Early on in my career I received plenty of advice on how to be effective in my role as an HR practitioner, including the three rules of HR effectiveness: 1. Know the business, 2. Know the business, and 3. Know the business. My other favorite was even more to the point: learn how to say ‘no.’
Over the years I came to form my own view, of course, about what it takes to succeed in the role, and I’ve had lots of opportunity to test the validity of my conclusions. These opportunities first arose in the context of my own practice and, later, through observation of others in my subsequent role as a management consultant.
In summary, I see the best HR people being distinguished by three capability sets: deep technical skills, knowing how to share accountability and pattern recognition.
The first capability set may not seem a likely source of differentiation. In fact, some might say it’s a baseline. I’d like to agree but sadly I cannot. I just don’t see HR investing enough in itself, despite the depth and breadth of technical and professional skills required to of the HR function. It’s another case of the plumber with leaky pipes.
The second capability set is perhaps a more subtle one to grasp. It refers to the ability to share ownership for outcomes without diluting anyone’s sense of being ‘in the frame.’ Great HR people get alongside their line managers and operate as though they’re tied at the ankle. They push for results and, at the same time, they stoke their client’s commitment and enthusiasm rather than diminishing it.
The third capability set is simply having the intellectual capacity to see all that needs to be seen, recognize the trends and help others do likewise. This is a rare but priceless capability in a complex and changing world of work.
It’s a tough job finding and developing great HR people but they’re worth the investment. They can be the catalyst for a successful and sustainable organization.