For the love of all that is holy, can we put a stake in the heart of this issue?

As startling as it is, there are still HR professionals and execs trying find their seat at the coveted leadership “table.” It’s not last year’s news  – it’s in the headlines this week. I have a simple but hard truth – you’ve gotta earn it. It’s your business knowledge, your guts, and the value you deliver. That’s it.

Think about someone you consider to be a major influence in your life. How did they take on that role? Did they quietly stand near you, offering no insights? Doubtful. I’d venture that they made you stop and think about things in innovative ways, demonstrating their deep understanding, critical thinking, and creatively fresh approach. Get inspired by that.

Ask Yourself the Question

Have you been honest about why you want a seat at this table? Is it about status? Or do you truly seek to make a difference? Make sure you’re confident about your answer to this question. It won’t take long before someone has to whisper, Excuse me, but your values are showing. 

Those consumed with managing up or sideways and looking good aren’t on track to change the world. Image will always come before purpose for them, and the hard-won position of leadership ends up wasted when a poorly motivated leader succumbs to politics or fear of failure. The tragedy is real, and your execs have likely seen it happen. Commitment to a thriving, inclusive organizational culture with a willingness to speak the truth, even when it’s not popular, is going to leave a legacy of significant transformation. Fueled by their integrity, these leaders will take bold steps to innovate and experiment. 

Manifest Your Own Destiny

Lamenting a failure to earn a seat is a great way to live into a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to negation, a corollary of the manifestation concept, if you focus on what you lack, you’ll cement not having it. HR can have a voice that is heard and valued; that goal is yours to attain. You just have to start thinking differently. Take  some calculated, targeted actions:

  1. Know the business. This is not about understanding acronyms, strategies, or functional organizations. Get in the weeds. Schedule time in your weekly calendar to school up on areas you’re unfamiliar with. Ask questions. Set regular time with colleagues in Finance, Ops, Sales, and other functions to sharpen your organizational understanding. This step serves you in multiple ways: You gain the insights you want while also building new respect from the team members you approach. Showing interest in the unique challenges of their work goes miles in building strong relationships.
  2. Put the business first. I repeat – campaigning for HR’s voice can’t be about ego. The leadership table needs execs who are humble, selfless, and business-focused. Free of personal agendas, these leaders can listen as well as they speak and make decisions with the company in mind first. You can’t fall in love with your own processes  – I’ve seen it happen, and when the rest of the team rejects your proposal, you end up feeling thrown out too. But that’s not always the case. Our entire raison d’etre in HR is to advance the achievement of business objectives through the effective development and orchestration of talent. We can’t grow overly attached to processes. We have to ensure they fit their intended purpose, and if not, change or remove them.
  3. Open your mouth. And not just for the sake of it. Having the intestinal fortitude to speak up more is no joke – no one wants to sound stupid. But if you’ve done your business homework, you should have a valuable point of view on key issues, and the floor won’t open up and swallow you, regardless of what your churning guts might be telling you. Don’t forget that your leaders actually expect this  –  this is where your value comes from as an HR professional. They’re not experts in human capital, but they sure are expecting you to be! Making your contributions positive rather than critical is key. Yes, you’ve earned and learned a lot along your professional journey, but it doesn’t give you permission to call someone else’s baby ugly. Every company has its blind spots, and you’ll best serve them by communicating gently and not hammering on weaknesses.
  4. Close your mouth. Wait, didn’t we just talk about opening it? Equally important to speaking up is knowing when not to. If you comment on everything, it can make you seem arrogant, insecure, ignorant, or needy. Use your voice only when you have something valuable to say. There’s another tremendous benefit that comes with closing your mouth: You learn a great deal about your colleagues. (And isn’t that the field you’re in?) You learn what they are passionate about and what is frustrating them. That information is like caffeinated protein for the HR executive. It should fuel you into designing people-centered applications that solve expressed problems or enhance what is already working well. Use the time when you are not speaking to practice active listening, rather than thinking of what you want to say next.
  5. Upgrade your HR function. Root out processes, tools, approaches, policies in your HR remit that are outdated and don’t serve the company. Trust me, they exist  – and you probably don’t even know about them. From antiquated progressive discipline policies to lengthy and complicated talent reviews that fail at the point of action, you’ve got stuff to weed out, streamline, and improve. Save time and unnecessary aggravation for everyone. Talk with your leaders to see what they want and need and then deliver it. Sit back and watch their respect for you grow.

You’re Already There

Know who you are and be confident in it. Your point of view and instincts have been informed by many years of deep training and unique experiences. Your role is to drive organizational value and results in ways only you can. Get yourself together and figure out where your value lies and where your ego doesn’t belong. And sit down already!