10 Tips about How HR Can Get a Seat at the Executive Table

Position Yourself to Influence Business Strategy

By being a good budiness partner, this HR manager has earned her seat at the executive table.
Martin Barraud/OJO Images/Getty Images

Do you influence your company's direction? Contribute to the corporate discussion about customers, products, and strategy? Are you a participant in senior level meetings? Do managers seek your opinion?

If you can answer yes to these questions, and you also initiate people programs and processes, welcome to the executive board room. You've made it. Congratulations on your career success. Still earning that seat?

These tips will fast forward your career or keep you sitting at the executive table.

Understand Your Organization's Business

Yes, I know, when you're buried in the day-to-day, it's hard to remember, that you're running a business. Ernie and Harriet aren't getting along. Have to play moderator. Julie doesn't understand her benefits. Have to hold her hand for awhile. Bob wants to know where to find training records. Mary needs FMLA time after the birth of her baby.

Ah, yes, you're in the people business,  a small business within a company. But, you're also in the bigger business of your organization. Spend time every day talking with sales, production, quality, and accounting. Make sure you know what is going on in that bigger world.

Know your customers, the cost of your products and how you're going to meet your monthly sales goals. You help the people get what they need to run the business efficiently, profitably, and respectfully in an empowering environment.

Share Responsibility for Business Goals and Plans

The overall business goals are your goals, too. When you make plans for your department, they should be directed at achieving overall business objectives as well as Human Resources goals. Developing a performance culture is a goal you'll likely own.

You contribute to the inventory turns goal, too.

You supply the best people who are trained in the business, motivated by their work, rewarded by the company, and led by capable management. You are knowledgeable about the business and can ask questions that encourage continuous improvement by all.

Know the Human Resources Business Thoroughly

Your customers rely on you for correct and insightful information and advice. What more can I say? You are reliable, credible, trustworthy and knowledgeable. Let people down and they'll stop coming to you for information and advice. They'll lose faith and confidence in your answers. And then, what good are you? (Remember, it's always okay to say you'll find out.)

Run Your Department Like a Business

Don't get so caught up in the business of your overall business that you forget to run your department like a business, too. Meet with your reporting staff members weekly. Meet with your department members every week to make sure all members are pointed in the same direction.

Your goals must contribute to the accomplishment of the overall business objectives. Your action plans to achieve the goals need to translate into daily "to-do" lists for your staff. Every significant activity requires a feedback loop or audit, so you know that it is being accomplished.

As an example, new employee orientation is regularly scheduled. Does every employee attend? Are all covered policies, procedures and information detailed on a checklist that the employee signs? Are these checklists filed in the employee's file?

How frequently do you audit the records or attend the orientation, thus ensuring that what you think is happening - is, in fact - happening?

Measure Outcomes and Goal Achievement, not Work Processes

Human Resources handles the organization's achievement of the overall goals. HR is also responsible for identifying and measuring goals specific to HR.

Paul Toulson and Philip Dewe of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand compiled a list of 32 possible measures that organizations use to measure human resources.

They then performed a benchmark study across multiple organizations to identify Human Resources measures.

"Rank ordering across the whole sample they took, the six most frequently used measures were:

  • accident frequency rates (60.3%),
  • client satisfaction surveys (60.1%),
  • absenteeism rates (56.3%),
  • training and education costs (56.3%),
  • cost of people (53.9%) and
  • competencies (53.2%).

"Not surprisingly, the most infrequently used measures may well reflect some of the difficulties associated with developing appropriate methods and perhaps, the significance given to the human resource function and the idea that its activities should be measured in some way.

Most of the organizations surveyed do not, for example, measure training cost, return on investment in human capital, value added per employee, time to fill jobs, return on training and seniority."

These are the results measurements, not process measures (number of people trained) crucial to demonstrating HR success - the success that will land you at the executive table.

Remember the People in Human Resources

Is your office a magnet for people who need help, advice, or a sounding board? Are some of your visitors senior managers? Even the CEO? If so, you remember that you are there to serve your organization's people so that they can meet your business goals.

At Southwest Airlines, the Human Resources function is called the Office for People, and the senior HR person has a similar title. First and foremost, you are there to serve the people. I judge my success by a day when the maintenance technician, a production worker, the Engineering Director, and the CEO all stop by for advice or just general discussion. How do you assess yours?

Express Thoughtful Opinions Backed With Data and Study

You have to understand the numbers. How else can you offer a substantial, intelligent opinion about business direction? Learn everything you can so that you have opinions, and your opinions are backed up with data. You need to understand the effect of decisions that your office makes on the work of the rest of the company. (e.g. Don't schedule meetings with plant personnel on the last day of their shipping month.)

Harness the Benefits of Technology

You'll provide better customer service and free your time for dreaming up new value-added strategies. You cannot overestimate the impact of an effective Human Resources Information System (HRIS). Need reports about attendance? How about salary reports for your whole organization? Interested in turnover and retention figures? Some of you may not remember what it was like when you did these calculations by hand, but I do.

Providing management-needed information quickly, conveniently, correctly and in useful formats makes you look good and feel good, too. People are your organization's biggest investment. Tracking their cost carefully makes business sense.

Additionally, the use of an Intranet frees up staff time because employees can enter their information into the forms. The Intranet provides communication, training, and convenient answers and allows you to save your time for more creative, thoughtful, forward thinking tasks - such as developing business strategy.

Recommend Programs for People That Continuously Improve the Business

When you propose new programs or problem solve people issues, suggest solutions that support the accomplishment of business goals. You have reasons for suggesting a new variable pay system such as encouraging managers to accomplish business objectives. What's better? The "thank you" card system appears to help employee motivation and productivity, or the attendance system has reduced absenteeism by four percent.

Whenever possible, suggest new programs or changes to programs based on measurable objectives that support the business. Then, remember to measure the changes and evaluate whether the new process worked. When you offer systems and improvements that measurably improve an aspect of your business, you cement your seat at the executive table.

Learn and Grow Every Day Through Every Possible Method

Use your knowledge of how people develop to do what is necessary to continue your growth curve.

  • Seek out a more experienced mentor or sounding board. You need someone you can confide in and learn from.
  • Attend professional HR conferences, meetings, and events.
  • Attend executive leadership and management meetings in addition to your HR professional associations. You seek knowledge that goes beyond the bounds of your discipline and department.
  • Attend at least forty hours of training and education every year. Make sure your staff members attend, too. Cover all aspects of the business and running a business.
  • Seek out people who will ask you questions and challenge your beliefs so you can continue to grow. I work with a CEO, who asks me questions. I may not always like them, but the questions challenge me to think things through and to follow issues to their logical conclusion. He repeatedly asks, "How will you know if that is working? Happening? Bringing the results you want?" I respond.

There, you have them - my best ideas for what works to earn you a seat at the executive table. Lots of work. Undoubtedly. But, you invest the same number of hours in your job every week in any case. Why not make the hours you invest as productive, influential and strategic as possible? You'll be happy that you did.