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On Being Human in HR: The Power of "I'll Figure it Out"

Posted By Megan Leatherman, Monday, November 6, 2017

I was talking with a coaching client recently who made a major shift from the land of “I have to know everything” to “I will figure it out.”


“I will figure it out.” What an empowering mantra.


In an increasingly complex world, taking an “I will figure it out” stance is much more impactful (and realistic). Besides, since when did we all decide that to be an expert meant knowing how to do everything, and perfectly?


What if the definition of expertise included curiosity, creating the right environment in which to learn, or building a network that we can lean on when we’re not sure?


Claiming expertise in our careers is an important step along the way to becoming an influential leader. When we belittle the knowledge we do have or over-emphasize our doubts, two things usually happen:

  1. We repeat unhelpful stories in our minds that say we can’t do anything, don’t know anything, and will never amount to anything, and;

  2. We burden those around us with the task of figuring it out alone or puffing up our self-confidence enough in order to make sure the work can continue.


Owning and offering the skills we do have while staying open to the fact that we’ll always need to learn seems to be the magic formula, at least according to Kate Montgomery, my guest for this month’s column.


From audits to acquisitions and everywhere in-between, Kate has embodied the “I will figure it out” stance, and in a lot of ways she has figured it out.


Kate has worked in Human Resources since she was a fresh-faced 19-year-old placed in an assistant role by a staffing agency. While she didn’t initially intend to make it her career, she likes the problem-solving facet of the work so much that she’s stayed in it. Currently, Kate works for Impark and oversees the HR functions in their Western US region.


All of Kate’s training has been on the job, and she’s advanced in her career thanks in large part to her willingness to figure things out on the fly.


Claiming her expertise in HR and learning the ropes on her own wasn’t much of a choice, according to Kate. “I’ve often been the only person in HR, especially in manufacturing. In my early days, I’d be looking on the Internet for answers because I had no idea what the hell I was doing.” In a particularly tough role, she was asked to build up an HR department from scratch while increasing the company’s headcount from 50 to 200 and managing other departments like IT and Facilities.


Without pulling in helpful resources and continuing to move forward even if the path is unclear, a challenge that big could push someone to bury their head in the sand.


“It’s easy to be passive [in HR] or to solely be an administrator. A lot of times people don’t think very highly of us, so we have to prove our worth.”


It’s hard to prove your worth when you’re waiting for someone to offer you a seat at the table. Instead of waiting around, it’s possible to start influencing those around us in positive ways.


Kate’s been focused on strengthening her influence-muscle for a while now, and she’s done that by focusing on building relationships with peers in Operations, building rapport with managers over lunch, and asking them to put their decisions in writing if they’re set on implementing a strategy that she sees as risky.


In addition to her focus on influence, Kate claims her expertise by absorbing information from all sorts of helpful resources, and she suggests other HR professionals do the same. “Read a lot, get on a few employment law firms’ email lists, keep talking to people, and learn the critical thinking behind their decisions,” she says.


When I asked Kate what she thinks other HR professionals need the most right now, she says, “to commit to being honest and having integrity,” not just with co-workers, but especially with ourselves.


We can be really good at what we do and at the same time, need help or more information. Just because there are skills we know we need to build out or areas we’re uncomfortable in doesn’t mean that we can’t claim our status as an expert in our field.


And when we fail, which of course we will, it’s important to find solace in the arms of our peers who have also tried new things unsuccessfully. Kate emphasizes that it’s okay to be honest about our failings with people we trust and continue to get out of our comfort zones by taking risks. Like she says, “We all have dirty laundry; it’s only stinky if it stays in the closet.”



Tags:  career advancement  leadership  management 

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