We have all seen the portrayals of human resource managers in television, film, and other media. Utopia is a great Australian sitcom example. Like all good comedies, the characters use real-life stereotypes and perceptions of certain roles and individuals and exaggerate for effect. We often find these shows funny because they can be very close to the truth. We laugh out loud- nervously; because we know how true they can be!

Stereotypes should always be challenged, however what these portrayals go right to the heart of is the credibility of HR function in the eyes of colleagues, managers, and employees. Perception is reality and some of the funniest comedy reflects the realities of life. Unfortunately, human resources can be seen as a bit of a joke. The stereotype of a human resources manager is often depicted as individuals who sack people, people who don’t really care about others, people who invent complex solutions, processes, and rules that no one understands, the internal police or alternatively the soft and fluffy function that doesn’t really understand the business they are in. Ironically, the HR function is not seen as very human.

At one time or another, we have all seen these attributes displayed in HR teams. Bersin by Deloitte found that 42% of global companies reported the impact of HR operations on organisational success Is ‘weak’ and 85% of global companies believed they must transform HR to meet new business priorities.

David Maister, author of The Trusted Advisor writes that there are five mistakes HR professionals make:

  1. They overemphasise the technical
  2. They don’t listen
  3. They jump quickly to action – keen to deliver results
  4. They focus on the answers
  5. They focus on me, not we

Building on these themes, there are three critical attributes to building credibility as an HR professional. When these are lacking, credibility suffers.

Commitment to the business

This is demonstrated through a deep desire to understand the business you are in, including the critical drivers of organisational success and demonstrating commercial acumen. Commerciality has been discussed as a critical capability for HR practitioners for years, but unfortunately today, it can still be sadly lacking. How do you participate in executive discussions or present to the Board if you don’t understand the business you are in, nor understand how the solutions you are designing and implementing impact on organisational and workforce effectiveness?

Delivering with integrity

As an HR professional, it is not only necessary but expected that integrity is core to who you are. Building trust through honesty, transparency and role modelling the values of your organisation are essential to delivering with integrity. Rightly or wrongly HR is seen to be the custodian of a company’s people practices. Senior leaders expect HR to hold strong personal values and to call out bad behaviours. They expect HR to hold confidences and to be the eyes and ears of the workforce. Breaching confidentiality, playing politics, and showing little empathy for others all successfully diminish your credibility in the eyes of those you are seeking to influence.

Taking action and accountability

Overemphasising the technical and jumping into action can lead to overly complex and over-engineered HR solutions. Designing complex solutions with rules and detailed procedures rarely lead to employees or people leaders thinking HR is there to help. Not only this, but the implementation and ongoing maintenance of same, ensures HR is heavily focused on reactive, day to day management of HR policy and process. This often leaves little or no time for the things that really matter to the business. HR professionals need to listen more, ask questions, and take real accountability for not only what initiatives are delivered but how.

The current approach to HR in many organisations has led to a crisis of confidence in the function and the rolling of eyes whenever you mention you work in HR. References to Utopia or similar are common. Unfortunately, this way of operating as led to over-stretched, stressed HR professionals with too few resources and little support to enable them to be as effective as possible. Of course, there are many great HR professionals and of course there are many CEO’s and senior leaders who see the real benefit of HR done well. By consistently focussing on what is most important to the business and the employees in it, HR will build more trust. With trust comes credibility… and respect.

Featured in theHRDIRECTOR (September, 2021), thehrdirector