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3 Steps to Becoming a Credible Activist, an Asian Perspective

Darryl Wee /

In the latest round of our HR competency research, we asked which of the nine domains would help HR professionals get a seat at the table? It was no surprise that the domain that stood out most in our data was ‘Credible Activist’. These are HR professionals who succeed in achieving the level trust and respect required to be viewed as influential and valuable partners of an organization. There are two fundamental competencies needed in order to become a credible activist:

1.  Earn trust by delivering results.
2.  Influence and relate well to others.

In many cases these concepts make theoretical sense, but how can we actually apply them within our organizations? As HR practitioners and leaders working in fast-paced, global environments, we need practical and relevant methods to facilitate the adoption of concepts like these in our business.  

Over the years, I have gathered insights working as an HR Business Partner and learning from HR practitioners, who participated in the RBL Group’s development workshops across Asia. I have identified three key principles that are consistently shared by effective credible activists. Although these insights come from Asia, I am certain they are also critical to achieving this domain in other parts of the world as well.

1)  Your actions are more powerful than words.

The first principle focuses on the credibility aspect of the domain and sets the tone for being a credible activist. It is not what you say, but what you do. What you do does not always have to be something big or bodacious, but consistently honoring your commitments builds trust. 

Recently, a regional business leader shared an experience with me that resonates with this principle. Global HR leaders often asked him what they do can to help him, so one day the regional business leader requested some data for their region. The HR leader replied that they had this data available and sharing it would not be an issue. After two weeks, the business leader had not received the information and followed up on the request. The HR leader replied that the data was already compiled and it was being reviewed. After a month, the business leader still had not received the data requested or any other updates.  The business leader told me this experience made him “ give up on HR,” since they never delivered what they had committed to.

You may not always be able to give the business or the organization what they request, but if you manage expectations effectively and deliver what you promise, you are well on your way to being a credible activist. The bottom line is: if people believe that you will do what you say, you are already half way there. 

2)  Really understand the business.

Workshop participants frequently tell me, “As an HR professional, I would like to understand the business more.” My question back to them is, “What steps have you taken in order to better understand the business?” Unfortunately, the typical answer involves attending meetings with leaders and getting PowerPoint briefings from their colleagues.
In customer service training, we tend to tell front line staff to, “Place yourself in the customer’s shoes.” I would recommend that HR do the same for the areas we support. A CHRO told me about when she was a business partner for their distribution business. 

During her first few months she began by following the truck drivers who distributed their products in order to really understand their day-to-day business and issues. Later, when she went to leadership team meetings, she was well equipped with a true understanding of what actually happens in the business from both a process and people perspective. This provided her a lot of credibility among leadership and her team. Additionally, when she suggested making changes she was always taken seriously, because she understood how each change would impact operations on an individual and daily basis.

It is difficult to support your business without understanding “financial language” as well. During several of RBL’s business acumen workshop for HR business partners, I have found that many HR practitioners have a hard time with some financial aspects of the workshop’s simulation. Understanding the financials of the business is an important skill for HR personnel. If you find yourself unsure of how to effectively review financial reports, I would recommend meeting with your finance leader or to complete some training in finance for non-financial managers.

3)  Be patient, this is going to take time.

The adage “Rome was not built in a day” holds especially true for being a credible activist. If we examine the examples shared in this article, none of them yielded instant results and required significant time and effort. Building trust takes time and I consider the process of being credible activist akin to building trust with an entire organization.

You may find that some relationships develop faster than others, but do keep in mind that you must continue to invest time and effort towards a strong foundation in HR as well to effectively make an impact in your organization.

It did not surprise me that so many of our clients reported that this domain helps HR get a seat at the table. I hope that the principles and examples provided in this article help you grasp what it takes to be a credible activist, not only in Asia but also around the world. If you would like to learn more about our workshops for developing HR business partners in Asia, visit our Southeast Asia Page.