A quick Google search nets dozens of lists with titles like “Nine Essential HR Skills.”
I’ve seen these lists debated from time to time and I don’t disagree that any of the of the frequently listed qualities are important. How can you argue with ethics, business knowledge, communication, organization and integrity? But most of the lists I see don’t include a number of traits that, after 15 years in HR, seem to me to be integral to an HR professional’s long-term staying power (not to mention mental and emotional health):
Optimism – Resilience – Persistence – Courage – Creativity
Some people work at such fabulous organizations where these qualities are less crucial. But the truth is that in many HR positions, in addition to witnessing fabulous successes within your organization, you encounter the underbelly or the dark side. You see candidates lying about their criminal past, employees faking injuries, people trying to get by doing the least amount possible, supervisors alienating their employees or turning a blind eye to employment laws, managers failing to manage and leaders failing to lead. And you are faced with an almost endless stream of ethical dilemmas and conundrums.
I work at a good company with an amazing CEO, yet I have to say that working in HR in my industry is not for the faint of heart. We’re a nonprofit faced with plenty of challenges. We employ mostly hourly workers, almost half of whom are first or second generation immigrants. They work around the clock at remote sites with a supervisor rarely present. Their work is important but not paid well by society. HR is not easy in this setting.
Within your own industry, you undoubtedly encounter different challenges and quirks. Regardless of your setting, if you work in HR, it helps to have:
Optimism. Remember what is good and right within your organization when things go wrong; 10% of people are probably causing 90% of your problems. Focusing too much on the 10% is a glass-half-full approach that may lead to you giving up, leaving your position or even abandoning HR.
Resilience. Have sufficient strength and flexibility to bounce back after disappointments and set-backs.
Persistence. Do not give up easily; when one thing doesn’t work, try 6 or 8 or 90 other things and don’t stop trying until you find something that does work.
Courage. It’s one thing to be ethical yet it’s another to speak up when you know something’s not right or when a response that is convenient in the short-run doesn’t serve the long-term interests of your business.
Creativity. Figure out how you’re going to address or communicate your concern or position without alienating the very people whose cooperation you need to succeed. Some may call this influence, and that’s certainly involved, but I’m thinking more of the mental processes like brainstorming, ingenuity, IQ and EQ.
There are a lot of qualities you must have or attain if you want to succeed in HR. But for long term staying power, you may need a few more. You need to have the drive to persist and the ability to maintain hope and creativity despite adversity and downright disillusionment.
I know you won’t all agree with my list 1o0%, so I’m interested to hear your rundown of the top essential HR skills.
photo by artfulblogger
Recently I attended the Ohio HR Conference, HR Rocks!! As part of the planning committee, it was a great experience for many reasons.
One reason it was so great was that we told attendees they could wear jeans. Amazing how something so simple could set the tone for the week. Our committee wore tie-dye all week with our jeans and invited people to relax in our lounge filled with lava lamps, candles and incense – at an HR Conference!
One experience last week has stuck with me the most . . .
During lunch on Thursday, our 770+ attendees and our 160+ resource partners all gathered to savor the incredible Fajita Bar. Plates were loaded beyond capacity and hands were full as people approached a separate beverage station to grab a glass of water, lemonade or ice tea. The Kalahari staff were so amazing the whole week – especially here. But, even as much as they tried, the line continued to grow and grow and grow.
Before the week started, I told my Committee that I wanted to set a new expectation for us and the Conference attendees. I wanted us to serve them in ways they hadn’t experienced at a conference before. To make sure I didn’t fall into the classic HR trap of – just tell people what you expect and they’ll do it – I made sure to model this behavior.
So, I jumped in the front of the beverage line and started greeting everyone as they came up and handed them a glass full of ice. Then, the phenomenal team of Joan, Sonja and Keysha poured everyone’s liquid of choice and made sure to get more glasses to keep up with the demand. After stepping in, you started to hear laughing, see big smiles and positive comments from everyone instead of typical frustration with having to wait on service.
People said, “Wow, service with a smile!” I couldn’t resist but responding with, “Better than service with a scowl, huh?” It was the most rewarding 1/2 hours of the entire conference. We were able to serve our guests so that they could enjoy their lunch. Also, the staff from Kalahari saw that their work added immense value by meeting a simple need for others.
