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5 Strategies to Increase Your Influence as an HR Leader

Some people still think of HR departments as those guys that just do the “people stuff,” shuffling contracts and recruiting new hires. In fact, the role of the HR professional has changed dramatically over the past few years. If you’re an HR executive, you know that your role has expanded to include major financial and bottom line issues, corporate reputation management, and keeping companies safe. The challenge for HR professionals now is to claim their power and show their value added in a profound way.

During times of crisis, it is often the HR department that hears about problems early on. Whether it’s rumors of high level executives having inappropriate relationships with junior staffers or questions of retaliation against whistleblowers, HR is often the frontline defense when it comes to crises and how they’re handled. The challenge for HR leaders is to get their voices heard and to gain more influence inside the organization so that business leaders will listen to your recommendations and take action – as opposed to putting their heads in the sand and hoping the problem will go unnoticed.

Here are five strategies for HR leaders who want to gain influence and become a trusted partner and advisor to senior leadership during times of crisis.

#1 Develop research

In a recent webinar, “Protecting Your Company’s Brand: How HR Can Take the Lead,” I discuss in detail the example of urban planner Mike Lydon. He is also profiled in my book, “Stand Out.” I used Mike as an example of someone who built authority by compiling case studies around a trend in his industry. By researching one particular trend and gathering case studies to support his idea that it was growing, Mike was able to gain recognition as an expert in the subject and ultimately wrote a book and became a speaker on the topic.

Through the power of research – simply pulling together case studies – Mike was able to establish his authority on the topic and get people to listen. For HR leaders, there’s a temptation to reject this kind of activity because we are all so busy and are pushed hard to just focus on our job, clear our inbox and do what we need to do.

But if you can take the time to prove to other people that you are widely read in your field, that you know what is happening with other companies, and that you can knowledgeably cite examples in your industry and beyond, you will soon be regarded as a uniquely knowledgeable partner. It’s table stakes to be good at your job and to know what’s happening in your company.

#2 Draft off others’ expertise

Another way to establish yourself as an authority, even if you don’t feel like one, is to do research on people who are experts in your field and familiarize yourself with their work. Doing this kind of research does involve going above and beyond and may include going to webinars on your lunch breaks, or reading or listening to an audiobook of professional thought leaders in your field. If you are knowledgeable about the work that has been done by others and you can cite that with confidence, you’ve provided thought leadership that others can understand and accept.

Taking the time to draft off the expertise that others have built up over time begins to mark you as an expert because you are intimately familiar with those ideas and that work. When you weave in the names of experts, their studies and the conclusions they have drawn as examples of what your organization should embrace as best practices, that establishes you as an expert on the subject.

#3 Dig your well before you’re thirsty

Too often professionals get into a rut at work. They deal with the same people, hang out with a static group of colleagues, and talk to the same people inside the organization day after day. While this is human nature, it’s neither useful nor desirable for those who are hoping to increase their realm of influence within an organization. If you aren’t actively expanding your network, you’re limiting your future influence. People who haven’t dealt with you before, and aren’t familiar with you as an individual, don’t have a reason to listen to you above and beyond the facts – which may be only partially convincing. People are motivated by liking someone. If the people you are trying to influence don’t already know you, they may be swayed by the weight of emotion telling them to protect their friends or do something counter to what you are proposing.

“Dig your well before you’re thirsty” – a phrase from leadership author Harvey Mackay – means that before you need someone, before you need a favor, before you need to call in your chips, you should try to reach out and build a connection. In this way, the first time you’re coming to someone isn’t when you need their support or their agreement – they already know you. Making connections early means that you are coming in as someone that they already like and are predisposed to want to help or listen to.

#4 Create your own networks

Taking a little extra effort to build connections and to get to know people by inviting them out for coffee or lunch can make an enormous difference in terms of their willingness to listen to your suggestions and, therefore, your overall influence.

Networking is not just for extroverts. I often hear people complain that they don’t network because they are introverts. I get it. I’m an introvert, too. While it may be easier for extroverts to network, building relationships is not something you can afford to skip just because you’re an introvert.

If you are an introvert, you may find big networking events, where you don’t know a lot of people and where you have to make a lot of small talk, exhausting and not very productive. But, that’s not the only way to network. Connect with people you already know and like. You may try connecting to people you don’t know well, but whom you’ve already met and want to get to know better. Some ideas for making your networking activities more intimate and less intimidating include:

  • Hosting small dinner parties
  • Inviting colleagues for drinks after work
  • Have lunch once a week with a different person

If you want to be influential, try to build connections in as many different departments inside your organization as possible. If you don’t know everyone personally, you’ll at least know someone in various departments that can vouch for you and help you out. When you need political capital, that is a way that you can obtain it. So, build your networks now. Dig your well before you’re thirsty.

#5 Get a wingman

 Psychology research has shown that if you are perceived by other people as bragging about yourself, you are not going to get very far. But, if someone else is saying those exact same things about you, people will listen raptly. If you want to be more influential in your organization, if you want to be able to command the respect of people throughout your company, you need a wingman.

Establish a wingman by finding a like-minded friend or colleague and mutually agree to talk each other up within the organization. In theory, if you really like and respect someone, you’re doing this already. But, the truth is, a lot of times we forget. We get busy and distracted. If you make a pact to do this, it becomes top of mind and it also takes the pressure off. Your wingman can promote you in meetings by saying things like, “Oh, well Joan has a great idea about that. Hey Joan, you should tell them.”

