5 Ideas I’ve Stolen From HR People Smarter Than Me In The Last 2 Years.

Take them. Adapt them. Use them.

By Alan Collins

I’ve learned a lot in the last two years since the pandemic.

I’ve discovered that practically every person I’ve talked to in HR is better than me at something.

You may have too.

But in case you haven’t, here’s the brutal reality…

Someone is better than you at selecting terrific job candidates.

Someone is better than you at giving great HR presentations.

Someone is better informed than you on HR metrics and analytics.

Someone is better than you at dealing with tough personalities.

There are better leaders, listeners, relationship builders, conflict diffusers, influencers, mentors, and employee grievance handlers.

What do you do when you encounter this?

It’s simple.

Learn from them.
Steal ideas from them.
Apply them to your life.

However, remember to give them full credit when using their wisdom.

And you’ll be amazed at how much faster you’ll grow and how much better you’ll get.

To that end, here are five things I’ve learned (and stolen) over the past two years from folks smarter than me.

*    *   *

Stolen Idea #1:
Create a dedicated workspace at home.

During the pandemic, I received excellent advice from lots of highly successful HR leaders who were forced to work from home.

Let’s face it. Working from home will never be the same.

Sure, many organizations have returned to their business-as-usual 9-5 work schedules.

However, many companies who would have never considered it have become passionate advocates of remote work or hybrid work schedules. 

With that reality comes this point…

If you haven’t already,
consider re-engineering the
workspace in your home.

You’ll soon find out that using your kitchen counter as your primary workspace on a regular basis won’t cut it!  That sudden neck or lower back pain will be a dead giveaway that it’ll be time for a change.

The solution is to have at least one dedicated work area. 

It should be free from distraction, offering privacy for essential phone calls, conference call meetings, and working on priority projects.   

It should be a room not used for other purposes that can become your office if possible.

That’s not all.

You’ll also need a comfy chair and desk, both cozy enough to use for several hours.

And there’s more.

You should plan to switch things up by moving your dedicated workspace to a different location once in a while!  

For example, instead of sitting inside in your designated office or work space toiling away on lower priority activities — move to your yard or a different room every couple of hours.

Moving around will help to re-energize you, make you more productive, and you won’t be bored by looking at the same surroundings all the time.

Excellent point, but how do you increase your workspace mobility? 

ISkelter makes the one to the left and it’s popular original design has been copied heavily over the years. 

It can accommodate a mouse, phone, and other items in an upright position as it sits on your lap.

There are many lap desk options and styles to choose from, including those with short legs and different organization areas.

I’ve stuck with the original, and prefer the Comfy Lite, which can handle a left- or right-handed mouse, includes a wrist pad, and has a groove in the back for a range of tablets or phones.

The added benefit of an averaged sized lap desk is storing it in a closet or under the bed when you’re not using it. 

Most should be portable and light enough to carry from room to room throughout the day.

That said, let’s move on.

*    *   *

Stolen Idea #2:
Take action.
Your HR credentials
mean nothing without it.

Laurie Reuttimann authored a new book last year called Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career

I’ve followed Laurie from her days as Punk Rock HR blog owner.

Today, she’s a well-known speaker, author, and consultant.  Laurie often tells the story about getting advice from her boss earlier in her career when she was a corporate HR leader.

He strongly suggested that if she wanted to be taken seriously in HR, she should get SPHR certified.

So she did.

The whole process took her about nine weeks.

The result…

Nobody on her job cared two craps
that she passed the exam!

Her experience was a stark reminder of a similar episode in my career.

In my case, decades ago, when I left Purdue with my master’s in Industrial Relations and Human Resources, 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.

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 mattered.

There’s an important point here.

It doesn’t make any difference if you have a genius IQ, plus an MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CCP, and a Ph.D. in Human Resources (if such a degree exists).

You won’t make meaningful career progress in
the real world without taking action 
and producing results.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m the 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.

You do them because they will make you a more confident and capable HR professional.

That’s all.

There’s a massive 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 proven results to validate them.

It’s just that simple.

*    *   *

Stolen Idea #3:
To get ahead in HR, you must
continually make yourself relevant.  

