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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Street Level Influencers: HR Superstars Behind the Scenes!


“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Wishing is not enough; we must do.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

In a recent HR Philosopher post, I discuss the importance and power of a “street level influencer.”

I came up with the idea after remembering the concept of a “street level bureaucrat.” The term was coined by Michael Lipsky, a public policy researcher and academic. Essentially, Lipsky argued that “policy implementation in the end comes down to the people who actually implement it.”

Let me explain. People at the top make the rules, right? The City Council sets policy, which is implemented by the bureaucrat. If City Council passes an ordinance that a particular stretch of road is 35 MPH, then it is the policy of the city that anyone going over that speed limit should be duly ticketed. However, what if the police officer (the street level bureaucrat) decided to NOT uphold that policy? Then what becomes policy is whatever that police officer is willing to uphold. Therefore, who has the real power over policy, the City Council or the police officer?

Here’s the classic example that I was taught in school. Let’s say Officer Barbrady wakes up on a fine sunny morning! He gets up to go have breakfast, and his kids are being well behaved and his dog brought him his morning newspaper! Officer Barbrady’s wife made his favorite breakfast, and he’s on top of the world! While on his shift, he sees you driving 40 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. He thinks to himself, “well, it’s only 5 MPH over the limit. I’ll let it go! All is well.” In effect he decided that the policy is 40 MPH on that stretch of road. You’re lucky and $110 plus court fees richer.

Flash forward a week later, and Officer Barbrady wakes up with a splitting headache due to the rain. His kids are being little hellions, and his dog ate the morning newspaper after peeing on it. His wife had to leave for work earlier than expected, so Officer Barbrady burned his toast and slipped on the dog pee. He goes to work really pissed off, and sees you going 36 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. He pulls you over, reads you the riot act, and gives you a huge ticket. Oh, and he keeps your driver’s license, which means you HAVE to go to court to get it back! Well, Officer Barbrady REALLY decided what policy was that day. Your ass was grass and he was smoking it! (Which is legal in your state now, but I digress).

See what Lipsky is arguing? Take academic policy discussion out of it. At its basic core, street level bureaucracy is about influence. Those on the street level are the ones who offer up the greatest influence over our day-to-day lives, not the City Council.

This made me think. The term “influencer” has entered our lexicon over the past decade or so due, in large part, to the rise of social media. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, an influencer is someone “who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with.”

In HR, there are so many engaging influencers worth following. I could name so many, but a quick Google search of “Top HR Influencers” yields the following links here, here, and here.

These individuals are well known, well followed. Their influence is pretty established. I’ve even had the pleasure and incredible luck of meeting some of them.

However, just like the City Council, these “high level” influencers, who are well known and well respected, aren’t the only ones “setting policy.” Often times, we rely more so on those we can readily contact, those who are “on the street” with us. Our colleagues in our network, in our town, in our local HR group.

Equally important to the equation are the street level influencers! Those HR pros who aren’t well known, yet are in the trenches every day making a huge difference in the HR industry. These people are in your networks. They aren’t on any lists, per say; these influencers are more low key, yet they are working diligently to coach their staff, addressing the challenges of their CEOs, working to source and place the right candidates, training groups on the importance of conflict resolution, and so much more! I call these individuals “street level influencers.” They’re right in front of us if we know where to look.

They offer so much, and I want you to know some of them!

So, over the next few blog posts, I’ve asked some amazing HR pros who have directly influenced me if they’d allow me to share their stories. Thankfully, many of them said yes! More to come…

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