eight behaviours of HR professionals

Sarah Richson details the eight behaviours of HR professionals that executive support staff can also use to succeed

In my previous article, I talked about the key pillars of the Human Resources (HR) department, its role in the business and some of the areas in which executive support staff can add value. In this article we talk about the next part of the puzzle, which is the key behaviours required for a move into the HR profession.

The eight behaviours

HR is driven by eight behaviours. These behaviours are essential for people to learn if they want to succeed in a transition from any other role into HR. They are also essential for a straight transition from graduate school or high school into the HR profession.

It is important to note that HR involves people skills, so to succeed in this arena you need to have a good head, heart and hands when working with people.

These eight behaviours have been mapped out by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) and act as a reference guide for most of us within the profession.

1. Curious

One of the most critical behaviours for a HR professional is to be curious and to want to know more, almost like being asked to constantly inquire before you make a judgement about people or employees. To be curious is to explore and discover, to take an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake. Curiosity is a strength within the virtue category of wisdom. This behaviour helps us avoid mistakes by making major reactions and judgements when we have only heard or seen an issue from our own perspective and have not heard it from another person’s perspective.

Curiosity also means an eagerness to learn and understand that we need to have a different lens with which to see the world to make better decisions. This skill is equally important for executive support professionals who might be given information that is one-sided and could mislead an executive or different stakeholder if they do not pause to stop and ask why.

2. Decisive thinker

This behaviour encourages us as professionals to think, then plan, and almost be data driven in terms of our decisions. It also encourages us to make decisions quickly, especially when it comes to a colleague or an employee, because it might have a huge impact in the future. An example would be when somebody requests to take leave to go and be with their parents or another relative or even to go and deal with a personal situation quickly. However, their manager or supervisor could be away or could be dealing with the potential absence of this person, and this can cause a lot of anxiety and can sometimes have a huge negative impact if things go wrong. Therefore, it is important to be a decisive thinker and to move at speed when making decisions in the people space; in many ways it marks you out as someone who can paradigm shift and understand the impact of your decisions or even the indecision of supervisors and managers. As an executive assistant, you have probably made decisions on behalf of your executive; this skill of speed and precision at the same time is critical for an easy transition and success in the HR profession.

3. Skilled influencer

According to the CIPD (2016) profession map, being a skilled influencer is simply having the ability to influence across a comprehensive environment to gain the necessary commitment. A skilled influencer would be able to build a solid relationship with key influencers in formal processes. In my experience, skilled influences are the opposite of manipulators. It is quite easy in this profession to meet people who can use data and information about fellow colleagues or employees in a manipulative manner to the detriment of those individuals. There are many times in this profession when one needs to skilfully influence the organisation or different stakeholders to either see different perspectives or to have an open mind and an open heart about people issues. This leads to transformation and positive good for all.

4 and 5. Role model and personally credible

I find that these two behaviours speak to each other. For a person to be personally credible, they are usually a role model within the organisation in terms of their behaviour, the way they carry themselves and the trusting relationships that they build alongside the way people look up to them.

As the saying goes, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’. In the Human Resources professional space, you may often find yourself developing policies and creating guidelines, rules and codes of conduct. It is therefore also important that you demonstrate your belief in the same rules and model the behaviours that you expect others to exhibit within the workplace.

6. Courage to challenge

We all know that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather it is doing things despite the fear. In the HR profession, it is doing those things that you know are ethical, regardless of the fears and reservations you might have about your job or people’s perceptions. It is a matter of doing the right thing rather than just doing things right.

Courage to challenge means the courage to question equalities and inequalities, the courage to look people in the eye and ask them to be respectful and dignified in the way they treat others, the courage to stand up and be the voice of the voiceless and an advocate for the bullied and the harassed. It is the courage to put people first as a duty and an obligation as you endeavour to humanise the workplace. Finally, it is the courage to challenge the status quo, especially when the office or work culture is toxic and disruptive to the people that you look after.

Sometimes it is also the courage to walk away when your values and your belief system are totally misaligned with the way things are done.

7. Driven to deliver

Why is self-motivation important? In the HR profession, self-motivation can help you develop a drive and determination. If you display high levels of self-motivation within the workplace, it will become noticeable that you are achieving more goals and are working harder to succeed. When we’re looking at talented people, we are usually looking at their results and their drive. Such people rise to leadership quite quickly because they are able not only to motivate themselves to undertake challenges but also to motivate others to undertake similar challenges or challenging situations.

8. Collaborative

Collaboration is the central pillar in behaviour for any HR professional, especially given the fact that they are working with people all day long and need to communicate across functions and across the organisation. Collaboration is said to take place when two individuals or a group of people work together towards achieving a common goal by sharing their ideas and skills. This is cross-cutting behaviour for all roles that work with people regularly, whether it is customers, stakeholders, leaders, employees, or colleagues. Collaboration is critical for any good HR professional. Open-mindedness is one of the most important aspects of collaborating well, alongside being open to and accepting of new ideas. In addition, clear and thoughtful communication is another must-have for successful collaboration.


Behavioural excellence is a necessity when it comes to succeeding in this profession. Very often people struggle in this field not because of a lack of competence, knowledge or certifications, but instead because they lack one or more of the critical behaviours that make and give an edge in the profession.

These behaviours are equally important for executive support staff who are not in the HR profession but are working consistently with people and executives and partnering with business organisations in one way or another in their role.

Sarah Richson (MBA, MCIPD, AOEC, MIHRM) is an expert in growth strategy, international business and human capital strategies with deep experience of talent architecture and management within the African terrain. Sarah has held highly complex roles with a ... (Read More)

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