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As I drive my electric car around my desert home in CA, I find myself pondering a thought that has crossed my mind before: are humans really meant to inhabit deserts? 

I wonder why we choose to live in such challenging environments. And, why am I driving a car that doesn’t need gas? Ten years ago, I never thought I would have a non-gas car or live in the desert! It's a testament to how our perspectives and behaviors can evolve over time. Heck, I didn’t think I would work in HR either, or remember a time when it was called personnel!

From the evolution of terminology—moving from 'personnel' to 'human resources' to 'people and engagement'—to the adoption of innovative practices like electric vehicles, the common thread is influence. 

These shifts don't happen by chance. They are driven by individuals who effectively communicate, persuade, and mobilize others towards a shared vision. I have been influenced to buy an electric car, to move to the desert and to not to say personnel.

Influence is the lifeblood of Human Resources. We don't merely manage policies. We shape environments and touch lives. But how do we, as HR professionals, move beyond technical competencies like recruitment or compliance to actually drive the changes we envision?

Why You Need To Influence 

Many of us have shared the frustration of feeling unheard by senior leaders or struggling to convey the urgency of HR issues. Mastering the art of influence is crucial to doing this.

A lot of HR articles, conferences and blogs focus on critical skill sets for HR managers. Topics such as understanding engagement, recruitment, compensation and benefits and compliance take center stage.

Yes, we need these technical skills, but once we have those skills, how do we as HR professionals create the change that we want to see

I have heard so many HR professionals say to me, "why don’t the senior leaders listen to me? They aren’t hearing how important this issue is, I feel like I am speaking into the wind." We bond as HR professionals so often over this type of kvetching.

Reflecting on my own career trajectory, I recognize the pivotal role of influencing skills—akin to the art of salespersonship—in propelling meaningful transformations within organizations.

Okay HR folks, don’t hate me yet, I know how HR sometimes doesn’t want to hear how we should learn from sales, as they cause us many issues—but stay with me!

By developing our ability to influence we can drive meaningful outcomes and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation. And along the way, maybe it will make you happier as an HR professional. 

Understanding The Role Of Influence In HR

Why is influence the cornerstone of HR mastery, you may ask? The answer lies in our mission as HR managers. We can define that mission as “creating a workplace where every individual can thrive, contribute, and grow.”

What is influence? Influence is the ability to affect the thoughts, actions, and decisions of others. 

In the context of HR management, influence manifests in various forms and it starts from the time we onboard employees and extends to the handshakes you have after a board meeting.

Unlike positional authority, which relies on formal power structures, influence operates through trust, credibility, and effective communication. And it pays off when we try to do common tasks such as:

  • Mediating conflicts
  • Facilitating negotiations
  • Championing initiatives that impact the entire organization
  • Convincing stakeholders to adopt new policies.

Without the ability to influence, our efforts will fall short, leading to resistance, disengagement, or failure. The ability to influence is not merely a desirable trait for HR managers, it is a prerequisite for success in a rapidly changing workplace where collaboration, innovation, and adaptability are paramount.

Skills That Will Help You Influence 

Effective influence is not merely about persuading others to concede to your viewpoint, but rather about building consensus, fostering buy-in, and driving sustainable change.

To excel in this domain, HR managers must cultivate a repertoire of influencing skills. Let’s explore some of the most important ones you can develop.

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At the heart of influence lies the ability to win hearts and minds— or in other words the ability to inspire, persuade, and mobilize others towards a common vision.

Whether we’re rallying employees behind a new initiative or gaining buy-in from skeptical leaders, our ability to craft a compelling narrative, evoke emotions, and build consensus makes all the difference.

Storytelling is key! By tapping into the power of storytelling, empathy, and strategic communication, we can ignite passion and galvanize action, turning skeptics into allies and adversaries into advocates.

So often, storytelling has helped me in my past! 

I am reminded of when we were working on a large cultural shift and, yes, we could have talked about the business numbers and how the market was moving (and we did), but what really galvanized folks was our story about how we are all racing toward changing markets and making an impact on teams.

