HR Roundtable: The Touchy Issue of Credibility at Work

The turn to Spring brought a sense of renewal for the March HR Roundtable in Cincinnati as we had a near record turnout of over 150 people! Everyone had gathered to talk about the touchy issue of “Credibility at Work.”

This subject is “touchy” because we are often too soft around the edges to be direct when we discuss credibility. This shouldn’t be the case, so Steve took the infamous “Roundtable 3” questions and laid them out in a particular way to set the tone. Here’s what the group took on:

  1. What is “credibility” at work?
  2. How can you earn/lose credibility?
  3. Why isn’t HR credible?

The energy level in the room was actually palpable. You could hear very heated discussions occurring and several people were sharing personal experiences in regards to the issue of credibility. It was going to be exciting to see what everyone had to say.

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What is “credibility” at work?

  • It’s a perception – or at least it starts this way. Interesting that this is how the answers were going to be shared. It’s true that a person can be perceived as “credible” going in, but then that is tested and either proven to be true or not over time. People need to be careful because we tend to fall into the “Halo Effect” of people when we meet them. We see them as great – until they disappoint us.
  • Credibility does NOT equal capability! There are countless employees who are very capable from a skills standpoint, but that may not mean that they are credible in the eyes of others. A person can make a million dollar sale and still be a jerk. HR needs to be careful to not put people on mythical pedestals because they hit numbers or metrics all the time. Credibility is much more than outward performance.
  • Credibility is sustainable and consistent. Solid. Now we started to hit some tangible answers that prove what “credibility” is. An employee who is consistent is gold. Now, a person can be consistently bad, but what we’re talking about is the person who is consistent in all they do FOR the Company. This characteristic of sustainability is what ties this to the positive side of the scales. A great way to look at this is – these people are “comfortable in their own skin.” They exhibit behavior that people see as valuable and almost predictable.
  • Do as you say – say as you do. Similar to the point above, with one variation. The fact that actions speak louder than words is not just some old, traditional mantra. People will judge your credibility by watching you much more than listening to you. Make note of this. If you have to “try” to make your actions match your words, you aren’t very credible and your smoke and mirrors approach will catch up to you. It’s just a matter of time.
  • Stand their ground for what is right! This isn’t a call to martyrdom. Too often people fall on their sword for a cause. It may not mean that this is what is “right” in the eyes of the organization. However, people who stand their ground and represent the “right” thing are some of the most credible people you’ll ever work with. It’s not easy to stand up against the tide, but the consequences of not standing up may be much worse.
  • Credibility is determined by others. You can’t proclaim yourself credible. The reality of credibility at work is that others get to determine whether you are credible or not. May not seem fair, but it is reality. Understanding that this is something that occurs vs. being bestowed is important. People that posture for attention and focus to seem credible often are people that are the farthest thing from actually being credible.

How can you earn/lose credibility?

  • Consistent application of practices. [EARN] This response drew amazing anger and disdain. Shocking really because the person who offered this up was right. If you can be consistent in how processes and practices are applied across the organization, you will be credible. It doesn’t mean you’ll be popular. In fact, you won’t be. This is because . . .
  • We don’t like to be consistent. [LOSE] We want to be “fair.” HR is notorious for this !! The reality of dealing with people is that you CAN’T be fair because “fair” is defined by the person. Here’s the story Steve shared:

I have two kids who are fantastic !! One day my kids, a daughter and son, wanted to have a snack after school. There were two Oreos left in one package and a brand new, unopened package of Chips Ahoy. My daughter took the Oreos, looked at her brother and slowly licked the cookies and chewed them intentionally. He screamed and screamed.

I said, ‘Why are you upset?’ He said, ‘It’s NOT FAIR !!’

I replied, ‘What’s not fair? Didn’t you both want cookies?’ And he defiantly replied, ‘Yes, but I wanted THOSE cookies !!’

Doesn’t that sound like your employees?”

  • Resolving situations. [EARN] If a person can truly bring resolution to situations, they are a star! Note that this is different than a “problem solver.” Because honestly, a problem solver is someone who survives by looking for problems. Resolution may mean that a problem still exists, but you are working to some sort of direction and/or movement. Great characteristic to have in someone.
  • Taking credit for someone else’s work. [LOSE] Ironic this was shared because there are countless examples of people who have become immensely successful by taking credit for someone else’s work. Now, please note that we rarely have work that is solely one person’s responsibility anymore. The factor to note is to build up others around you for the work that they do. It’s really the only way to not only be credible, but to be effective.
  • Be genuine. [EARN!] You can’t end on a “LOSE.”  The fact is that we adore people who are genuine. This may take into account other characteristics or traits, but being genuine is something that is woven into the fabric of some people. Can you genuinely be a creep? Sure, but we need to look on the side that the vast majority of people are amazing and stop looking for the small percentage of people who aren’t.

Why isn’t HR credible?

  • HR has become “them.” In the classic “us and them” culture, HR is often “them.” The sad fact is that many HR practitioners have done little to counteract this sentiment. Also, some HR people thrive on being “them.” It is well past time for HR to show that they aren’t the opposition, but as mentioned before, this has to happen through action and not words. If you enjoy being “them,” you may want to look at a different profession than HR because the true future of HR is not being an opposition proponent.
  • They are asked to lie. Steve got very animated at this response. In fact, he went into a little “You can’t handle the truth” rant. The point of this was that HR does handle so much that employees don’t know about. The question is – have people ever thought what the burden of that does to people? It’s not easy to be the person/department who deals with the underbelly of things. This doesn’t mean that HR shouldn’t handle these things because, more often than not, they are equipped to do this well and that is a strong reason for having them in the role of HR.
  • They are “rules based” vs. “principles based.” This hit home and was such a solid truth that the entire HR community should pay attention to. When HR becomes “rules based,” all of the negative stereotypes of the profession become a reality. It’s not to say that companies don’t need parameters or policies, but HR that relies on the rules based method will never be HR that is strategic because it is, by choice, boxed in. When the attendees were asked if they would like to see “principles based” HR, there was a resounding “IF ONLY! Telling, isn’t it? This brand of HR, though not as common, is where effective, thriving HR exists. It is definitely where HR will reside in the future.

What a great Roundtable! It was a resounding success based on the energy level, the great discussion and the feedback given on the way out to people’s next job, appointment or destination.

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at sbrowne@larosas.com, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.

 

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