What Makes For a Great HR Influencer?

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What Makes For a Great HR Influencer?

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I just attended the HR Technology Conference, where “HR Influencer” was one of the most popular terms. I’m still debating if one’s definition of an influencer is personal or if there are objective criteria that must be met. Is that what they do? time spent in the field? Or is it anything they did to alter the HR landscape? If you’ve ever attended an HR conference like SHRM Annual or the HR Technology Conference, you’ve probably noticed that a certain group of people tend to dominate Twitter. Are these people influencers? Is a conference hashtag’s influence on you a measure of influence? What really makes you an HR influencer? 

My problem with the idea of being an “HR Influencer” is that there are lists and lists and lists and lists and lists and lists and lists….well you get the idea, of “HR Influencers.” Some are dominated by politics, some by social circles, most by friendships, but is there really an unbiased, comprehensive list, that truly defines what makes an “HR Influencer.” Vendors are always going to put clients on the list, competitors will leave other competitors off the list, and so our idea of what makes an HR Influencer is skewed to the point that I wonder if the word has any meaning left. In my opinion, there never should be an all-encompassing list of HR Influencers because the term influence is very subjective.

To understand what makes someone an “HR Influencer” a little more, I decided to crowdsource what others thought an influencer was and of course I got some serious answers and some well, answers that were expected. I asked the question: What is a key characteristic of an “HR Influencer?” Here are some of the responses I got:

My perspective is relatively simple. You need to have extensive experience on the ground working in the field of HR — any functional area of HR but of course more the better. Those that have never dug in the trenches CAN’T possibly have the perspective to truly influence an industry. They’ve never lived in the shoes they are trying to influence so in my humble opinion, their credibility is absolutely nil. This may be harsh but it’s my own reality. – Jeff Waldman, Founder, Stratify & SocialHRCamp

Experience, knowledge, a POV, and the ability to connect on a personal level. – China GormanCEO, Great Places to Work

Having an authentic voice that people actually listen to. Though there are plenty that get by without it, that’s the hallmark of a true influencer. – Ben EubanksAnalyst, Brandon Hall Group

Actual experience in the field. As in…they’ve actually done the job. HR stuff…ya know. – Teela Jackson,VP, Talent Delivery at Talent Connections LLC

Being able to move ideas/concepts forward. A couple examples are applying Lean concepts to HR, or having an idea about creating a cheap HR conference and pulling it off. – Dave Ryan, Director of HR at Mel-O-Cream Donuts International Inc

An HR influencer is defined by other people, not themselves. It has nothing to do with experience or current job, and everything to do with what others think and do about you. If you impact others, you have influence. – Bill Boorman, Founder, #tru

So what is an “HR Influencer?”

After crowdsourcing the question these were some of my favorite answers.


The majority of people asked said that in order to be an influencer you must have experience as a practitioner. You’re not able to fully understand the industry unless you’ve been there, hiring, firing, filling out FMLA paperwork, dealing with PTO, workplace issues, etc. The level of experience varied from person to person, but I would think that it’s really hard to set some type of guideline for experience because there are some practitioners out there who have done it all in two years at a smaller company then one who works for a bigger organization.

Authentic voice or POV

Another problem was that in order to be an HR influencer, you needed to have an original voice and perspective that set you apart from the competition. This is also logical. Being an influencer requires having a distinctive point of view that is unlike anybody else’s in the field, but just because you have a distinct POV doesn’t mean you necessarily know what you’re talking about. Every month, I read hundreds of blogs, and frequently, individuals merely repeat the same nonsense or use phrases that have no real meaning. I want to read material that provokes thought and changes how I perceive the human resources sector. Bigger thinking is lacking among people. Are the top 50 or 100 “HR Influencers” listed in blogs actually “influencers” or do they just have a basic understanding of big data and the candidate experience?

