What You Can Do to Prepare the Next Generation of HR Leaders

One of our greatest assets in the field of human resources is our next generation of thought leaders. As we undergo significant changes in our industry and prepare for a new world of work in the information age, there is no better time to start focusing on how we lead the next generation through these uncertain times.

As someone who has spent decades in HR rising through the ranks, one of the greatest joys of my career has been coaching my younger teammates. I even dedicated part of a chapter in my first book, Unleashing Capacity, to the importance of mentorship. In this chapter, I make a statement about university students who wish to study HR as a career option:

These students need to come into the world of business with an expectation of HR as a capacity-centric, strategic voice in whatever organization they wish. I want those students to see the value in pursuing a career in HR, not because it is safe and easy, but because its challenges are at the heart of building any organization.

When it comes to coaching the next generation and showing them the strategic future of HR, here are a few lessons I’ve learned from my years as a mentor.

1. Let them experience everything

One of the greatest assets in HR is a wide knowledge base. Rotational leadership programs at companies such as BoeingIntel and IBM build both generalists and well-rounded specialists while creating a bench of talent that can be deployed throughout the organization. Give recruiting exposure to compensation, let generalists do a tour of duty through organizational design and encourage everyone on the HR team to work in the business itself to gain knowledge, experience and credibility.

2. Nurture their creativity

The importance of an innovation culture can be summed up by a quote from a Fast Company article on the subject:

It is all too easy for organizations to fall into the analysis trap and focus on left-brain skills like process, measurement and execution. Sustained innovation enterprises embrace right-brained skills: creativity, imagination, analogy and empathy.

A culture of innovation starts with nurturing creativity. It might sound crazy, but a trip to the museum or the park can rest the mind and allow creativity to spark in ways it just can’t chained to a desk all day.

3. Create stretch goals and projects

Young talent needs to be challenged. Give your emerging talent opportunities to grow, and watch them rise to the occasion. Some of the greatest employees that have proceeded me in HR were given stretch opportunities to show the stuff of which they were made. Rarely did they disappoint.

4. Give feedback frequently and reward often

Feedback and rewards are the fertilizer in which budding knowledge and talent grows, so give it frequently and gladly. A 2016 article in Harvard Business Review shows the power of regular feedback, almost to the exclusion of the annual review. It’s not an annoyance to give constant coaching to the leaders of tomorrow; it’s a privilege.

5. Build business acumen

Encourage young HR leaders to understand the language and inner workings of the world of business. Expose them to a 10k, operating statements, P&Ls, balance sheets, marketing plans and technological infrastructure — they need to know how businesses run so they know where and how to apply strategic HR. As I said in Unleashing Capacity, business acumen is the defining point where HR steps away from service provider and evolves into executive leadership.

6. Encourage outside learning

Outside workshops, classes and certifications can only build a more well-rounded leader. Tuition reimbursement will only pay dividends, so emphasize a passion for learning and reap the benefits of your employees’ expanding knowledge. Short Courses Portal is a great place to start.

7. Reinforce technical skills

A recent SHRM interview with Googles’s former head of HR, Laszlo Bock, reinforces that the future of HR is in data and analysis:

There will be HR teams that really dig into analytical questions. Is performance management really working? Is compensation really fair? Do we have a wage gap? We think our people are the best; how do we really know if they’re the best, and how do we make them better? People will bring more science to that.

Big data is the future, and those who know how to utilize it will win the game, so expose new recruits to information architecture, data warehousing and analysis.

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8. Let them fail

Don’t be afraid to put young talent in positions where they fail. Recovering from a misstep is a critical leadership skill, and the earlier they learn how to recover from failure, the less chance you have of them creating spectacular career disasters in the future. Everyone needs to learn how to fail well, so start as soon as you can.

9. Expose them to top management early and often

Grooming the next generation of leadership means exposing them to existing leadership as soon as you can and as often as possible. Young talent learns through immersion, and if they’re not intimidated by leadership you can rest assured they’ll handle promotion and increasing responsibility with ease.

10. Believe in them

Knowing your management believes in your talent is the fastest way to encourage more high performance. Frequent feedback and a constant stream of confidence-boosting support is the fuel that will propel our future leadership into a brighter future for themselves and HR.

As HR leaders, we must focus our efforts and attention to ensure our practice continues to attract and nurture the best and brightest in business. It’s not just for the future of HR; it’s for the future of business — period.

This article originally appeared on ReWork, a publication exploring the future of work.