Life Lessons from 25 Years in HR

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Highs and Lows are part of every career

This article is probably a bit murky, but that was purposeful.   I am trying to capture the major lessons that I have learned over the first 25 years of my career in Human Resources.

I started working in HR on January 20, 1986.  I haven’t stopped yet.  My skills and motivation for doing this work have changed, but I am content with the body of work I have put together.

Here are my lessons learned.

1986 – How to deal with difficult people.  The value of innovation and compromise.

1987 – The danger of failing to have all the information required in making a significant life decision.

1988 – The value of working with professional HR colleagues.

1989 – The value of being an integrated HR practitioner.

1990 – That you should value the exceptional opportunity and work group more than your future career early in your career.

1991 – The secrets of meticulous preparation, and how that can both add and detract from conducting negotiations.

1992 – That managing people is challenging, and not always what you expect it to be.

1993 – That you really need to know what you are talking about before you open your mouth.  That if you open your mouth at the right time, amazing things can be accomplished.

1994 – That the secret to work/life balance is finding out that there is some sort of life out there beyond work.  Also, that a long business death is not something that I choose to be a part of.

1995 – That you really need to consider location as a factor when accepting a new career opportunity.   Location alone can make the grass look browner!

1996 – HR can have a seat at the head of the table, but if you want to keep it, it won’t happen via fear and intimidation.

1997 – Flexibility, agility, innovation and compromise are the keys to surviving in a business downturn.  If given a chance to re-invent your organization, don’t squander it.

1998 – That you can come back home again, and everything will be different while remaining very much the same.

1999 – That sometimes a job interview is just a job interview, and sometimes a job interview is a life altering experience.

2000 –  That sometimes you have to make negative change in the short term in order to generate long term positive change.

2001 – That it is a very difficult transition to make to a new boss when you had been working for the best boss you had ever had.

2002 –  Employees that are treated well will almost always choose alignment with the goals of an excellent company.

2003 – You can develop personal relationships in the workplace with colleagues and not have it be detrimental to your role as an HR practitioner.

2004 – Out of the most trying personal and professional times of your life, amazing new opportunities will arise.

2005 –  Even unemployment by choice sucks.  It requires some risk to reinvent yourself, but ultimately it is worth it.

2006 –  Developing a global perspective is an imperative for HR professionals.  Networking as well.

2007 – Building a culture of innovation, creativity, and fun is a difficult process, but ultimately worthwhile.

2008 –  Having expertise in social media and web research are career differentiators in human resources.

2009  – Influence is earned and can be wielded in many suprisingly different ways.

2010 – The evolution continues!

The most powerful themes running consistently running through the past quarter century are as follows:

  • trust
  • agility
  • credibility
  • innovation
  • strong culture
  • flexibility
  • compromise
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22 thoughts on “Life Lessons from 25 Years in HR

  1. Mike-
    Thanks for sharing this. I read Thrish’s post about Do’s and Don’ts on the new job, and one of the big Do’s is to Journal. Your reflections show that you aren’t aimlessly going through your career, but collecting and APPLYING insights gained. I’ll bet that some of these were lessons you set out to learn, and others were gifts of the journey.
    .-= Tim G´s last blog ..Day 7,046 – Sleep is Overrated =-.

    1. You are correct in your assumptions, Tim. Some I set out to learn, some were inflicted on me, and for others were just a by-product for fortuitous circumstance. They are certainly not the only lessons I learned, but they seemed the most significant upon reflection.

      I’d like to see others go through the same process sometime!

  2. What a great retrospective! I like that you reached back for a key piece from each year. I think this is a good exercise to do as it really requires me to focus and reflect on what I truly have learned and value through today.

    1. @JEn – thanks for dropping by. You really nailed the point of what I was trying to do here. I had tried a couple of different approaches before finally settling on this. I was trying to answer the question: What have I learned that stuck? If you try it, I think you may find it more challenging than the final product would suggest. Good luck!

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