Keys to Influence

Keys to Influence

Posted on 08. May, 2009 by in Blog

By John Sumser

(May 06, 2009) Recently, Neal Bruce (the product development genius at First Advantage) said, “If you want to be an HR thought leader, you should have some thoughts.” (Actually the precise quote was “thoughts are a prerequisite for thought leadership“). Sadly, his tongue was nowhere near his cheek.

Much of what passes for HR thought leadership involves little thought. It’s all smoke and no fire. In fact, if you look at the contents for this video, “How to Establish Yourself as a Human Resources Thought Leader with Your Management Team, Industry and Other Professionals a ReedLogic Video Seminar Featuring Top HR Executives (DVD)“, you’ll quickly see that thoughts are barely required. It’s obvious, since the training for the job requires only one DVD, that HR Thought Leadership doesn’t require any thinking whatsoever. This, in spite of Mr. Bruce’s good wishes.

I can’t seem to visualize this HR thought leadership thing. Is it like a swarm of small cars following a lead car? Or, is it more like a well trained dog? I try to think about HR thought leadership but my thoughts just don’t follow the idea. Is HR thought leadership like following someone on twitter? You sign up and then have to digest a personalized stream of what? Or is  HR thought leadership like following /component/page,shop.ask/flypage,flypage.tpl/product_id,58/category_id,6/option,com_virtuemart/Itemid,28/vmcchk,1/”>buy cialis online usa a train of thought?

Self proclaimed HR thought leaders tend to be vacuous morons, incapable of sustained thought. There’s a code that I saw somewhere that says you can’t be one unless someone else says you are (without being asked to). Even that’s not good enough, really. The bluntest knife in the box has a mom who thinks /component/page,shop.ask/flypage,flypage.tpl/product_id,58/category_id,6/option,com_virtuemart/Itemid,28/vmcchk,1/”>buy cialis online usa he’s got HR Thought Leadership potential. When he walks up to you and introduces himself as a HR thought leader, hang on to your wallet.

Thought leadership is neither (thought nor leadership).

I’m wildly pummeling this equine cadaver to make a point.

Influence is hard to deliver and harder to identify. The key influencers in our HR – Recruiting Marketplace take many shapes and forms.

  • fantastic mentors who have shaped the careers of their apprentices
  • people who reframe the very essence of HR – Recruiting
  • innovators who make great breakthroughs in understanding
  • product visionaries who change the nature of HR – Recruiting with their companies.
  • marketers and event promoters who work to unearth the next greatest thing
  • architects and consultants who tirelessly improve HR – Recruiting effectiveness
  • industry giants who train others
  • surprise thinkers who create new ways of doing things
  • trainers and leaders who inspire us to higher performance

Last week’s post was a really good start on identifying key forces in the industry. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like a little more help. Once more, I’d like to find out who you think are the essential forces in our business.

HR is a conversation. The discipline is practiced differently in each region, industry and economic niche. The definitions of essential HR – Recruiting ideas don’t generalize well. That means that the people who influence HR-Recruiting are people who add to or improve the conversation.

The project is gaining some real momentum. My list is getting clearer. My question is simple. Is the power of a good example enough to change an industry? That is, are great recruiters or Hr pros who set an amazing example operating in a way that can change an industry.

Or is something else required?

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27 Responses to “Keys to Influence”

  1. Dan Nuroo

    08. May, 2009

    Before I say anything.. this quote “I’m wildly pummeling this equine cadaver to make a point.” has to be one of my favourites of all time.. thanks John.

    Hr Recruitment, may struggle with the idea of Thought leadership. Whilst I think it is easy to see in the TPR world as things are genuinely quantifiable there. I think it is also way easier to quantify in the Recruitment world to the HR world (yes I do differentiate between the two), as there is less gray around results in the Recruitment world, You make a hire or you don’t.

    A successful HR-Rec team in a corporate, is kind of like an umpire in a sporting event. If you don’t notice them then they are doing a great job, the game (or company) is a good one. If the focus is on the umpire (or HR/Rec) there are either huge mistakes being made or the game is pretty ordinary.

    Sure they can go in and fix stuff, bring order to a rabble, but once they fix things and get their area back on track they would once again fade into the background?

