I started my career in HR over 17 years ago, and the questions I heard most often at all the HR conferences were “Why don’t I have a seat at the executive table?” and “How can I get the executives to take me seriously?” Well, we’re 17 years on, and in spite of all the best intentions, I still hear these two questions repeatedly. What are we doing wrong?

  1. Stop asking “what can I do for you?”Asking “what do you need me to do?” would be like a CFO asking “What financial information would you like me to report?” Ask the business what they are trying to do, and be the expert who translates their business goals into actionable human capital strategies. Would a CEO think about making a major shift in strategy without consulting the CFO to talk about the financial implications or the COO to talk about operational challenges? By showing the C-Suite that you understand their goals and can help them reach them through human capital, your CEO will be calling you to talk about the people implications of their strategies.
  2. Stop speaking HR-speak.The main focus of your business leaders is on meeting enterprise wide strategies and goals, not on the challenges of finding, developing and retaining quality talent. In your next meeting with the C-Suite, think about how you can make your words relevant to their issues. Increased revenue, decreased cost, and higher productivity are much more compelling to an executive than time to fill or number of training courses taken. In his article From HR to the C-Suite: Speaking the same language, Mike Psenka states, “Your first task is to ensure you are conversant in the lingua franca of the C-suite: money… When HR professionals can demonstrate how their operations improve the bottom line, they are able to form stronger connections with the C level executives and continue to enhance the value of the HR department to the entire company.”
  3. Don’t make yourself a victim.A common response I hear to not being at the executive table is “they never invite me to their meetings.” A sure way to keep yourself out of the executive conference room is to wait for them to invite you. Add strategic value by modeling the behaviors in 1 and 2 above (and make sure they know you have), and they won’t be able to think about having their meetings without you.

The chair is already pulled up to the executive table at your company today. If you’re not standing behind it or not even in the room, make sure you’re not exhibiting any of these success-blocking behaviors; you’ll be amazed how quickly you get to sit down.

A version of this post was first published on Black Box Consulting.

Photo Credit: Robert V. Faust II Flickr via Compfight cc