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What It Takes for HR to Get a Seat at the C-Table

Seat-at-Exec-TableAll it took was an improving economy and a little heads-up thinking for CEO’s everywhere to realize the best way to improve their organization’s bottom line was to focus on their top line; that’s people!

For years, cutting back staff and increasing hours of the few employees left behind was the status quo. People were overworked, underpaid and quickly burning out. It doesn’t take a genius to know that a burnt out employee is not going to help your bottom line.

Today, attracting and retaining talented employees is a big deal for organizations
and this means that Human Resources is needed not just as a department that handles paychecks and employee relations, but as an actual business partner, with a seat at the table for C-level meetings.

This may sound easy, but it’s not as simple as pulling another chair into the conference room—and HR executives are talking about some of the challenges. Here’s what they want to know:

  • Do HR executives have the skills and knowledge to be a valuable partner?
  • What if management doesn’t buy-in to the idea?
  • How do we combine all the tasks we already do with this new role?

Zuman took these questions to HR and Talent Management executives at an online forum and got some interesting answers.

Jack B., an independent human resources executive thinks HR folks have a lot of work to do before they’re ready for the partner role. He says human resource executives “lack the business and financial acumen while spending far too much time on the administrative aspects of their work, rather than helping the CEO to achieve the company’s business objectives and strategic plan goals.”

It’s true. To be an effective partner, you’ll have to be up to speed on sales goals, marketing strategies, production statistics, and financial status. That’s a lot to learn if you don’t already know it.

But Jan V., a human resource director, disagrees with Jack. She feels HR executives are perfectly positioned to jump into and contribute to management level discussions. However, she still has concerns. “The challenge I see is in getting the information one needs in order to be effective. Too frequently, decisions are made at a COO level and HR is an afterthought, involved only to implement the decisions.”

Jan makes an interesting point. Without management support and buy-in, transitioning to a CHRO role would be impossible. That’s why it’s crucial to get management on board.

Sure, they know that strategic goals, no matter how brilliant are not going to get accomplished without the right talent to pull them off. (That’s people, people!) They just need to take the next logical step and bring HR into strategy discussions so the talent can be optimized for spectacular results.

Makes sense, right?

But as HR executives, you already have so much to do. There’s retention, talent management, compliance, and more. So many details. How are you supposed to focus on business strategy and partner at a higher level when your plate is already full?

Ceferino D., an independent training and coaching professional, has seen this happen, and fail, first hand. He says, “unfortunately, the emphasis was trying to marry the usual HR functions with strategic directions rather than translating these directions into new HR initiatives.”

Sounds like Ceferino, Jack and Jan are saying to make the Business Partner Model work, there has to be a different way of thinking.

  • HR Executives will have to hone or develop a new set of skills to be ready to contribute at the management level.
  • Management needs to trust HR as a partner, not an afterthought.
  • HR departments will need to find a new way to frame their roles as they focus more on strategy.

What is happening with your own transition into Business Partner? Are you hitting any roadblocks or is it a cake walk? What are you doing today to get a seat that the table?

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