Reams and reams has been written about what great looks like when it comes to HR, and the weary HR professional could be forgiven for thinking they’ve taken on something of an impossible task. If you believe everything you read, you’ve got to have superhuman abilities and be able to turn your hand to just about anything. And while there are days in HR in which that’s quite possibly true, the biggest impact is actually made by us doing a more limited number of things really really well. Fifteen years into my HR career… here are the things – not all of which I profess to do brilliantly just yet, by any stretch of the imagination! – which I think transforms competent individuals… into HR legends.
#1 Give a shit
You cannot work in HR unless you care. It’s as simple as that. You need to get up every day and go into work with the sole purpose of making a positive difference. Sometimes it’ll be on a tiny, micro level – you’ll get that employee who’s struggling the help they need. Sometimes it’ll be on a massive, macro level: restructuring the business to deliver higher quality outcomes. But you have to care. The moment you stop giving a shit: it’s time to quit.
#2 Know your business
Of all teams, HR is perhaps the one where you most need to know your business inside out and back to front. Get out amongst your people, spend time properly understanding what they do, really seeing and experiencing the barriers they face and identifying methodologies to overcome these. True HR legends are commercially astute and deliver HR practices not in isolation, but in the context of enabling the wider business to deliver.
#3 Be able to get the best out of people
I abhor the phrase “I’m a people person” (what does it even mean?), but clearly, if you work in HR, you’ve got to thrive on spending time with and getting the best out of people. Always, though, with one eye on the overall goal, which is a happy and engaged workforce delivering excellent outcomes for your happy and engaged customers.
#4 Tackle the tricky stuff, head on
One of my favourite parts of working in HR is that you get to have the difficult conversations that everyone else shies away from. Your skillset should make you ideally placed to handle complex, challenging situations and reach a successful outcome. Don’t wait for someone else to come and beg you to handle it; put your hand up and get stuck in, whether it’s by coaching your managers through what’s needed, or being the one to step forward and do it yourself.
#5 Live and breathe your culture
I mean, seriously, if you’re working in HR and you’re not living and breathing your organisational culture, then you might as well pack up and go home now. And you need to be ruthless about ensuring your senior leaders and managers understand the value in said culture, and the consequences of leaving behaviours to fester, unchecked, which are not in line with that culture.
#6 Ground decisions in data
Yes, it’s a people-focused profession; no, that’s not an excuse to make choices based on whimsy or “gut feel”. Out of all teams in an organisation, HR is arguably the one with the most potential access to data. We need to ensure that we understand how to get to that data and use it to drive value throughout our business.
#7 Screw up, and learn from it
I’m a big believer in making mistakes… so long as we learn from them. If we’re right first time, every time, it suggests we’re not taking risks, not pushing ourselves in pursuit of something amazing. Screw up; pick yourself back up; correct the errors and learn from them. It’s an important part of learning to be the best that we can possibly be.
#8 Develop you
If you’re not taking the time to focus on your own professional development, how do you think you’re possibly going to instil the importance of it across the rest of your organisation? Own your professional development, and be transparent about its benefits.
You don’t know it all. You could have been working in the same organisation for thirty years, and you still wouldn’t know it all. The very best HR practitioners are constantly listening, constantly learning, never making assumptions, valuing the opinions of those throughout the business, and ensuring that these are heard.
#10 Kindness, always
It’s perhaps the most undervalued trait of all in most organisations, yet it’s the one that can transform a day, a week, a life. As the heart and the conscience of a business, we have a responsibility to show our leadership and management teams the behaviours that will transform our organisation, deliver a great employee experience and ultimately result in business success. And it’s kindness, always, which must be the foundation of that.