5 Simple Truths You Absolutely Must Remember When Climbing The Ladder of Success In HR…

by Alan Collins


Truth 1 – Your education, HR certifications and smarts mean nothing…without ACTION.

Laurie Reiuttemann in her article, What the Hell is an SPHR? tells the story about getting career coaching from her boss.He told her that if she wanted to be taken seriously in HR, that she should go get SPHR certified.

So she did.The whole process took her about nine weeks.The result: Nobody on her job cared one hoot that she passed the exam.In my case, when I left Purdue with my masters in Industrial Relations, I felt on top of the world. And, in my first real HR job, I didn’t hesitate to tout my business school credentials.And, like Laurie, I found out nobody gave a rip.In fact, the more I talked about grad school, the more people ignored me.I didn’t start getting any REAL respect on the job until I got my freakin’ head out of the clouds, hunkered down and started getting stuff done. Stuff that really mattered.

There’s an important point here.It doesn’t make any difference if you have a genius IQ, plus an MBA, GPHR, SPHR, CCP and a PhD in Human Resources (if such a thing exists). You won’t make meaningful career progress in the real-world without taking action and getting results.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a biggest advocate on the planet for beefing up your HR credentials and engaging in constant professional development until the day you die.However, doing these things guarantee you nothing.The reason you do them is that they will make you a more confident and capable HR professional. That’s all.

There’s a huge difference between KNOWING HOW to do something and ACTUALLY DOING IT WELL.

Knowledge, capability, skill and intelligence are not all that important without action and results to validate them.It’s just that simple.

Truth 2 – You are in business for yourself

No matter how you make your living in HR or who you think you work for, you really only work for one person: YOURSELF.The big question is: What are you selling and to whom? Even if you have a full-time, salaried position in a Fortune 500 sweatshop, you are still running your own business. You are the “product” and you’re selling:

One unit of your existence (an hour of your life)At a set price (the associated fraction of your salary)To a big customer (your employer)Populated with consumers who must be satisfied with the value you provide (your clients).

So how can you become a more valuable product? It’s simple. Solve more problems. Produce more solutions.Companies love HR people who are proactive, flexible problem-solvers.

What kind of problems should you be solving? Simple. The problems that plague your organization or your clients the most.If you have the choice of pushing back, grousing and complaining about why these problems exist in the first place. Or jumping in the mix, positioning yourself as a “solution provider” and building your HR brand in the process. I say opt for the latter.

But let’s get real. Chances are no matter how much value you’re adding, if the business goes belly up, you can expect to get canned. But just because you lose your job doesn’t mean that you lose all your experiences, talents, ideas, leadership and determination. Again, you are a business.You are not your job, so don’t lose your identity in it.Your job isn’t your security blanket.Your business is.

Truth 3 – Happiness and success in HR are two different things.

I’m friends with a brilliant HR SVP who makes a ton of money. How do I know that? Because I saw her total compensation package published in her company’s 10-k filing for shareholders.

Every person I know, including me, considers her to be wildly successful. But guess what? A few days ago, out of the blue, over an informal coffee, she told me that she’s been depressed for the last 18 months.


“I’m burnt out on this job, haven’t had a real date in a year and I’m lonely. I’m swamped at work, out of shape and just haven’t taken enough time for myself lately,” she said.

“Wow!” I thought. “One of the most successful HR executives I know isn’t happy.”I also know an HR manager, who works roughly five levels below her in a different organization.Weather permitting, he bikes along the lakefront in Chicago twice a week. He collects antiques. And, is the most energetic and upbeat guys I’ve ever met – always smiling from ear to ear.He’s been in the exact same job for the past three years and loves it. He’s not worried about where his next promotion is coming from. He’s got a huge network of contacts and is confident that if he ever needs to find another HRM job, it won’t be a problem.

So while this guy is happy, I wouldn’t classify his HR career as the ultimate success story.The point: “What will make me happy?” and “What will make me successful?” are two of the most important questions you can ask yourself about your career in HR.

But they are two different questions.And they may have two different answers.You can be successful and unhappy.You can be happy and not successful.You can, of course, be both.Which are you?

Truth 4 – You will never feel 100% ready when an opportunity lands on your doorstep.

The number one thing I consistently see that holds savvy HR folks back is their own reluctance to accept an opportunity simply because they don’t think they’re ready.

When does this happen?Anytime.It could happen if you’re offered a “once-in-a-lifetime” big promotion to China.It could happen if you’re asked to lead the company-wide task force on improving employee engagement.It could happen if one of your clients, a powerful senior executive, taps you on the shoulder and asks you for some candid feedback on how she can work better with her team.In cases like this, it’s natural to doubt yourself and question whether you have what it takes.But the truth is nobody ever feels 100% ready when a big opportunity arises.


Because most great opportunities jerk us out of our comfort zone and force us to stretch ourselves emotionally and intellectually, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first.And when we don’t feel comfortable, we darn sure don’t feel ready.Significant moments of opportunity will land at your doorstep throughout your career in HR.And, if you are looking to make significant progress in your career you will need to embrace these moments of opportunity…even though you will never feel 100% ready for them.

Truth 5 – Your good friends will come and go.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s easy to succumb to career pressures and refuse to set aside time for quality time for family and friends.Not Facebook time.Actual face time.Sure, it’s true that many people you meet in your life will just fade away.Most of your high school friends won’t be part of your college life.Most of your college friends won’t be a part of your 20-something professional life.Most of your 20-something friends won’t be there when…after many years of effort… you finally land that job of your dreams in HR.But some friends will stick.

And it is these friends – the ones who transcend time with you – who DO matter.Cherish them.

And stay in touch.



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