It’s time for HR to shift to a new approach. Instead of trying to mandate policies, force conformity and compliance at all costs, or be the function that polices vs. leads – we need to MODEL THE BEHAVIOR WE EXPECT FROM OTHERS.
We can’t keep expecting change to magically happen because we’ve come up with the next great “best practice.” Model behavior. It’s that simple.
To prove that point, Sonja, Joan, Keysha and I became tight. The rest of the week, I sought them out and they did likewise. I heard they even talked about the tall guy in the tie-dye shirt who jumped into help without asking if it was okay. They were some of the final hugs at the end of the week and I’m sure they will continue to be amazing.
Where can you change and model what you’d like to see? Try something this week and you’ll be astonished at the results!
I have a confession to make.
I don’t always stick up for myself.
It’s not that I’m shy - anyone who has met me would attest to that. It’s not that I’m easy to bully - there’s no way I will put up with that. It’s just, well, I don’t know.
If I get bad customer service, unless it is truly egregious, I won’t say anything – I just won’t come back. Even though it is the first thing I advise job seekers, I was really anxious when I recently reached out to my network for my job search. And if my feelings get hurt by a friend? Well, if I know they didn’t mean it, I’m more likely to never say anything than to confront them on it.
I guess you could say that I am not a good advocate for myself.
Yet, I seem to have no problem being an advocate for others. Give me a person, company, or cause to get behind and I have no problem speaking up. A friend is looking for work? I will dig through my network to find them the right connections. My boss asks me to speak to managers about an unpopular policy change? Bring it on, I know what needs to be said. And so on.
And I know I’m not alone in this.
How many of you find yourself doing the same thing when you end up putting the needs of your kids, friends, job, whatever, before your own? Sometimes it feels like advocating for yourself is selfish when in fact it’s only natural – and necessary.
Now, we all know that women on average still earn less than men. I know, I know, a lot of stuff goes into that statistic. But it would be hard to argue that part of the discrepancy is not due to the simple fact that when it comes to pay, women aren’t good advocates for their own worth. In fact, women who work for other women tend to earn less than if they worked for a man. That is a sad statistic. If you are a manager, and you can’t even be a good advocate for your team, how good of an advocate are you for your company or even yourself? We are all worth so much more and deserve so much better.
So here I am, giving you permission to stand up for yourself. If you won’t, no one else will. And at the same time, I’m going to make sure I take my own advice too.
Photo credit iStockPhoto
Tiger Mike’s memos were, uhm, memorable. Do yourself a favor on click on over if you haven’t seen them already. These directives, full of threats, hyperbole, and cuss words were his best attempt at “make it happen” leadership. They may not have actually worked, or maybe his strategy was wrong, because Tiger Oil went bankrupt in the 80s. But he could sure get his point across – with flare! And drama! And some action, damn it!
The thing is, Tiger Mike most likely didn’t see himself as a bully at all. He most likely would have been shocked by the play his memos are getting now. Pugilistic and direct, maybe, but what entrepreneur doesn’t have to fight to get what they want? He truly believed that writing these memos were a good use of his time. He apparently saw himself as the misunderstood victim of his powerful staff, who took his money but didn’t always do what he wanted. He was lost in feeling outnumbered and powerless - most likely with no concept that he was contributing to the problem.
We’re no better than Tiger Mike, really. We just usually have better filters. We’re all stressed these days, trying to do everything perfectly, or reach too many goals in too few hours. We have moments when we feel isolated, one-down, unpowerful, or without voice, so we pound on the table. Or say something catty. Or pull a harmless prank. And in doing so, we get attention, and that mollifies for a moment.
But the fact is, when we give in to the snarky comment, yell, undercut, or use our positions to harm others, we lose. Because we’re telling the world that we feel insecure, have failed in our leadership, an dthat we are weak. We give away our power when we act out of feeling powerless. And we look like bullies even though we’d never apply that term to ourselves.
So what is there to do?
- Recognize when you’re feeling powerless, outnumbered, one-down.
- Connect with your power. This may be through talking to a friend, thinking about recent successes, or just flat getting out of the situation where you feel victimized for a minute or two to recollect yourself.
