You're at the Table, Now What?

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It’s interesting, for many years those of us within HR have talked about having a seat at the proverbial “leadership table”.  In fact, in my career, I’ve sought this esteemed position myself.  I worked hard to be a part of those meetings where the challenges, metrics, and successes of the day were discussed but, to what end?  There were times that I questioned the value that I brought to those meetings.  When adding value felt illusive, I simply decided that this was just my way of keeping a pulse on the organization.

Do you have a seat at the “table”?  For most of us in HR today, the answer is YES.  But, the real question is, do you have what it takes to KEEP it?   

In a recent article by Ram Charan, “It’s Time to Split HR” published by The Harvard Business Review, he proposed that organizations eliminate the CHRO role and create two functions.  One focused on administrative activities like compensation and benefits, which would report to the CFO, and the other focused on improving the people capabilities of the business, which would report to the CEO.  This role would be populated by non-HR leaders who would leverage their business background to solve the people business challenges of the day. If we’re not intentional about the value we bring to our businesses, the seat that we’ve so rightfully earned, could become a thing of the past.

We must continue to evolve.  We must solve important problems to help drive our businesses forward.  Here is a six step process  to help keep our seat, and add value as a business partner.

  1. Listen for the challenge.  Every business has them.  What may at first sound like a complaint is often a cry for help to solve a problem.  Sometimes they are reoccurring or have gone unsolved for longer than most would like to admit.  Capture the challenge along with any information shared that gives color, explains why it exists, and what’s been done to address it.   

  2. Become a detective.  After the meeting, ask a ton of questions.  Learn as much as you can about the challenges discussed.  How long has this been an issue?  What changed that created this problem?  What solutions have been put in place to address the concern?  What team members are involved?  What role do they play?  How does solving this challenge impact the business strategy? If this challenge were solved, what would the benefit be to the organization?  How do we measure that?  Where does solving this problem sit on the list of issues that are top of mind for the organization?  Who else would be good for me to talk with to learn more about this challenge? 

  3. Outline the people related threads or patterns.  What are the people implications with the challenge you’re exploring?  Ask more questions.  How does the organizational structure, processes, and culture impact the problem?  How is the talent currently in the role impacting the challenge?  Where is that NOT the case?  Summarize what you’ve learned.  What data is available to support your conclusions? 

  4. Determine your high impact levers.  Based on the data that you’ve collected, highlight those levers that appear to have the greatest impact on the challenge.  Perhaps, you’ve determined that the on-boarding process for new hires significantly contributes to the slow ramp up time and the ability to solve customer issues in one call.  You have what you need to link the “people” solution to business needs, and you have a viable start to a project primed for impact.

  5. Socialize and refine potential solutions.  This is the collaboration part.  Now you can bring options and opportunities to the business and have them participate in crafting the solution.  Restate what’s been shared so it’s clear you’re listening to all inputs.  Identify solutions that can integrate their ideas as well as your HR expertise.  Provide options and alternatives and get their feedback.  Ask if you missed anything or misinterpreted something. Refine your proposed solutions.  Get it right.    

  6. Craft your solution.  This is the fun part.  You’ve created a proposed solution.  You’ve got buy-in because it’s not just an “HR solution” for a business problem, it’s a business solution from an HR toolbox.  And that’s because it fully integrates and accounts for the pain points identified by the business and in so doing has built-in buy-in.   It solves for challenge that you know will have a lasting impact on an issue important to business.  Link this solution to the data gathered, and outline what the solution entails, how you’ll measure progress, and how you’ll measure success.  Be sure to allow for  flexibility, because the business environment will change and can’t be held hostage to inflexible solutions.

There you have it, a formula for what to do to KEEP your seat at the table and how to build your credibility as an HR Leader.  It’s up to you to determine what you will do with your seat.  Use it wisely and effectively, the reputation of HR hangs in the balance.


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Quionna Allen is the Founder and Managing Partner of Caldwell Allen Coaching and Consulting, a firm that specializes in the development and advancement of Human Resources.   Caldwell Allen’s goal is to align talent development strategies with business objectives, ultimately delivering outcomes that matter to both the individual and the organization. Quionna gracefully combines curiosity, compassion, and laser focus on ACTION to yield results for her clients.  

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