to uncertainty and volatility, don’t just sit back and let these changes happen to you but actively seize the opportunity they present.

Take time to cut through all the clutter and hype, prioritising your personal and professional time and spend to create the most value, for yourself and your organisation. And, of course, continue investing in your professional skills.

But don’t forget about investing in your personal skills. Don’t forget your own vision. Be excited about trying new things. Find your own dreams – and become a HAPPY people leader.

Siân Harrington is co-founder of The People Space and former editor and publishing director of HR magazine