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Relaunch Your Career

Posted by Elaine Varelas  June 6, 2011 08:30 AM

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By Elaine Varelas

This particular winter seemed longer, colder, and more arduous than years past. I’ve never been more excited to see green sprouting from the icy patches on the ground, the first colorful blooms, or even the bits of pollen flying on the wind (allergies be darned). The slow climb from harsh winter to promising spring is analogous to the recent recession and the subsequent slow climb out of it. The economy was hard hit, but we’re finally seeing the first signs of growth and prosperity. Just as this winter may have killed your lawn or damaged your shrubs, the recession did a number on morale for HR managers. It was a particularly tough time to be in human resources. It’s a great time to harness the hope of springtime and make a renewed commitment to your job. Here are some ways to recharge your career:

Tackle that problem you’ve been avoiding
You can probably think of a nagging issue at work that, for some reason, you avoid solving. Maybe it seems too overwhelming, annoying, or even insurmountable. Yet, even though you don’t deal with it head-on, it is always there taunting you and can even rob you of a good night’s sleep. It is time to deal with the issue and be free of it! It could be something acute like a communication breakdown between a manager and the leadership team or something small, like chronic paper jams in the printer. It may even be a company-wide initiative, such as going paperless or starting a wellness program, that you know you should institute.

Whatever your niggling issue, you’ve no doubt tried to address it before without success. You need a fresh approach to an old problem. Is there another way of looking at the issue? Maybe you need to step back and look at the big picture. Conversely, maybe the problem requires focusing on one component at a time, or taking it apart piece by piece. It might be time to ask for help. A fresh set of eyes can bring a new perspective to the issue. You may also want to consider developing a task force to join you.

If you don’t turn over the soil in your garden periodically, you deplete it of nutrients and it ceases to nourish the plants. Likewise, using the same tired approach to problems can deplete your effectiveness. Once it is solved, you’ll feel sweet relief! You will also build your confidence as you conquer the once insurmountable.

Rethink development
The traditional method of development--identifying weaknesses and trying to remedy them--is so yesterday. Development has been proven to work best when you focus on the positives. Delegate your deficiencies (you don’t need to excel at Excel to be a better HR manager anyway) and concentrate on your strengths. What are you good at? Identify those areas where you shine and work to improve those skills by 10%.

Board service is another great way to work on your development. There are countless non-profit organizations that need people with HR talent on their boards of directors. Give back to your community or a pet charity by lending your expertise. You’ll be able to showcase your talents in a new way while you learn about how another organization does business.

Go exploring
There are some departments and areas of your organization that you know very well, and others with which you probably aren’t as familiar. It is time to go exploring. Who do you touch too much, not enough, and where else do you need to be in the organization? It may be time to make yourself uncomfortable. Is there a manager or VP you avoid? Make it your mission to become indispensable to her. Insinuate yourself in a new area. Pick a new department every week or month to investigate. What can you learn from team members in an unfamiliar department? Have conversations with employees to see how you can satisfy their needs better going forward.

Stop reacting
So much of our jobs as HR managers is reactionary. We step in during times of crises to fix problems, hire people, and fill in gaps when someone leaves. We have lay-offs as a result of the economy. We rush to hire when a department head leaves unexpectedly. We develop policies because of federal mandates. Wouldn’t it be a relief to get in front of the issues at work? It may be time to put on your forecasting hat. While meteorologists are often criticized for not predicting the exact weather, they are right a majority of the time. They can surmise what the weather will be based on research and trends. HR managers can use some of the same techniques. By exploring and having conversations with employees, can you anticipate what your organization’s needs will be? What will arise for hiring? Who will be retiring? What skill sets and technical expertise do you anticipate your organization will require in the coming months or years?

Spring is a time of growth and revival, which creates a perfect opportunity to recharge our careers. With these techniques, you can bring some freshness, renewed challenge, and excitement to your job--just what we all need after a long cold winter (and recession).

Elaine Varelas is a Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment firm. She can be reached at

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.