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Feb 13, 2017

Note: This is the fourth in a series of  five articles from thought leader Jason Lauritsen. Called the 2017 HR Hitlist, each article outlines one practice or behavior that HR needs to eliminate in 2017 and how to do it. The articles originally appeared on the Small Improvements blog. Links to previous posts are at the end of this article.

If there’s one thing that’s holding us back in HR more than anything else, it is our collective lack of confidence.

Within every organization, we have departments built around technical expertise. IT are the experts in technology; finance and accounting in financial systems; and sales in sales process.

We trust these departments to deliver solutions to business needs that exist within their areas. When the organization faces a technical challenge, we trust the IT team to assess the situation, understand the business needs, and find the right solution. Same for accounting and sales.

But, when it comes to HR, it’s a different story. Why is this?

The first reason: When it comes to people problems, everyone feels like they should be involved and have a voice in the solution. Some of this is natural since the human systems are comprised of, well, humans who have their own experience about the systems that impact them.

The second (and more problematic) reason is too many HR professionals shrink in the big moments. When it’s time to find some courage and take the lead, we defer the decision to others. After all, it’s safer to fail when everyone is involved in the decision, right?

This isn’t good enough, particularly when talent is seen as a strategic challenge by our CEOs. The HR leaders and departments of the future must rise to the occasion and elevate to the role of expert.

Here’s what that looks like:

  1. Build and expand your expertise. I’m not talking about HR certifications here. We’ve got plenty of process expertise. What’s lacking is deep expertise in human motivation and performance. The HR team should have expertise in behavioral and brain science, adult learning theories, and leadership practice. HR should know as much about how humans are wired as IT does about networks and software.
  2. Know your business. This goes far beyond products and services. It’s important to understand the customer and how your organization creates value for them. Get clear on what differentiates your offering from competitors, where your vulnerabilities lie, and how you make money. Then, connect the dots between that and how work gets done.
  3. Speak up. Organizations exist because we depend upon people to do the work. Nearly every decision made has an implication for the people. HR should have a voice in shaping and communicating those decisions. And it’s not enough to just be at the table. HR must have an informed opinion based on our expertise. Keeping the human side of the business in the forefront is HR’s most important role.
  4. Master the art of influence. Here’s the sticking point: HR doesn’t control much of anything — it’s an influencer role. We can know the right solution, but unless we can get others to adopt it, it’s not of much value. Instead of being frustrated by this, HR must become masters of influence. Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and Influencer by Grenny and Patterson are great places to start. Additionally, learn from sales. The fact that I started my career in sales and had the benefit of sales training allowed me to drive change as an HR leader with greater speed and effectiveness than my peers. The same will be true for you.

The role of HR today and in the future has changed, and it’s time to catch up. For too long, we’ve allowed ourselves to become relegated to the work of administration and policy enforcement. Our organizations need us to evolve and lead the way to creating workplaces where employees want to come and want to stay because they are finding growth and fulfillment.

Here are the links to previous articles in this series:

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