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The 3 Human Resources Credibility Factors

One of the things Human Resources are constantly battling with is developing and maintaining credibility, especially with the operational functions in organisations. It is a continual background tension that sits behind just about every HR department and everything they do and contribute.

Creating credibility and developing influence in an organisation isn’t easy for anyone particularly a support function where the work isn’t always seen by others in the organisation as being ‘productive’. It turns out however that credibility doesn’t just come from producing something. Credibility is based on 3 evaluations or pivot points that people make about others, including departments, functions and teams.

The 3 credibility factors

  1. Agent Plausibility or expert relevancy – what is the perceived standing, eminence, or reputation of the person or function?
  2. Content Plausibility – how relevant, coherent, believable, useful, persuasive, and novel is the information they are giving me?
  3. Positive intent evaluation – is the agent plausibility and the content plausibility helping me to achieve my aims?

Agent Plausibility

This is also often referred to as expert relevancy. In short it refers to two things:

  1. Vicarious Experience. Reputation as percieved and transmitted by others. For example reviews and evaluation of the person or function you hear or read based on other peoples experience of you. Stories and rumours are particularly powerful transmitters of agent plausibility.
  2. Direct experience. This is an individual’s subjective evaluation based on their direct contact with the person, function or products or service in question.

Agent plausibility is largely subjective judgment, however there are things that significantly increase the chances of gaining agent plausibility. The main one of these is expertise. The feeling that the individual knows what they are talking about and can back it up if challenged. In other words that they know what they are talking about, they have the evidence and it turns out to work.

Content Plausibility

This is a judgement which affects and underpins Agent Plausibility and is based on the following aspects or tests of the information they share:

  1. Relevancy. How closely does this information fit and suit this situation as I see it.
  2. Coherency. Does the information or the experience with this person or function make sense and does it hang together? Can I understand it?
  3. Believability. Do I trust what I am hearing or experiencing?
  4. Usefulness. The information may be correct and I may understand it, but can I actually use it to solve or understand the problem or issue?
  5. Persuasiveness. Am I convinced,
  • by the information
  • by the individual
  • that I have the ability to use it
  • that it could work?
  1. Novelty. Surprisingly novelty can often be a key factor in content plausibility. The key thing is this new or have I heard all this before? Does it feel like old information or is it something new?

Positive Intent Evaluation

The last criterion we tend to use when judging credibility is whether or not all this will help achieve my goals.

It’s amazing the effect that having someone with high agent plausibility and high content plausibility has if they obstruct or get in the way of our goals. The credibility of the individual soon starts to get attacked. You just need to watch politicians arguing for something. If a scientist or expert disagrees with the politician and has the evidence just watch how fast the politician dismisses them as lacking credibility. Our judgements of credibility are very subjective. So are other people’s evaluation of HR. If appear to be moving in the same direction as their goals and your advice has both high agent plausibility and high content plausibility, then this alignment is the most powerful. Does this mean that you can’t disagree with people? Not at all. If you have high agent and content plausibility and your disagreement is as having positive intent (to help prevent a mistake or make things better), as opposed to just being obstructive.

As you can see, the basis of HR credibility depends largely on the information and knowledge they have, how up-to-date it is and whether it is useful.

How do credible HR professionals stay up-to-date with the latest organisational and human development research? Many rely on The Oxford Review, their source of enhanced credibility in their organisations.


This article was originally published on The Oxford Review, find it here.

David Wilkinson is the editor of the Oxford Review, a resource that helps consultants and consultancies maintain their position as up to date experts by providing current, quick & effortless research briefings.

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