Part 1: Building tomorrow's HR leaders: strategies for success

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In part one of this article, Debbie Mtshelwane, a lecturer and leader of the HR programme at North-West University Potchefstroom campus, shares strategies for cultivating HR leaders for the future. She stresses the importance of seeing this effort as a crucial part of a complete approach.

There is an imperative need for a meticulous and strategic approach in developing HR leaders who are equipped to navigate the challenges of the future, since the effectiveness and efficiency of HR leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the success of any business. I propose the following strategies, which I believe cannot be implemented in isolation; they should be considered integral components of a holistic approach.

Employee drivers

Employee drives are critical indicators of what organisations can do to attract, develop, and retain talent effectively. If there is misalignment between employee drivers and the job environment, HR leaders are more likely to be disengaged, resulting in an increased employee turnover, lower productivity, presenteeism, quiet quitting, and slower task completion. Psychometric assessments, induction programmes, talent development programmes, performance agreement conversations, and other tools can inform managers and businesses about their HR leader’s employee drivers and use findings to develop and support HR leaders. Examples of employee drivers can include but are not limited to organisational purpose and brand, advancement and career progression opportunities, growth and learning opportunities, a feeling of community and belonging, communication, and clarity regarding work tasks and processes.

Continuous learning and development

More than ever, higher education institutions are seeing increased numbers of students pursuing postgraduate qualifications like master’s, MBA, and doctoral programmes for personal and career development. In addition to these formal qualifications, individuals are also pursuing short learning programs to equip themselves to align with industry and organisational needs. This shows the growing demand for individuals to seek learning opportunities, gain new knowledge, and enhance skills and abilities. Now more than ever, employees are specific about the type of organisations they’re willing to work for; they choose organisations that offer learning and development opportunities to align with their career growth aspirations. Learning and development pulse checks can be done through surveys, focus groups, and interviews to determine what learning needs are in your organisation. Gather the data, follow through, use the feedback, and implement necessary initiatives. Furthermore, organisations can choose to be intentional and proactive within their learning and development departments. Being proactive and intentional will look like cultivating a culture of continuous/life-long learning by offering regular, relevant and customised short courses, workshops, and conferences either in-house or through other institutions. These will help leaders stay up to date with industry best practices, trends, and technology as well as contributing to their own self-development needs.

Business acumen

It is widely acknowledged that HR cannot operate in isolation; every facet of HR intricately influences the business in various ways. However, the dynamics of the business landscape also significantly impact HR operations. Positioned as a strategic partner, HR is pivotal in decisions that affect the overall business. To illustrate, consider the scenario where an organisation undergoes expansion, requiring the recruitment of additional professionals to fulfil new roles. This expansion affects HR planning, mandating the execution of a meticulous recruitment and selection process. It underscores the imperative for HR to comprehend and actively align with the business’s needs and goals. Essentially, for HR to truly fulfil its strategic partnership role, an intimate understanding of business needs and objectives becomes paramount. HR leaders must be familiar with the organisation’s overarching business strategy. The significance of this understanding extends beyond HR-specific considerations, encompassing every facet of the business. A mechanism to achieve this comprehensive understanding is through structured department rotations.

Leadership development programmes

Some call them soft skills, critical skills, or even power skills: competencies such as communication, presentation, emotional intelligence, leadership, strategic thinking, innovative problem-solving, change management, and decision-making skills that are usually overlooked. As a lecturer in strategic human resource management, it is noteworthy that my instructional focus and content do not explicitly delve deeply into emotional intelligence, leadership, or decision-making skills. Instead, the contact sessions and assessments I facilitate are meticulously structured to cultivate proficiency in HR content and enhance presentation skills, communication skills, and problem-solving abilities. However, this is not enough, and these skills should be developed continuously and in much more depth, considering the nature of the work of HR leaders. Given that they engage with teams, clients, and other stakeholders, proficiency in these areas is essential. Establishing tailored programmes to cultivate these competencies is paramount for effective leadership, team management, organisational success and overall business success.

Global perspective

Learning takes place in different ways: people learn through formal and informal education, on-the-job training, and online learning. However, global exposure, collaboration and networking provide other platforms for learning. In the context of an ever-expanding and interconnected global landscape, HR leaders must be acquainted with international trends and perspectives. This exposure can be achieved through international assignments, collaborative endeavours with diverse teams and organisations, active participation in global HR conferences, and the establishment of enduring networks that contribute to sustainable professional networks.

Read more in part two, where additional strategies and tactics are unveiled.

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