Observations, aphorisms, and statements from experts can grant us invaluable insights, deeper conceptual understanding, or new perspectives on long-held ideas.

For example, while we can’t talk to Sir Richard Branson for advice regarding HR best practices, we can reference his infamous words, "Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t have to,” ad infinitum.

We can interpret quotes such as this one, extract their key points pertaining to modern-day HR, and incorporate their core tenets while we work towards our business success.

Here are 7 more often-referenced HR quotes to stimulate your ideas regarding personnel management, inspire you to do better, or provide a new outlook on a familiar concept.

“To win the marketplace, you must first win the workplace.” – Doug Conant, former President and CEO of Campbell Soup Co.

Conant references the utterly undeniable significance of good HR practices. He maintains that without a successful workplace, a company cannot compete when it comes to overall success in the marketplace. This quote urges leadership to prioritize HR while motivating HR professionals to spend time and energy enhancing workflow procedures, cultivating a healthy workplace culture, and managing people with empathy.

Conant’s words retain their relevance even as we enter a new era of HR, defined more heavily by complexity and innovation. No matter the industry, no matter the technological advancements, we cannot forget to focus on internal HR strategically and optimize employee wellbeing and satisfaction if we’re to have any chance at successful business outcomes.

“You cannot mandate productivity; you must provide the tools to let people become their best.”—Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Inc.

Here, Apple’s iconic co-founder discusses productivity, claiming that it can’t be forced from the top down and must develop within employees themselves. He points to a hard-to-swallow (if you’re in HR!)  truth: you can’t make people work well, work fast, or work hard… people have to truly want to become their best in order to do so.

Leaders often implement initiatives that attempt to exercise total control over team members or threaten disciplinary reactions in response to low productivity. According to Jobs, these professionals miss the mark entirely and fail to see that true productivity cannot be forced.

This quote also maintains that with the proper tools, resources, and technologies at their disposal, passionate employees, the ones who genuinely want to become their best professional selves, will utilize those tools and flourish.

With this, Jobs highlights the importance of providing the right resources to employees, understanding employee motivations, and avoiding wasted time and energy spent trying to enforce high performance.

“I’m a large believer in hiring the right people and giving them unbelievable amounts of power and autonomy”— Blake Mycoskie (Founder, TOMS Shoes)

The well-known founder of TOMS shoes espouses that the key to an organization’s success lies in choosing the correct employees for the correct jobs/roles and then allowing them the total freedom to perform their responsibilities well.

While many managers and supervisors find it hard to delegate or avoid controlling tendencies, Mycoskie’s words hold that top-down micromanagement is a misguided approach to running departments or teams. This quote asserts that giving your employees job control, autonomy, and the independence to do their work their way is a much more favorable leadership technique.

Take lots of care when hiring, then trust your employees, and they’ll return the favor.

“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” — Jim Collins, expert business management researcher, author, speaker, and consultant

This statement references the absolute essentiality of a dedicated, passionate, and skilled workforce. Collins reminds us that no matter how great a CEO, entrepreneur, or leader’s ideas are, their vision can’t be executed without a great team.

He reminds us that while a single person can have an innovative and inspiring plan for the future, or conceptual idea underlying a great business, a powerful workforce is needed to actually implement and manifest said vision to turn that idea into a reality.

Therefore, an idea alone has no true relevance in the business world.

“Hire character. Train skill.” — Peter Schultz, renowned chemist and CEO of the Scripps Research Institute

This commonly referenced aphorism, which you’ve probably heard before, points to similar themes to the aforementioned Blake Mycoskie quote.

Schultz reiterates the absolute importance of strategically hiring the right people and argues that the important factors to consider should be based not on a person’s technical skills or already-acquired abilities but on their willingness to learn, their passion, and their values.

With this quote, he urges HR professionals and leaders to remember that hard (and even soft!) skills can be taught, whereas morals, work ethic, and perseverance cannot.

“Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.”— Ken Robinson, former director of the Arts in Schools Project

This quote challenges the myth that HR is a “fluffy” discipline that doesn’t require “digging deep.”

Robinson likens human resources, or the people in any company, to natural resources, such as fuel or minerals. He compares the two by stating that when seeking either type of resource, one must go far beyond the surface or the easily accessible “ground level.”

You must use all of the tools and resources at your disposal (as well as strategically planned techniques and approaches) to reveal the best human resources, just as you must do to acquire natural resources. A perfect new hire won’t appear out of thin air, just as oil won’t spring out of the earth directly into gas pumps.

With this idea, Robinson asserts that you can’t expect HR practices to be easy; you must carefully cultivate the conditions conducive to breeding robust HR resources and expect lots of hard work to find the best ones.

“The only way a company can grow, stay true to its soul, and remain consistently successful is to attract, hire, and keep great people.”— Danny Meyer, CEO of Shake Shack

Meyer, a leader in the food & beverage industry, considers the role of great employees in reference to the evolution of a business. He maintains that the positive and authentic evolution of a company unconditionally necessitates an exceptional team of employees.

This statement contends that businesses cannot grow well, remain genuine and honest, or continuously achieve overall success without a dedicated and “great” workforce. It’s easy for leadership and HR professionals to lose sight of core values, goals, and priorities as companies scale up and evolve.

Meyer’s words highlight the deep importance of well-designed and well-implemented long-term HR practices, initiatives focused on attracting and keeping quality employees (such as programs that optimize employee satisfaction, development and wellbeing), especially throughout phases of robust change and growth.


Although the list above offers only snippets or quick peeks behind the curtain, quotes like these can still teach us a lot regarding what works or doesn’t work in the industry and what HR is truly about.

Wherever you are in your professional journey, remember to look to the experts for guidance and insights and to take advantage of the valuable knowledge obtained and presented by successful industry leaders.

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