“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going the other way…”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
Liberal Arts graduates and lovers of English literature will be familiar with the famous opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities written by the English author, Charles Dickens (1812 -1870).
The peculiar writing technique employed by Dickens is known linguistically as anaphora, the deliberate repetition of a phrase at the beginning of consecutive clauses to achieve an artistic effect. It is also often used to illustrate or depict tension between two forces.
Now, you might be wondering what triggered off my adventure into the realm of linguistics and why I’m writing about it today? Well, a couple of weeks ago, two important events took place in the CIPM calendar. The first was the Investiture of Mr. Anthony Arabome FCIPM as the new President of the Institute’s Governing Council. The second was the Institute’s 19th Induction Ceremony for new Associate members. I wasn’t able to attend either event in person, but both were covered fairly extensively in the local media and as I browsed through the various newspaper reports I found myself reflecting on what might lie ahead for the new members as their careers unfold over the years.
A Golden Age for the HR Profession in Nigeria
Some people believe people and HR management in Nigeria are entering a golden age in Nigeria. For example, enrollment into CIPM’s various certification programs witnessed an increase of over 35 percent between 2013 and 2014. Active membership has also risen steadily over the past few years and is now at an all-time high.
At the same time, HR has quietly taken its place among the critical organizational functions that must be resourced when a new enterprise is being conceived. Only the bravest organizations today are prepared to sally forth into turbulent economic waters without some form of human resource management presence.
The growing importance of HR has increased the dynamics of demand and supply in the labor market, and so it is perhaps hardly surprising that the profession has become a well-regarded career destination for increasing numbers of talented people who might previously have opted for other disciplines.
Proliferating Entry Points, Several Paths to the Top
Another interesting development over the past few years has been the growing diversification of entry points into an HR career. In my opinion, this has led to the emergence of three distinct areas of HR practice:
Perhaps the largest group of practitioners can be found working in organizations in the public and private sectors of the economy. These are the human resources management specialists who give their organizations with a wide-range of in-house HR services.
Progression is usually from HR officer to HR director and may take many years to arrive in the top position. Interestingly, the concept of ‘cradle to grave’ employment with a single employer finally seems to have died a natural death and, with the possible exception of people working in the public sector, most corporate HR practitioners are likely to work for a succession of employers during their careers.
Probably the fastest-growing segment of the profession, recent years have seen an explosion in the number of people working in one form of HR consulting or another.
The term itself is used somewhat loosely and now covers everything from the one-man independent consultant all the way through smaller entrepreneurial start-ups to the more established indigenous and foreign-affiliated consultancies employing comparatively large numbers of consultants. The services provided vary from boutique or specialist consulting services to those of a more general nature.
Progression is typically from trainee/analyst to director and many consultants eventually end up founding their own firms and working for themselves. However, as with several other professions, there is a considerable amount of movement between corporate HR and HR consulting roles as practitioners seek to acquire varied experience and to optimize their earning capacity.
Globally, there is growing interest in ensuring that professionals in various fields of endeavor maintain proper standards of performance. In Nigeria, CIPM is the principal body responsible for developing and regulating the practice of human resource management in the country. In this capacity, CIPM works closely with practitioners in corporate HR and HR consulting. At the same time, the Institute is also expanding its service offerings and practitioners may now find themselves working in areas such as Professional Development, Learning and Development, Membership Services or Consultancy Services to name but a few.
Whereas it might once have been common for practitioners to move into regulatory HR at a later stage in their careers, today it is now seen as a viable career option for talented HR practitioners at both the early and later stages of their careers, testimony perhaps to the success that the Institute has had in developing its ‘brand’ in the eyes of the public.
Progression is typically from officer to director, and practitioners can expect to be moved around the various directorates as their careers progress
Each of the three entry points offers a different kind of work experience. For example, a successful career in HR consulting requires a willingness to accept the rigorous commercial demands that go with the territory. I often meet young people who are excited by the perceived glamour of being a consultant, but who are also totally unprepared for the demands involved in combining high-level technical skills with unrelenting business development and revenue generation expectations, not to talk of the significant work-life balance challenges that come with the job.
On the other hand, a career in corporate HR requires practitioners to develop the ‘political’ skills needed to succeed in large organizations. Although many young people often see this as a negative, I think that it should be recognized as an integral part of the job. Large organizations typically consist of equally large numbers of relationships that must be continually negotiated to do one’s duties effectively.
