5 Things that Diminish an HR Leader’s Ability to Influence

There’s some great research on competencies that HR leaders demonstrate to build influence.  But what diminishes our influence? As HR leaders we sometimes face barriers due to perceptions of our role that are incorrect or simply outdated.  Yet, we sometimes are unaware of things we do ourselves that diminish our influence. We’ve identified 5 things, and welcome you sharing your perspective with us. 

1 – Bringing advice instead of asking good questions

Image result for Images of asking good questions

Chances are you’ve risen to a level in your HR career where your competence in the field is much higher than your stakeholders.  They expect you to be an expert.  Yet leading with our competence often decreases our influence.  Famed executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, in his book What Got Your Here Won’t Get You There, writes that we sometimes make the mistake as leaders of trying to add too much value and trying to show that we are the smartest person in the room.  Research shows that until we’ve learned to ask quality questions, we will never be highly influential.  Sure, it is often the case working with other leaders that an HR leader must point out the facts, much like internal counsel or accounting functions often do.  Finding the balance of advocacy versus inquiry will help you in this regard.   We are not alone; in survey after survey leaders in all professions are perceived as less effective in asking good questions.  So what can you do to differentiate yourself from your peers? 

2 – Speaking the language of HR, not the business

Related image

When HR leaders are asked to tell about their business, they usually reply with challenges in HR.  Although these are important, they are not the business. Rather, they are in support of the business

Creating value in real business terms is the work of HR.  When I opened my own organizational development practice, most of my referral came from HR.  I knew the language of HR well.  I enjoyed those relationships and still do. Yet at times when I worked directly with leaders outside of HR, I found I was not moving from proposal to getting an actual contract.  This happened 2-3 times and I finally got the courage to ask why.  The response was, “We like you, but  we want you to speak more like an executive, not like HR.”  I was trying so hard to show my competence that it worked against me.  Although I know my HR background provides a valuable skill set, I no longer lead the discussions with “HR speak”, but rather the language of their business.  

3 – Not building collaborative relationships

I started my career in sales and then “stumbled” into the field of HR after a reorganization.  I suddenly found how vastly different sales and HR viewed one another.  Most of my HR colleagues did not trust sales leaders, and sales leaders had words of scorn and pity on those in my new field.  Yet, when other HR leaders became exasperated, I found myself in a position to influence when asked, “Would you be willing to support the sales organization?”  Of course!  I had empathy and understanding of their roles and I spoke in language that was direct but not condescending. 

In HR work, we don’t have authority over most we work with, so we must collaborate and build relationships.  This means getting from behind our computers or mobile devices, getting to know the people we support, and being a bit vulnerable.  Yes, we can do that and still maintain professional boundaries.  Building collaborative relationships does not have to mean taking too many tequila shot at the annual sales meeting, but it does mean getting out there and being part of their world. 

4 – No perceived “skin in the game”

It is easy to be in a position where you show up, share your knowledge, throw out a few facts, and even give sound professional advice.  HR Leaders are often called to do just that to help minimize risk or increase effectiveness.  Yet to those that at the executive levels who have P&L responsibility- or those with equity in the business – HR leaders are often perceived as not having “skin in the game”.  The more you understand their world – their fears, markets, employees, customers – the more they will see you invested in them.  Are you there to tell them what they can’t do and why something will not work, or are you there to support them in building a successful organization with good HR practices that support them?  Help your stakeholders see you as adding value by creating your own “value-proposition”. 

5 – Too busy with the tactical, and not focused on strategy

Image result for Images of HR Leader

We often hear complaint from HR leaders that they just “don’t have the time” to focus on strategic issues. In HR we often put out fires but do little for fire prevention.  The tyranny of the urgent takes precedence over the important. “I don’t have time to attend the quarterly strategy meeting because I’m busy with ….”.  You can fill in the blank.  Yet think of the advice you would give to a fellow leader who tells you that they are too busy to coach or give feedback to a struggling employee.  If we don’t make strategy a priority, we will fill our time with the tactical all day long.

Look at some of the most successful leaders out there; they could work 24/7 and never finish; yet, they’ve learned to say “no” to the less important and focus on the big picture.  I learned this the hard way as a people pleasure and a nature of saying yes too often and spreading myself too thin. Yet, learning to say “no” is one of the most important skills to let go of the less important-non urgent issues and focus on what is strategically more important.  

For a good read, pick up the book, HR from the Outside In:  Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources (David Ulrich, Jon Younger, Wane Brockbank, and Mike Ulrich.)  We’ve studied David Ulrich’s research for years and he’s always been on target with the future trends of HR.

Let us know your thoughts by responding to rodney@caleb-consulting.com

And see our previous article

The Influential HR Leader:  4 Principles of Influence to Get a Seat at the Table