5 Key Components to being a more Influential HR Practitioner
HR Business Partner

Written by Marnie Brokenshire

April 23, 2023

Being influential is a learned skill. It is frequently assumed as a given by mistaking being influential with using HR rules and regulations to manipulate. Being a great influencer takes time, concerted effort and strategic intent and there are many facets to honing your capability.

Have you ever been in a position where someone seems to command more attention when they speak than when you do but you don’t know why? Or where you say something in a meeting and it gets ignored then someone else says the same thing and everyone engages? Are you guilty of thinking someone is more “liked” or “a favourite” because they seem to have more sway? Well, you would not be alone!

Throughout my 30+ years in Corporate Executive HR roles, I have been asked countless times why this happens. Frustrated HR practitioners struggling to gain traction. Exhausted leaders trying to have a voice to no avail. Having spent most of these 30 years studying leadership and emotional intelligence capabilities, as well as being privy to most of the “behind the scenes” discussions about people, I can tell you that the key is the skill of influence.

It is a simple fact, some people are good at influencing other people’s thinking and behaviour and HR needs this skill in abundance. However, it is important to distinguish influence from manipulation. This article by Forbes is a quick read on the difference – click here.  We are only interested in influencing, not manipulation.

A great misnomer for many is the idea that you need position power to influence. I believe that the ability to influence, and the room to grow this capability needs to start as soon as you enter the workforce and I want to dispel that myth.

You can be just as effective when you don’t have position power as when you do. In fact, position power can sometimes make it harder, not easier. A lot of the time, power is misused, which is why learning the art of influence before you have power, makes you so much more clever at knowing how to use power as an additional capability when you get it. However, it’s never too late to learn, or to grow your skillset.  Here are our top 5 musts for being effective:

1. Emotional Intelligence

Self-awareness and self-regulation are critical skills. If you have not done any work (or it’s been a minute) on assessing your social and emotional intelligence competencies and evaluating where you are at and what you need to work on, then this is the place to start. We have developed our own influencing model built around the emotional intelligence competencies we think are essential. If you want to know more about this, we would love to talk you through it. Your emotional intelligence is your superpower and without it, your ability to influence will be challenged.

2. Knowledge

Being knowledgeable is essential. Now let me be clear, this is not about being an expert – there are plenty of people who are preachy “experts” and think they are smarter than they really are – I mean the opposite. Be knowledgeable and smart but to inform yourself, not others. Essentially, you are trying to be the opposite of the preachy “expert”.

What you need is a good general knowledge about the business in general, your business, the industry, the way it makes money, the external environmental factors that impact, such as competition or regulation, the facts and the data. If you are trying to influence anything from a base of limited knowledge it will get you nowhere fast. As will trying to fake it until you make it. You need to do your research, understand the operating environment and understand the challenges. You should also have given deep thought to the “ifs” and the “buts” and have contingencies – what do you predict to be the barriers that everyone sees and how do you navigate that with your knowledge base? If you are an HR practitioner trying to influence the agenda about a specific topic, you need to know more than just your area of expertise. You must take a commercial approach. Knowledge brings credibility.

“Curiosity is key to persuasive influence. Have an enquiring mind and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge”.

3. Curiosity

Curiosity is one of our influencing model’s emotional intelligence competencies but it gets a special mention here because, without it, you can miss so many opportunities. If you have planned your influencing strategy (which you should), do your research as per point 2 (which you should), and have real clarity about where you are starting and how you are going to get to your desired outcome, but you forget to be curious throughout, you may end up in the wrong place. Many HR practitioners will relate to having persuaded a particular approach for that to fail. It fails because we can become so fixated on a defined plan and approach, that we miss red flags along the way.

Your constant state of curiosity will not only help build your knowledge base, it will ensure you avoid the pitfall of thinking you know everything and have all the answers or that your solution is the only solution. Being able to create discussion gives you ongoing opportunities to express your views but also to hear others.

Curiosity will force you to challenge your own underlying assumptions and face your own bias and prejudice head-on. Learning, listening and pivoting throughout will deliver an outcome one that is more likely to work. Your mindset should never be to “win”.

4. Courage

Ever sat in a meeting listening to a discussion and thinking to yourself, “that wont work“, “they don’t understand“, “there is important information being missed“, yet not speaking out?  Many people we teach tell us that the number one thing standing in the way of influencing is the fear that anything they say will not be well received. It is normal, but you need to do some work on you to resolve this self doubt. If you prepare, tap into your emotional intelligence skill bank, have the knowledge, have done the research, then you have nothing to fear.

You have to overcome the fear and I always say; “if not now, when?” Like anything new, it isn’t new once you’ve done it once. Take a deep breath and speak your mind. If you really want to influence the agenda, you have to be courageous. Healthy, high performing cultures depend upon courageous HR leaders.  Be concise and be strong, people will listen.

The workplace depends on HR to influence the agenda and drive change. If not HR, then who?

5. Language

Language is so important. As is your style, manner, tone and energy. We often run our influencing program side by side with our communication program for a reason, if you don’t communicate well, using the right language at the right time, you may lose your audience and not know why.

Choose your words carefully and be clever about your manner and tone.  Whether to “push” or “pull”, advocacy vs enquiry, how to pivot and change it up, open or closed questions, consultative or interactive. When thinking through language and approach, consider how you phrase concepts and the words you use. Are you too authoritarian, too preachy, too verbose, too much HR speak? Have you thought of enough different ways to articulate your message? Do some preparation and ensure you are articulate and constructive and that your language choices don’t alienate.

We have proven time and time again that an influential, strategic HR function can be undeniable in it’s power to create healthy, high performing cultures.

If you would like to know more about our influencing programs, written by us, HR Practitioners (not consultants) for HR practitioners, reach out. We would love to share some of our case studies with you. You may also want to take our HR Influencing Scorecard Quiz – link below.

As practitioners with years of in-house Corporate experience, we know the role of HR is hard, we also know that becoming strategic, influential and value add is a journey supported by mentoring. This is why we offer people strategy workshops and HR masterclasses facilitated by Marnie Brokenshire (30+ years corporate HR, 15 at C-Suite), and Nicole Mathers (10+ years corporate HR, 5 at senior management).  Reach out to see how we can support you.

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