Climbing the HR Ladder: Where Do You Go from Here?

When HR directors talk about upward mobility and the rewards of excellence, they’re probably thinking about their organization’s personnel. What about HR professionals who also have high aspirations? What do you do when you’re the one who wants to move up to a corner office with a view? Whether you choose to move on or move up within your current organization, you have more exciting options than you may realize.

Moving Up

While it may have started as a managerial necessity, HR has become one of the key positions within an organization. From navigating complex benefits packages to making critical hiring decisions to maintaining employee morale, your sphere of influence encompasses one of any company’s most valuable assets – its people. For many businesses, that’s meant a corresponding rise to prominence of the HR director’s position. In some firms, HR directors are getting the C-level executive titles with all the concomitant benefits and responsibilities. Others are including their HR leaders in the decision-making process and stressing the importance of the position with reorganized company hierarchies.

As an HR director, you’re in a unique position to know how to present your best argument for an upgrade to your position, title and compensation. You’ve seen what your organization values most when choosing personnel for promotions and have already worked closely with the company’s executive branch on everything from hiring decisions to exit interviews. From this strong vantage point, you’re able to show how indispensable human resources is to a healthy corporate ecology. Use your visibility and experience as an advantage when presenting your desire to take a greater role in shaping the company’s future.

In exchange for the increased prominence of the HR department, you’ll also need to be willing to shoulder a larger share of responsibility. You’ll be expected to demonstrate a wider knowledge base and work more closely with other departments. Your general business acumen will be needed when you take your place among other executives, so read what your prospective colleagues read. This is your chance to sharpen new skills, so work with the CIO to get a more in-depth understanding of the data behind HR and the CFO to gain insight into payroll and budgeting issues.

Some employers place a premium on credentials. To earn a C-level title for the nameplate on that corner office, you may need to revisit your educational experience. Going back to school for your master’s degree or doctorate can be the signal your CEO needs to install you in an executive position. As an HR director, your experience may be enough; for a Chief Personnel Officer, earning your MBA may be necessary, especially as you’ll be called on to contribute more decision-making as a fully vested executive.

Moving On

Sometimes your career vision takes you in a different direction altogether. Your current company may be unable to make room at the top for HR, or you may simply want a larger and more complex environment in which to challenge yourself. When it’s time to move on to new opportunities, you again have the advantage of experience. Having conducted exit interviews and gone through the process of helping employees transition through every phase of their tenure with your company, you gain a deeper understanding of how to seek a good fit with prospective employers yourself.

To step into a C-level executive HR position within a new organization, be prepared to take the wider perspective such a lofty perch enables you to have. Companies that have elevated the HR position to the executive suite expect you to address more than just HR concerns. You need to know how a sales associate training program affects the marketing department, finance, IT and your company’s clients. Building that bigger picture is what differentiates executives from mid-level management, so it’s a critical survival skill for anyone who’s carving out new territory in the executive lounge.

Whether you move up or move out, don’t discount the possibility of a move altogether. Too often, HR directors help others realize their goals without achieving their own.

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