An HR home truth

It is pretty tough to tell a new entrant to the profession this, but a little advice can go a long way,

Chances are that most managers you meet are going to think you’re an idiot.

You then have the choice whether you are going to confirm that view for them or shatter their preconceptions. And in essence that differentiates a good HR pro from a bad one.

Is this a harsh view? I think we need to accept that most people in the workplace have a pretty dim view of HR.  I was having dinner with friends a few weeks back and we were talking about the Easter holidays, I explained that I didn’t have any time off because “the HR Director is an idiot”. Someone who didn’t know what I did replied, “well aren’t they all?”  And then just last week I was asked to look at an HR related work document for someone.  When I explained that the tone of it was a little “aggressive” the response I got was, “well that seems to be the way with every HR person that we deal with”.

We can try to explain this away, to pretend that this is “them” not “us” and that somehow the public perception is based on these rogue practitioners that appear at night, do bad stuff and then leave us to clear it all up.  Or we can do one of our very favourite things and blame our underperformance on line manager incompetence.

But in essence, the perceptions of the profession will only be changed by a thousand small actions each and every day. Actions that delight, surprise and add tangible value to each and every manager that we meet. They will only be changed if WE change our mindset and approach and decide that we need to do things a different way.

Start off by remembering that most people will think you’re an idiot when you first meet them.  If you can change their view by the time you meet them again…’re getting somewhere.


  1. Sukh Pabial · April 26, 2011

    I agree with what you’re saying completely. Only by our own actions can we honestly say that we understand the influence we have on others. I was going to say ‘impact’ but that’s just not the same thing. I think, though, part of this is about being self-aware. And that’s not something which comes easy to a lot of people. It’s often assumed as HR professionals we’re meant to do this automatically. If only this were true,

    This also resonates with a post I wrote recently where I talked about positive energy networks. There are those in society who naturally create positive energy around them. This could delve into a whole nature/nurture thing, but let’s keep it simple. In the work environment it’s easy to get frustrated by anyone who is seen as a ‘blocker’ of some sort. If we understand how to cultivate this positive energy, we can then positively influence the perception others have of us.

    • Neil · May 9, 2011

      I’ve just written this morning about influence Sukh. I completely agree with your connection to actions.

  2. newresource · April 26, 2011

    Now this does not happen too often, I finished reading this post and found myself wanting more. Because its honest. Its the truth. Very few people like dealing with us or even talking to us. One point you made that I can relate to, is the family and friend piece, everyonce and a while my friends will get on roll about things at work that bothers them, and at some point, someone will say “Why do you all do that?”
    And to close this comment, I find myself trying to flex my HR mind muscle all the time, and I have to remind myself, “I’m good, I don’t prove myself, just do your thing”
    Nice post here.

    • Neil · May 9, 2011

      Thanks! Being in HR at some social events can feel worse than being the taxman!

  3. David Goddin · April 26, 2011

    Maybe I’m missing the point today but I’m not sure what value there is in assuming others preconceptions… It’s up to all of us to establish reality and change preconceptions (whatever they are) into informed opinion. So to start on the basis that the person you are going to meet for the first time probably thinks you are an idiot does everyone a dis-service.

    I agree with adopting an appropriate & helpful mindset/approach and to look at ways to change preconceptions (once you know them!) . Sukh makes a great point on influence and self-awareness.

    But how about meeting that Manager for the first time with an attitude of :

    “We’re both good, smart people who want to work together, how do we make this relationship work really well?”

    • Neil · May 9, 2011

      The point I was trying to get across is to go in and wow people, work on the lowest assumption and use every effort to make them think differently.

  4. Noel O'Reilly · April 28, 2011

    Is it more likely that most people just think the HR director and his/her team are simply invisible? When there are massive challenges facing an organisation from technology, the economy etc etc you only see what HR is doing if you have a disciplinary or are at risk of redundancy. I know it’s the old argument that HR hides behind compliance and admin but the reason why that’s a cliche is that it’s what lots of employees experience. If people were the most important asset HR would be right there centre stage working out how to tackle these challenges. Sorry, gone into one – I think it’s the prospect of the Royal Wedding depressing me.

    • Neil · May 9, 2011

      In the words of Lloyd Cole, “The reason its a cliche is because its true”

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