Top 3 things HR professionals need to know to get a seat at the C-Suite table

There is not an industry I can think of that does not operate without people at the center of it, so why wouldn’t an organization want the person who has the pulse of those people, and is the custodian of the people practices at the table? 

First, we should define what it means to have a seat at the table.   Being at the C-Suite table means that you have a ringside view of what’s going on in the organization. You have a stake, and a say in preparing for the organization’s future, and you also have a say in developing the abilities to stay afloat. You get a chance to connect dots with various moving parts within the company.  It also means you carry the weight of responsibility on your shoulders to make a meaningful contribution to the decision-making process of the organization.  You are not a spectator; you are a conductor!

There is no question that after the key decisions are made, leaders call on Human Resources to execute that decision.  It often looks something like this: 

  • “We are planning to grow and need to hire 50-100 employees in the next 6-9 months….HR will find the best and brightest.”
  • “We are focusing on becoming more competitive in the XYZ market and need to develop our people so that they can deliver more effective solutions to our customers faster…HR department…. get going!”
  • “We have decided to divest ourselves of a line of business and will need to eliminate 25-50 positions in the organization…. HR can take the lead on that.”

My question is, if HR can execute on the decisions after the fact, why not include them in decision making process? 

In many organizations the Human Resource role is responsible for the administrative functions that support employees.  For example, enrolling employees in medical and dental benefits, helping them file a medical leave claim, or answering questions about their paycheck. When an executive looks at the skillset of the HR person administering these functions, they are not connecting that with strategic level decision making. 

My theory is that it often depends on the type of experience the President, CEO, COO, or CFO has had in their past positions with a Human Resource professional.  This experience “good or bad” directly frames their opinion of the ability and the value that an HR professional can add to the decision-making process.  Although this approach may not seem fair since we can’t control the impact other HR professionals have had on our senior team, it is a reality for many.  If this is the case in your organization, you don’t have to live with it.  You can decide to change their experience in the present and the future by showing the c-suite what value you do add to the business. 

HR Professionals have so much to contribute to the organization, however they may not have the voice or the opportunity to get their ideas out on the table with the C-Suite. 

Here are 3 things you can do to create a path to the elusive C-Suite table:

  • Ask yourself, are you doing enough “proactively” to deserve a ringside view?  Take the initiative to bring subject matter expertise to where it is most required and do your part to help to move the organization towards its goals & objectives.      
  • Understand the various moving parts of the business and you know what’s expected of you. Have a plan, or at least a theory in place of what the organization should look like 18 months or 3 years from now and share your thoughts with the C-Suite leaders.  I call it planting seeds for future harvesting.
  • Dig deep within and outside your organization for ideas, suggestions and innovations around people practices which will move the business forward.  Think ahead and think macro – come to the table with a framework of how you would recommend moving forward on an issue that involves people.  Have contingency plans for your contingency plans and ready to share.

That seat at the table is yours to be taken, however, you are not entitled to it, you must earn it through your actions and contributions to the business. 

The unsaid requirements of having a seat are that you present your whole self every day, you think for the whole Organization when you plan and execute initiatives.  To get and keep a seat at the table HR leaders must have an intimate understanding of the business and consistently seek to create more value through your team and for the larger enterprise.

If you would like to learn more about how to get and keep a seat at the C-Suite table, please join me on October 12th for the HR Monthly Webinar.