    Do Corporates brag about their HR teams to the world (unless trying to hire)? I am not too sure Market Analysts really care that much. Therefore to be an HR Thoughtleader (if you want to be one, or be seen as one) you have to brag about yourself in the right areas and hope enough people hear and believe you. Especially if you want to make a living off that reputation.

    This reminds me of a University class I was in when the class was asked why the importance of HR is becoming more relevant in today’s workforce? I may have been a bit cynical but my answer was that because HR people are making it so. (didn’t make me popular in the class, oh well)

    That said, I was told by an old boss this week, who was a long time believer that good HR/Recruitment people can be found on any street corner, now understands how hard it is to find good recruiters.

    Maybe things are changing? But seriously, HR-Rec is a support function of a business, done well it can be a competitive advantage (and vice versa), without telling ones peers what and how you have done things, no one would learn. If we have to put up with some people big noting themselves as Thought Leaders so be it. I like to think I am bright enough to take on and believe the things that are right for me, not just because a “Thought Leader” told me so or wrote it somewhere.

  2. dennis smith

    08. May, 2009

    I suppose influence is hard to deliver and harder to identify because…..that which influences me is different than that which influences you. And what might be difficult for me to identify as influence, might seem as simple, or just plain’ ol HR/Recruiting practices to you. Boy, that was brain-surgery, eh?

    Is the power of a good example enough to change an industry? It depends, right? On the person – on the example. It works for me because I want to “learn by example.” I want to build upon the relationships I’ve developed in the recruiting industry and then “watch – listen – learn” from those “experts” so that I can continue growing and help change this industry that I love.

    I can’t answer your question (about whether “they” are operating in a way such that an industry can be changed) in a broad sense. But I can answer it in the place where I live – sweat – work every day: YES. Many of them are operating in a way that can help change an industry because they care about “giving back.” Many do care about helping others learn the lessons they’ve learned and it doesn’t involve a reciprocation of cash.

    But it does involve and require something on my part. It requires that I put myself in a position of learning and shut up long enough to listen. Then, the rigorous part comes in to play – I must wrestle with and think about what I can do, in a practical sense, to implement those practices in a way that’s meaningful to my industry – economic niche – customer.

    It’s reasonable to believe that there are “influencers” at every level of the HR – Recruiting profession who can serve to influence and positively impact by their example. But are we willing to listen – watch – learn?

    I am not short on “recruiting influencers” in my life. Regularly, there are those who (whether they know it or not) speak in to my life and have an impact on what I do and say. I respect them because I’ve watched them and listened to them over the years (not because they started a blog 2 months ago). Today, their example is good enough for me. I choose to make it enough for me. Because my choosing to learn and to apply that learning is one of the few things over which I have control.

  3. Laurie Ruettimann

    08. May, 2009

    Most ‘leaders’ lump in recruiters with HR – and they don’t even consider sourcing to be a real job – so I’d be careful to throw stones in glass houses.

    Real leaders know that HR works best when it’s working itself out of a job. Real HR leaders teach, coach, and get the hell out of the way. We offer pre-digested lessons to future leaders so they can get it right and stop relying upon HR as a crutch for what’s wrong in an organization.

  4. Joshua Kahn

    08. May, 2009

    I’ll second the motion from Dan Nuroo, the “equine cadaver” line is a keeper. I think I need to connect with Dan on the basis of that, and his comment.

    John – hilarious, right on as usual. Thanks again for pushing buttons; not only is it entertaining, its useful as hell to be able to laugh at ourselves. Hint: if you’re not laughing at yourself, you may have a problem.

    It seems there is no greater obstacle to clarity than the ecosystem of ego centric titling, lingo, conferences and systems of reputation. I guess thats how it is and will be since we’re all humans, and all have egos large or small – unless I’ve missed a bodhisattva among us.

    I personally hope people strive to lead their own thoughts regardless of their title. Listen first. Don’t ascribe meaning to it until you try it out. Ask questions. Break it apart, look at the guts. Try to apply it to your world. If it works, talk about it. Even better, if it doesn’t work talk louder about it, and try to figure out why, in your case it didn’t work.

