Tapping unknown potential
For the past five years, there’s been much talk on “finding meaning and purpose” at work.
It’s not just millennials seeking purpose; these conversations first started with Aristotle defining the “good life” to find that “meaning” was the common goal of humanity.
We may be seeking the same goal, but meaning can only be defined by the individual.
Whether you’re just starting in HR or in the upper echelons of HR leadership - who you are and what you want to be will always be a primary question of reflection.
Finding purpose requires time
I’ve observed that HR professionals often do not stop and think about themselves.
True to their role – HR – they focus on the development of others for professional growth and business success.
The demands of HR leave very little time for self-reflection.
Most HR professionals tell me that taking time to reflect on their career goes to the bottom of their to-do lists. Or they wait for their year-end career discussions (which may, or may not happen).
Almost every HR leader I’ve known is on a path to pursue goals and longs to find purpose.
HR professionals should take a page from Aristotle to flex their reflective muscles, define what has meaning in their careers, and in doing so, help others to do the same.
Career questions you need to ask
Instead of looking at what you need to fix, consider what do you do well and what do you truly like about your role.
I once asked the Regional HR Head of a luxury brand: “What can you do for hours and hours without realising the time passing?”
She soon came up with a long list of words, feelings and insights.
From that list, we pulled out successes and achievements, which in turn created a mind-map to visually display areas of energy and engagement.
This exercise need not be more than 10 minutes.
Taking the time to review your experiences provides insights which lead to accepting both strengths and motivations.
The next step is to share the results with a business partner or colleague with experience in the myriad areas of HR.
They will verify your conclusions and undoubtedly add more strengths to your visual career map to make it more relevant.
Your conversations may transition into a long-term mentoring relationship beneficial to both.
HR professionals must move away from asking: “what’s wrong?” to understanding “what’s right”.
To do so, I start with four questions (based on Richard Finnegan’s book The Stay Interview) to uncover what is meaningful at work, and create a career path with purpose.
- Why do you stay in HR or with your organisation?
- What do you genuinely like best about your role?
- Describe what are you learning?
- What would make leave your work?
(This last question can be more challenging than the others but is critical to understand values and engagement.)
When I facilitated an off-site with the team of the aforementioned HR leader, I suggested she ask those four questions to her team.
She was hesitant to ask her best talent “when have you thought about leaving?” but she did – and it released both untapped team potential and a realignment of work that had previously been leading to disengagement.
All four questions reveal strengths, values and motivations in which to do the work you do.
Let me also add that “meaning” is unique to the individual, and “purpose” evolves through new experiences and throughout life.
In coaching HR leaders, I recommend recalling one’s different roles, tugging out and dusting off the previously forgotten areas of energy, interest and disengagement.
Revisiting the past – whether it was good or bad – offers a future perspective.
About the Author
Jane Horan is an author, speaker, and consultant focused on helping organisations build inclusive work environments and meaningful careers for their people. She has held senior Asia-Pacific management positions at The Walt Disney Company, CNBC, and Kraft Foods, and has an extensive professional background in inclusion, belonging, diversity, and cross-cultural leadership.