Changing HR HR Remix Leadership

A Decade in #HR : If You Don’t Have This Quality You Are Useless

I was updating my LI profile the other night and realized that I have been in HR for over TEN years.  A decade in a profession that can be incredibly rewarding, frustrating and sometimes soul-crushing all in the same day.

Reputation Post-It Note Meaning Opinion Or Standing
Reputation Post-It Note Meaning Opinion Or Standing

Over the last decade, I’ve learned some important lessons from observation and personal experience.  That’s what this series will be about. This series will not be about crazy HR stories or bad HR people, it’s about my observations and moving the field forward. I hope this series is enlightening, funny and maybe you learn something.


Lesson 1: Credibility

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is the importance of credibility.  As an HR practitioner, you must have credibility or you are useless.

If you have shot your credibility by partaking in the office gossip, sharing confidential information or acting in an immature/unprofessional manner, very few people will trust you. Instead of turning to HR, HR becomes a part of the story that an employee tells an employment attorney or government agency. 

People are perceived as credible when they are trusted to do what they say they will, treat people fairly and deal honestly. This can be tricky in HR because parts of our job must remain confidential. Our investigation into harassment may turn into a jerk being fired but we can’t exactly advertise that.

Keeping secrets isn’t the only qualification. People should be reasonably confident that you will actually do something about their issue.  Or communicate if you cannot.

I learned the credibility lesson early in my career through observing some great HR people and how they handled difficult issues. Not everyone loved the decisions they reached but those decisions, made under difficult conditions, tried to be as fair as possible.

What did those individuals have in common? How did they build and maintain strong credibility?

  1. They Take Action – It isn’t enough to lend a sympathetic ear, you have to take action when necessary.  Sometimes we can’t tell a specific person how we will address the situation but we can say something like “I understand.  This will be addressed. If it happens again let me know.”
  2. Strong Communication Skills – Whether it was an email, a conversation or a phone call, they were able to convey the message in a clear and concise manner.  And the message matched the situation.  They didn’t talk down to people or make them feel stupid.
  3. Gossip stops at their door.
  4. They Recognize Their Own Biases – After working for a while, it’s easy to generalize people, places and situation. This doesn’t mean that you discount your prior experience but you should recognize how it could frame your view of the current workplace.
  5. They Listen – People know when you didn’t listen to them and guess what? They assume you don’t care or worse.
  6. They don’t solve every problem– Every problem can’t be solved by HR. Sometimes HR does best when we help people learn how to solve their own problems. We can and should help people learn how to resolve differences in the workplace and move on with their lives. No one ever may ever realize you (HR) were involved and that’s okay (more on that in a future lessons post).

What do you think?  How can HR professionals build and maintain credibility in their organization?

Next week’s lesson covers all the ways HR can make an impact on their organizations (for good and bad).  

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