Level 1 (of 5) HR Development

I have been thinking about professional development lately – particularly for HR Professionals. This may have to do with the fact that recently I have found myself working with some very talented and bright newly minted HR pros. By newly minted, I am referring to the fact that, before joining my team, each of these recent hires had exactly zero experience in the much-vaunted field of HR. The first was a hire I made as a leap of faith, which turned out to be one of the best hiring decisions I had ever made. Bolstered by this success, I made two more hires and replicated the success. As I look at each one, I realize that they started at what I would call Level 1 in their HR Profession, but I know that this is just that – the starting point in their careers. Incidentally, the first of the three accepted an opportunity towards the end of the previous year, and as I am now relegated to watching her career progress through the lens of LinkedIn and the occasional lunch meet-up and periodic check-in, I am thrilled to see as she has already progressed through the levels which we will be discussing over the next few weeks.

Intros out of the way, this is the first of a 5 part series on what I think of as the levels of HR Development. This is Level 1, and most HR pros start here. This is the basement, the ground floor if you will. This is where you are sitting in front of a computer, and have 5 million requests coming at you in the form of texts, IMs, emails, online forms, physical mail, and people standing at your desk. Everything is urgent and everything is important and frankly, you don’t know whether to poop or go blind. Sometimes this is day one, sometimes it is after extensive training. At the end of the day, it is nearly impossible to train for (and then remember) every possible scenario. You have to live it. You have to figure it out. And this is not a bad thing.

My dad taught me how to water ski. He also taught my wife, my sister, her husband, my cousins, my friends, and my sister’s friends. The number of people he taught confidently hang on for dear life skimming across a body of water while being pulled behind a boat full of jeering spectators is a long list because he was a good teacher. The only caveat being: once you commit, you do not get back in the boat until you can get up – and he was serious – he made one exception, which was my wife, though she says that she was a quick learner and therefore was able to get up quickly. I’m not so sure, but I digress.

For many of us, getting into HR is like learning to water ski from my dad. Sure you have instructions (“lean back! Keep behind your skis! Watch out for snakes!”), but at the end of the day, you did the work and figured it out.

You can train until your heart’s content, but unless you are in the rodeo, it is all academic. You have to get your hands on it if you ever hope to progress to the next level, which we will visit on next week.

One final thought regarding Dad’s ski lessons – I still recall him teaching me how to slalom (ski on one ski). I got the usual lecture “are you sure? Once you get in the water, there is no coming out until you can get up…” I agreed to his terms, jumped in the water, and… almost drowned. OK, so I am being dramatic, but it was not easy. When I did finally earn the right to get back in the boat, my entire body hurt – from my hair to my toenails. I collapsed into the seat next to him and asked a question I had been curious about for some time. “Dad,” I asked, “where did you learn to ski?” He pushed the throttle, looked at me, and said, “I never did. I’ve never skied a day in my life.”

I wanted to kill him.

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