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Who do you trust?

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There’s a lot of conversation today about the role of influence and influencers in the HR influencer space as well as the HR Tech influencer space. It’s far from a new conversation, yet it’s one that reappears more frequently now with the advent of new lists like the [fantastic] Most Inclusive HR Influencers List, and the [baffling] new SHRM 2020 Conference Blogger Rules. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to be a member of any group that would have me, so it’s never bothered me much if I’m considered an influencer or if I get invited to sit at the cool kids’ table (and to be clear, I’m not, most of the time!). These influencer discussions can be useful, and maybe it’s sour grapes, but I’ve always lived my professional life by a few key rules of my own when it comes to influence. 

1. I can call myself an airplane but it doesn’t mean I can fly. When you call yourself an influencer, it may or may not be true, so it can cut both ways. Strictly speaking, the only way you have influence is if you actually get people to change their behavior or make decisions based on what you say, and only the marketplace will bear that out. And I would argue that influence is also a lagging indicator. You can only see influence in hindsight, and it certainly may or may not hold true for the future.

2. Listen to your gut and your clients. If you’re providing value to people who actually pay you, I’d say you’re very influential in the ways you need to be. I’m not suggesting that you totally ignore the trends and trend makers, but I’ve never gone wrong when I’ve trusted my gut and acted ethically when delivering value to my clients and colleagues.

3. Ninety-nine percent of influencer conversations are inside baseball. Most people don’t know who you are, and they don’t care. They don’t know who I am either. Moreover, to the outside world, the personal politics of the HR industry are boring. I admit that may sound a bit harsh and perhaps scandalous for someone like me to say, who gives advice and insight for a living. Yet I’m amazed at myself for still assuming that an audience will know about an industry luminary or research by a member of the “HR glitterati.” Because when I do ask, I usually discover that they have no idea. I’m not saying this to disparage anyone since often people remember the ideas, even if they forget the source. I’d just prefer that people think about important ideas in lieu of a headshot. 

4. When it comes to purchasing technology, “I know a guy” beats “I read a report” any day. People trust people. If a buyer builds a rapport with a salesperson over time, no matter what else s/he reads, the buyer will go with his/her guy. And maybe that’s not wrong. If you’re realistic about your needs, and the product and provider pass the viability test, going with someone you like, whom you feel will do right by you, is unlikely to be a terrible decision.

I know that a huge amount of time and energy is spent cultivating both influence and relationships with HR influencers. I myself have some sphere of influence, while others have much wider spheres. Yet I’m unsure what we get by defining influence or worrying if we meet another’s definition of influence. Let the market bear you out, do great work, share good ideas and build relationships. You’ll then have all the influence you’ll need.

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