What will you do differently today?

If you’re going to be heard, listened to, and believed, you need to cultivate your influence inside the organization. By using these five strategies, you are able to be more effective, more persuasive, and more influential. Now that you have five new strategies, what are you going to do differently starting today?

If you want to hear more about the strategies I’ve outlined here, watch the full webinar, “Protecting Your Company’s Brand: How HR Can Take the Lead”. I’d love to hear what you are going to do differently today – let me know by weighing in on the comments below.

The post was originally published at RiseSmart.

5 Ways To Rock Star HR Leadership

One of the dirty little secrets of HR – Human Resources as a professional practice – is that it’s not always about the people and humanizing brands. Not really, anyway. Some HR professionals have more in common with the Governance, Risk and Control department of the enterprise. HR sometimes gets a bad rap for being more concerned with limiting risk to the corporation than it is with making sure the employees – people, everyone – are working well and that the company’s culture can sustain its people in a fast-paced business. As a talent management practitioner and speaker, I spend a lot of time living HR topics. I’m one too: a flavor of HR professional. Let it be known I’m in love with HR Technology. We still need to find ways to measure data and stay human as leaders.

Getting from A to B is still a challenge for many leaders as we look for ways to innovate and stay human.

I learned this lesson years ago, at the start of my career, working closely as a Recruiter with a client in a HR department of a technology firm (and many of these kinds of relationships later btw). This company had a mix of union employees, engineers, field service folks, marketers and executives. At the time, it was a huge part of the business of a corporation which still exists, albeit in different businesses. This was at a time when HR and Recruiting weren’t yet strategically partnering in the awesome ways we are now.

The HR people in this company certainly seemed nice enough, warm and reasonably friendly, mostly effective. But up close it was different. One time, HR directed the company to put speed bumps in the parking lot, for safety of course. This, in reaction to an employee who had, in his small car, gone over a speed bump too fast, hitting his head on the roof and taking out his muffler. However, the discussion that day was not about whether or not the employee was OK after the accident. It was purely concerned with if he would sue after the company refused to help defray the cost of the new muffler. Plans were laid to terminate the employee for a different reason.

Those HR friends of mine were limiting risk, in a very short-sighted way. Guess what happens to company, team creativity now? They looked for a solution to a problem but it had nothing to do with helping the employee, helping the employee’s work group, or thinking innovatively about how to adapt the corporation’s environment (It turned out the speed bump was too tall and didn’t meet code). They missed an opportunity to make the company a better place to work. They failed some major tests: leadership, innovativeness, and putting people first. They sacrificed a person for an HR mistake, which was not the best idea.

Of course, although we’d like to believe differently, this happens all the time. HR limits damage and lowers risk, and in doing so, slows and sometimes dumbs, everything down. How can HR keep up with the pace of business, if all systems and policies are geared to slowing processes down, to pushing all decisions to the lowest common denominator?

We tell ourselves HR technology speeds things up, that resume-sorting software, and phone screens followed by more phone screens, followed by group interviews, limit the risk of hiring the wrong person. We believe putting a lot of process in place around time tracking and attendance helps. We think old school vacation calculation and benefit formulas help. We think these systems free us to act quickly, to interact with people, to develop innovative solutions to HR problems.

What if this is exactly wrong? Is the reason why HR is seen by some as less innovative?

Don’t be the person who chooses to be short-sighted. Use these five inter-related ideas to bring innovation and speed back to HR:

1) Stop counting things – hours, days, degrees, recommendations – just start talking to people. Find out what really matters to employees, what managers really need in terms of skilled employees. Ask questions!

2) Listen. Active listening gets a lot of airtime but it’s a woefully underutilized skill. If you don’t know how to do it take a class, practice on family and friends, and begin by listening to your inner dialogue. Everyone has a conversation running 24/7 with themselves. It’s not the Voice in Your Head, it’s the pearl at the center of your soul. Pay attention.

3) Be silent. This is really part B of active listening. Listen to what people say. Listen to how often they repeat what others say, what verbs they use (active or passive), how many first-person pronouns they use. Listen to see who mimics the cadence of another’s speech patterns. You’ll spot the leaders in a group quickly and be able to determine the tenor of their contributions to the health of the organization.

4) Observe non-verbal signs. Many people speak more clearly with gestures, expressions and how closely or far apart they sit or stand from others. You can spot a poor-performance group by how they move around each other, how much interaction there is, who speaks first and who rolls eyes or grimaces.

5) Don’t be a friend. Be a leader. Too many HR people think they can be a friend to all and be in a leadership role. This is not always true. Pick one at a time.

These suggestions may seem to be less about innovation and more about common sense, which is exactly my point. Common sense is the innovation. Being human, acting like a normal person and being social, is the innovation. Sure, HR technology can be useful, it can speed up discrete, proscribed, limited activities. But it won’t help HR professionals and leaders to think like innovators, solve complex problems, and deal with other people.

Only by living fully in yourself will you be free you to think, and act, as an innovator.

A version of this post was first published on on 10/7/12.

Photo Credit: Conceptualise via Compfight cc