As the year closes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in workplace to-do lists, as well as the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. While time celebrating with friends and family is a very important part of the season, this is an ideal time to look back and reflect on key learnings in order to hit the ground running in the new year – feeling refreshed, effective, and more efficient than ever. There is even a growing body of evidence that tells us reflection is extremely critical to self-improvement and success -- in and out of the workplace.
The critical need for reflection
A few years ago, a group of Harvard researchers—including Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano—published the results of an experimental research study linking reflection with productivity. The research team conducted a series of three studies to test if learning by doing would be more effective if deliberately coupled with learning by thinking. In other words, they hypothesized that reflecting and sharing with others would improve the learning process. Over the one-month study, workers that reflected performed significantly better (22.8 percent) than those in the control group, who were more or less just completing tasks without taking the time to reflect—and those who then shared their reflections and progress performed another 25 percent better. As Francesca Gino put it, “I don't see a lot of organizations that actually encourage employees to reflect—or give them time to do it…when we fall behind even though we're working hard, our response is often just to work harder. But in terms of working smarter, our research suggests that we should take time for reflection." That’s powerful!
As we look ahead to 2019, it’s clear there will be a greater need than ever for HR teams and individuals to perform at their very best. The HR function, after all, is the custodian of company culture. And culture is defined by people, who are the biggest determinate of organizational success or failure. In 2019, HR leaders should be shoulder-to-shoulder with the leaders of a company, driving its culture, operations, and processes ahead. Organizations need HR leaders to be at their peak, which requires careful reflection and recalibration as we head into the new year.
10 months of New Year’s resolutions for HR
You may have noticed that I’m only including 10 months of New Year’s resolutions when there are obviously 12 months to the year. I’ve purposely left two months for reflection because my number one piece of advice for HR practitioners in 2019 is to reflect. Before you can hope to be an agent of change, you must first take the time to reflect upon the past year. Ask yourself, what can I do that nobody else in the organization is doing? How am I being proactive in my role? Am I leading the company into the future, or causing it to lag behind? What am I doing well—and where are my biggest opportunities for growth?
After a period of reflection, resolve to commit to taking on one resolution a month and then resolve to take time for reflection again at the end of the year. When you’re ready to take action, here are 10 New Year’s resolutions for HR leaders hoping to make a difference in 2019:
#1: Jump out of your comfort zone
Isn’t it ironic that HR people are some of the most change-resistant people in an organization? At times we expect everyone around us to embrace change when we are experiencing little growth ourselves. It’s time we jump out of our comfort zones in times of transition, whether it’s company transition, exploring new tools and technologies, or a change in leadership.
As Jessica Miller-Merrell wrote on the RiseSmart blog last month, our brains are wired to want instant gratification and results. The adoption of new programs and processes is rarely instantaneous, but rather a sequence of events and experiences. As HR people, let’s take our own advice and be a little patient with the process in order to embrace the changes that lead to better opportunities ahead.
#2: Avoid staying in ready-aim-fire mode too long
It feels good to be busy and get things done. Remaining in execution mode in our approach allows us to feel accomplished when we’re checking off items on our to-do list, but could it be keeping us from reaching our full potential.
We ought to focus on strategic thinking and planning to get outside of our ready-aim-fire bubble more often. We should be regularly asking ourselves: where are we really trying to go and how should we get there? It’s perfectly okay to sit, think, and have conversations about the possibilities instead of filling every day with accomplishing the everyday tasks of the HR world.
In the long run, our time is better spent when we mix in some strategic thinking, even if it feels as though it’s taking time away from the endless to-do list now. If it’s really tough for you to break the habit of doing and never pausing to plan and think strategically, you can start by allotting time on your calendar for strategic thinking, or literally adding it to your to-do list.
#3: Develop a thicker skin
We in HR tend to at times emotionally internalize feedback that comes our way, whether about us as a department or our role in the organization. Realistically, the feedback we’re receiving is usually a reflection of our processes or even things outside of our control, and not on us as individuals. If we recognize what triggers our emotional reactions and disengage the emotional reaction, we can make the organization healthier and build greater trust with colleagues.
That being said, reacting to and making improvements based on individual feedback is equally as important, but it’s critical to understand how to differentiate constructive action from less than constructive emotional responses. While you’re looking for ways to improve the organization, include your own professional growth in the process. Solicit regular feedback from others, such as a manager, peer, or mentor, to gain insight on distinct areas for career growth and development.
#4: Understand data to get ahead
Like all roles and industries, the HR profession is continuing to be influenced by automation and data analytics. Get comfortable with technology, but don’t just get comfortable with numbers—actually get good at leveraging them. As an example, technology that delivers predictive analytics as a forecasting vehicle has already arrived in most workplaces. This means data will influence who we hire and how we attract candidates. It’s time to learn how to better use data to your advantage.
