The Makeup of a Great HR Professional

Having led a number of large HR teams, the best HR people have a distinct set of characteristics, skills and perspectives. The characteristics are typically a strong intellect, an open mind, a core set of immoveable values and a sense of humour. A balanced & open mind is necessary because there are almost alway multiple sides to every workplace problem that HR is asked to help resolve. A sense of humour is important simply because human nature at work can sometimes drive a person crazy and it’s important not to take every situation too seriously.

Great HR people tend to have similar skills as well….strong critical thinking, problem-solving and influencing skills in particular. Influencing and problem-solving skills are important, because often HR professionals are asked to help solve problems that line managers can’t or don’t want to solve. Being able to show managers that taking the high road usually works.  Critical thinking skills are also key as HR-related issues tend to be complex and it’s valuable to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff. Rarely does a cookie-cutter text-book solution work as every situation has different context and nuances.

A balanced perspective is key for success, as is the ability to see the big picture and keeping the core business strategy front of mind. The best HR professionals understand the business, keep an eye on the big picture and look for long-term solutions. They have a high internal standard for their work and always stick to their core values.

Seems obvious doesn’t it? But……….important to help HR professionals understand early in their business lives what will ultimately lead to a successful and meaningful career. Or if you’re looking to recruit a new HR professional, it might be useful to test for some of these attributes in your recruiting process.


Stephen Gould has been recognized as an influential HR leader in Canada for over 15 years.  He was most recently the Senior Vice-President, Human Resources at Purolator Courier Ltd where in addition to leading the Human Resources function, he was also responsible for Engineering and Quality, Environment Health & Safety, Corporate Communications, Corporate
Social Responsibility and was the company’s Chief Privacy Officer.  Prior to his role with Purolator Courier, Stephen was the Vice President of Human Resources at American Express.  Steve has also held several senior HR leadership roles within the PepsiCo organization and McDonnell Douglas Canada. Stephen has been a speaker at numerous conferences in Canada on the topics of Being a Top Employer, Employee Engagement, Talent Management and The Healthy Workplace.  He was also featured in Aspatore’s  “Inside the Minds” series, in their book
entitled “Managing the Human Resources Team”.


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