5 Questions to Ensure HR’s Seat at the Table

There is a long and tired debate about how HR & people leaders need a ‘seat at the table’. Yet, the real seat comes not from a title, level or the “repositioning of HR”, but from knowing the business and how to create a workforce with the talent and motivation to deliver it.  The good news is that opportunities abound by asking the right questions at the right time.

Facebook who just had one of the most celebrated public offerings ever, will ask these questions as they continue to improve the user experience on mobile devices – and with the added twist of driving up advertising revenue.  This week in a totally different business and industry, The Wall Street Journal featured an Indiana steel mill saved because their company, ArcelorMittal, found the answers in adopting Belgium workforce principles with some help from technology.

There is an undeniable need for someone at the table who knows how to line up the business strategy with a talented workforce.  Success in an ever changing, complex business environment depends upon it.  We can’t do this alone, of course, but we can be the ones who know the questions to be answered and the steps to progress.

Those who have a seat with their name on it usually have confidence (they expect to be there), influence (trusted by the others), and valuable insights (a point of view on the business).  But, to keep the seat it comes back to the work – the  contribution and topics you choose to bring to the table.

Regardless of your business, industry or location, if you’re asking your leaders and yourself these questions, and acting upon the conclusions, your impact will be noticeable:

  • What’s our business strategy? Where is the business going? How long do we have to get there? What parts of the business will grow or go? Where do we need more profit?
  • What does our organization need to be like tomorrow to realize the strategy? What workforce trends will affect us? How must the organization function? What capability and roles will be needed?
  • What are the gaps between today and tomorrow? What capability do we need tomorrow that we don’t have today? What are the biggest gaps? How much time do we have to close it? What skills won’t be needed or phased out?
  • How will we close the gap? What can we build ourselves, phase out, buy or engage for a period of time?
  • How will we manage and measure it? What processes do we need to realize it? What’s success and how will we measure it – next quarter? this year? next year?
  • Repeat. Because we know this will evolve and change – and you’ll learn as you go.

I have never seen an HR leader receive a comprehensive workforce strategy with a bow tied around it.  This isn’t realistic, but not a reason to slow down.  It takes putting your researcher hat on and asking the right questions – then searching some more.  When you don’t get everything you need – and you won’t – make some sound assumptions.  Finally, turn it into a concrete plan that won’t be perfect, but will move you in the right direction.  Time to embrace the 80/20 rule.

In your quest to get a primo seat at the table or stay there, your ticket will be less about making a brilliant comment in the meeting or ‘repositioning HR’ and more about translating the strategy into action.  If opportunities exist everywhere from Facebook to the steel mill, there must be a ticket to the open seat in your organization.

Patti Johnson is the CEO & founder of PeopleResults.  She can be followed on twitter @PattiBJohnson or her company @people_results.