CIPD Podcast 35 - Mapping your future HR career

Date: 06/10/09 Duration: 00:18:41

In this podcast Stephanie Bird, Director of HR Capability, CIPD, Tanith Dodge, Director of Human Resources, Marks and Spencer, Siobhan Sheridan, HR Director for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Vanessa Robinson, Head of HR Practice Development at the CIPD talk about the changing nature of the HR profession and what it means for HR careers. The focus is on the CIPD Profession Map and how some employers are using it to assess and increase capability in their organisations.


Philippa Lamb : Hello and welcome to the CIPD’s biggest change to HR career structuring in a long time. If you haven’t already heard, the HR Profession Map as it’s known, is the result of huge amounts of research by the CIPD. The idea was to find out how the Institute can best help individuals and teams to evaluate exactly where they stand against a broadening HR remit and a transforming profession. We’re going to explore what the map is, how to use it and we’ll hear from some employers who are already using it to assess their HR capability.

“We need the map to help us drive up the capability in the profession. Good HR people are really great, we need to bring everybody else with us.”

“The profession’s moved on, basically, and HR people as they’re going through their careers need support and help to make sure that they stay relevant.” 

“I think the work that the CIPD is doing is spot on. It is absolutely what companies need and it’s long overdue.” 

PL: The HR Profession Map is finally here and it’s already being welcomed by practitioners as something they can use to help them stay on top of their game. Vanessa Robinson is the CIPD’s Head of HR Practice Development. She’s been running the research project looking at how the HR function has transformed in recent years and the results are remarkable.

Vanessa Robinson: The landscape within which HR people are working has just changed completely. For instance now we’ve got 50% of people saying that they’re specialists, which is a lot higher than it was a few years ago and interestingly in that I think of something like learning and training as a type of specialism but now people are saying things like business partners, or working in a shared service is a particular HR specialism, some 26% I think say that they’re business partners for instance.

PL: This is a huge shift isn’t it?

VR: Yeah it’s a big shift. We’re also seeing, interestingly, quite a different dynamic in terms of international, some 30% of people say they’ve got international responsibility, which again is a huge difference from where the landscape was a few years back.

PL: That’s surprisingly high, nearly a third with international responsibility, I wouldn’t have expected that, and a lot more of them are studying.

VR: Yes, which is great, it’s great. People see that professional development is important, a lot of them are studying either specialist areas or they’re studying for post graduate qualifications, a whole range of things. In other research we’ve done we’ve seen that people do recognise that the skills they need these days to work in HR are a lot more around strategic thinking, business awareness, awareness of change management so not just your typical HR specialisms. 

PL: Now this is fascinating isn’t it because it’s the reality catching up with the theory that HR is now a much more exciting and diverse place to work than perhaps it used to be.

VR: I think that’s right, I think the opportunities for people coming into careers in HR – whether it’s as they leave college or whether it’s further on as they’re higher up in their career – it’s just fantastic these days. You can go into different specialisms, you’ve got the chance to really really understand how people can influence business and organisational performance, so yeah a great career to go into and great opportunity for people.

PL: Stephanie Bird joined the CIPD last year as Director of HR Capability and one of her first undertakings was working on the HR Profession Map. She explained what it is and how it works.

Stephanie Bird: The map in essence is quite simple, it’s got three main areas to it. There are the ten professional areas which really lay out what it is that the HR profession does in many respects, so that would lead from strategy, insights and solutions through things like organisation design, organisation development, resourcing and talent planning, performance and reward through to the new areas that many people are actually now getting into around service delivery and information. For each of those areas we break out what it is you need to know but also what it is that you need to be able to do so that’s the knowing/doing part of it. 
The second part are eight key behaviours for success in the HR function and those are broken into three clusters, the first of which is insights and influence, for example; curious skilled influencer, things around operational excellence, the things we need to do to get the job done well so driven to deliver, collaborative, being personally credible. 
Thirdly I think a quite important area around behaviours which is the whole concept of stewardship and that’s having the courage to challenge and actually being a role model for the profession. We know from our research that the further up you go in the career the more important the behaviours are to success, it’s not enough to just know things and be able to do them it’s how you do them that really makes a critical difference.

PL: And the way you’ve described it makes it sound quite compact. It is a big thing isn’t it, very rich in detail; how do you think people are going to use it?

