Although his life and achievements are discredited professionally, there is no doubt in my mind that Lance Armstrong remains one of the most dedicated, hardworking athletes this world has ever seen. While the use of drugs taints his every memory now, some things he did remain as outstanding examples of dedication to his craft. One of his comments from “It’s Not About The Bike” sticks with me. He said – and I am extensively paraphrasing – “An athlete gains his race confidence from having done it already in training”. He said there was no hill he raced that he had not already climbed harder in training. No section of the course he had not ridden tens of times before the actual race.
This is an incredible principle of preparation.
We are more often than most in highly contentious situations where we are responsible as advisors or facilitators, for the outcomes. These situations can be highly contentious, and unique, requiring someone – us – to predict, interpret and analyse and compare against precedent and law so that accurate advice can be given and dangers avoided. But it’s not an everyday thing so we need to keep sharp on the disciplines that need to apply to such situations.
We are the guide for the organisation. They trust our training, our expertise and our instincts in what for other kinds of professionals, can be a very grey area – Employee Relations. Managers become managers through technical or administrative excellence, more than through ER skills, and they look to us to handle the complexity of those areas.
Our excellence is therefore key. Average, any manager can do. And most managers, with a good amount of experience, can easily reach “competent” levels of HR knowledge. And if we are ok with average, most managers will then be as good as us. I ask then, what value do we add? If any manager can answer an HR or ER question as well as we can, then we are failing our employers. End of story.
The Dragon’s name is Average.
Perhaps we don’t know the legal and policy framework around our field of expertise as well as we should, and then when a situation arises that requires excellence, we can only produce average. Most times, we get away with it. But the reputation builders, the memorable moments, are not those “most times”. And if we assume that we know, or presume a lack of complexity where we simply lack the professional insight, we will fail when we are most needed.
The weapon that defeats this Dragon is knowledge, pure and simple. A list is probably the easiest way to set it all out, so here goes. But before I do, let’s not assume that simply doing the basics is enough. The difference between good and great is small in terms of output, but the effort required to make that transition is disproportionately large. Excellence is for the passionate, the determined and the exceptional. Average Joes, do not read on unless deep down you are in significant danger of becoming excellent.
- Knowing the law in our area of expertise. All of it.
- Knowing company policy, procedure and process intimately. Every detail. Be so good the auditors don’t stand a chance of catching you out.
- Know the personalities involved. People are not blank templates. They have hopes and dreams, fears and challenges. They have personal lives that are intertwined with work. They have sick relatives and children etc. If we are going to do our work well, then although we cannot know all of this in advance, we can be better at reading situations than others, and provide empathic guidance and wisdom that humanises our legal and procedural excellence. My best results have always come when I have seen and reached through the rules and regulations to the person in need on the other side of the table.
- Know the politics and the power relationships. More on that later.
- Know yourself. Be very self-aware. We need to know and be able to compensate for, our own tendencies – coping mechanisms, fears, insecurities, so that we are providing objective, balanced advice. This is never as important as when we ourselves are also a participant in the matter. This single factor alone could make us the most trusted person in the organisation, or the least. Are we dragged by the heels kicking and screaming into belated self-awareness, or do we know ourselves already?
- Know the leading thought and philosophies. Read blogs (there are many way better than mine, so don’t hang around here longer than you have to). Subscribe to services like Switch and Shift, Inc.com, Michael Hyatt, Seth Godin, Leadership Freak, Jeremy Scrivens, TomorrowToday and many others. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and on their blogs. Get passionate about the soft skills and thinking around HR and leadership.
- Be at least competent in your organisations area of expertise. Be able to hold a meaningful conversation about the same topic, around the same table as your leadership team. Want credibility and instant rapport with your team? That is how.
Where the stakes are high and our role is controversial owing to many of the factors mentioned for example in my first post “Here Be Dragons”, the confidence of understanding the issues and of being ale to process so many variables objectively will be our seaworthy vessel in the storm.