By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization
Progression involves evolution, which requires transition. Individual transitions include relationships, skills, and life stages. Organization transitions include strategic reimagination, cultural reinvention, and business model reengineering. Transitions also occur within the HR discipline when insights (ideas, evidence, and actions) for what makes effective human capability evolve from one generation of HR professionals to the next. By sharing insights across generations, HR continually reinvents itself.
I have had the privilege of observing this transition process in practice in recent experiences with the National Academy of Human Resources (NAHR). NAHR recognizes exceptional contributors to the HR profession as “Fellows of the NAHR,” which is the highest honor granted in the HR profession (190 since 1992 formation). As part of the development of the profession, NAHR sponsors an annual CHRO Academy for first-time CHROs. In June 2023, the 22nd and 23rd CHRO Academies were offered with about 60 total participants.
In this academy, Fellows (more senior in the field) share experiences and lessons for the next generation of CHROs (generally less than three years in the role). From these CHRO Academies come insights about the content of the evolving HR profession and the process for managing senior leader transitions.
Content of the Evolving HR Profession
The categories of the HR playbook are the same and timeless: environmental context, business strategy, human capability (talent, leadership, organization, and HR), and analytics. Connecting these four areas together requires a “because of” and “so that” logic (see figure 1). But the topics in those categories are different and timely. In these categories, some of the emerging topics Fellows discussed with CHROs include:
- Environment Context: Responding to increased uncertainty and unplanned events, committing to ESG and community citizenship, and being aware of public scrutiny of organization actions.
- Business Strategy: Reinventing strategy to value added to customers, investors, communities, and boards through enabling agile business strategies and creating a human capital agenda to deliver on business strategy.
- Human Capability—Talent: Heeding changing employee demographics (DEI, aging, generational differences), expectations, skills, and experience at work.
- Human Capability—Organization: Evolving hybrid work (where work is done), technology-enabled work (how work is done), and culture (values shaping why work is done with a focus on building an inclusive culture); recognizing the ways to build and communicate a positive culture with customers, investors, and boards.
- Human Capability—Leadership: Supporting leadership succession at the top with the board and ensuring leadership effectiveness at all levels of the organization.
- Human Capability—HR Function: Defining the emerging roles and responsibilities of the CHRO and of HR professionals; defining a total rewards strategy for the organization with emphasis on executive compensation discussions with the board.
- Analytics: Measuring impact, ensuring accountability, and managing disclosures of human capability work.
Next-generation CHROs will live and work in this ever-changing work landscape dealing with challenges (and opportunities) of a more socially transparent and digitally enabled world, agile business strategies, new tools for human capability, and increased accountability.
Process for Managing Transition
To equip the next-generation CHROs and guide them in the emerging work of HR, Fellows offered advice and counsel as thought leaders, coaches, and mentors. Many Fellows become ongoing personal and professional mentors for current CHROs. Observing how the twenty Fellows in this NAHR Academy managed this HR transition captured both the divergence of style and the convergence of values.
The HR profession has evolved, is evolving, and will continue to evolve. Fellows are part of this evolution when they share their equity (knowledge and skill) with the next generation. In addition to Fellows offering mentorship, CHROs form a community among themselves with different styles and in different organization settings but with shared values, roles, and responsibilities. This cohort group becomes a forum for shaping ideas and experiences.
Lessons for Transition
If you are interested in managing your transition (or other leaders’ transitions), let me share a few applications based on the HR field transition reviewed above.
- Look forward more than backward. Transition is less about sharing what you have done and more about focusing on what others will be able to do in a new and ever-changing setting. Share personal stories and experiences but focus on how to help the next generation build their story, which will be unique to them.
- Worry less about your personal legacy and more about the ideas that you leave. Forums like NAHR honor people, but ideas often outlive the individuals. Next-generation leaders may be less interested in the author and more interested in the messages. A sign of successful transition is when leaders claim an idea as their own without worrying about attribution.
- Let go. As a leader, a time comes to move on and become a cheerleader and observer, not a player. Even the greatest athletes all eventually end up in the bleachers where they appreciate the sport and celebrate next-generation players. To let go, listen more than talk, ask questions to help others reinvent themselves, and praise others work more than seek credit for your work. Find joy in the success of the next generation. One Fellow said that she had promoted the development of over 25 CHROs. What a legacy!
- Be an example. Leaders lead by example; the next generation generally perpetuates what they have experienced from their leaders. Be conscious of how your behavior may be seen and advanced by others.
- Your additional insights?
Transitions are inevitable in a changing world. For the HR profession to rise to the opportunities of the future, senior Fellows transition their insights to the next-generation CHROs. Positive transitions build on the past to create a better future.
My father built campgrounds as part of his career, so we camped out quite a bit. Each time we camped, we were expected to leave the campground “better” (e.g., cleaner) than we found it. The same “betterment” is true of transitions—for leaders, organizations, and disciplines.