Practice Makes Proficient: Where to Start

Developing your HR competencies at every level of experience and knowledge

By Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP November 14, 2019
Practice Makes Proficient: Where to Start

​Many HR professionals buy in to the goal of developing their competencies, but they are not sure where to start. It's important to remember that the HR competencies can apply to HR professionals in all positions. That said, some positions may require higher or lower levels of proficiency in particular competencies. A high level of proficiency in Relationship Management, for instance, is likely critical for employee relations, while a lower level of proficiency in Leadership and Navigation is fine for a payroll administrator.

Different competencies are also needed at different career stages. There are four career levels recognized in HR: early, mid, senior and executive. By looking at your current career level as well as the next level you want to attain, you can determine which proficiencies to work on.

Early-Career Level

Individuals at the early-career level have little or no experience and limited knowledge. They often support HR functions, rather than lead them. They may, at times, lead small projects, but usually at a transactional level. They are more likely to take on the role of an observer, as opposed to the role of a participant offering suggestions.

If you are an early-career HR professional, your developmental activities might include shadowing a colleague who is at a higher career level or who is particularly proficient in a certain competency. Since you still need knowledge, attending courses in person at a college or university or through a professional program would be beneficial. Online courses may be popular, particularly if you are comfortable with that type of learning. Keep the "practice makes proficient" mantra in mind as you look for courses involving interaction and practical applications. Make plans to have follow-up meetings with your boss or mentor to discuss what you are learning and how it applies in your workplace.

Attending conferences where you can learn how to network with colleagues outside your organization is helpful at any level but is particularly important early in your career. Finally, to grow and prepare to perform higher-level tasks, read news sources that focus on business and participate in practice exercises. 

Mid-Career Level

These professionals have a moderate level of experience. They may manage small to midsize projects, and they often lead or support operational functions. Their HR competencies may be fairly well developed, but there still may be gaps in or a need to focus on leadership proficiencies.

Shadowing colleagues can still be helpful if you are at mid-career, but, because you have more knowledge and experience, you would likely have more participation and discussion in projects versus just observation.

Additional educational experiences through college courses or conferences may be appropriate, as would networking and membership in professional organizations. At this level you have more to contribute and would likely benefit from project-based work, so you might seek to participate in planning activities or develop an assignment in another function.

Senior-Career Level

HR professionals at the senior level have significant experience and knowledge. They typically fulfill a more operational, strategic or consulting leadership role. They often oversee large projects or programs or multiple functions and are able to translate strategies to plans. Competency development at this level usually focuses on proficiency in higher-level leadership.

As a senior professional, your participation in cross-functional teams and internal initiatives would allow you to further develop your competencies while you contribute to management of the organization, thus preparing for a position at an executive level in the future.

Activities outside your organization in communities of practice, even outside your home country, would allow you to further grow as a senior-level professional.

Executive-Career Level

At the highest career level, HR professionals have executive leadership experience and are the top HR consultants in their organizations. They lead the development of HR strategy and often participate in the development of organizational strategy. Their peers are the other executive managers in the organization.

While their competencies are usually highly developed, if they are to stay viable as leaders as conditions within the organization or industry change, executives need to continue their professional growth. HR leaders who further hone their competencies may be appropriate candidates for CEO or other leadership roles.

If you are at the executive career level, your developmental activities would include networking internally with other executives and working on cross-functional teams related to organizational initiatives. It would be appropriate to get involved in outside groups, professional organizations and communities of practice. Your participation as a member of a committee, roundtable or board, side-by-side with other professionals inside and outside HR circles, would provide you with additional networking and developmental opportunities.

Final Thoughts

The developmental activities described here for four levels of HR professionals are not meant to be limited. Every person is unique in terms of his or her competency level, and each organization is unique. So when choosing activities to develop your competencies, always keep in mind your business mission, your desires and needs, and the availability of resources. Methods for evaluating your developmental needs will be covered in next month's issue.

Phyllis Hartman, SHRM-SCP, is an HR consultant in Freedom, Pa. She is the author of several books for the profession, including A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff (SHRM, 2017).

For more information on SHRM Certification, and to register for the exam, please visit our website.

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