Pushing ideas forward

I believe this to be a key idea in being an HR influencer, taken directly from Dave Ryan. There is already sufficient noise outside. Apparently, buzzwords are everywhere—on every blog, website, and goal statement. There aren’t enough people advancing ideas. This, in my opinion, advances the way we consider, invest in, and create what the candidate experience actually is by taking a subject like the candidate experience and making it better. You might have influence if you can take a buzzword and use it in a way that adds value.

Your influencer is not my influencer

Bill Boorman made a pretty excellent point. The HR personnel who impact me won’t necessarily be the personnel who influence someone else. Jessica (obviously), Mary Ellen, Robin Schooling, and a few other people have an influence on me, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate that they have an impact on YOU. The person, not a business, a blog, a group of people, those with blogger passes, SHRM, or HRCI, defines an HR influencer.

Why so many lists?

Let’s just get rid of them. If one person is really influenced by 100 people, sure post it, but let’s just all be honest with each other. If you’re posting a list of the “Top HR Influencers” there should really be a firm guideline on why they make the list. I can go pull 100+ people who work in HR and say they’re an influencer. To me, these lists do nothing but create a feeling of inclusion, where if you’re not on whatever list you’re not good enough. Personally, they’re a waste of time.

Next week I’ll talk about how HR has really missed the mark when it comes to influence. 

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  1. Awesome article! Love that one person’s most influential HR person list isn’t necessarily going to be the same for everyone. It’s a personal thing. I would also add that he who has the best hair flip would have a lot of clout, in my humble opinion ;).

  2. Great piece Blake. I think the idea that there are all sort of different influencers in different areas is dead on! The crowd sourcing the post made for interesting reading. I have to get may get my next B4J post in cue!

  3. Blake, great perspective! Expanding on Dave Ryan’s comment, pushing ideas forward is really important but to do so effectively the “idea pusher” should capitalize on using data along with their opinion. All too often I’ll read an article that goes on about employee engagement (for example) that seems more like a rant about why that person became disenfranchised with their current or previous company and engagement is the relevant topic du jour. I’d like to know this person’s thoughts on how engagement could increase based on other organizations’ successes and missteps. To me, that would add a ton of gravity on how much I’m influenced.

  4. Blake, just stumbled upon this and love it. We almost published such a list a couple of months ago, and then I went to the same HRTechConf and talked to several of the people we almost put on “the list.” Influence in person is not typically captured in those lists, and sometimes you’d be surprised by the actual power, or lack thereof, of people face-to-face. Bottom line is that Influence does not equal exposure. Some of the most influential people in HR are too busy powerfully influencing the people in their own restricted circle to make it on a list. And that’s probably the way it should stay.

  5. Buzzwords are usually centered around the hype of what an important person was. It’s great that you point out Boorman’s comment about how what’s important to you or a person who is considered an HR Influencer to you may not make the list somewhere else. Sometimes the people who “influence” the most are not on any lists because they are not well-known.

  6. There are lists and then there are lists. Interestingly 99% of the lists seem to indicate that the only influencing in the HR industry is coming from the USA or UK. Each time I check these lists for thought leaders from other geographic regions around the world I find that most of these lists are usually dominated and highly concentrated by US HR influencers. Many who have never lived or worked outside the US. IMHO I look for true global influencers who have an understanding of and a global perspective with unique perspectives that invite deep thought and invite discussion. The other perspective is to define what ‘influence’ is. It’s one thing influence a person to read a blog, retweet posts, download a book, and turn up to conferences. It is another to influence & redefine HR practices within organisations broadly to a point that it becomes normal industry practice.

    1. Hi Anne-Marie. This is a great point. I know that Will Thomson has done a lot of blog work to feature recruiting and HR thought leaders from outside of the US. We have had thought leaders and different practitioners on this site share their points of view. Just yesterday, I recorded a new podcast talking with an HR leader from Adidas who is doing some really cool things out of Germany.

      I’m happy to work with you to make a global thought leader list if you are interested in helping me.


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