- Recognize that nobody’s perfect, including you (and me). Then try to extend the same empathy you have for yourself back to the person you were about to snark on, yell at, or prank.
- Speak up when you see someone trying to get their way through fear, sarcasm, or intemperate display of emotion.
You’re bigger than that.
I’ve never been much of a girlie-girl. Except for when my stylishly feminine mother directly controlled my clothing choices [see photo], I’ve been more businesslike in both clothing and demeanor. Early in my career, this no-nonsense, button down approach served me well. I entered the workforce during the Dress for Success era, when business women were counseled to wear what amounted to feminized versions of the male 3-piece suit: a dark skirted suit accessorized with a floppy silk “bow tie,” high heels and pantyhose.
Along with the sartorial advice came other business gems for “fitting in” to the predominantly male business world: take up more physical space, don’t end your statements with upward inflection and no matter what – never, ever cry. Back in the mid-1980’s, that was the way of the workplace. For the most part, it wasn’t a problem for me because I was, well, not very feminine. Moreover, I wanted to succeed. So, a little modification and sublimation here and there didn’t seem too steep a price to pay for increasing responsibility and plum job assignments.
Fast forward two decades. It’s now 2010 and one might think the advice I followed twenty years ago is out-of-date. To my way of thinking it is. But to others, it seems the “act like a man” mantra still resonates. Books like Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman continue to line bookstore shelves. Just a few weeks ago I read a blog post, written by a man, that said if women wanted to appear more powerful they should, ”take up more physical space and quit ending their sentences with an upward inflection.” It’s déjà vu all over again!
Even though the same stale “success” advice is being doled out, I now have the wisdom and perspective to ignore it. Since the days of my dress-for-success suit, I’ve become a wife, a manager, a mother. I’ve buried my in-laws and grandparents and have struggled with health challenges. I now own a business and employee sub-contractors. Business deals have fallen through, projects have failed. I’ve logged countless hours in community service. Colleagues have both cheered me on and thrown me under the bus. Twenty years of living has helped me get very clear about who I am and what I will (and won’t) tolerate.
Like you, I’ve racked up some serious miles on my journey through life. It’s made me who I am: a strong, confident, woman ready to bring my whole self to the workplace. I no longer act like someone else’s version of “success”— male or female. I won’t apologize for talking about snagging a great pair of shoes on sale, nor will I pretend to enjoy discussions about sporting events. I will be me, which as it turns out, still isn’t ultra-feminine, but is 100% female.
For my fellow Women of HR readers, I encourage you to bring your best self to work, including (especially!) your womanhood. If where you are right now requires you to fundamentally change the essence of who you are, it’s time to start planning an exit strategy. Don’t be afraid to “woman up” and find a place that will embrace all of who you are, be it girlie-girl, super-jock or something in between.
My very first HR job was in the epitome of a good ole boys club. Working in an environment where you are not taken seriously can take a toll on any woman. You can make it through that experience in one of two ways: broken and deflated or empowered and slightly pissed off.
Here are a few key things to help you feel empowered working with a good ole boys club:
Self confidence. No one, and I mean no one, is better than you. Walking down the hallway with a self confident stride and your head held high can do wonders for any woman. If you've just lost a battle with the male CEO, it's sweet revenge to laugh when they expect a different emotion.
Resources. A full arsenal of professional resources will prepare you for those off the wall, meant to trip you up questions. Use Twitter, local chapter members, industry professionals, and whatever resources you can get your hands on
. Use your resources for all they're worth and be prepared.
Business Knowledge. Know how your business (HR) and the business of the company intertwine. Being able to state your case and back it up with solid business reasoning will get you further than you'd ever imagine. Showing how your proposal positively affects the bottom line with facts is hard to argue against.
The word “no.” Don't be afraid to say “no” when asked to do something shady. If the requester is insistent, have them put the request in writing with your objections noted.
A good friend. Never underestimate the power of a girls night out.
In retrospect, this advice is good for any woman in HR but realizing when it's time to make a change, and acting upon it, is my biggest piece of advice. Never stay somewhere that makes you feel less than the powerful woman you are. There are other opportunities out there. Have the courage to move on.