Anyone who spends eight hours a day working in an organisation should be able to obtain a broad view of what is going on in their sector above and beyond simply knowing what is happening in their own back yard. This will give you a far more objective perspective when it comes to looking at your own performance.
Is this information that you need to know in order to make you more strategic in your own organisation? More often than not, this probably isn't the case - but it shows that you are keeping up to speed both with your industry sector and with your area of expertise.
It can also be very useful to be aware of this information in terms of your own career. What kind of people are the heads of HR at your competitors? What sort of people do they employ? What are they like to work for? What are they interested in? What are their 'hot buttons'? What kind of culture do they generate? Ultimately, would you want to work for them?
Over and above these immediate questions, you can also view them in terms of other career choices by considering questions such as: How did they get to their position? Are they a good role model? How can their career path inform the decisions that you make or the path you are looking at taking? Are they a good person to network with and would getting to know them help your career? Is there anything that you can learn from them and the way they go about their business that you can apply either in your own role or in your organisation?
It also is worth understanding what you might be able to learn from your competitors and how their HR functions might prove useful to your business.
Take the time to find out if they have any particularly good initiatives or processes that can be applied to your own organisation, for example, to increase productivity or to reduce the impact of the transactional work. If so, consider how you can go about implementing some of them.
Sometimes you'll find that what works for other organisations isn't appropriate for your role, but other times you can uncover a hidden gem of an idea, which would never have occurred to you until you peeked at what the competition was doing.
Jan Hills, partner, Orion Partners