Theo Killion passed these words of wisdom at a Future HR Leaders Seminar in Chicago.  Theo is a former SVP of Human Resources at Macy’s, Lane Bryant, and Tommy Hilfiger — who later became the CEO at Zale.

Let me tell you, meeting an HR guy who became the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company is about as common as seeing a purple cow.

When asked how the heck do you transition from HR leader to CEO.  He said:

“It’s simple. Stay relevant and avoid getting trapped only learning what only applies to your organization or what applies to HR.”

“It’s imperative that you stay ahead of the curve by getting outside your company and comfort zone regularly.  Know your business cold. Use your finance counterparts to learn how to assess the P&L impact of everything you do. Learn new ideas.  Meet new people working on interesting, leading-edge projects outside of HR and to build relationships with them.”

“Go to training sessions on topics like finance, business development, and marketing that make you uncomfortable — especially if you’re the only HR person there!  By doing this, I stayed relevant and expanded my comprehensive knowledge of the business. So, when the CEO of Zale unexpectedly resigned, I was tapped on the shoulder to replace him. And I remained in that position for three years.”

“Even if you never aspire to become a CEO, all this will help you become a better business partner and prepare you for future opportunities both in and outside of HR.”

Priceless words of wisdom.

That brings us to…

*    *   *

Stolen Idea #4:
“HR is not about HR.” 

These five words sum up 20 years of work by Dave Ulrich that he posted earlier this year on Linkedin.

The critical question: If HR isn’t about HR, what is it about?

According to Ulrich, ranked as the #1 HR business guru by Business Week, HR is all about the business and the outcomes of doing HR work.

For example, if the HR work you’re doing (talent acquisition, leadership development, etc.) isn’t delivering the outcomes (e.g., increased productivity, cost savings, more sales) that your clients and the organization genuinely value — then you’re not doing REAL HR work.

HR is all about the value you deliver.

And value can only be defined by the receiver (your clients or business leaders), not by you as the giver.

What does this mean?

It means, as much as possible, avoid getting bogged down doing low-priority HR activities with no clear understanding of their impact on your business.

Instead, could you define the business outcomes and value your client’s desire first — and then re-engineer your HR priorities to deliver against those?

Obviously, in some cases, that is much easier said than done.

But that’s the real work of HR.

‘Nuff said, let’s move on to the final stolen idea.

*  *  *

Stolen Idea #5:
As an HR pro, never sell
your soul to fit in with a
toxic environment.

While rummaging through my cluttered files, I found a short article in People Management magazine published in the UK decades ago.

The words stopped me in my tracks.

So I ripped the article out and trashed the magazine.

Sadly, the author’s name also went in the garbage with that magazine.

But the insight and advice still applies today.

Perhaps even more so.

Here’s that article…

*  *  *

Some final thoughts


Feel free to add your comments below by going HERE.


Want more HR career success shortcuts I don’t mind saying I’ve learned and stolen from others?

Then check out my classic book:  UNWRITTEN HR RULES: 21 Strategies For Attaining Awesome Career Success in Human Resources, by going HERE.


…Or if you’re a brand new HR leader and want practical ideas for launching yourself successfully in your new role?

Then check out:  THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS: How To Start Strong, Hit The Ground Running & ACHIEVE SUCCESS FASTER As A New Human Resources Manager, Director, and VP.  You can get more details HERE.

About the author: Alan Collins is the Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best-selling books for HR professionals, including UNWRITTEN HR RULES and THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS. He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo, leading HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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21 Responses to “5 Ideas I’ve Stolen From HR People Smarter Than Me In The Last 2 Years.”

  1. Greg Stobbe Says:

    When you doubt someone’s benefit, you should no longer give them the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Alan Says:

    Greg – awesome! Love it and will add it to the list.

  3. Ashley A. Reed, PHR Says:

    Huge thank you for posting this, I needed it. It seems as though when you read something, you absorb what’s applicable at that moment, but when you read similar or even the same advice later it applies differently in a whole new area. Love it, thanks!

    And P.S. Just finally launched my own website a week ago, thanks to your advice. 🙂

  4. Alan Says:

    Ashley – thanks – timing does appear to be everything! Glad you got your blog launched! Pls continue to keep us posted. Best, Alan.