I’m less familiar with the realities of a career in regulatory HR, but I can already envisage the need for strong balancing and influencing skills on the part of practitioners who choose to work in this area. Here, the need is to be able to balance the temptation to coerce practitioners into enforced desired behaviors using the considerable powers enshrined in the Institute’s Charter with a sensitivity and feel for how to bring about lasting change through cooperation and collaboration.
So, now we have an idea of where the class of 2015 will probably start out their careers in HR. But, how might those careers progress over time?
At Human Edge, we use the 4-Stages Model of Career Development (see Figure 1 below) developed by Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson of Harvard University to identify key performance expectations for people at different career stages. Although the class of 2015 has most likely come from varied backgrounds and will almost certainly include people with different levels of experience, each new member can expect to enjoy a career that will at some time or the other require spending time in one of the following career stages:
Figure 1: The 4 – Stages Model of Career Development
Stage 1. Apprentice. This is where most of us get our start in the profession, typically entry-level positions. The most useful thing we can do for ourselves is probably to learn how to be a good learner. Exercising patience and willingness to learn from just about anyone are the keys to success in this stage. Finding a job where you can learn from more experienced professionals might also be a good idea.
Stage 2. Specialist-Expert. At some point in our careers, we stop needing high levels of supervision. We are becoming specialists (and later experts) and are able to work largely independently. Our technical expertise and ability increase significantly, and we begin to enjoy a growing reputation for the quality of our professional work. What’s the best thing that can happen to us in this stage? Probably working with a supervisor or manager who believes in us and gives us the room to explore our abilities.
Stage 3. Manager. Our first managerial position brings about a qualitative change in the way and nature of the work we are expected to do. In my experience, most HR practitioners in this stage will experience one of the following scenarios. First, we may find ourselves supervising the work of one or more reports – typically apprentices and/or specialist-experts. Importantly, we are now expected to meet results through others and our personal ability to do the work is no longer as highly valued as before.
Some practitioners, however, will still find themselves flying solo. One-person HR departments are still quite common in smaller organizations and in such situations HR managers may have no direct reports of their own. Whilst there is some debate over whether such roles qualify for the designation, I personally have no doubt that these are true managerial positions. The goal is to work closely with line management to make sure consistent application of people or HR policies throughout the organization. Access to top management may remain limited in Stage 3 and our much of our contribution to organizational success will take place within our functional area.
Stage 4. Senior Executive/Advisor/Strategist. For most of us, this stage represents the zenith of our professional careers. Organizationally, we are now in a position to make a more strategic contribution to the organizations we serve. In particular, we will be expected to help top management to appreciate the HR implications of business initiatives and devise the most effective means of implementing corporate strategy. Most of us will also find ourselves being called upon to represent our organizations to key external groups on critical strategic issues.
HR work at this level can be deeply satisfying as we typically find ourselves with responsibility for preparing the organization’s future leaders. The demands of work in Stage 4 can be quite enormous but most people know that it’s usually a time of great personal satisfaction thanks to the depth and breadth of the impact we can have on our organizations and our local environment.
Time to the Top
The 4-Stages Model provides a useful template for monitoring our progress towards the top of our profession. Obviously, there is no standard timeline associated with movement through the different stages. Time, chance and ability will likely decide your progress.
However, progress within the Institute may be a little more predictable. Records show that, on average, it takes about 13 years to progress from Associate to Fellow – a minimum of six years as an Associate and a further seven years as a Full member before one can be considered for Fellowship. Movement through the various grades is not automatic and certain requirements must also be fulfilled.
I’ve been associated with the HR profession for close to 36 years. During this period I’ve worked in corporate HR and HR consulting. It’s been a very rewarding journey and I’ve met some very interesting HR professionals along the way (in my next post, I’ll share my thoughts about what I believe the very best have had in common).
I’m convinced that the class of 2015 has some unique advantages. For better or for worse, the deteriorating business environment will make their unique contribution even more valuable to current and prospective employers.
There are now more career options than ever. I suspect that ultimately some form of convergence will occur and that senior HR roles will increasingly be reserved for practitioners who have worked in all three of the areas outlined above. This means that more thoughtful career planning will become de rigueur for anyone aiming for the top.
Finally, I hope my brief my review of the stages through which an HR career progresses will have been sufficient proof that success in HR is like a fine wine that matures slowly. No shortcuts here, I’m afraid.
*This post was first published on July 24, 2015 on http://www.cipmnigeriablog.org