Want a Seat at the Table? 5 Ways HR Can Turn Strategy Into Action

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There is a long and tired debate about how HR and 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, a company that 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 the owner, ArcelorMittal, found the answers in adopting Belgium workforce principles with some help from technology.

It’s about confidence, influence, and insight

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. HR 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 (they’re trusted by the others), and valuable insights (a point of view on the business). But to keep the seat, it all 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?

It’s about translating strategy into action

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. That isn’t realistic, but it’s not a reason to slow down.

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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 to simply 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 that Indiana steel mill, there must be a ticket to the open seat in your organization.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consulting firm she founded in 2004. She is the author of newly released "Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life." Patti and her team advise clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Previously a Senior Executive at Accenture. Patti is an instructor on change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Institute Women’s Initiative, as well as a keynote speaker on change and leadership.


7 Comments on “Want a Seat at the Table? 5 Ways HR Can Turn Strategy Into Action

  1. Patti you’re spot in.  Forget the seat at the table.  As HR professionals we need to quit the handwringing and just get out there and execute.  We need to BE the internal consultant that enables our businesses to succeed.  That way, we won’t worry about the seat at the table because we’ll be having those critical conversations wherever and whenever they need to occur. 

  2. If you wait until it’s perfect, it will never get implemented. It takes courageos leadership to be ready to execute with the 80/20 rule!

  3. This is the classic list, good coverage, @Patti.  That said, @TNnoebel is echoing the most common lament by CEOs, COOs, and Chief Strategy Officers–“just execute, baby (HR)!”  Of course, this means executing what counts–doing the things that shift behavior to meet emerging demands–not just be real efficient at transacting “HR Sytems.”

    My biggest concern about HR leaders that I see embracing Patti’s guidance is that they tend to use Patti’s questions as a LIST.  They tend to simply “parrot” the language used by others, with no real understanding of what’s behind the answers to these questions.

    I recommend a deeper, but more simple approach so that as you become a vocal advocate of the things in Patti’s list, you have depth behind it (substance, not just repeating bullet-point, branded communications):

    1)  Investigate exactly HOW the company (and each service/prod. line) actually makes money.  When you can state in your own words what makes/breaks a month/quarter, the key drivers of 3,6, and 12 month trends you’re getting close.

    2)  Understand the company’s customers and their profiles.  How do they describe their needs (native language)?…and what do they fear about the future or their competition?  What makes or breaks their performance?

    3)  Get to know your “line” customers–even shadowing them if possible.  When you discover what makes them excited and what makes them sweat, you’re getting close.  When they describe their performance and their customers and competitors, what language do they use…and how do they regard these factors/constituents when they discuss them among their own tribe?

    Start there.  Aside from @TNnoebel’s call for execution, the other most common derailer of HR business “cred” occurs when the HR pro simply echoes strategy-speak.

    Get out there, people!

  4. I love Patti’s common sense approach.  It’s easy to understand and makes it seem not quite so overwhelming!

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