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Written by: Alan Collins

Before I tell you what the “A” factor is, let me share the true story of two HR leaders.

Their names: Colleen and Karen.

They are very much alike.

Both currently work for the same company, but in different divisions.

Both are brilliant.

Both have graduate degrees in HR.  Both have SPHR certifications.  And both have roughly equivalent HR, leadership and business skills (at least in my view).

However, Colleen has struggled for seven years just to stay employed in HR. Even though she is extremely bright, she has progressed very little, if any, financially and career-wise during those years.  She constantly looks over her shoulder fearing that the ax could fall on her job at any moment.

Karen started in HR six years ago. She’s been promoted three times during this time and her career has grown by leaps and bounds.   She’s now preparing to leave the “comfort” (probably the wrong word, but you know what I mean) of a large corporation to go off on her own as an independent HR consultant.  And, I absolutely have no doubt she’ll be successful.

But back to person one, Colleen:  When I talk to her, I hear lengthy whining about all the outside influences that have negatively affected her career in HR.  The economy, corporate downsizings, bosses that won’t give her a fair shake, clients who disrespect her, and her list goes on and on and on. The same old tired excuses. It’s like hearing a bad Lady Gaga song playing over and over again.

By the way, she’s right!  She’s not exaggerating.  I worked in the division she’s in.  The issues she talks about, unfortunately, still DO exist.  In fact, I remember getting frustrated and pissed off by many of them myself.   But the issue is NOT that she’s right.  The issue is how much Colleen allows these issues to hold her back.

On the other hand, when I talk with Karen, it’s a totally different story.

Sure, these same challenges come up, but only occasionally.   Instead, she talks excitedly about the innovative strategies she has discovered and developed to keep her career growing regardless of external influences.  Whenever I see her, she aggressively quizzes me about any and all career strategies I’ve seen or discovered recently that might work for her.  Recently, she read my article on “25 Kick-Butt HR Career Goals” and excitedly identified four of them that she plans to put into action right away.

And therein lies the ONE single attribute that truly sets Karen apart from Colleen…and is a key for stepping up your career in HR.

It’s not working harder.

It’s not being smarter.

It’s not being lucky.

And it’s not building more relationships (though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that).

It’s the fact that….

“Unlike Colleen, Karen has the “A” factor working for her.
By that, I mean that she takes ACTION.
And she doesn’t allow her actions to be imprisoned
by the need for PERFECTION.”

Let me explain further.

Unlike Karen, Colleen needs things to be darn near perfect before she gets going.  In a recent conversation with her about her HR career, here’s some pieces of what she told me…

  • “I want to make sure I have everything completely thought out and written up BEFORE I pitch my boss on my great new HR idea.”
  • “I need to take another year to learn more about labor relations BEFORE I go after that big HR promotion.”
  • “I want to finish up my resume BEFORE I put myself on the job market and look for my HR dream job.”
  • “I need to get all my HR career goals for this year mapped out on paper – complete with dates and milestones BEFORE I start doing any of them.”
  • “I want to craft the perfect elevator pitch BEFORE I start networking.”
  • “I’ve begun setting up my own blog.  But I need it to look awesome BEFOREI launch it and reveal it to the world.”
  • “I’ve thought leaving HR and becoming a consultant.  Even though I have clients all lined up, I need to get my business cards, brochures and five-year strategic plan in place first BEFORE I hang my shingle out.”

You definitely won’t hear ANY of this crap from Karen.

In applying the “A” factor — that is, taking ACTION — she doesn’t assume that you will fall flat on your face in failure if everything isn’t perfect and all your ducks are in a row.

She assumes that your ducks ain’t never going be 100% in a row.  And if they are, life will just declare duck season!

In fact, if you were to ask her:  “So how do you take your HR career to the next level, even if you’re not quite sure what to do?” here are 8 pieces of advice she’d give you…

1.  Just put one stake in the ground and start moving.

If you don’t know where to start, just take the list of 25 Kick-Butt HR Career Goals, pick one of them and start moving on it.  Don’t try to get things perfect, just get started.  Perfection is boring and not necessary.  Don’t let having everything 100% lined up stop you from taking action.  You can turn a bad HR career plan into a good one, but you can’t turn no career plan into a good one. So get going.  Half of your career plans are wrong anyway…you just don’t know which half.  And you won’t find that out until you start trying.

2.  Make it all about execution, not having the best plan.

If you feel like you need a plan, develop one.  That’s fine and smart.  Just do it quickly.  Keep it to one page but move to executing your plan just as quickly as you can.

Keep in mind that all the planning in the world will get you absolutely nowhere. You need to take that first step, no matter how small or how shaky. Just lace up your shoes and get going.  The rest will take care of itself.

3.  Motion beats meditation.

Don’t over-think things.  Too much thinking often results in getting stuck and going in circles. Some thinking is good.  It’s good to have a clear picture of where you’re going or why you’re doing what you’re doing — but don’t get bogged down pondering all the possible paths.  Get in motion quickly.

4.  Bite off only what you can chew, then chew it.

It’s Karen’s mantra.  And it’s spot on.  Tiny, itty-bitty steps work.  She told me that “if you manage to hit singles every day, the year will be a home run.” Love it!

So step up to the plate.  Take your swings.  Test your ideas and see what works and what doesn’t.  Biting off more than you can chew can kill action.  Maybe because of choking.  I dunno.  But taking little tiny blows will eventually break down that mountain.

5. Negative thinking gets you nowhere.

Self doubt? The urge to quit? Telling yourself that it’s OK to be distracted and that you can always get to it later? Squash those thoughts.

Well, OK, you can be distracted for a little bit, but you get the idea. Positive thinking, as corny as it sounds, really works. It’s self-talk, and what we tell ourselves has a funny habit of turning into reality.

6.  Meetings aren’t action.

This is a common mistake in HR.  We like to hold meetings to get things done. Meetings, unfortunately, almost always get in the way of the actual doing. Stop holding meetings that lead nowhere!

7. Talking (usually) isn’t action.

Well, unless the action you’re taking involves giving a presentation or speech.  But usually, talking is just talking. Communication is necessary, but don’t mistake it for actual action.

8. Reading about it isn’t action, either.

It’s ironic that you’re reading this article about taking action.  As much as I love having your eyeballs, it’s no substitute for taking REAL action.  So hurry up and get done reading this so you can really get to work!

To recap, do you want to take your HR career a quantum leap forward?

Then follow Karen’s lead and make it all about the “A” factor…taking action.

Stick your toe in the water.

Get something started towards advancing your career.


And use that as momentum to keep going.

Take tiny steps forward.

Don’t wait for things get “better” or “perfect” to start.

And start now!