There’s been a lot of interest lately in what it takes to be an “HR influencer.” In reality, there has been an interest in “influence” since there were people to influence. The Greek and Roman philosophers wrote of it, politicians have exercised it, and sales reps have studied it. In 1984 (and in several revisions since), Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote ‘>Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, and it became a national bestseller and is considered an essential business book. More recently, Dan Pink addressed the SHRM National conference in 2013 about his book To Sell is Human. Pink said HR people sell all the time, they just don’t call it that; rather, they “influence” people.
What does “influence” mean? According to Dictionary.com, the noun influence means “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.” As a verb, it means “the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others.” Despite the word “force” in the first definition, influence is not “force.” You don’t influence by forcing. You influence by making people want to change their thoughts or ideas or behavior. It is more of a passive activity. People can choose to not be influenced by you at all.
First, you have to define your audience. Are you trying to influence a specific group of people, such as your employee group? Or are you trying to influence a larger target audience, such as Twitter followers or bloggers? Are you trying to influence potential clients or customers? Or are you trying to influence the field of Human Resources as a business and psychological sphere? These are questions you need to think about. The good news is that regardless of the answer there are some commonalities.
Most people will not accept you as being an influencer if they do not see you as being credible. This means that you need some experience in what you are talking about. Typically this means that you have worked in the field. “Working in the field” is somewhat of a broad term, but it generally means you have held an HR job. It could also mean you have studied and taught it, or researched and written about it, like Dan Pink. Just remember, the closer you’ve been to actually being a practicing HR manager, the more credible you will be unless you are a mega-name like Dave Ulrich.
To gain credibility, you need to produce content that exhibits your experience. If the group you are trying to influence is a company workgroup, you can gain credibility by creating good, workable policies, procedures, and programs that serve the group well. If you are trying to influence a broader audience, then blog posts, white papers, seminars, webinars, and speeches can provide the content that people will be looking to in order to determine your credibility.
Fellow HR blogger Trish McFarland lists consistency as the most important point for an HR influencer. Dorien Morin, Social Media Consultant, when writing about being a Twitter influencer also thinks that consistency is very important. One of the key points of influence is having a point of view, and that is not established without consistency in delivering your message. Yes, I understand that on occasion something is written once that may have great influence, and the person may never repeat that idea. But the consistency comes from others delivering your message over and over and over again. Since most of us don’t achieve that level right off the bat, we have to be the ones that deliver our point of view on a consistent basis.
In a Facebook conversation I participated in about the characteristics of an HR influencer, started by Blake McCammon (the post he wrote about it is here), Bill Boorman said that no one can determine whether or not they are an influencer. In other words, you can aspire to be an influencer, but it is your audience that really determines if you are or not. John Jorgensen echoed a similar sentiment by saying, “you cannot declare yourself an influencer or anything like it.” When it comes down to it, whether you influence anyone depends on them and not you. So check your ego at the door.
As a final thought, I want to point out that being an HR influencer is not always a good thing. You can be a bad influence. The world is rife with stories of “bad HR.” Everyone in the field has at some point seen or worked with someone who was just terrible at doing the work of human resources. These kinds of people can influence you in two ways. You can be just like they are and become a bad HR person too, or you can recognize them for what they are and use them as a model for how not to be.
It reminds me of the old saying, “I may not be good at anything, but at least I can serve as a bad example.”