Robert Nicoson began his career as a journalist, and feels this was a natural lead-in to a distinguished career in human resources. Nicoson now serves as chief human resources officer for Massachusetts-based Constant Contact, a position he has held for seven years.
“I fell into it, it was a natural falling,” says Nicoson, who rose into media management and leadership ranks. “It was a natural way to go. In both journalism and HR, each day it’s a new idea.”
Nicoson believes the same traits that make a good journalist also make a good HR professional—curiosity about people, staying neutral and objective, and asking the right questions to get to the right answers.
“HR is a fantastic career, particularly if you’re nosy,” he says, jokingly.
He believes that the role of an HR professional is to help his or her organization be successful. And because the tasks of HR professionals are so varied, it pays to have a broad knowledge base and a myriad of skills.
“It’s important to have a persona that can relate to different situations,” says Nicoson, who again compared the varied tasks of an HR professional to that of a journalist, who might cover a school board meeting one day and the next day interview the president. “Be a quick study, get in the moment.”
Adaptability is important as well, as HR is changing so much.
“Now, HR is fundamental to a business,” he says. “With leading organizations, HR is at the table and is a key component to business success.”
So what’s different about HR now?
“The voice of employees is much louder than before,” Nicoson says. “Advocacy of employee ideas is much stronger.”
This, together with a varied amalgam of federal and state laws regarding workers’ rights means that HR professionals need to stay sharp and remain up-to-date.
“We need to understand how to live in a world of ambiguity and gray—there are always nuances to things,” says Nicoson. “It’s important to remain nimble and flexible—HR has to facilitate that, and to allow room for ambiguity.”
He also acknowledges that technology is changing the way HR professionals do their work.
“It’s a constantly shifting landscape,” he says.
As such, Nicoson stresses that HR people are in the midst of things—not on the periphery. And, successful HR professionals understand that things move quickly.
A key lesson Nicoson has learned throughout his HR career is that everyone’s voice needs to be heard.
“Everyone one matters, and we need to take time to relate to people on their level, whatever their level is,” he says.
Also of importance is an attitude of open-mindedness regarding how to get things done.
“Empower someone to do it their way,” he says.
Looking to the future, Nicoson says Constant Contact continues to grow and needs skilled people to meet ever-changing demands. To that end, he continues to learn as well.
“At the end of the day, the basic principle is working toward common goals,” he says. “HR people need to understand the business—they are businesspeople with an HR perspective.”
Previously, Nicoson has worked in HR for Gather, 4DataSolutions, Scala Business Solutions, and The Pioneer Group.