In the early 1990s, in connection with fundamental changes in society, the foundations of a number of successful – as well as less successful – companies were laid. Their owners and managers sometimes learned literally from their own life experiences how to run a business under the conditions of a market economy. New companies emerged after 1989 also thanks to the influx of foreign investments and opening of local branches and trade representations of global corporations. In these cases the take-off was somewhat easier, mainly thanks to imported know-how.
One way or another, the developments influencing all spheres of the economy increased the demands on human capital. The role of HR departments gradually changed from purely administrative to management-strategic.
In companies which had operated under socialism and successfully made it into the new era, it was necessary to radically change almost everything: the management approach, people's way of thinking, corporate culture, approach to customers. By contrast, in the newly established companies it was necessary to create the right processes, correctly apply tested procedures and experiences, while also educating, training and innovating.
In those companies which understood this necessity, the role of the HR department was shifting from being only a support unit to that of a respected strategic partner helping to hit the targets that had been set.
The heads of HR departments, which were normally renamed departments of human resource development, became important parts of companies' senior management teams. In the emerging labour market, an ever-growing demand for “new HR managers” with knowledge, a new approach and innovative thinking emerged. Of course, in most cases they also had active language skills. Thanks to these growing demands and requirements, a strong generation of HR managers has emerged which, together with the HR-consultancy companies that have gradually become established, have helped to elevate human capital to one of the main assets in the development of individual companies.
Successors establish their presence
Twenty years is quite a long time in any professional career; long enough to grow in knowledge and personality, and to climb up one's career ladder. At the same time, alongside the older and more experienced HR managers, new, prospective colleagues emerged. In many cases, the managers supported their successors simply by gradually leaving executive decisions to them while concentrating instead on strategic issues – development of human resources and planning company needs in this sphere for several years ahead. To secure the continued potential of experts and managers, they introduced various development programmes or programmes for key employees, so-called high potentials. In foreign companies, they often just implemented these programmes based on established patterns, while elsewhere HR managers took the opportunity to design such programmes themselves.
However, these activities have already been overcome by some HR managers who attained top positions in the wave culminating in the 1990s, and they have reached the point at which they have started to consider what to do next. Where to proceed, so that work does not become routine? Switch to some international position? Change the market sector in which they work from production to service supplier, from mobile operator to bank, or from distribution company to the energy sector – or decide, after years spent in the relatively calm waters of a well-functioning company, to start managing human resources in all aspects in a newly founded firm? Use the practical skills they have acquired and cross over to the position of HR consultant?
Especially in foreign workplaces, where generational replacement is natural due to continual development, shifting to consultancy is not a rare thing, nor are cases in which heads of HR departments get the chance to move to the top position and, from the bird’s-eye view of CEO, take on responsibility not just for human resources but also for other issues. In any case, in such a situation it is proper to consider how to grow further professionally and how to use the enormous amount of professional and managerial experience.
Crisis requires a different point of view
Recently, we have seen the departure of several top HR managers, who were replaced in their organisations. Is this coincidence, or a trend? Some indirect evidence shows that a generational shift has probably started in this branch. It is as if the experienced ones really have come to the point at which they have decided to leave the corporate world, and want to pass on their experience, for example by launching their own HR-consultancy business. Nor can we omit a truly prosaic reason – retirement.
On the other hand, one probable reason was also the fact that some companies, partly due to the persisting crisis, decided that they needed “new wind in their sails”, and that they needed to approach the HR issues from a new, different angle.
Currently, there are skilled and ambitious managers on the market who have had at least ten years of experience in interesting companies, have led various difficult projects and have mastered one or two languages. And being aged 35-40 years, they still have the potential to grow from a managerial and professional point of view. They have quickly adopted new methods and opportunities for education, like external study or online study for example, and consider the availability of information via the internet and contacts with people from almost all over the world a natural issue.
Thus, generational shift is a completely natural thing. It happens in all areas, and so has not bypassed the world of business. A successful organisation has to make sure that its main asset, human capital, keeps up with the times and is taken care of by someone who is able to meet such requirements. Whatever may be the reasons on the side of employees or employers, the process of moving on of experienced HR managers within the HR community will still continue.
Mario Fondati is a partner at Amrop Slovakia
For more information about the Slovak labour market, HR sector and career issues in Slovakia please see our Career & Employment Guide.
27. Feb 2012 at 0:00 | Mario Fondati