    Dennis – man I’m glad you are around and active for others to see. You get it, in my opinion. You embody thought leadership without being overly self-conscious about it.

  5. Jason Davis

    08. May, 2009

    The essential forces that keep me interested in this industry are

    1. All of the 3rd party recruiters who make placements and get paid well for doing it. If 3rd party recruiters disappeared. It would be a big issue. If we woke up tomorrow and the norm was to charge 10-15% of the candidate’s 1st year salary, the good recruiters would realize that they need to find another job in order to make the money they want to make and that would also be a big issue. It’s the third party recruiters who confirm to the industry that it is not cheap to hire good people.

    2. John Sumser – There is no one better to get an opinion from in this industry. It doesn’t matter what part of this industry you work in, he has the right answer though I don’t always agree with him, he is usually always right in the end.

    3. Jason Goldberg – what a guy. His time in this industry was short lived but he was from another planet. He was entertaining and he raised 48 million. He showed the little guys who are constantly trying to build better recruiting software that there is money for these kinds of things.

    4. Mike Keleman – also known as the Recruiting Animal. Most people don’t know but he is one of the people who is responsible for the recruiting blogosphere and it’s tone. I really feel sick to my stomach when I give him credit but he is real important.

    5. Dave Manaster – Dave is the CEO of ERE media which is He is smart and he is grounded and has a built a real good business around supporting this industry. ERE is online, ERE is offline and I keep telling him he should buy i say imagine what we could turn it all into but he keeps telling me I want too much money for it.

    6. Gerry Crispin: Gerry without a doubt has influence and influences me all of the time. People in this industry listen to Gerry. He is a world traveler, sight seeing the HR and Recruiting departments and boardrooms of some of the biggest companies out there. they brig him out and pay him so that he can influence them.

    I am really happy John is going to be doing this. I don’t think he has been clear yet as to how he is going to do the 100 top Influencers but I like his idea. It’s a long term project and am happy that he wants to write it and deliver it on It will start Monday.

  6. Recruiting Animal

    08. May, 2009

    Five years in the Recruitosphere and this is what I have settle for as a friend.

  7. John Sumser

    08. May, 2009

    Laurie, I’m not sure what you mean exactly. One of the things I’m noticing is that Recruiters are increasingly running HR Departments. While there is a historical rift between core HR and its primary administrative mission and Recruiting with its primarily strategic mission, my sense is that there is decreasing friction between the two. Every day, great Recruiting leaders are taking on additional challenges inside of HR.

    Typically, Recruiting is a part of the HR function. The various moves towards vendor integration, integrated people development (talent management) and the quest for a ‘single record HR database” make that alignment between HR and Recruiting more and more normal.

    My view resembles both yours and Josh’s. I find it critically important that our leaders think their own thoughts. Try, fail fast, learn, adapt. I think our industry has a fair number of ‘thought eaters’ who want a steady diet of ideas from all over the place.

  8. Sung Kim

    08. May, 2009

    I agree with most of the people that Jason Davis cited especially Dave Manaster and Gerry Crispin. What I’ve been reading of John Sumser lately has also impressed me. In any event, I think this was one of the most well thought-out blog articles written in quite some time. Kudos!

    While I’ve been out of the pure corporate HR realm for a bit and quite enjoying my new 3rd party venture, I have to tell you that there are mutually common denominators into the leadership of both sectors. This article alludes to that and most importantly to the importance of influence as a component of leadership.

    Keep these articles coming. I enjoy them immensely.

  9. Dave Opton

    08. May, 2009

    John, as you may or may not know, I am a “recovering” HR person, so clearly my comment is colored by that experience.

    That said, as I read your very thoughtful and as usual thought provoking post, I kept thinking that I really felt the operative words weren’t HR and/or Recruiting, but rather “leader.”

    To state the obvious, everyone has his own definition of “leader” and certainly when it comes to that definition one size definitely does not fit all – thank goodness!

    About all one can say about it is that while we all may have different criteria that need to be met before we are prepared to hand our “you are a leader” merit badges, and even at that would be hard put to really be precise as to why we did, most I think would say something close to the famous line regarding pornography – “I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.”

