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Building credibility as an HR professional


HR pros often find their advice is seen as less credible than similar advice from external consultants. This may seem unfair or irrational, but it’s a common human trait that we need to face. External consultants walk in with the credibility of being part of a prestigious firm; in-house employees don’t have this advantage—so they need to work extra hard to build their reputation.

Here are three simple things HR professionals can do to build credibility:

1. Bring some extra information to the table

Managers are always desperately hungry for nuggets of relevant information. The information could be along the lines of “academic research has shown that the best way to deal with a poor performer is…” or “an analysis of the employee survey shows…” or “they had a similar issue in another department and this is what they did.”

HR pros should always strive to have some useful facts on hand when meeting a manager. This can be achieved by a doing just enough research before a meeting to dig up a couple of useful facts; more commonly professionals who are good at this are information junkies. Information junkies are constantly reading—and consciously filing away the useful nuggets that can then be used as needed.

Notice that this isn’t about providing advice or offering a solution; it’s about sharing some information or insight that is new to the manager. Notice too that information made to a group in a presentation isn’t as valued as something shared one on one.

2. Be genuinely curious about how the manager sees the situation

Managers will appreciate it if you show genuine curiosity about how they see the situation. Here are some ‘curiosity’ questions that you can use over and over again:

o What do you think is the underlying cause of the situation? o What would be a successful outcome for you? o What are some of the barriers to moving forward? o What are some of the options? o Which option do you like the best?

Several benefits flow from this approach that help your credibility. The first benefit is that managers, as people, simply appreciate someone taking the time to truly listen. Secondly, it provides you with enough insight that when the time does come to offer suggestions you’ll be able to offer good ones. Finally, managers often find their own solutions as they engage in this conversation with you, and strangely give you credit even though you did little more than listen with curiosity.

3. Prove you have their back

In all organizations managers need to be attuned to the internal and external forces that will affect a decision or influence their career. In fact, one advantage external consultants have is that managers may be able to tell them things they’d be reluctant to share internally. Part of credibility is being a credible ally. Show managers that you are sensitive to the politics of the situation, and prove that you won’t do anything that might make them look bad.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from these three points is that building credibility isn’t about impressing people with your credentials and accomplishments, or with how smart you are. It’s about impressing them with your sincere interest in their situation, your concern about them as an individual, and your ability to help them find their own way to an answer.


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