How to Start an HR Peer Group

Network, network, network. We’ve all heard that tried-and-true business advice, regardless of department or industry. However, returning from a conference with handfuls of business cards is not always indicative of success.

Maia Josebachvili, VP of Marketing/Strategy (and former VP of People and Strategy) at Greenhouse, advised attendees at our recent HR expert panel to “home grow your own network...You want a handful of people you think are brilliant that you can use as your ‘phone-a-friend.’” Rather than a meaningless stack of business cards, Josebachvili encourages HR practitioners to identify three or four solid contacts you can call on regularly.

So how do you get past formality and build these lasting connections? Consider these five tips to build your own HR peer group.

1. Get Out There

Anyone gearing up for the sometimes uncomfortable task of networking knows how hard it can be to push past feelings of shyness or discomfort. According to Emmett Swan, Namely’s Payroll Compliance Manager and an active member of the American Payroll Association (APA), it’s crucial to “become comfortable with getting out of your shell.” In an environment where you’re familiar with the subject matter, trust your expertise, and don’t be afraid to talk shop with other experts in the field.

2. Start Local

Local seminars, conferences, and even local chapters of SHRM and the NHRA are a great way to grow your peer network. At many of these events, you not only have the opportunity to interact with others in the profession, but also speakers and industry experts. If a subject resonates with you, don’t hesitate to stay after the event to meet the speaker. In his own experience, Swan has connected with thought leaders who have turned into long-term contacts:

“I was at a local APA conference many years ago, and one speaker was an attorney. She spoke on employee consent for electronic W-2 and I-9 Forms. We had just rolled that out at my previous company, and my superior and I had different interpretations of the mandate. After the presentation, I went up to this attorney to get her take. She was able to answer my question and provide legal text to help us update our policy in compliance with federal regulations. Since then, I’ve reached out to her many times.”

3. Make Personal Connections

Exchanging contact info or taking a business card means nothing unless it’s based on a personal interaction. Value comes from a memorable connection, not just a simple introduction. Try to engage in meaningful conversations, so that you can assess whether this is a valuable peer to add to your immediate network.

Ultimately, you want to have connections that you can call up and ask for input. Most professionals are in the same boat and want to help, especially after you develop an initial relationship. When you do collect a business card you’re excited about, consider jotting down a few notes on the back of the card to help jog your memory later on.

4. Don’t Discount Digital Networks

There are a number of digital networks for HR professionals, from LinkedIn Groups, to public Slack Channels, to community forums. While internet groups can be overwhelming with members continuously asking and answering questions, you’ll start to notice regular contributors. These active members could be the perfect people to contact directly. Eventually, you may even chime in with your own advice and have folks reaching out to you!

Industry blogs and online publications can also be a great source for connections. Authors are often willing to share their expertise, and when they can’t field your questions, they are happy to direct you to other contacts who can. If you read something that helps you, reach out.

5. Share Aggressively

While it is important to do your own research and take your efforts as far as possible, don’t forget the value of running ideas by someone or asking questions. Your own experience makes you an expert in your own right, and those learnings can be invaluable for someone else. Namely’s Chief People Officer, Nick Sanchez advises, “share aggressively. In HR, you know what you can and can't share, but share as much as you can, and share it aggressively.” The more you’re willing to share, the more you’ll learn, and before you know it, you’ll have a tight-knit group of industry connections.

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