By John Sumser
Leverage is one of the keys to having long lasting influence while holding don an HR management job. Leverage means finding areas where the return for an investment of time is disproportionate. These facets of the craft of HR are not easy to identify. If they were, everyone would have enormous influence (and all of our investments would yield Bernie Maddoff returns).
Nonetheless, finding an arena where the returns are high is what makes the difference for a lot of influencers. Simple hard work, while a prerequisite, is never enough. Being smart, while handy, may have little or nothing to do with the question. Figuring out how to exploit a niche to deliver extraordinary benefit is the essence of self-made influence.
Obviously, some positions are better suited than others to building broad impact. Being a leader in a professional association, an industry analyst, an event producer, a trainer or a consultant all offer easier access to influence than working in the trenches. But, ‘dirt under your fingernails‘ provides credibility and understanding that you simply can’t develop at 30,000 feet. And, if you’re busy making an impact in a day to day job, it’s hard to reconcile the lofty generalized proclamations of the consulting crow with your day to day reality.
Mary Kitson generates influence and legacy where there appears to be none. Currently an OD Consultant for Government customers at MITRE, Kitson is the muscular energy behind an amazing grassroots training program. The NOVA/Dulles SHRM Mentoring Program is a benchmark model for managerial HR Training around the world. (Here’s their Recruiting Video featuring Mary.)
When she left school, one of Mary’s mentors advised her to get involved in SHRM as a part of building her career. She found the local Chapter and volunteered to work on the local mentoring program. She worked as a junior volunteer for a couple of years. What she found was just what you’d expect… a typical mentoring program that didn’t quite work because the mentors were too busy and the objectives too opaque.
In a delightful confluence of events, Mary got to take over the leadership of the program at about the same time that Fast Company published a story about the combination of mentoring and networking. Mary took advantage of the support of the chapter leadership and a couple of good ideas to reshape the offering.
“A major influence on the new mentoring program concept was Kathleen Ferris, the 1998 NOVA SHRM President. She encouraged a spirit of volunteerism, persuading members to give back to the chapter just one time – it was called a “one shot deal.” Mary Kitson had a light bulb moment when she realized it might be feasible to use the “one shot deal” volunteerism with the Senior Expert Mentors. The group mentoring program was formed from this concept of asking Senior Experts to share their knowledge and expertise with a small group of mentees on just one occasion – a commitment few can say “no” to.” (from the History of the NOVA/Dulles SHRM Mentoring Program)
The Program’s fact sheet tells much of the story. Some of it is obvious. After a decade, there are about 150 graduates of the program. That’s an astonishing legacy for a volunteer effort at a local chapter. The alumni network is well placed and active. Combining executive involvement and a collaborative partnership with each pair of participants, the mentoring program delivers shared experience and expanding effectiveness for everyone who touches it.
Kitson began her career in Recruiting. Of fifteen years in HR, about half were spent Recruiting. “It helps me keep perspective. Where lots of HR generalists don’t really understand the business that they’re in, you can’t be an effective recruiter without that understanding.”
She went on the get a Master’s in HR and moved into consulting. She currently does Workforce Analytics, Strategy, Planning, OD and Training. At MITRE, she works with consulting teams to help government clients with HR issues.
Mary functions as a network hub for a universe that extends well beyond the 150 alumni. In order to continue to evolve and improve the program, she gets to know key executives, ambitious professionals and every manner or careerist.
Influence that doesn’t come directly with the job takes a level head and an even hand. Figuring out how to move opportunity through a network while accomplishing your own goals takes patience, discipline and a strong intuition. Mary Kitson is a great example of how to do it.