Finding a Job In HR: Fail Smartly

If you’ve noticed, it’s been just over two weeks since my last post. I took a bit of a hiatus to focus on other things going on in my life. One of them was preparing for my final exam. Eight weeks ago I enrolled in an online course in Operations Management. The subject matter caught my eye, mainly because I’ve worked with business partners that held that title, and I wanted to get a clearer sense of their jobs, conceptually speaking. As a retail veteran, I was also attracted to certain concepts–such as workflow, inventory, and process capability–that I dealt with in “real time” yet never explored as classroom subjects.

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I have a busy life, like many people, and adding one more thing wasn’t going to make it less so. While I wasn’t confident that I would pass this course, I didn’t want to treat it as “disposable,” something that I could dismiss or not take seriously because it was free and not tied into a specific designation, such as a SPHR certification. When I make a commitment to something I want to be sure that I follow through to the end.

Eventually I decided, “What the hell?” and enrolled. And I got my butt kicked.

On Monday, July 1st I processed my final exam. Even before I pressed the ‘Submit’ button I knew that I wasn’t going to pass the course. While I’m disappointed, I’m not devastated by this. For the past eight weeks I learned a lot, struggled, and succeeded in a variety of ways. I grew in a subject area that will allow me to better understand how some of my business partners think. I re-learned time and classroom management. I persisted in applying myself to a difficult assignment, seeing it through to the end. The most important thing was that I embraced a subject I knew I would suck at and tackled it anyway. In my opinion, I “failed smartly.”

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Companies face a multitude of challenges in the marketplace. Increased global competition, sluggish economies, and other pressures are making it so that organizations are looking to their talent to provide ideas and solutions around these concerns. Many recognize that “business as usual”–the products, services, and/or processes that enabled an organization’s growth and success–may not be enough. New thinking is needed, and that inherently comes from human capital.

In a January blog post I highlighted a report from The Conference Board entitled ‘CEO Challenge 2013.’ In it they ranked the top five challenges for senior executives, which are:

  • Human Capital
  • Operational Excellence
  • Innovation
  • Customer Relationships
  • Global Political/Economic Risk.

As you can see, ‘Human Capital‘ ranks first. This is the arena where HR professionals need to provide leadership and guidance to the organizations we serve. This is what we do!

Operational Excellence‘ is second. Essentially, this concerns the question: how can we make our business processes as efficient and effective as possible? This is another area where we should already be providing valuable contributions in.

Then third is ‘Innovation‘ which is the concept of creating new forms of value for (internal or external) customers that didn’t exist before. As a function that has traditionally focused on compliance and risk management, Human Resources as a whole is lagging in regards to innovation. It doesn’t have to be this way. Part of the way in which we can break out of our risk-averse mindset is by engaging in activities which will challenge our assumptions, are low-risk to the organization and individual, and cultivates a more creative, risk-positive mindset.

For those HR professionals looking for jobs, being able to address senior leaders concerns (as outlined in The Conference Board report) will make you a highly valuable candidate. With the rapid state of change occurring at the individual, group, and organizational level, developing the ability to be innovative while providing high level human capital and operational value is critical. In short, HR professionals need to learn how to “fail smartly.”

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