The 7 Laws of Seat-at-the-Table HR

I’ve always disliked the term “business partner” in the HR field.  You don’t hear about marketing business partners or finance business partners.  It’s understood that these functions are PART OF the business, as in NECESSARY.

I also dislike the concept of “educating the business about the value of HR”.  That’s like telling diners about the dinner you COULD serve them.

You want a seat at the table?  Bring an entree.

Here are some tips for doing that:

1. Know your business.  I don’t mean HR business.  I mean the business you are employed in (or want to be employed in).  Attend industry events, read up on market trends, know your competitors and your position in the market.  Who are your customers and why do they choose you?  What are the biggest opportunities and threats developing on the horizon?  What’s your revenue, profit margin, and market strategy?  Which revenue streams are over- or under-performing?  Where in the life cycle are those products? To what extent is technology impacting your products or processes?

2. Know your organization. Understand each function, what it contributes and how it interfaces with the other functions in the organization.  What is the strategy and how are you organized (or not) to support that strategy?  What kind of culture is best to support the organizational goals and do you have that culture?  Who are both the official and the unofficial decision makers?  What kind of legacy systems, ideas and relationships exist?  How strong is the leadership team?  To what extent is there a shared definition of success and how do they help each other reach it?  How would each department head answer the question: “What one thing if changed would make the biggest positive difference in our department’s ability to be successful?”

3. Know your talent.  What are the key talent drivers given your industry and your organizational strategy and structure?  Where is this talent?  Can you grow it or do you buy it?  How do you keep it?  What’s its value in terms of total rewards (compensation, benefits, environment).  Where is it going when it leaves you and why?  What kind of management talent does your organization require?  How do you ensure that it is in place?

4. Deliver the basics.  The HR devil is in the HR details and if people’s paychecks, leaves, benefits or perquisites aren’t handled correctly, HR gets a black eye.  If leaders and peers don’t see quick response and accurate execution, ditto.  What are the basics in your organization?  Are your processes efficient?  Is your HR team clear on priorities and are you staffed to deliver?

5. Align your role with the business. It’s not just speaking the language.  It’s understanding the business you are in so that you can support that businesses goals with sound HR planning and practices.  It’s being able to responsibly and expertly advocate for your strategy with a clear connection to current organizational challenges.

6. Preserve integrity.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Honor confidentiality at all levels. Role model transparent and direct communication.

7. Say no.  Say no to those activities that do not align solidly with clear and present business goals. Say no to anything that conflicts with the first six laws.

Would you add or change any?

4 thoughts on “The 7 Laws of Seat-at-the-Table HR

  1. Nice piece Julie. HR managers would more often be viewed as executives if they followed this advice. Add or change? I could see expanding Law 5 to speak to the importance of alignment of objectives and results to the same core objectives of the executive team. Specifically including growth, profitability and value creation. HR as a definite impact, but even to this day, HR leadership too often fails to make the connection; especially in its presentation

    • Great advice, Joe. You hit on a crucial piece here – presentation. As I’ve said before, HR folks who “get” the business have an uphill battle fighting the legacy notions of HR being in the way. The onus is on HR to understand the business goals and clearly present the connections between their recommended HR initiatives in support of those goals. Articulate the business goals, recommend initiatives to support them, identify the anticipated ROI and – I’ll go a step further – be held accountable for the results. As Seth Godin said in a recent post: “For fifty years, people have been proclaiming that they’re intimates, part of the story, a key component of the success of the Beatles… Just as there are people who would like you to believe that they were instrumental in this startup, that project or the other initiative. Success has many parents, failure few. Here’s the deal: you don’t get to be part of the success narrative unless you were fully exposed if there was going to be a failure narrative instead.”

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