SB: I think they can use it in a number of ways. I mean I think you’re right, if you look at the whole thing it’s about 66 pages of A4 so it can get very very dense and I know some people might think it looks a little bit HR geek-speaky in places but because at its heart, it’s actually relatively simple, I do think it does give a number of different platforms in how it can be used. I think it will be used for individuals to say where am I now in my career and benchmark myself against what 'good' looks like and what the different stages of careers might look like, whether they want to continue to be a generalist, whether they’re a specialist, whether they want to move between career tracks and it can give you signposts for what you need to do next to stretch yourself into that thing, whether it’s going to be with your same organisation or with a different one, because this is profession-wide. It’s not tailored either specifically to private sector or public sector or not for profit, it really looks across the patch. 
The other thing it helps people do is maybe look from an organisational perspective because it’s a way to say what does my HR function look like against these descriptors and how well do we think we’re doing, have we got any particular holes in it? So if we’re looking at the whole concept around organisational effectiveness so that you can look at it from that lens rather than just from a particular individual perspective.

PL: Siobhan Sheridan is Director of Strategic Human Resources at DEFRA, she’s using the map to assess not only her team but herself as well.
Siobhan Sheridan: Currently we’re just in the process of starting to use it with my own team to start to help them to identify what actually is it to be an HR professional in our current climate? What kind of skill sets do they have? What skill sets would they like to develop and how might they go about doing that? It’s a really, really useful map, to be honest, regardless of how long you’ve been in the profession. I’m finding it very useful for building my own personal development plan perspective.

PL: Really? So you’re analysing where you stand and where you want to be.

SS: Yeah absolutely. One of the scary things when you’ve been in a profession for a while is that you suddenly realise it’s starting to move on around you and if you’re not careful you’re not going to keep up.

PL: It is a very different business from what it is was when you started isn’t it.

SS: It is a very different business and I think it’s a far more professional, far tougher environment actually to work in that it was probably when I first started. I think the biggest change is the real focus on the business and on, for me, being a business person first who happens to have an HR specialism as opposed to being first and foremost an HR professional and I think that’s quite a big change and quite an important change.

PL: You say it’s about understanding the business but here you are in the public sector so how does that translate?

SS: Remarkably similarly. It’s still an awful lot about understanding what it is that the organisation is trying to achieve so whilst in DEFRA, we might be talking about outcomes rather than bottom line, it’s still about the translation of resources into actual delivery and it’s very very important to understand what the organisations challenges are in doing that in order to be able to understand what it needs from HR. It has been challenging, the civil service and the public sector is a much much bigger organisation than I truly appreciated when I first came in but that’s one of the reasons why I think the civil service is genuinely one of the best places to do HR in the country right now.

PL: Siobhan’s one of many high powered HRs who have followed a zig-zag carrer path and as Vanessa points out, it’s a growing trend.

Vanessa Robinson: I think that’s right and I think again one it helps people develop this broad range of skill sets, particularly the business/commercial awareness -  having some experience maybe not within an HR role really can add credibility and also I think it possibly helps the organisation learn more about the importance of people if people from HR careers go into the line it works in both directions I think to help the business be more aware of people issues as well as people managers (HR people) being more aware of business issues.

PL: So it’s an infinitely more flexible career than it used to be too.

VR: I think it is and I think that’s very much what the CIPD have tried to do in introducing the new Profession Map is to recognise that there are different specialisms, different routes people want to go into their careers but the whole career path/career development is absolutely important and that’s what the CIPD Profession Maps aim to achieve.

PL: Of course the zig-zagging works in both directions and having HR experience is a great grounding for other roles in the organisation. Here’s Siobhan. 

SS: I think one of the real benefits with HR is that having worked in the HR profession for a little while, when you move on you take that with you and it’s one of the fundamental skill sets for anybody in a senior leadership role in any organisation so I think there’s a very, very positive story for HR to tell about how it can contribute both as a career in itself or as a part of someone’s career journey.

PL: That’s interesting because we’ve heard a lot about people coming in mid-career but the idea that you can springboard out of HR into other roles is an interesting thought too

SS: Yeah and I’m certainly seeing people doing that more and more often. There are people that I come across now who are in COO-type roles who really started off in the HR roles. My own husband who moved from HR into an IT role, there are transferable skill sets very much from that leadership standpoint and I think it really is possible to do that.

PL: Tanith Dodge is Director of HR at M&S, there moving between HR and business roles is actively encouraged.

Tanith Dodge: Certainly within M&S we encourage it so we will identify very successful store managers and a store manager running a large store has a range of skills. They’ll be very commercial, they’ll be very strategic, they’ll understand the numbers, they’ll under the P&L and they are great examples of individuals who will then come into an HR role – could be as an HR business partner, could be in one of the specialist areas – and we will develop them and I think that’s where the CIPD Map is extremely helpful because if you look at some of those capabilities they are transferable across areas and certainly across the business.

PL: But it’s also going to highlight the areas where they need a bit of support.

TD: Absolutely, yeah.

PL: Tanith herself has been in HR for 25 years, she got her degree in business studies and then did a post graduate diploma in HR. Now she reports at the highest possible level at M&S.

