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Career tips from the HR Future Leaders Forum

HR magazine recently held its first HR Future Leaders Forum, for rising HR stars

On 10 February some of the rising stars of the HR world met at the Rooms on Regent’s Park, Royal College of Obstetricians, for the first ever HR Future Leaders Forum, kindly sponsored by Advanced Boardroom Excellence. This one-day conference provided interactive career development, workshops and networking from the brightest HR minds, including Rob Briner, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Bath, Valerie Hughes D’Aeth, HR director at the BBC, and Tim Jones, group head of HR of the London Stock Exchange. Here are eight things we, and the delegates, learned from the day…

1. You and your CEO worry about the same things

“Retention of millennials and how to manage different generations in the workforce are the kind of things keeping CEOs awake at night,” said Neil Morrison, group HR director, UK & international companies for Penguin Random House. “Those debates are happening, so how do we get ourselves into having that conversation?”

Jeremy Campbell, chief people officer of Ceridian, suggested that HR is uniquely placed to assist the CEO. “One of the joys of being an HRD is being able to go anywhere in the business and understand it,” he said.

“It’s about perspective. HR and finance are really the only ones that understand how it all fits together.”

2. Consider a role nobody wants

Melanie Steel, interim people change director at Boots Opticians, took on the role of HR director for the Cabinet Office, including 10 Downing Street, for two years. “I knew it would be a huge job, and very challenging,” she said. “It tested me to my absolute limit. It taught me that those difficult roles end up being the ones that you learn the most from.”

However, Siobhan Sheridan, director of HR for the NSPCC, warned that you must exercise sound judgement when taking on new positions. “Don’t work for someone you’re not going to enjoy working for,” she said.

3. Try to stay out of workplace politics

You cannot afford to be political as an HR director, according to Morrison. “You need to be able to hold yourself and rise above it,” he said. “In terms of long-term respect that’s absolutely key and critical, because if someone thinks you’re playing games they’re not going to trust you with a major decision.”

“You should be alert to company politics, but not necessarily play the game,” added Advanced Boardroom Excellence chairman Helen Pitcher.

4. Be brave

I don’t think the HR profession has a right to survive,” said Sheridan. “There’s never been a better time for HR, but it’s up to us if we’re going to take that opportunity or not. We should pull our seat up to the table unapologetically.” KeepMoat group HR director Karen Lewis added that trusting your judgement is vital. “HR is incredibly important, because people are harder to manage than things,” she said. “It takes an awful lot of judgement, and it takes a special sort of person to be able to do it.”

5. Don't be afraid to leave a job

“One of the biggest wastes of human talent I see in organisations is people staying too long,” warned Morrison. “If you consistently feel you hate your company then there’s a door at the front and a door at the back.” Campbell suggested that HR professionals should ask themselves what their purpose is within an organisation. “Have a passion about something whether it’s reward, talent management etc. It’s so important for adding value to the business.” “It’s OK to leave a role,” added Laura Wigley, talent and learning director for Dorchester Collection. “You can have a great experience, but sometimes [leaving] can be the right thing to do.”

6. Have a global mindset

“I would encourage anybody to get international experience,” said Valerie Hughes D’Aeth, BBC group HR director. “The world is no longer just the UK, so now you need a global perspective on everything.” Michael Moran, chief executive and founder of exhibitor 10Eighty agreed. “If you work in a global business you need a global mindset,” he said. Pitcher added that international experience is most helpful if you immerse yourself in your new location. “Don’t just be an expat,” she said. “Learn the language and try to gain an understanding of that culture.”

7. Choose different mentors

Wigley shared her experiences of development in the workplace. “There’s so much about organisations you can’t learn about at university,” she said. “Very early into my first role I realised that most learning happens on the job.” When it came to choosing a mentor she initially decided to find someone similar to herself, before seeing the benefits of looking to someone with a different outlook, and changing mentors throughout her career. “I saw the value of someone who has quite a different perspective,” she said. “But if someone’s a great mentor at one point in your career that doesn’t mean they always will be.”

8. Always think of the future

Helen Pitcher of Advanced Boardroom Excellence advised that everyone working in HR, and in any other function, should keep their CV up-to-date for when it is required. “We are all going to be working well into our 70s and 80s, so start thinking about what it is you might want to do,” she said. “Whether you’re interested in NGOs or NED positions, think through those things quite clearly because you have to be prepared.”