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Building Great HR Careers

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Alison James, Bic: Building Great HR CareersA good HR leader has a solid understanding of business operations and objectives. But an effective HR leader not only understands the basic principles of the organisation, but also knows how to strategically help their business leaders achieve future growth.

Alison James, Chief Human Resources Officer at Société BIC, discusses how to build a great HR career and become an effective leader.

It’s an exciting time to be in Human Resources. Today’s HR leaders must find the balance between functional expertise and the critical soft skills that are common amongst all leaders. They must exhibit good judgment, positively influence, communicate effectively across an ever-diversifying workforce, and maintain a political agility that keeps them focused on organisational objectives.

Alison James, Chief Human Resources officer at Société BIC, says that table stakes skills are a given in today’s HR leaders. “They must have the technical knowledge to add value, but they need to be business-oriented. It’s the ability to get close to the business and the strategy. To understand it so that you can identify gaps–now and for the future–and figure out how to build the capabilities around people, processes, and technology to bridge those gaps.”

Alison calls these abilities the differentiator. “It’s the ability to diagnose and then take the right approach for the future success of the business.

But if you haven’t been on an overseas assignment, it’s okay says Alison. “Sure the easy answer is that international experience is critical, but equally important is the ability to change your rhythm and learn to assimilate differences. It’s necessary to be able to adjust your style and your way of working so that you can make the right decision in the face of uncertainty and without full analytics.”

Today’s successful HR leaders learn how to work in an inclusive way by bringing together people with many different backgrounds. They can facilitate the conversations in a group setting so that they can draw on the best from people, despite the differences.

The Top Three

There are a lot of specific competencies that make up an effective HR leader, but Alsion says that above all others, she looks for individuals who possess:


The business context, department objectives, and individual goals will most certainly evolve, and your ability to “change tracks and adjust your goals” is essential.


It’s easy to follow the path already laid out, but your willingness to try new things and learn from failure will always differentiate you from the crowd.


The ability to not let your concerns or fears immobilise you. Speaking out when things aren’t right because analytics illustrate the contrary, or because of the depth of the relationships you’ve developed with the business, or simply because of your intuition.

Future HR leaders

The HR profession is rapidly evolving and there have never been more opportunities for those coming up through the HR ranks. For those early in their careers, Alison advises:

Perhaps one of the most important–and sometimes overlooked–principles of success in HR, or any profession, is passion. To be an effective leader, it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing. When you speak, you will do so with compassion. When you lead, you will care about those who follow and trust in your guidance. Your interest in and passion for what you do will show in the relationships and interactions you have with your colleagues. And then building a successful career and becoming an effective HR leader will take care of itself.


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