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Why HR Pros Need to Have Strong, Abrasive Opinions...

Are you Bill O'Reilly or Tom Brokaw?  Jim Rome or Bob Costas? 

Think about the HR people you know and respect and pick a pack of adjectives below to describe the image that comes to mind:

Adjective Group #1 - aboveboard, conclusive, dependable, determinative, honest, Point_counterpoint imaginable, likely, plausible, possible, probable, probably, rational, reasonable, reliable, satisfactory, satisfying, seeming, sincere, solid, sound, straight, supposable, tenable, thinkable, trustworthy, trusty, valid

Adjective Group #2 - activist, , devotee, enthusiast, extremist, fiend*, fool, freak, maniac, militant, monomaniac, nut*, radical, ultraist, visionary, zealot

Most people would pick Group #1 to describe the HR people they know and respect in their lives.  The point?  Group #1 is a list of adjectives for "credible" and Group #2 is a list of adjectives for "activist".  Put them together and you have the term "credible activist", a competency listed by Dave Ulrich as being the top indicator in predicting outstanding performance among HR professionals. 

Ulrich is in Birmingham today, so his work is top of mind for me.  And the credible activist tag is my favorite snippet of Ulrich's work.  

Ulrich laid out the research study entitled "New Competencies for HR", in HR Magazine a few years back.   See the entire list here.   Since Credible Activist represents the top indicator in predicting who's a player in your HR department, here are some cliff notes on what it means -- According to Ulrich, the Credible Activist is respected, admired, listened to and offers a point of view through the following behaviors as described by the study:

    • Delivers results with integrity
    • Shares Information
    • Builds relationships of trust
    • Does HR with an attitude (taking risks, providing candid observations, influencing others)

The problem?  HR is famous for being credible (at least in a HR kind of way), but having opinions, taking risks and being generally dynamic is in short supply.  With that in mind, here's my punch list for getting in the mindset of being an activist:

    1. Have an opinion (hopefully one that's credible)
    2. Share it before you are asked (in a sharp/outspoken, yet professional way)
    3. Be ready to defend it (in a sharp/outspoken, yet professional way)
    4. Don't cave when defending it
    5. Understand that the operations people you partner with can disagree and go another direction - but that doesn't mean you have to fold as a result.  Support their decision with your opinion intact.
    6. Repeat - Often

Of course, that feels like confrontation, and most HR types don't like that.  Tune into a point/counterpoint type show (try PTI) to get into the groove....   


Charlie Judy

yeah this is good and i generally agree. for those of you who aren't already practicing HR with attitude, be prepared for some discomfort on the part of your constituents. the problem isn't necessarily that HR practitioners generally play in group #1, it's that the rest of the world generally thinks that's where HR should play...and stay. doesn't mean it can't happen - nor that it shouldn't - but don't be mistaken in thinking you'll be embraced as you do it.

J French

HR with an edge - I like it. And, I believe that many HR professionals already possess these attributes and if part of a strategic, forward-thinking organization (from an HR perspective) will be able to exhibit the “credible activist” traits and receive positive affirmation. It’s those HR people who have landed themselves within a “personnel” type of environment whose attempt at demonstrating them will be quashed.

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