The landscape of HR is rapidly changing, especially due to the pandemic. With WFH culture escalating and employee needs constantly shifting, HR professionals need to be ready to adapt to the times at a moment’s notice.
Now more than ever, organizations are turning to HR to create a culture of flexibility and adaptability. They recognize that company culture needs to not just welcome change, but thrive in it. Thus, employers need HR departments with individuals who seek to fully understand the industries they work in and make them shine.
Because of the recognition of HR’s value, especially over the past year, more roles are popping up for HR professionals. Many are seriously considering seizing an HR career, but aren’t sure where to start. Turns out, a key aspect of breaking into the HR profession is a desire to know the industry you want to work in, and a willingness to adapt to whatever challenges that industry presents.
Our Guest: Alex Smith, Chief HR Officer for the City of Memphis
It was a delight to talk to Alex Smith, CHRO to the City of Memphis, on this week’s episode of #WorkTrends. Reporting directly to Mayor Jim Strickland, Alex is known for architecting and updating the city’s labor relations. Also, she’s known for being adept at talent management, training, employee engagement, compensation, managing diversity and safety initiatives, and more. She was named the 2021 Leadership Memphis Changemaker and was a nominee for HRO Today magazine’s CHRO of the Year 2020 Award.
The unique aspect of Alex’s career is that she’s worked across multiple industries–working for organizations like Microsoft, Brightstar, Target, and more. I was dying to know what advice she has for anyone trying to break into an HR career, and what she recommends people do to be successful in HR roles.
“Whether it’s starting off in recruiting, manufacturing, government, or any industry, I think just getting into a function and seeing how HR works is a very important step. And ultimately all of the experience that you gain over the years, it all builds up,” Alex says.
Once you land the job, to truly stand out over the course of your HR career, you have to have an open mind. Be flexible in the face of difficult decisions and shifting employee needs.
“Most of the time, and truly the pandemic has shown this, the issues you face in HR are not black and white. They’re usually very gray,” says Alex. “So having multiple experiences from different industries helps you to have a comprehensive view and approach to solving certain problems for the organizations that you work for.”
If You Want to Work in HR, You Must Seek to Understand
As you grow in your HR career and attain new roles across industries, Alex says it’s vital to show an interest in the ins-and-outs of each industry you pursue. Recognizing that employee needs vary and that HR decisions will fluctuate based on context is crucial to success.
“‘Seek to understand’ is a phrase that I learned really early in my career. And I’ve found it to be true in a number of different circumstances. When you’re transitioning into a new industry, seek to understand the historical perspective of how the industry has evolved. Also, learn why certain rules, policies, and procedures are in place,” Alex says. “Not rushing to judgment, and not rushing to change things, I think is important.”
Basically, seeking to understand will help any HR professional adapt to what’s coming. The changes incited by the pandemic are just one example of how HR roles and responsibilities change. It’s a never-ending process, and it requires flexibility.
“I think the name of the game for every organization in the future is going to be flexibility. For instance, they can be flexible with their work environments, with their working arrangements. With how they think about who’s going to be doing work. Whether it’s full-time, part-time, flexible around work hours,” Alex explains. “The pandemic showed us that people can be very effective working remotely, working from different places, and using different technology.”
I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends. If you’re thinking about an HR career or want to level up the one you have, consider Alex’s perspective. Are you flexible? Do you seek to understand? Also, how can you make changes to do so? Learn more about this topic by connecting with our guest, Alex Smith, on LinkedIn.