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Why shouldn’t senior HR professionals have an external mentor?


Judith Germain says its about time that HR stopped falling on its sword and get the training it deserves.

One of the tragedies of modern training and development programmes is that not everyone in the senior management team is given the equal opportunity to enhance their skills. In the age of equality it is often the case that both L&D and HR professionals aren’t considered equally for training opportunities – however, this isn’t solely the fault of ‘unenlightened’ companies but those professionals themselves.

Often with reducing budgets these people choose to spend the diminishing training resources on other members of the team sometimes due to altruism or sometimes due to the misguided belief that they would never be able to justify the spend on themselves.
This can be a factor of HR not being seen as credible or serious by the organisation, even if the company funds the CIPD (seeing it similar to other basic skills training like CIMA), negotiation skills or conflict resolution training may be harder to source. Sometimes the senior team expect HR to somehow just ‘have’ the knowledge to succeed in their role without any significant training. In this, senior HR professionals are similar to CEOs (competency assumed, further training not required!), which although flattering can be disadvantageous to your career but even worse damaging to the organisation.
Almost all companies where the CEO or MD voice dissatisfaction with HR a common sentiment is that the HR professional is competent and good at their job, just that somehow they just don’t add value or are able to ‘step up’. What they are struggling to articulate is that they want more from HR than just transactional duties or ‘best practice’, they want to see HR as equal partners in the business - in the same way as Finance or Marketing.

No one expects the finance director to just put together the management accounts so why should the HR director just ensure that employees are paid correctly? There is more to running the company that just ensuring that the basics are done, and there is nothing wrong in seeking help to enable you and the company to succeed. If it’s acceptable that key individuals (like the CEO or the Marketing Director) are mentored to make them more effective and productive then my challenge to senior HR professionals to consider whether mentoring is an effective solution for them achieving the personal and/or organisational goals.

Senior HR professionals and a need for a HR mentor

There are a number of reasons why a senior HR professional would consider mentoring rather than hiring an interim or consultant to come into the organisation and facilitate change for them. One of the reasons is that the task in hand requires the HR professional’s input and not a ‘stranger’ to the organisation. This could be due to credibility, culture or trust.
Another is professional development or a need to rapidly learn the key skill being transferred by the mentor whilst you are working on the project in hand. Finally executive coaching is not appropriate for the task in hand. Mentoring works well for more senior professionals who have the core competencies but just don’t have the specific knowledge for the task in hand.
Here are some examples of where  mentoring has enabled HR professionals:
  • Taking HR from a transactional, administrative department to an embedded, added value one
  • Supporting HR become more credible to the business
  • Embedding the HR Business Partner model into the business
  • Enabling the HR professional to ‘step up’ and be seen as an equal partner in the business
  • Having an objective person outside the organisation to discuss things with and if necessary seek guidance
Senior HR professionals that require an external mentor is best suited by someone who has a strong HR and operational background who is able to facilitate the transfer of knowledge with credibility and efficiency. It is important that this expert has knowledge outside of the HR arena.
Your mentor enables you to have the ability to confide in someone outside of the company, who is an objective sounding board. Often it’s lonely at the top! If you are the most senior HR professional in your organisation there is often no one to confide in. You are unable to share your concerns or frustrations fully with your team – whether that’s your own HR team or the senior management team.
You face many important strategic decisions and it can be beneficial to work with someone who has been in your position and knows the path that you need to take to secure success. Enabling your department or your team to ‘add value’ can sometimes benefit from an external mentor or consultant who not only has the ability to make this change happen, but can guide and advise you if you wish to facilitate this change yourself.
In the same way that training spend is invested in the professional development of the CEO and the other members of the senior team, HR professionals need to ask for the investment that they believe they need. It is perfectly acceptable for senior HR professionals to use external mentors to enable them to complete either specific tasks or enable them to facilitate big changes such as increasing the skill of the HR team or enabling the HR department to become more credible to the business.
After all, the future of the organisation is at stake!
Judith Germain is Founder and Principal Mentor of Dynamic Transitions Ltd a leadership company specialising in working with Troublesome Talent ® and improving leadership performance within organisations. Judith provides strategic mentoring and delivers innovative leadership programmes. For more information visit or email

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