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HRD's pocket guide to... career development

This month's pocket guide builds the case for career development

Why do I need to know about it?

Opinions are split over how much responsibility HR should take for employees’ personal career development. Some believe the function should play a pastoral role in helping workers make the most of their potential. Others, however, believe that it’s much more down to the individual.

One thing everyone can agree on is that, within the function itself, HR leaders should be making sure people are taking the best possible route to success. But not everyone’s convinced this is happening.

“In our experience HR people neglect their own career management. But less so than they neglect their organisation’s and colleagues’ career management needs,” says Advanced Boardroom Excellence chair Helen Pitcher. “Often people understand the principles but can be detached when it comes to reflecting on their own careers.”

So HR may be in a position where it needs to heed the old maxim of ‘physician heal thyself’ if it wishes to be the strategic and business-critical function it aspires to be.

What do I need to know?

HR is one of a small number of professions where career planning and development is dominated by an over-arching professional body – the CIPD. So being able to negotiate that employment framework while also making a plan that works for each individual is key.

But those frameworks need not be as restrictive as some fear, according to Institute of Employment Studies researcher and consultant Wendy Hirsh.

“I happen to think there are plenty of viable routes for HR professionals to take,” she explains. “Compared to other regulated professions such as accountancy it’s fairly flexible. Where I think the CIPD falls down is that it offers very little in the way of practical advice on career planning.”

So are in-house HR teams doing enough to plug the gaps? Not according to Hirsh, who believes the function “isn’t very good at career planning for any employees, let alone its own”.

“The main problems HR has are getting bogged down in competencies and failing to plan for the future,” she continues. “So people only look to fill roles with people who have every technical attribute and qualification now. They don’t take into account potential and how to give people assets that will help both them and the organisation in the future.”

Where can HR directors add value?

Hirsh’s assessment may seem a little bleak but there are quick wins that can be made, according to Reward Gateway group HRD Robert Hicks.

“HRDs need to be committed to understanding their workers’ goals and making sure they give them practical advice on how to achieve them,” he suggests. “For example if someone is looking to complete their CIPD qualifications I’ll always take the chance to chat to see what the best way to study is for them.”

Hirsh echoes this sentiment and sees looking beyond the function as a way to build “credibility” when moving up the career path.

“Often going into the business and outside of the function for a time can be a big help,” she explains. “And I think senior HR leaders should really be working hard to make sure those opportunities are there for all their staff. It benefits the function as well, getting knowledge back, so it’s a win-win.”

Anything else?

Career development in HR can mean more than just looking at professional paths that start and end within the function, according to REC chief executive Kevin Green. He sees a future where the restrictions of who can practise in the function are loosened a little and the gateways into HR are more porous.

“People without those CIPD qualifications can do a job within HR,” he says. “So HRDs should be looking outside the function when looking to promote people. When you bring in people who have worked within the business it can hold a mirror up to HR and give you insight into what the business really wants. It might not always be easy to hear but it can be incredibly valuable.”