Some people still think of HR departments as those guys that just do the “people stuff,” shuffling contracts and recruiting new hires. In fact, the role of the HR professional has changed dramatically over the past few years. If you’re an HR executive, you know that your role has expanded to include major financial and bottom line issues, corporate reputation management, and keeping companies safe. The challenge for HR professionals now is to claim their power and show their value added in a profound way.
During times of crisis, it is often the HR department that hears about problems early on. Whether it’s rumors of high level executives having inappropriate relationships with junior staffers or questions of retaliation against whistleblowers, HR is often the frontline defense when it comes to crises and how they’re handled. The challenge for HR leaders is to get their voices heard and to gain more influence inside the organization so that business leaders will listen to your recommendations and take action – as opposed to putting their heads in the sand and hoping the problem will go unnoticed.
Here are five strategies for HR leaders who want to gain influence and become a trusted partner and advisor to senior leadership during times of crisis.
#1 Develop research
In a recent webinar, “Protecting Your Company’s Brand: How HR Can Take the Lead,” I discuss in detail the example of urban planner Mike Lydon. He is also profiled in my book, “Stand Out.” I used Mike as an example of someone who built authority by compiling case studies around a trend in his industry. By researching one particular trend and gathering case studies to support his idea that it was growing, Mike was able to gain recognition as an expert in the subject and ultimately wrote a book and became a speaker on the topic.
Through the power of research – simply pulling together case studies – Mike was able to establish his authority on the topic and get people to listen. For HR leaders, there’s a temptation to reject this kind of activity because we are all so busy and are pushed hard to just focus on our job, clear our inbox and do what we need to do.
But if you can take the time to prove to other people that you are widely read in your field, that you know what is happening with other companies, and that you can knowledgeably cite examples in your industry and beyond, you will soon be regarded as a uniquely knowledgeable partner. It’s table stakes to be good at your job and to know what’s happening in your company.
#2 Draft off others’ expertise
Another way to establish yourself as an authority, even if you don’t feel like one, is to do research on people who are experts in your field and familiarize yourself with their work. Doing this kind of research does involve going above and beyond and may include going to webinars on your lunch breaks, or reading or listening to an audiobook of professional thought leaders in your field. If you are knowledgeable about the work that has been done by others and you can cite that with confidence, you’ve provided thought leadership that others can understand and accept.
Taking the time to draft off the expertise that others have built up over time begins to mark you as an expert because you are intimately familiar with those ideas and that work. When you weave in the names of experts, their studies and the conclusions they have drawn as examples of what your organization should embrace as best practices, that establishes you as an expert on the subject.
#3 Dig your well before you’re thirsty
Too often professionals get into a rut at work. They deal with the same people, hang out with a static group of colleagues, and talk to the same people inside the organization day after day. While this is human nature, it’s neither useful nor desirable for those who are hoping to increase their realm of influence within an organization. If you aren’t actively expanding your network, you’re limiting your future influence. People who haven’t dealt with you before, and aren’t familiar with you as an individual, don’t have a reason to listen to you above and beyond the facts – which may be only partially convincing. People are motivated by liking someone. If the people you are trying to influence don’t already know you, they may be swayed by the weight of emotion telling them to protect their friends or do something counter to what you are proposing.
“Dig your well before you’re thirsty” – a phrase from leadership author Harvey Mackay – means that before you need someone, before you need a favor, before you need to call in your chips, you should try to reach out and build a connection. In this way, the first time you’re coming to someone isn’t when you need their support or their agreement – they already know you. Making connections early means that you are coming in as someone that they already like and are predisposed to want to help or listen to.
#4 Create your own networks
Taking a little extra effort to build connections and to get to know people by inviting them out for coffee or lunch can make an enormous difference in terms of their willingness to listen to your suggestions and, therefore, your overall influence.
Networking is not just for extroverts. I often hear people complain that they don’t network because they are introverts. I get it. I’m an introvert, too. While it may be easier for extroverts to network, building relationships is not something you can afford to skip just because you’re an introvert.
If you are an introvert, you may find big networking events, where you don’t know a lot of people and where you have to make a lot of small talk, exhausting and not very productive. But, that’s not the only way to network. Connect with people you already know and like. You may try connecting to people you don’t know well, but whom you’ve already met and want to get to know better. Some ideas for making your networking activities more intimate and less intimidating include:
Hosting small dinner parties
Inviting colleagues for drinks after work
Have lunch once a week with a different person
If you want to be influential, try to build connections in as many different departments inside your organization as possible. If you don’t know everyone personally, you’ll at least know someone in various departments that can vouch for you and help you out. When you need political capital, that is a way that you can obtain it. So, build your networks now. Dig your well before you’re thirsty.
#5 Get a wingman
Psychology research has shown that if you are perceived by other people as bragging about yourself, you are not going to get very far. But, if someone else is saying those exact same things about you, people will listen raptly. If you want to be more influential in your organization, if you want to be able to command the respect of people throughout your company, you need a wingman.
Establish a wingman by finding a like-minded friend or colleague and mutually agree to talk each other up within the organization. In theory, if you really like and respect someone, you’re doing this already. But, the truth is, a lot of times we forget. We get busy and distracted. If you make a pact to do this, it becomes top of mind and it also takes the pressure off. Your wingman can promote you in meetings by saying things like, “Oh, well Joan has a great idea about that. Hey Joan, you should tell them.”
What will you do differently today?
If you’re going to be heard, listened to, and believed, you need to cultivate your influence inside the organization. By using these five strategies, you are able to be more effective, more persuasive, and more influential. Now that you have five new strategies, what are you going to do differently starting today?