This month marks my two year anniversary working in HR. In those two years, I have made dismissals based on probationary fails, poor performance, and even gross misconduct. I have dealt with employee grievances, unfair dismissal claims, performance plans, written warnings, resignations, and redundancies. I have felt guilt, failure, anger, disappointment, and injustice. BUT I have also hired over 50 people, I have created new training structures that improved performance, implemented monthly 1-2-1’s that encouraged employee engagement, transformed a company culture from blame and shame, to trust and accountability. I have built new teams from scratch, introduced new employee wellbeing initiatives, helped change the structure of the business, I’ve pushed for promoting the brightest stars, and supported the weakest in reaching their potential. I have felt pride, accomplishment, comradery, and excitement. I have been lucky enough to experience all of this in such a short time, however, it has been far from ‘easy’. My first job in HR has been one of the most challenging, yet most rewarding experiences of my life.
A big part of my work style is that I enjoy juggling responsibilities, wearing different hats, and getting hands-on with the business. From working with the sales manager to writing up new training guidelines to managing customer support whilst we rethink the department. I love knowing what’s going in every nook and cranny of the company and being able to offer my help and support, so it makes sense that I ended up doing HR for a start-up, which has enabled me to experience all the things I have. As much as I adore the fast-paced environment and my ever-varying responsibilities there is no denying how difficult it is to keep juggling everything whilst constantly aiming to ensure both the business and the employees are thriving. Some days I end up overwhelmed and drained, wondering how on earth I am going to do everything I need to do without messing up. So I look back and see how I got here.
When I first started this role I had little to no professional HR experience, I was filled with self-doubt, anxiety, stress, and was convinced they had made a mistake in hiring me (see How did I get into HR? For context). I didn’t have the luxury of self-pity though, if I didn’t do what needed to be done then there was no one else in the company who could or would. Much of my experience involved me learning as I went along, I had the security of my qualification behind me but there was no one who knew the intricacies of employment law to support me. I spent many evenings working late (an unsustainable approach to work may I add) to make sure that I was doing everything as well as I could and tried my best to hide my panic when I was presented with issues that I felt I was under qualified to handle. Needless to say it didn’t take long for me to work out my strengths…and my weaknesses.
I soon learnt that I was surprisingly good at keeping my ‘cool’ under pressure – a must for any HR professional. I was able to look at both sides of an argument and understand the pros and cons of each. I was successful in thinking commercially, whilst not sacrificing employee welfare. My bubbly and non-judgmental personality meant people felt comfortable bouncing ideas off of me and also coming to me with their concerns – however my confidence was severely lacking. I didn’t know how to challenge difficult viewpoints which left my colleagues, and myself, frustrated. I felt like if I asked for help too many times that I wouldn’t be respected. These are ‘weaknesses’ that everyone experiences throughout their career and its important to remember that confidence comes with experience, it wasn’t long before I was speaking up in leadership meetings, questioning proposed plans and suggesting alternative solutions. There is also no such thing as a stupid question. Although there was no one in the business who I could learn, say employment law or adult learning theories from, there were people who could teach me how to persuade and influence, how to deal with difficult situations, what skills certain teams needed, how to negotiate, and how to manage my departments ‘budget’.
Looking back on that nervous, insecure and inexperienced version of myself two years ago I can appreciate just how far I have come. I can better understand the areas where I need to improve and I can now be proud of those areas where I succeed. The biggest thing I have learnt though is my overall view of the HR function within a business and the type of HR professional that I aspire to be. When I first considered HR as a career path I did so because I strongly believed that people should feel valued, appreciated and safe within the workplace (see Why I chose HR?). This is still part of my core beliefs, but now I understand that HR needs to support the business, and in turn, the employees, to help improve company performance, encourage change and work to align the business goals with that of the employee. The good thing is these two beliefs go hand in hand. Afterall happier employees mean’s motivated employees. Higher motivation means higher performance, and that improved performance results in company growth.
I’m not sure what’s coming next in my career but I am sure that I’ll make mistakes somewhere down the line. Just remember that we learn from these mistakes, and we should always listen to others experiences and remember that no one was an expert from the get-go.