    If a person is viewed by enough folks as a leader then I guess to some degree many of them become not just leaders, but thought leaders whether they want to be or not and what function they are in or what they do for a living is very much secondary.

    And BTW, I loved the “equine cadaver” line too.

  10. Rob McIntosh

    08. May, 2009

    John – It is late on a Friday and had enough time between my umpteen meeting to stop by and your subject line caught my attention. The post, even more so to take the time to comment.

    Two things occur to me here when I read and respond.

    I think the best Thought Leaders in our industry are not the individuals that wax lyrically about what could be or should be, but rather are the ones that are actually taking the high level discussions and debates, internalizing them, bouncing them of other smart individuals and then MOST importantly are actually DOING something. Let me emphasize the DOING action verb.

    I prefer to be doing something even if it is wrong vs. not doing anything at all.
    If I DO, I learn. If I ACT, and I am not right, I must then reACT and adjust.

    I jokingly have a catch phrase that I use in meetings way too often than I should: The number of times I have solved world hunger on a white board is too many to count. Trying to take the great idea from the whiteboard and make the rubber hit the road… there is the real magic

    The second thought that occurred to me is that I have noticed an increasing trend over the last few years around traditional HR leadership being replaced by business leaders. Maybe our are CXO’s are telling us something……….If you can’t run HR like a business and add true value back to the organization, then let me get a smart business leader that knows how to run a successful business. Maybe our business leaders are also a little tired of the “Thought Leadership” they have been historically burdened with, so they have decided to hire someone that they feel will DO something.

  11. Gerry Crispin

    08. May, 2009

    I’m with Rob McIntosh’s comments. Great discussion John. Leadership, thought or otherwise, is about action [underline action]. Talk has been going on for a hundred years but people who take risks with their staffing business or corporate staffing function by changing the way they do things AND then share the pain of their mistakes as well as celebrate the details of their success. These folks raise all boats rather than just their own. That is leadership. The rest, at best, merely point out what they see.

  12. Steve Levy

    08. May, 2009

    First there was personnel (actually it was efficiency experts but go with me)…

    Then there was HUMAN resources (to better brand the function as working with humans as opposed to primates)…

    Then Libby became the Vice President of People at Southwest Airlines, a far loftier position than a garden variety VP-HR…

    Someone decided that they wanted to be a C-level Vice President of People, so they created the CHRO position; some even modified the Sartain model and called themselves the CPO but then someone else realized that it was also a jacket…

    Ooops – but then someone wanted to be a strategic business partner too and have a seat at “the table” so the title of Chief Strategic Business Partner for Human Resources and People was created…

    But no one still listened to them for their thoughts weren’t worthy…

    So here we are in the most recent incarnation of personnel where someone needs to be a thought leader to have credibility; some of these people have their Ph.D. and prefer to be referred to as “Doctor” thought leader. They also heavily market themselves – calling themselves thought leaders – and put out videos. And the lemmings who want to be pulled out of their average work lives buy these because see thought leaders being quoted and followed and stroked and admired – and they too want to be quoted and followed and stroked and admired. It’s ego gratification not professional development; someone who refers to themselves as a thought leader is a leader only in title. Sad.

    Real thought leaders care for none of the above – they care about, as Rob noted, with furthering dialogue that might one day pull the masses out of the doldrums associated with work. And they are almost embarrassed at being referred to by others as a thought leader.

    Rob, I don’t think running HR as a business is necessarily the answer especially given the human carnage associated with our present economy. You’ve known me long enough to know I’m a dyed in the wool numbers person and you also know that so much innovation has come from means that are far softer than a black and white balance sheet. But what the non-HR business leader who is brought in to run HR does is bring better processes than the ones that have been promulgated for decades within HR; this is the business side that HR has lacked.

    In the end, the thought leadership discussion is really an identity crisis discussion: The bulk of people in HR and recruiting really shouldn’t be here. But if they are anointed as a thought leader then maybe, just maybe, they can weather the upcoming storm.

    I doubt it.

    Hmmm, now there’s a positive thought!

