Many of my friends have an almost visceral negative reaction when I suggest they look at going into the HR profession. Mainly, I assume, because of the picture most people have of HR -which is not flattering to say the least. 


People often view HR as rule following, busy bodies that care more about being right than being compassionate. Unfortunately, based on my experience this archetype is at times pretty accurate.


The best HR professionals I have worked with and for, eschew this stereotype and have managed to rebrand what an HR professional is. Here are three things that they are doing differently:


  1. Being kind, always.  I have a theory on why some HR professionals are less than kind.  HR is a profession dominated by women (70% according to Forbes).  Sometimes the only female executive in the room is an HR professional. Because of that I have seen many, including myself “over correct” for compassion, as to show the men at the table that we are neither weak nor soft.  The best HR professionals realize that kindness does not mean soft.  Kindness means being compassionate when you have to deliver tough news. Kindness means being thoughtful of the reactions of others, and empathetic to the resulting emotions.

  2. Focus on more than metrics. Many HR professionals believe that if you are going to be involved in strategic decisions, you have to focus your conversation on the metrics and numbers.  Yes- the data is critical, but learn to tell the story about how that data impacts people. HR is at its best when we ask the probing questions relating to the numbers;  


“How will rapid growth impact our culture?”


“How will a new compensation structure change the type of employees that are attracted to us?”


“Does our current package attract the right kind of talent?”


Take the time to humanize the data, create context, and tell the complete story.


  1. Being simplistic and authentic– I have found more so recently, that one thing I value is simplicity.  I don’t mean simple in the folksy- you’re not that smart- way, I mean simple in communication style. This may be an area I take to the extreme as I have never been accused of being overly articulate, but I am straight forward and authentic. Speak the way most people speak, write in a way that is accessible and easy to understand. Pride yourself not on how polished you are but on how accessible employees find you.

I will admit there are more then these few attributes that separate great HR people from those HR people (in my opinion a sassy attitude, a panache for off color humor, or a well placed tattoo always helps).  It’s also in the way you view your role and your place in the organization. But leading with kindness, focusing on people before the numbers, and being authentic in your communication will separate you from the rest.