Seat at the Table

For decades, Human Resources leaders have been yearning for “a seat at the table” with the business leaders. The way to earn that seat is through the relationship with the CEO.

Over the course of my career in HR as a Training and Organization Development specialist, I’ve had the chance to work closely with several CEOs.

From my experience, plus the wisdom of Ram Charan (whose 2001 book ‘What the CEO Wants You to Know‘ is a small gem), here are some guidelines for HR leaders in working with the CEO and other business heads.

  • Know Your Stuff

    CEOs are pretty smart people, generally speaking, having come up through a technical or functional path such as R&D, Sales, Finance, or Operations. Though they know an awful lot, they count on you to know your stuff and to be the go-to expert when it comes to HR matters.

  • Get Close to Your Customer

    The CEO is the customer of the HR leader. The CEO is counting on you to know his business, his needs, his goals, and his pressures and concerns. It’s analogous to having a private physician.

  • Identify Problems and Provide Solutions

    Business is a constant stream of problems to be solved and the CEO expects that anyone who is hired, regardless of their position, is a Problem Solver and a Solution Provider. HR is no exception.

  • Innovate

    HR must be innovative. HR must be about improvement. This may be the hardest shift of all for HR professionals who are often asked to be risk mitigators. It means challenging “the way things have always been done.” It means keeping processes simple, scrapping old ways of doing things, and taking risks.

  • Operate HR Like a Business

    The CEO expects that the head of HR will understand the basics of business and will focus on the essentials, especially Return on Investment.

  • Think Ahead

    Much of what a business deals with day-to-day is the Here and Now. But the effective CEO spends time thinking ahead. Strategic thinking. Scenario planning. Networking externally to gain competitive intelligence. Asking “what if we…?” and challenging others to do the same. HR must do this too.

  • Be Strong

    CEOs are a strong willed bunch, by and large. In their office, it can get hot quickly. Be ready to stand up for your ideas. Have the courage of your convictions.

  • Be Easy to Do Business With

    The CEO lives in the fast lane and has a low tolerance for bureaucratic red-tape. He is counting on you to be a facilitator, one who makes things flow smoothly, and an expediter, one who gets it done.

HR is a very dynamic and challenging field, filled with smart, dedicated, and energized people. What are the burning issues of the moment that HR must be on top of?

If you are an HR leader ask yourself this question: What is keeping you awake at night? Chances are your answers include talent, culture, vision, trust, and communication. I would add a few more including change, stress, and growth. These are the things that should be keeping HR leaders awake at night.

Chances are, they are among the things keeping the CEO awake at night too.

How Do You Get Your Seat at the Table?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Terrence Seamon
Terry is the author of To Your Success! a motivational guide for those in career transition and a leadership development trainer and coach based in central New Jersey.