How HR can get a seat at the table.

Perhaps when you were a child, you remember sitting down for a home cooked meal with your siblings around a small kiddie table with miniature chairs, cups, and paper plates, jealously glancing over at the “grown up” table next to you. At this seemingly gigantic table sat the parents or grandparents, who cackled as they scarfed down their food and indulged in conversation. Maybe you felt left out, as if you deserved a spot at the bustling table.

All too often, HR acts as the children in this scenario while the rest of the organization sits at the “grown up” table. As the latter eagerly discusses the goals and next steps of the company around hardwood, HR forlornly looks on, wishing they had enough seats to join.

Why is it that HR is always the department looking on while the rest get to be involved? What can HR do to reserve — and keep — a spot at the table with the big kids?

First of all, HR must not take its own role for granted. In other words, it needs to create value by viewing itself within the sense of a sales-customer relationship. If HR is the service provider and the rest of the company is the customer, how healthy is this relationship in your company? HR doesn’t deserve a seat at the table just for existing; it deserves a seat at the table by strengthening this bond.

HR Seat at the Table

Furthermore, HR is useless without a plan of action. According to one ERE article, strategy and action are often overlooked within HR departments; they rather fly by the seat of their pants than provide tangible methods of overall growth. In order for HR to truly gain a seat at the table, it must pull its weight like any other department. It must contribute to the company’s forward trajectory by creating goals, setting subgoals, reaching such milestones, and aiding other departments in reaching their goals. Only then will it be considered legitimate enough to speak up at the round table.

On the other hand, in order to maintain a seat at the big kids’ table, HR must utilize its unique position within the company. Because HR works with every employee within every department, it has a bird’s eye view of every function. This provides it with the unique ability to mediate in the boardroom. While various departments might struggle to have their voices heard, HR has insight into each one’s structure and function and can effectively become the organization’s common voice. In this way, HR again creates value.

The last element that HR must consider when reaching for a spot at the table is a personal pet peeve of mine. While HR is certainly valuable to any organization and must certainly not be overlooked, HR professionals themselves often know nothing about business.

They’re so disconnected from the business world that they hardly understand the ins and outs of profit, strategy, and basic number sense. Most have never taken a business course in college, and yet they expect to have the same sort of leadership roles as highly qualified individuals. In essence, HR professionals might be brilliant, but they live in a bubble.

This becomes a huge problem when HR wants to implement programs without understanding costs, benefits, etc. Furthermore, as a CEO myself, I can tell you that I much prefer business-savvy individuals at my table than somebody who only knows HR. In order for me to put an HR representative at my table, they must be well-rounded, create value, and have a plan of action.

So, what does this imply for the coming year? In 2017, HR representatives will be fighting harder than ever for their position at the table. Understandably, they are tired of being gloried when times are prosperous but trampled on when times are rough. They’re battling for their respect and for leadership positions. The only way to achieve these things, however, is by providing value, achieving growth, and understanding their respective industries. If HR wants a seat at the table, they’ll have to work harder than ever before.