How can HR win a 'seat at the table'?

HRD finds out how to go from ‘pen-pusher’ to valued business partner

How can HR win a 'seat at the table'?

Depending on the organisation you’re at, you may have a different view of HR’s role in the business.

One prominent HR head told us that most of his industry colleagues in large organisations already enjoy a seat at the table. Those in smaller firms, however, tell him it’s “mostly about survival” at that scale, which is why they’re still in an operational role.

Regardless of their current positions, reports have found that majority of CHROs feel mounting pressure to perform on the job. In a poll by ServiceNow, seven in 10 HR leaders believe their roles have grown more strategic, with about 56% saying the ability to create a digital, consumerised employee experience will “define their role” in the next three years.

In comparison, a mere six percent still hold the view that HR will remain “traditional”.

Another sign of a major mindset shift in HR is this: about three in four CHROs believe they can become CEO in the future, based on a TimesJobs report. The study also found that one in three CHROs are confident that HR is becoming more of a business leader in the organisation.

Even if their roles have yet to transform, close to half of CHROs surveyed are certain they will become a business leader in the next five years.

But does it matter whether HR has a seat at the table?

Why having “a seat” isn’t enough
Ilja Rijnen, HR director, Emerging Asia at Beam Suntory believes that for HR, “having a seat at the table” is crucial – but that shouldn’t be the only goal.

“It’s not just about getting a seat,” he told HRD. “It’s about having something worth saying at the table.”

In order to be a credible partner of the business, Rijnen said HR needs to help the business “think ahead”.

“The business knows how to sell,” he said. “What HR needs to help the business with is not just for today, but about what is happening in the longer term that may be important but not urgent.

“What does the business need to start doing differently today in order to be relevant in the next two, three or four years from now? That is a big task that HR has not yet cracked.”

So how can HR transform and get close to becoming a valuable business partner? Rijnen said HR should start by taking a step back and understanding where they can make the most impact to the organisation.

“Think about where we spend most of our time – is it actually in partnerships?” he said. “Or is it in being a subject matter expert because it makes us feel safe or reliable?

“Are we really trying to transform the business or the thinking within the business? Or are we just sitting at the table and happy clapping along?”

He added that it is HR’s responsibility to challenge the business leaders. Not just “for the sake” of it, but to claim your place as a partner and carry out your duty as HR.

“I think the role of HR is to help the business deliver its purpose in the best way possible, with the right values,” he said. “HR is there to drive business growth [by helping it to] understand what it needs to do [to grow].”

As the organisation does what it does best, HR can play its part in helping it work towards meeting future business needs. Only when you’re able to help the business determine its needs, can you decide on what gaps need filling and work on that in a strategic manner, Rijnen explained.

“I think for HR to be credible at the table, you need to understand business,” he said. “You need to understand…growth drivers, the market and industry you work in. You need to understand the external factors.

“You need to be very connected inside, from a HR point of view, but also outside [of the business]. You need to be speaking the business language.”

The future needs to be now
All of that may sound like a lot to work on. But it’s something shared by many successful HR leaders: becoming a valued business partner takes more than just being the people expert.

And going into the future, HR will play an even more crucial role in the organisation: more than just a partner, HR may have to act as the “glue” for top management.

A recent human capital trends report by Deloitte found that 84% of C-suite teams aren’t collaborating effectively. The study went so far to state that CHROs will play a mandatory element in forming a “symphonic C-suite” as they can provide the expertise around talent infrastructure and help drive the organisation’s future performance.

This is why regardless of whether you’re given a seat at the table or need to fight for one, you need to ensure you play an impactful role.

“You tend to hear this excuse all the time – that you’ve got so many administrative functions to take care of that you have no time to strategise,” said Phan Yoke Fei, senior director, HR & corporate administration at Gardens by the Bay.

“It’s a matter of perspective and not so much about whether you have enough time to plan. I’m sure given enough experience, you’ll have time to plan in all functions.

“Don’t just look at HR as your scope of operations; you should look at the business as a whole. I believe that other than the coveted position of CEO, the HR person is in the capacity to know the business the best.”

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