Interestingly enough, this post was written about a week before this news on HR leadership development came out from i4cp.
Time to get tough.
Time to get tough.

I don\’t know how many of you know it, but I\’m an HR assistant. Yes, I occupy that prestigious rung of the HR career ladder just above weasels and interns. I jest, of course, but not overly so. It\’s often been said that Gen Y thinks they deserve immediately what it took others years to attain. I usually scoff at that sort of generalization; however, my HR assistant job is one of those times in my life that I actually bear a resemblance to my generational cohort. No, I don\’t think I should be groomed for the CEO position just yet, but I do want to move up in my responsibilities as an HR professional.

I want to step up to important things, but a recent interaction showed me just how unprepared I was for the “big leagues.” Two of my senior HR coworkers were discussing a thorny issue, and I listened intently, gathering as much information as I could. As if by some unspoken agreement, they then both turned and asked me (the HR assistant, mind you) how I would handle the situation if I were in charge.

Wow. My heart fluttered a bit. And I may or may not have broken out into a sweat. (Hey, it is summertime in Alabama, so cut me some slack!)

I eventually gave my verdict, but as I said before, it showed me just how unprepared I am to move up just yet. However, I have found an interesting way to learn and grow in my position. And I discovered it by accident.

My Realization

I had to go over to our storage area to toss our oldest employee files and make room for some new ones. As I was going through the old ones, I came across more than a dozen thick, monstrous files full of interesting documentation. I realized then that instead of waiting for another learning situation to pop up, I could do some research on issues that had already occurred and discuss those with my peers. I got the okay from my supervisor, and starting this week, I\’m going to peruse one of these employee files every week, look for clues and information, and form conclusions based on the available data. Then I’ll discuss those ideas with one of my senior peers to get some feedback. It’s like a scrimmage before the real game, and I think I’m going to learn a lot!

You, too?

I know that professionals from all steps in the grand scheme of things read this blog, so I\’d like to ask those of you who hold a supervisory role to see if you can do something similar to develop your own HR assistants (or whatever you call the supporting staff in your HR department). If you\’re one of the new HR professionals, then try to speak with your supervisor and get plugged into the events around you. If you don\’t take charge of your career, then don\’t expect someone else to!

While school can teach you how to memorize a bunch of stuff, it certainly can\’t give you much practice in employee relations and other real-life issues that don\’t have a single, clear answer. How did the rest of you get started? Were you mentored steadily? Thrown to the wolves? Still learning? I’d love to hear more ideas.

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  • 9 thoughts on “How I Took Control of My Career Development

    1. Hi there,
      I stumbled on your page after browsing through other HR blogger sites and I’m glad I did! I’m just like you, someone who’s trying to start my path in HR. I can relate to all the things on your blogs!! I wish you luck in your career and you just have one more follower!

    2. Excellent article today. The wise person who turned to you for an opionion should be cheered.. Bravo. You get a standing ovation for self awareness and initiative this week. So many think they are ready and hit reality when they are not prepared to respond well to the task at hand. You are diving into a very complex area and preparing to be good. I love that. If I were interviewing you and you shared this and similar stories. I would want you on my team and continue to feed your leadership potential with challenges.

    3. Way to go Ben. Anyone can “do” their job but those who see beyond what must be done to what can be done really distinguish themselves from others. Employee relations is such a gray area, my staff often gets together to hash out problems and develop courses of action and we learn something each and every time.

    4. Forever the student. :) Are the senior HR people that were involved in the documentation of the files you are reviewing still there? That is a great way to learn! Employee Relations is fascinating to me, almost every situation is different. Keep us posted on how it goes and what you learn.

    5. Hi Ben, great thoughts. Kudos to you for your initiative! I have to say I don’t know if you would learn a lot from our archives. Well, you would learn that more often than not, the documentation could have been better. But beyond that,so muchhappens behind the scenes so I don’t know about file reading as a solo exercise. Could you combine it with an intro from the person who handled it, then do some reading, then study the issues and come back and discuss it some more? That’s what I’d want to do with someone working in my department, anyway.

      Good luck!!!!

    6. Hi Ben,
      Great posting! As a Sr. Leader, I thank you for the reminder to ensure that my employees are getting the same learning experience from their work regardless of level/activity. Employee relations is intricate and no two situations seem to be identical, but you will be amazed at what you can pick up through observation. In addition, none of us got here without being thrown into the fire without the answers at some point. From experience, you can ask 10 Employee Relations specialist for their opinion on how to handle a situation and you’ll probably get at least 5 or more different answers. Regardless of the level, it still takes a strong sense of judgement and the willingness to filter the opinions/advice among your network into a solution your comfortable with. Don’t let anyone discourage you from exploring your curiosities and finding ways to develop your skill through otherwise mundane activities. I guarantee it will pay off in the long run. Good luck!

    7. Thank you everyone for the comments! I’m having trouble with my comment notifications, so there’s a backlog. :-) I appreciate the wonderful additions, and I hope to incorporate them into an upcoming post.
      Thanks again!

    8. Hey Ben – great idea. Here are a few things I do with with the HR Rep in our office. 1) Each year she takes on one or two ‘new’ large aspects of HR to develop responsibility: i.e. last year it was the safety program; this year, it’s working on aspects of the comp program for our FY to begin on 7/1/2010. As@Heather pointed out, ER is one of those areas where it’s different every time. What I am doing with the HR Rep to help her think and learn and apply our specific policies and cultural prism, is after an incident or investigation has occurred, I sit down with her, and take her step by step through the notes, files, and nuances of the situation, explaining why decisions were made and we dissect to see if she would have had other ideas. I believe this is preparing her for the moment when she handles an ER issue on her own.

    9. @ Robin S.
      Wow, I would feel pretty lucky if I was that HR rep working for you. It’s hard to find a position where your supervisor actually provide feedback and create new ways for you to foster your potential and experience!!

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