We even created a game based on The Amazing Race so we could get folks excited in a very concrete way. We developed a visual representation of the story to help tap into people’s passion as well as excitement about working for a company that is changing to meet the market demands (hearts and minds!).   

Strategic Communication 

Communication is the cornerstone of influence, enabling HR professionals to articulate their vision, garner support, and navigate complex relationships. 

Whether delivering a persuasive presentation or crafting a compelling narrative, effective communicators tailor their message to the audience, leveraging storytelling, data, and strategic framing to convey their ideas persuasively.

Author Tip:

Create the presentation to match the needs of the audience! Sometimes we in HR think that a policy will be the best way to convince someone. Often it is the worst way, especially for senior leaders. A policy is made to be changed. Ask yourself how does this individual or team like to hear and digest their information? Do they want stats? Stories? Anecdotes? Tailor your communications to your audience. Influence them the way they want to be influenced. Listen to them!

Relationship Building

But how will you know what to be influenced? You have to build that relationship. In the realm of HR, relationships are currency, and adept relationship builders wield considerable influence.

By cultivating strong alliances with key stakeholders—ranging from C-suite executives to front-line employees—HR managers can garner support for their initiatives and gain valuable insights that help them overcome resistance more effectively.

Building trust takes time and effort, requiring authenticity, integrity, and a genuine interest in other perspectives.

I have been in a few interviews where a business leader says to me that they have not been impressed with HR. I took it as a challenge to build that relationship and figure out how I could improve that negative perception. The sad part is, we in HR still carry that burden of a negative image.

Our relationships are vital to our success. If we cannot understand what the team needs, we will fail to understand how to influence and overcome that those perceptions. The simple fact is, if they don’t trust us or know us, we will fail to influence anyone.

Persuasive Negotiation

Negotiation is a core competency for HR managers, whether brokering salary agreements, resolving disputes, or securing resources for strategic initiatives.

By mastering the art of negotiation, HR professionals can create win-win solutions that satisfy the needs of both parties while advancing organizational objectives. This entails active listening, creative problem-solving, and the ability to manage conflicts constructively.

Moreover, effective negotiators leverage their understanding of human behavior, power dynamics, and negotiation tactics to influence outcomes in their favor.

I don’t know an HR professional who doesn’t use negotiation every day. When don’t we have to negotiate? I often say, pick the “least sucky option” to my colleagues, leaders and team. Sometimes we don’t have win-win situations, we just have the least bad option. 

We often need to figure out how to listen to all sides, weigh the consequences, and understand the downstream effects of the decision. We need to have a good story, solid relationships, the ability to negotiate and be flexible. 

Change Management

Okay, this skill is one of my favorites. You now have the story, aligned the leaders and negotiated through tough conversations but how do you get everyone on board and sustain the change? 

Change management! My training from Prosci in change management has probably helped me the most in ensuring that I create a robust plan on how to influence, make the change happen and sustain the change.

HR managers play a pivotal role in facilitating organizational transitions. This can include things like:

  • Implementing new technologies
  • Restructuring teams
  • Fostering a culture of continuous improvement
  • Inspiring confidence
  • Mitigating resistance
  • Mobilizing stakeholders towards a shared vision.

Through change management principles, HR professionals can navigate uncertainty, provide a safe space, and foster a sense of collective ownership, paving the way for successful change initiatives.

Resolving Conflict and Fostering Collaboration

Conflict is inevitable in any organization, but how we handle it can make all the difference. HR professionals must be skilled diplomats, adept at resolving disputes, mediating conflicts, and fostering collaboration.

By listening empathetically, facilitating dialogue, and finding common ground, we de-escalate tensions, promote understanding, and forge stronger relationships.

Author's Tip

The most important skill in resolving conflict is understanding yourself. If you can understand your triggers, you will be a much better mediator. You can remove yourself from the situation and really be that neutral third party. Remind yourself… it isn’t about me and my feelings, it is about finding a solution for the parties involved!

