Obtaining a Seat at “The Table” as a Human Resources Professional

meeting room in a loft

As HR practitioners, we don’t always have a “seat at the table” — but we always want one. Whether you have a seat at the table, or you’re trying to get one, the most important thing is to find ways to provide value. Oh, there I go again, more buzz words. My bad. Here are a few things that you can do to make the most of your seat at the table — and ensure that you get invited back.

Know Your Business

Human resources is so much more than hiring, firing, and administering benefits. We all know that, but some of our non-HR counterparts don’t. Maybe you’re not getting the invite because they don’t think that you have anything to contribute. While those things are important and part HR,  knowing your business means understanding how HR as a function works at your organization — and being able to sum up key concepts in short,concise and meaningful statements.

Steer clear of “HR speak” by using terms or acronyms that only another HR person might know.

Understand trends within your function — your entire function. Maintain a good pulse on what’s happening in your area(s) of HR. That means, unless you are an HR team of one, working with other HR managers, project managers, or subject matter experts to understand what is going on across your HR department…and being able to talk about them in general terms.

Its also a good idea to know key metrics and performance indicators and feel comfortable translating them into dollars (expenses or savings).  For example, if you are holding training classes, being able to talk about how many people, how much the training costs, the impact of the training to the bottom line (ROI) tells a much different story to a business leader than just saying, we have X classes planned on these topics.

Know your business also means having an understanding of what is going on in the region or places that you operate and any factors that may impact your organization from an HR perspective. For example, are there new laws coming into effect or being proposed that might impact your company or industry?  Are they closing a major highway that leads to your office? Take the topic/issue and ask yourself: How would that impact how HR? Can I concisely articulate the pros and cons of the topic/issues (do you know both sides of the argument or topic)?

Know Their Business

Now that you have a handle on your area of expertise from many different angles, you’ll want to demonstrate that you know the business and organization. I’ll never forget early in my HR career I had to do a store walk with a regional manager. It was a surprise visit and I was the only manager in the store. Normally, the HR manager wouldn’t have led the walk-through and I could see the nerves on my district manager’s face when he realized that it was just me in the store that afternoon to lead the regional visit. However, I knew all the sales numbers for the week, the YTD trends, how we were trending to other stores, the new planograms to be set, what was on the truck that unloaded that morning, and some of the top selling ad items in the store. I made a habit of checking and writing those things down at the start of every shift and kept them in my pocket (literally, in a small flip notebook). During that walk through, I was able to talk about key business metrics and interweave in details about the impacts to people. I wasn’t talking like an HR person giving a tour of the store, I sounded like any store manager dialoging about the state of the business in the store and nearby competitors.

You have opportunities to do this in your organization. Take them! Network with others outside of your department , read trade papers, newsletters — get the information to understand the business and their needs — write it down and put it in your proverbial pocket. Finally, get comfortable talking about it — asking questions and answering them. Not only will this make you a better HR professional because you understand what is going on in the company, but you’ll be able to keep it in mind when developing strategies and programs in your area. Don’t make the mistake and think that this is only important for HR business partners — I think that this is crucial or any function of HR.

Find Ways to Offer Options and Solutions

Do you ever think that people view HR as the “people who always say no.” If so, ask yourself, “are you?” Be honest. Sometimes you don’t get the seat at the table because the perception may be that HR is going to say no or impede progress, “they don’t get it”  or “better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Regardless of what the answer is, or what the perception is at your organization, strive to find ways to talk about “cans” and not just “no.” Talking in terms of the business to create options and solutions is a great way to get that coveted seat (and continue to get invited back). Now I’m not saying this mean to become a “yes man” or throw the HR stuff out the window. You have to marry them both up. Sometimes the answer is “no,” but we gain credibility when we can , demonstrate that we “know our business” and are going to make good, sound recommendations and understand what the organization is trying to solve for. However, instead of just saying “no” (or even, “yes” for that matter) offer up options or solutions that will help meet business needs and objectives — and explain the impacts to people and HR programs.

What do you think? What are some of your strategies to get (and maintain) a seat at the table?

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Comments

  1. Andrea,

    This is a great post and it’s important to communicate over and over again. HR often lives in the HR world. I call it wearing my Rose colored SHRM glasses, but the reality is that we have to step outside of comfort zone and look at the bigger picture as well as the company’s industry and business at hand to really make an impact for our own careers as well as for the organization. Knowing HR and compliance law is no longer enough. It’s time to spread our wings and fly like Mary Barra, the new CEO of GM who has ties to working in HR.

    Great post!

    JMM

    Reply
  2. Having the pulse on the business beyond one area of focus is essential. Well articulated.

    Hannah |
    Reply

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