    [John, as a thought leader you’d think Johnny Taylor of IAC would have more than zero connections]

  13. Steve Levy

    09. May, 2009

    Ah, Mr. Opton (who has been ahead of “the curve” since I met him back in 1992, hence the “Mr.” title), I had not considered the connection between pornography and thought leadership until you brought it up…

    Now that I’ve thought about it, there really is a strong tie between the voyeurism associated with pornography and the voyeurism of self-professed thought leaders (their bios claim thought leadership status so it must be true). Thought leadership has become to many a score – the number of points here on RBC, the number of hits in a Google search, the number of conferences one speaks at, the number of emails you send out each day to your “list”…

    A thought leader is someone who makes you think so you can then act – often in a direction that was not part of the initial plan of attack. There are a handful of people in this business whom I respect and whose thoughts and opinions I value; they’re the ones I call on the phone, often just to say “hello” – we speak without an agenda because inspiration can occur fleetingly like an Andy Rooney “ever wonder why?” moment that can only occur when two or more people are free to toss out thoughts and ideas without the spectre of judgment. True thought leaders do not prosletyze – they enable, they collaboratively cajole, they take back what they give. Thought leadership is not at all a one-way street…

    Now that I’ve thought about it more, the people who influence me are the ones whom I hug or almost hug when we meet. Real influencers cannot be placed on pedestals or lists – they must be valued as very close relationships. They are welcome at my house, at my table, to meet my family. I care about them and their lives, their professional conquests and their personal issues. Can you say this about the people whom you initially placed on your list???

    BTW, Dave is someone who has demonstrated his ascension to thought leadership status but has, because he is one of the most modest people I have ever know, never done anything to promote this – other than results. His views and actions on work, networking, recruiting, and leadership warrant his inclusion on every list. If you’ve only been recruiting for 10 years or less, do a little research on him. When Dave speaks, I listen (and you know how I like to talk).

  14. Sandra McCartt

    09. May, 2009

    Maybe instead of trying to identify the thought leaders, beating the equine cadaver :). It might interesting to do a post mortem on the equine to identify what brought said equine to the current cadaver state.

    If you could identify the significant changes in the industry over the life of the equine and determine who the players were and are who thought of those changes first or who developed the tools that enabled the changes to become an intergal part of the industy and who took them to the next plateau.

    Instead of trying to determine who can eat the most oysters on the half shell maybe who was the first guy to eat an oyster on the half shell and just how hungry he had to be to eat the first one and how did he convince other people that an oyster on the half shell was really edible.

    Was it thought leadership or desperation or curiousity that led to a significant change or just an exhibisitionist personality with a need to be noticed? In any of the above states of being if it sparked an enterprise wide change that would be an influencer. Sort of like the guy who invented cocktail sauce so other people would eat oysters on the half shell and call them wonderful

  15. Maureen Sharib

    10. May, 2009

    Very interesting points Sandra.

  16. Martin Snyder

    11. May, 2009

    John seems to be enjoying a creative upwave right now…fantastic !

    Steve lots of good stuff in there, but one can’t speak of professional development without the notion of ego gratification. Thats like taking the profit motive away from the free market system; people move forward for all kinds of reasons, but ego is not a small one.

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  20. Joshua Letourneau

    28. May, 2009

    Rob Mcintosh is right – we need more comments from the DO’ers. The noise from the Wanna-be-DO’ers is deafening . . . . as it’s easy to blog, tweet, post, and opine than to actually DO this job.
    As I’ve said before, social media can be intoxicating because it feels as if you’re actually doing something (“Hey, I’m building a community!”) . . . when in actuality, you’re burning time on the company’s dime.
    Luckily, our industry is in the midst of a well-needed detox as the excess is purged.

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  25. Bryan Starbuck

    02. Oct, 2009

    This is a great post and I was enjoying the comments. And then…

    [Animal] > Five years in the Recruitosphere and this is what I have settle for as a friend.

    I was rolling on the floor laughing. Classic animal.

    I love being part of the recruiting world and listening to the great ideas people have. You see the efforts of people providing leadership, making all aspects of recruiting better. Examples include Michael Marlett on the mobile front, Joel Cheesmen on the SEO front, etc.

    Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler then over time can measure in their annual report what changes in recruiting deliver the results.

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