TD: So I started really on the shop floor doing a lot of hard-nosed trade union negotiation, working on a factory site as the HR Officer and I think if I reflect back on how much HR’s changed over the years it really was very much personnel, there was quite a lot of welfare involved, you didn’t really need to understand how a business ran you just needed to be there to offer tea and sympathy to employees when they needed it but then also do the hard nosed industrial relations stuff with the unions.

PL: The role you have now as HR Chief at M&S it could not be more different could it?

TD: No it’s completely different. I believe now the role is more about running a business so it’s a much more business/commercial focus foremost, then linking that to the people agenda and having them absolutely aligned. So, the HR business plan has to support the overall company business plan, they have to be absolutely integrated.

PL: So the new HR Profession Map from the CIPD, obviously you had nothing like that to help you, can you see how it would be useful to people coming in and indeed mid-career in HR?

TD: Absolutely. Certainly many years ago when I was doing my equivalent of a CIPD qualification it was much more about very practical things that you needed to do as a HR person, you know, a bit of training, a bit of recruitment – and it was right for that time because that’s what HR was about so I’m not dishonouring the past, it absolutely fitted the time. I believe now it’s much more akin with some of the elements of the Map around understanding business strategy, working in partnership with the senior people in the business, having an HR plan which is absolutely aligned with the company plan, being able to understand organisation design for efficiency. They just weren’t part of the portfolio even ten years ago.

PL: Organisational design is an example of one of the ten professional areas that Stephanie referred to earlier. Another key element of the map are the bands, essentially four levels of professional competence but it’s not as simple as saying that when you’re junior you’re level one and when you’re senior you’re level four. Here’s Stephanie.

SB: No it’s not quite as simple as that, although there are elements of truth in that. You would find most really senior HR people are going to be at the top levels. What it does do though is show that people at various stages in their careers might have a profile that zig-zags across those professional areas, probably would be one way to put it, so that you’ve got areas of strength where you may be benchmarking at a much higher level and maybe you’ve just not had experience at some of the others so your benchmark may be down at say a lower level than your overall average, if I can put it that way – I don’t like the word average but the overall way you might sort of sit. I mean for myself if I looked at it, for example I know that I wouldn’t be anywhere near say, level four in some of the performance and reward areas, I’ve just never been a spreadsheet jock in that kind of way to actually do reward but that would be more than compensated for by some of my competencies and abilities in other areas, so that would be an example.  If I was doing the diagnostic myself I know how my profile would fit against those professional areas and behaviours but I know also, overall, at what level of competence I’d be operating.

PL: So this enables people to create a really sophisticated diagnosis of their own situation and, indeed, their team situation.

SB: Yes it can actually, if you want to go into that, it absolutely can and it gives you a route forward, so it’s not static. I think it’s sort of knowing it is one thing but it’s what you do about that and that therefore gives you a route to development, to continue your professional development through your career for both yourself and for other members of your team.

PL: Is it a good time to enter the profession? Would you sell it to a new graduate or indeed a mid-career change person then?

SB: I absolutely would for the following reasons. I think our profession is absolutely unique in that it is transferable across every organisation and I have worked in financial services, I’ve worked in FMCG, I’ve worked in retail, I’ve worked in hospitality. It is also transferable globally so I have worked in Australia, I’ve worked in Asia, I’ve worked in Europe which makes it very exciting because you can go anywhere with the qualification. 
The other thing which is very pertinent to now; it is both boom and recession proof because companies need HR practitioners when things are great to help drive the growth and in decline they are also in demand because organisations need HR practitioners to help navigate all the legislation and complexity of managing an organisation in decline and preparing for the outcomes.

PL: There are already extremely talented people working in HR but it’s going to need to become a really big draw for the brightest and the best if it’s going to continue the way it’s developing, but is that happening. Here’s Siobhan. 

SS: I think it is and I think that’s partly about what graduates who are coming out of university now are looking for in terms of opportunities and challenges and I think it’s partly about the fact that we are becoming more open minded as a profession about other skill sets and the blending across skill sets that we can do and how useful that can be for HR as a profession. I have people working in my team now who have come from finance professionalisms who are doing great work on my workforce planning and learning an awful lot about being in HR at the same time. 
We’re working very very closely with our economists and our statisticians who do work on evaluating the impacts of government policy changes and what can we as an HR profession learn from that in terms of evaluating the contribution of HR. So, I think as we become more open minded about how we need to blend across the boundaries of professions the opportunities for graduates are really really huge. 

PL: You’ll find the HR Profession Map and more information about it at Next month we’ll be looking ten years down the line to see what HR will look like a decade from now, with the help of CIPD Chief Executive Jackie Orme and Gareth Jones from The London Business School, join us then, but for now, goodbye. 


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