  5. Amy McGeachy Says:

    Greg – I love what you added!

    These are blunt but oh so true and extremely valuable if you can get past the initial shock of how candid some of the tips are. Steve Job was probably HR’s worst nightmare and yet I admire him deeply for his results and business success. It just goes to show that a cookie cutter approach to business and HR is not always the only way.


  6. peggy Says:

    Thanks Allan for your great tips in success in HR. It has really helped in many ways, especially getting to do other things with myself, networking and getting out of the office a bit more.

    Look forward to greater tips.


  7. Amit Says:

    Hi Alan,

    I have been reading your posts since last couple of months now and I have been deeply moved by most of them. Never before I have come across such practical advice for HR professionals.
    Since I have been trying to follow some of your suggestions to take my HR career in top gear..I am glad to inform you that I have posted by first HR Blog today and it feels great.
    Will be writing and sharing more from here on.


  8. admin Says:

    Hi Amit – Congratulations on your blog! Way to go. Please share your link, would love to drop by and check it out. Fantastic.


  9. Cindy Says:

    I especially love the last point – set a clear, vivid and meaningful goal for your self, and then start acting on it. Link everyday’s work to contribute to that goal. Dear to dream!

  10. Cindy Says:

    To enhance your HR career, you MUST get feedback. But, don’t be surprised if the feedback you get is unclear, doesn’t make sense or even seems unfair. Indeed sometimes we feel depressed when we get a feedback that we think unfair, but things exist for reasons. Open your heart, reflect on these feedbacks.

  11. Greg Stobbe Says:

    The Culture of an organization is an elusive and indefinable entity. That said, the backbone of the Culture lies within unwritten policies of that Organization.

  12. Joshua Karren Says:

    As I eagerly try to enter the HR arena, I thought it was a fascinating read and very insightful!

  13. Shelly Evans Says:

    Your tips are always interesting and give me a takeaway or the opportunity to pat myself on the back for already doing something well or not doing the things you say should not be done.
    Quite a few on this.

  14. Milwon Says:

    Useful tips applicable to modern HR. In reality it is not the theory at college that helps but practical tips like this.
    Good work.

  15. Prajitha Says:

    Hello Allan,

    Your post is an eye opener for me as I am planning to kick start a career in HR
    I will definitely visit some of the blogs here and read the books mentioned I am sure it will help me much.
    Thanks Alan

  16. lolly Says:

    I love every tips listed above, the most fascinating and insightful for me is point No 19, i must perform that quick brand for myself. expect my feedback in couple of days. Much appreciated.

  17. Agnella Says:

    You are such an inspiration to me. I love the practical aspect of the great inspiring resources you share .

    Thank you so much

  18. Michuan M IRBY-Fleming Says:

    Great tips! It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out in your HR career or a seasoned HR pro. There is something for everyone on this list.

  19. Diana Says:

    Very useful insights Alan. Serve as guidance in all levels of HR career development. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Mark A. Griffin Says:

    As always, great information Alan! You are a blessing to the field of HR. Keep up the great work.

  21. wayne Says:

    G’day Alan
    Here is something you can ‘steal’ from me!
    Yep, HR is more than HR: It’s about HOPE and REPRESENTATION. Hope – providing optimism, fashioning expectation, building a sense of belonging, finding that elusive desired state of being. Representation: doing it for others, doing good for all employees, being a place of influence.
    On your point 5 – ‘selling your soul’ here are some words of advice of mine for your readers:

    Every HR Manager is likely to be under some pressure at some point to compromise their values and to give expression to policies that are anathema to quality people management principles. If you be a HR Manager then this is your ultimate test. Remember – to struggle is good, to succeed is better, to give-up is terminal. Hold dear that which is right, decent and proper. Have the courage to speak up when people issues are being compromised. Seek out your CEO. Speak your truth. Do it without an audience; CEOs don’t much like to be told in front of others. Afterwards you’ll know whether to stay or move on. You’ll be happy to get clarity. You’ll be so much richer for the experience. Do it!
    Best from Oz – wayne