As data analytics becomes more relevant and available to HR teams, your ability to not just tolerate it, but to actually understand it can help you move into a more mission-critical role at your organization.
#5: Run toward artificial intelligence (and not away from it)
Artificial intelligence is not going away. It’s here and it’s time to embrace it. In fact, not embracing doesn’t buy us time, it just leads us to falling further behind. Technology that includes AI will be a critical part of the HR function and how we as HR leaders contribute to the overall strategy and success of the organizations we serve.
Get a start on this resolution by learning more about AI, what it is, which business and HR functional areas are already using it, and the predictions for HR-related technology for the future. If you work with technologists, ask to grab lunch and learn about their perspective on how it might change their jobs. Most HR conferences and events will also address how AI is changing the future of the HR practice. And if you happen to work with technologists that are leveraging AI in some capacity, it might be worth following them around for a half-day, which brings me to my next point….
#6: Job-shadow on the regular
When I worked at Wells Fargo, I shadowed bankers and tellers at various branches. I worked side-by-side with them and asked questions while I observed their work in action. Through this experience, I really began to understand their unique challenges and was able to develop empathy and better insight in order to better support them. I believe job-shadowing is a sure and quick way to strengthen your empathy and insight muscles.
Meaningful job shadowing is about understanding what people actually do, their real job stresses, and the often-relentless pressures they experience throughout a “normal” workday. In order to get a true sense of a person’s day, you must sit (or stand) with them from the time they arrive at work until the time they leave. Simply “peeking in” for an hour or two before you leave for a long lunch will never give you the insights you need. As HR practitioners are often working with people from all departments, it’s important to build empathy and a greater understanding of the various roles team members play.
#7: Learn to embrace change
As HR professionals, we must ask ourselves: how do we ourselves embrace change? Do we walk the walk and not just talk the talk? HR functions tend to be part of the organization that at times plans and executes restructuring and change management. We’re the ones preaching about all the best practices for change management. Sometimes it seems that even when we’re okay telling others to change, we push back when change actually infiltrates our world.
Start by asking yourself: what is already changing in my organization or my team that is out of my control, and how can I better support this change? You can also flip the script to start asking what needs to change and begin preparing to drive and manage it for the betterment of the organization.
#8: Resolve to be more creative
Over the years, HR has gone through a real transformation. Yet, we somehow still maintain the reputation by some in the business world as being somewhat stuck in our ways. Perhaps this notion is driven by our tendencies to cling to existing policies and procedures or to resist change in our own world. While following procedures is critically important, we must find space to exercise the other part of our brain—the creative side—that allows us to really flourish and drive innovation across our companies.
For example, we need to come up with creative ways of recognizing people for who they are and to build engagement to higher levels within organizations. If HR doesn’t wrap their creative brains around this problem, who will? We have come to expect creativity to happen in other places. What if we owned it across our own function? When other functions drive innovation, it ensures they stay critical to the organization. It’s time HR steps up in a greater way to do the same.
#9: Resolve to listen more, and better
The need for building stronger listening skills is not limited to HR personnel, but rather can and should be applied by any person in any function on the face of the earth. We as human beings love to talk and communicate but it tends to be driven by our need to say something. It’s common for us to extrapolate on what someone is trying to say even while they’re speaking. We might even unconsciously imagine or anticipate what they’ll say and finish their ideas and sentences without truly listening to their words and their tone. Good listeners who pick up on intent, emotions, and even non-verbal cues, are a rare breed but tend to be incredibly insightful and really good at building trust and strong relationships.
In the HR function, we have the ability to drive change by truly listening and being fully present. Employees need to feel heard, and we have the ears to hear them out. We might pick up on much more that’s happening across the organization than we have thus far, and even surface information that would never show up on an employee survey.
I believe HR’s people skills ought to be the best of the best. I am personally always working on my proactive listening skills by asking questions and clarifying so I can understand what’s beneath the surface of someone’s words. I can tell it makes people feel more appreciated and helps solidify relationships, which are the lifeblood of a vibrant HR function. Try improving your listening skills to earn and maintain the trust and respect of your colleagues across all departments.
#10: Be proactive as a business leader
Model the behavior you wish to see in the rest of the organization, and then take a proactive role in driving your organization to become a better place to work. There are many people in HR who would say HR is a support function. I just don’t believe that’s the case. Work on positioning HR as a critical function of the organization, tied to the most valuable assets of a company—it’s people. There is no other function that works so closely with employees and their personal and professional situations. HR—and you as an HR person—are the custodians of company culture. That is something to be taken seriously, and something to be proud of.
As the year comes to an end, spend some time thinking about areas of true growth that you might want to pursue in 2019. HR will continue to play a mission critical role to the success of each company, even as it evolves as a function and is impacted by emerging technologies from artificial intelligence to data analytics. Whether you tackle a goal each month or select a few to work on throughout the year, resolution-setting will make a positive impact on your career and even the future of your company. Cheers to a great year ahead!