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Do Top HR Pros Need To Be Cross-Trained?

Originally posted: July 31, 2013 on TrishMcFarlane.com

Steve Boese, yes, THAT Steve Boese from “the Year of Steve”, is a good friend of mine.  He is also a HR Technology professor at RIT.  Steve recently reached out to several bloggers and asked if we would be willing to have some of his students guest post on our blog.  I immediately volunteered because I know that blogs are a great way not only to share your thoughts as a writer, but an excellent way to learn from other professionals and improve your own approach.

Today I am hosting a guest post by Tina DeVey.   Tina shares a very personal story with us, so please take a moment at the end and leave her a comment.  I’m sure any suggestions would be very helpful as she embarks on a new situation at work.  I know the readers here are the BEST at sharing their thoughts and opinions, so let’s help her out.


Are we misleading HR students & professionals on what it really takes to be a top HR Leader?

Recently I have been asked to remove myself from my HR role and be the first to participate in a leadership cross-training program within my company.  I have “grown up” in the HR function with the same company, from HR clerk to HR Director, over a span of 15 years.  The request made me emotional.

The company is growing, two acquisitions in as many years, and my first thoughts were that I was somehow failing in my role.  Why else would you remove the HR person?  Then, after a deep breath, I remembered to put back on my HR hat and remove the emotion of not having the seat at the table and thoughts of failing in my job.  I asked the question, why should my position be different from any other in the organization as we look to develop future leaders of the company?

I recalled an article from Workforce Management from June 2008.  The article was a report about the HR professionals from America’s most admired companies.  HR Executives from companies such as Google, UPS, and GE were touted for their cross- functional backgrounds, most rising to the post from positions in other functions.  UPS encourages lifelong careers in multiple functions.  Allen Hill, the senior vice president of human resources, is a perfect example.  Mr. Hill started out loading trucks. He then moved to truck driver, delivery supervisor, several HR functions, and general counsel before taking the top spot.  Lazlo Bock, the Sr. HR guy at Google, hires two thirds of his staff from outside the field.

Fortune recently published an article, ‘How to Build Great Leaders’, which cites that cross-functional developmental assignments are among the most important tools that great companies use to build leaders, and average companies rarely use them.  The article goes on to express that truly great leaders are pushed outside their comfort zone and given stretch assignments. This nets big paybacks to the companies they work for.

So, as I end this post, the move is still causing me a great deal of anxiety, and will absolutely stretch me and take me out of my comfort zone.  But, I am up for the challenge and believe the payback will be big.  I hope to emerge a stronger HR leader and understand the business dynamics in an entire new light.

Do you believe companies are better served with HR leaders with multi-functional backgrounds?  Should we do away with HR development programs and hire from outside the HR realms?  Are we misleading students who seek to major in HR?  We tell them how important it is to “know” the business with Business Acumen classes, but is that enough?   Would HR be stronger and gain greater respect?

What do you think?

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