This one is going to be a little ranty. I think that’s ok :)
Not getting a seat, or a big enough seat, at the (executive team) table, is a common complaint I hear from many of my peer HR leaders and certainly a challenge I’ve grappled with myself. Granted, often times an interpersonal or a personal development gap for either CEO or HR leader (or both) is a contributing factor. But I also believe there are more systemic issues that are holding us back and must change. These are my Top-3:
- Structure — it’s almost always the case that no matter how large the executive team is, no matter how large the company, all but a single member of the executive team is focused on the stuff the business creates (product, engineers, ops, sales, marketing, etc.) and only a single member is focus on the people who create the stuff. When stuff outnumbers people so overwhelmingly, people will rarely get the attention they deserve. Furthermore, much of the work that falls under the HR function is not really people-centric. It’s bureaucratic/administrative/compliance “organizational tax”, that yes, somebody has to do, but does it really make sense to roll it under the same person responsible for figuring out how to increase what this collaborative effort is capable of accomplishing? As Ram Charan compellingly argued almost 5 years ago, it may finally be time to split HR into two organizations led by two different executives: HR-LO (leadership and organization) and HR-A (administration).
- Faux science — from MBTI-based hiring to anonymous 360 feedback surveys, so many organizational practices today seem to follow the 1944 Office of Strategic Services (CIA’s precursor) Simple Sabotage Field Manual rather than what decades of scientific research in psychology, sociology, and neuroscience taught us about the human condition. Liz Ryan does a very good job driving this point home in How Junk Science Set HR Back Fifty Years. There are so many wrong defaults in the “how to run an effective organization” (fictional) manual. Grounded skepticism towards existing practices, testing their underlying assumptions and ruthlessly eliminating/replacing practices that don’t really move us forward all have to be part of the solution.
- The Dunnig-Krueger effect — Dunning–Kruger (DK) effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability mistakenly assess their ability as greater than it is. It is particularly strong when people have some experience with the ability (non-professional drivers are more prone to it than people who’ve never driven); and when the ability is more directly tied to their identity (most of us are probably worst kissers but better dancers than we think). When discussing topical matters that don’t pertain to their own function, executives are usually fairly immune to the DK effect. If I’m the VP of Sales and this is an Engineering issue — it should be relatively easy for me to recognize my own lack of expertise in Engineering and defer to the VP of Eng’s expert opinion. But all execs lead teams, and consider being a good manager an important part of their role (identity) so when it comes to discussing people issues, everyone thinks they are an expert.
As noted above, while I have some ideas for combatting #1 and #2, I haven’t come across anything that offers a good way to remedy #3 just yet.