A Seat at The Table

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

Left Brain, Right Brain: Does HR Have A Split Personality?

Imagine a big desk. It’s loaded with two huge stacks of work, one on the left side, one on the right. Left side: the administrative pile, dense with data — numbers, stats, metrics, talent analytics. Right side: the strategic side — a yea-high stack of CVs and digital resumes, people strategies, some highlight pens poking through, paper clips, notes like — topics for C-suite.

Chances are, you’ve faced these two teetering sides of your role at some point, weighing the administration versus strategy. You might even see it as a metaphor for both sides of your brain (many of us do). Traditionally, HR — a career role dedicated to the art of finding the right people strategies — covers both sides, whether or not we’re better suited to one side or the other. But a recent study by Bersin by Deloitte found that nearly 50 percent of the business and HR leaders it surveyed said their companies are ill-prepared to deliver programs that align with business needs. Between the sea change wrought by the Cloud and Big Data, and the ever-increasing strategic needs of organizations, covering both sides spreads us way too thin.

Is it time to saw our desks in half and break our field of HR into two?

1) HR as administrative machine. Call it left brain HR. In fact, HR is already relying on the scope and virtuosity of Big Data and analytics, forgoing CVs, digital resumes and candidate interviews in recruiting decisions. For large organizations, this is by necessity as much as opportunity. Xerox created a comprehensive screening test to winnow through candidates for its 55,000 call center positions. The data is mined not only for skills but predictors, including retention, and the approach has already slowed down a notoriously high turnover rate. The shift in recruiting approach also showed something surprising: experience in a similar position is not actually a predictor of success. And in terms of recruitment, that’s has enormous implications — for candidates as well as recruiters.

2) HR as strategic business genius. Right brain HR has an ever-expanding sea of strategic challenges to tackle. Here’s where the transformation in HR is the most profound. Freed from the task of simply managing talent, this side of HR can view and approach talent as the strategic investment it is. Many have said that talent today is what financial capital was in the past, and I agree: we all see how critical talent is to growth — just look at today’s skills and leadership gaps. In terms of improving parity between C-suite and HR strategies, this creates an arena for aligning those goals. It enables a truly strategic approach to leveraging talent from within, and increasingly agility when it comes to attracting and recruiting talent on a global, multigenerational scale.

Given it’s almost football season, let me kick out another metaphor: Go Patriots! Football teams have two sides, and each is steeped in its own drive to excel (and I know there are plenty of you who are going to run with that ball). Time HR did that too. That’s where we’re headed, and that’s how we’ll succeed. In terms of scale and leverage, it’s a win.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.