The Impact Of Influence On HR Effectiveness

You might be saying to yourself: “Meh, I still have my trusty handbook and positional power, I don’t need to influence, I am not a salesperson, yuck!”

Remember, influence is about driving the outcomes you want to see across the organization. What outcomes you ask? Here are four really important ones to note. 

1) Enhanced Employee Engagement

As I mentioned in my first example on creating a story and a game to help people buy into the change, employees were excited to get involved and dare I say, engaged with the change? 

Most people want to know the why and then they will buy into change. They will be influenced. Like me, buying an electric car, I understand the why and I have been influenced to buy one.

Influential HR managers foster a culture of trust, transparency, and inclusivity, and consequently, boost employee engagement, commitment, and productivity. By soliciting feedback, championing employee development, and advocating for their needs, they create a supportive work environment where employees feel valued and empowered to contribute their best.

2) Strategic Alignment

Influential HR managers align HR strategies with organizational goals, ensuring that talent management initiatives drive business outcomes. 

By collaborating with senior leadership, they identify strategic priorities, anticipate future talent needs, and design workforce strategies that fuel growth and innovation. They leverage their influence to secure buy-in from key stakeholders, mobilizing resources and support for strategic HR initiatives.

That sounds fancy, but that alignment is crucial to the success of any organization. We know in HR that when things aren’t aligned, it causes chaos and confusion, mistrust and lower productivity.

I have been known to ask “why” maybe a wee bit too often, but it is important to answer these questions. How many of us have been working on a project that we don’t know how it connects to the work, or put something off because we don’t know why it is necessary for the good of the organization? 

3) Culture Transformation 

Okay, I said change leadership is one of my favorites, but culture transformation is my favorite. I can have a lot of favorites, thank you very much! 

Culture is the lifeblood of any organization, the invisible force that shapes its identity and destiny. Influential HR managers have the power to transform organizational culture from within, fostering a climate of trust, collaboration, and innovation.

This is the power of HR. For example, we can help influence leaders to take action to address a poor leader or manager who is creating a negative culture around them. We can help turnaround a company with stories and influence. Isn’t this the stuff we want to do versus enforcing a dress code?

4) Talent Development

I just mentioned that part of culture transformation is based on leadership or talent. You all know how talent is essential to organizational success, it is the fuel that powers the engines of growth and innovation. 

Influential HR managers can help showcase the amazing talent that maybe goes unnoticed and illuminate bad behavior when necessary. 

I love being able to use psychometric assessments to help highlight talent and give additional insights to leadership. I need to flex my influencing skills to help leaders understand how the results of the assessments could impact the team dynamics. 

Time for You to Influence

I am sure you recognize my bias on how important influencing skills are to an HR manager. I truly believe that influence is also more than a mere competency, it evolves into a fundamental aspect of HR manager’s professional ethos—a way of life, guiding your actions and decisions. 

Through mastering the art of influence, HR managers not only command attention but also mobilize support, surmount challenges, and champion causes with unwavering courage and conviction. 

Want to hear more from Keri and the People Managing People Editorial Advisory Board? Join the People Managing People community today to gain access to live events and private discussion boards where our members of the advisory board share their insights! 

By Keri Ohlrich

With 20+ years on the front lines of the HR field, it’s safe to say that Dr. Keri Ohlrich is considered an expert. As co-founder of Abbracci Group and the co-author of The Way of the HR Warrior, she continues her mission to share insights from these experiences with others whose passion is to be the best in the HR arena. Along with fellow Abbracci Group co-founder Kelly Guenther, Keri co-hosts The Breakout podcast to get advice and insights from change experts, and dive into the stories of people who have busted out of life’s stifling boxes and shifted their lives into bold new territory. Keri also shares her wisdom and experience as a regular guest on many other podcasts, in industry interviews and articles, as well as speaking engagements in the U.S. and abroad.