Knowledge is Power

The origin of the quote “Knowledge is Power’ has been attributed, in various forms, to many powerful and wise people for centuries. It’s a quote with amazing staying power and for good reason …it’s true.  At least it’s true in the world of Human Resources.  In fact, in my opinion, knowledge is the key differentiator between those HR professionals who have a seat at the table and those who do not.   Not HR knowledge—we’re expected to have that.  Business knowledge  – that’s the currency HR people must have to earn the credibility to influence the direction of the company.

I have found that the most successful HR professionals gain the business knowledge and use that knowledge to benefit the organization.  They work with members of the leadership team to strategize on issues that impact an organization.  They absolutely can’t do this if they do not have the business knowledge.  Sometimes this involvement isn’t as welcome as one might think.  But good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people may get uncomfortable if or when HR gets involved.  But if it’s part of the culture you help create because of the respect you’ve gained and the value you provide it becomes a given.  I find that typically those that are uncomfortable with the HR function fall into three categories.

1.      Those that don’t really know what HR you can do for them.

Well, it’s your job to demonstrate what you can do for them.  Share past experiences/successes. Schedule time to understand their business as well as their people struggles.  Offer to help them with an issue. Step out of the box.

2.      Those who lack confidence in their leadership ability, or just can’t lead….and it shows.

Every organization has one or more of these individuals.  However, HR’s responsibility is to the Company and its people, not just one manager.  If your standard operating procedure is understanding the business you support and its people, and your CEO recognizes that, this one is easy.  Do I hear bulldozer?

3.      Those that don’t respect the HR role because HR hasn’t demonstrated their business knowledge and value.

This one is our own fault.  As HR professionals we need to wake up to the harsh reality that while we are committed to people, we also need to be committed to the financial impact of those people.  In order to gain a voice and be respected as a peer, you must know all the aspects of the business.  This is up to you.  Sure it is going to take time, but think of the knowledge you’ll have gained in the process.  Think about it.  How can you gain respect from the CFO if you don’t know how to read a balance sheet or don’t understand how revenue recognition works.  Cost impact and return on investment are fundamentals to any successful conversation with your CFO, CEO or other competent executive.

Being around corporate executives longer than I wish to admit, I have found that even given a seat at the table some HR Professionals don’t use their voice wisely.  Yes, HR is about the people, but the people can’t be supported if the HR professional isn’t heard at the table.  Those HR Professionals that seem to be the right hand to the CEO are the ones that made it their business to know the business.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome