The Six Critical Factors HR Professionals Need to be Successful

Editor’s Note: Dr. John Sullivan has been a provocateur and strategist in the field of human resources and talent management for over 30 years. His specialty is HR strategy and designing world class HR systems and tools for Fortune 200 firms, and he’s never been shy about telling it like it is.

That’s why TLNT asked him to share his thinking in a video series titled “$#*!@ Dr. John Sullivan Says!” Look for these videos twice a week here at TLNT.

Today’s topic: How HR can be successful

In today’s video segment, Dr. John poses a very interesting (and some might say provocative) question: “What are the critical factors that cause certain people in HR to be successful?”

Of course, he has a list of those critical success factors as well:

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  1. Business knowledge (which Dr. John notes, really has nothing to do with HR at all);
  2. Parallel benchmarking — going outside of your business segment to benchmark against other companies (for example, Southwest Airlines studying Formula 1 racing pit crews to find new and different practices that could be applied to speeding up airliner turnarounds on the ground);
  3. Understanding metrics;
  4. Root Cause Analysis — studying the root cause of why something worked so you can replicate it later in other situations;
  5. Courage — according to Dr. John, you must be willing to be courageous and make decisions without fear of the consequences;
  6. A highly competitive spirit — you can’t rest on your laurels, Dr. John says, and you must always continue to evaluate yourself against the best.

“HR skills are certainly important,” to be successful in HR, Dr. John says, but “those financial skills, those skills of solving business problems, are equally if — not more — important.”

Did you miss the last segment of$#*!@ Dr. John Sullivan Says!” on “What Can We Learn From Talent Management and the Recession?” You can see it here.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


2 Comments on “The Six Critical Factors HR Professionals Need to be Successful

  1. Gail, I’m fairly confident what he is referring to is being able to speak and understand the other functions (operations, finance, marketing, etc.). Being able to quickly read a 10-K or quarterly report then diagnosis where HR can help impact the figures and influence other functional leaders is the skill itself. This is what Dr. Sullivan is getting at I believe.

    There is one ingredient missing from this list in my view and that’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. This is where the value is for HR professionals in my opinion. Yes it will be great when we all can collect and analyze data on the level of say an investment advisor, but taking that information and positioning the organizations we represent to be ahead of the curve is the game changer. This obviously ties into the competitive spirit and courage components. Innovation has to be present in HR now for organzations to leverage a competitive advantage.

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