The 7 Habits of Highly Effective HR People

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to present at the HR Business Partners Summit in Wellington about how to work with executive teams.  I was called in as a late substitute for a presenter who unfortunately had to pull out, and literally had less than three days to put coherent a session together from scratch.  But hey, I like a challenge and a tight deadline!

So I started thinking about the qualities HR Business Partners and similar level HR roles need to have to be effective and credible at senior levels.  Before I knew it I had seven.  So with apologies to Stephen Covey, I called it my Seven Habits of Highly Effective HR People.  I thought I would share them more widely so in no particular order here they are:

1. Delivery

I talked about the need to have a consultant mindset with an ability to look forward rather than acting in the present.  For me, this is the difference between being a true business partner versus providing HR advice.  This means being proactive not reactive and always having a clear strategy and associated programme of work agreed with your leadership team.  It goes without saying that this needs to be linked to the overall business and people strategies. Then under promise and over deliver!

2.  Be hungry

Be the person who gets shit done regardless of the barriers. Be the person who is hungry to learn, improve and keep driving forwards with a focus on continuous improvement of your systems, services, products.  Don’t wait for an invite, just do it.

3.  Be an influencer

OK, so all of us struggle with imposter syndrome from time to time.  Some more than others.  Read Harold Hillman’s book and deal with it.  I say this because I think influence is earned by your actions and your behaviour not your smarts.  Become that trusted adviser your CEO or GM needs, but stay neutral and don’t get caught up in leadership factions or politics.  Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are the keys to this.  Influence comes from leading by example.

4.  Be curious

There are two elements to this one.  Firstly, you need to be curious about continuous learning. Keep developing the business and technical knowledge you need to be better every day.  Secondly, do regularly what one of my clients calls Survey the Landscape. For me, this means taking a step back and considering:

  • What’s happening in the business?
  • What’s going on for your colleagues?
  • What’s happening across the industry you are working in?
  • What’s impact the customers of your organisation?
  • What outside influences could affect how you are doing your job?

5.  Know your business

This is REALLY important and is about establishing and building credibility with your leaders. You need to understand what they and their people do. In broader terms, understand who your business competitors are and the challenges they present to your business. Also, identify the future leaders and those with potential.  Get alongside them, nurture them, encourage them.  Get them involved in new HR initiatives as sounding boards or early adopters.  Oh, and learn how to read a balance sheet if you don’t already know!

6.  Be digitally savvy

The most under-used/developed skill amongst HR professionals is analysis.  Many HR functions still do little or not reporting, or analysis of their reporting.  What are the trends, red flags, impacts that your leaders need to know about?  Bring insights to your dealings with leaders (just like Emilia Clarke below!).  And this also means understanding what HR technology is out there and how you can use it.  Often HR functions are massively under-invested in terms of technology.  Don’t work in the dark ages.


7.  Have courage

Last but not least, you have two choices in HR – do what you are told by your boss/customers and not rock the boat in the misguided belief you are delivering even though it’s unethical, or challenge what you know sometimes is instinctively wrong. We need to have the courage to call out bad behaviour, particularly on a leadership team. Don’t get too buddy/buddy with your leaders.  You never know when you might have to exit one of them quickly (don’t be naïve – it happens all the time at that level).

So there we have it.  These are a few of my thoughts.  Do you agree/disagree?  I’m always keen to debate this stuff so get in touch.

One thought on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective HR People

  1. Paul says:

    Thanks for the post as always Richard. Insightful, intelligent and not afraid to challenge (just like author). Great way to start Monday morning and the coming week !

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