A Place at the Table

Way back in the day when I was an Assistant Personnel Manager (yeah, that far back) we in Human Resources didn\’t wring our hands about Being Invited to The Table.  It wasn\’t called that yet.  But the concept had (and still has) validity. Influential HR bloggers Mark Stelzner and Sharlyn Lauby have weighed in on HR\’s role in an organization.

Here\’s the thing about getting that elusive invitation to The Table: you can do everything right and you still may not get The Invite. Why? Because getting a seat at the table requires lots of things to happen within the company\’s walls….many of which the individual HR person has absolutely no control over. Factors like company culture, lack of executive support and market conditions all conspire to make it difficult for you to get your Seat.

So, what\’s a talented HR person to do? Focus on what you can control: your decisions and behaviors.  It\’s those daily choices that help define who you are and what you stand for in your profession. How you show up in front of executives helps build your own reputation as a valued player, whether or not HR is officially “at the table” or not.

As a place to start, go with one of your best opportunities to make inroads: your conversations. No Death by Power Point Presentation needed. Have you noticed that the language spoken changes as you move further up into the leadership structure?  The most effective HR professionals have figured out the “language” of their executive team. Typically, the language revolves around one or more of these themes: if you can measure it, reduce it, save it or streamline it, it gets talked about.  Otherwise, it\’s just noise to senior leadership\’s ears. (Frustrating and potentially demoralizing to those of us in the “people” profession, but there it is.)

Here are some useful phrases to help show you understand and speak Execu-Speak:

  1. “Yes, we can do that. Here are the pros and cons. . .”
  2. “If we choose to go that route, this is the potential downside . . .”
  3. “The timeline is tight. Here are the tradeoffs for doing it this quickly . . .”
  4. “What\’s the Worst Case Scenario you\’re willing to live with?”
  5. “My recommendation is . . .”

These phrases show that you\’ve thought through various outcomes and are willing to help the leadership execute their ideas.  The phrases are confident, yet still leave the ball in their court.  Finally, as phrase #5 shows, always be prepared with a recommendation.  If you are going to take a seat at The Table, you must demonstrate you\’re ready to make tough choices and that you\’re prepared with a plan.

Think of your daily discussions as one side of a valuable coin. The formal plan for a more strategic HR function is the other side.  Both are necessary components in developing your HR team\’s reputation. By focusing on what you can control on a daily basis, you will steadily build credibility for both yourself and your HR department, thereby increasing your team\’s value.

jennifer millerJennifer V. Miller spent the early part of her career learning the HR ropes as a Human Resources Generalist. After awhile, she made the jump Training and Development, where she has happily stayed (and played!) for the past 20 years.  Jennifer is Managing Partner and Founder of SkillSource, which celebrates its 15
th anniversary in 2010. Please join in the conversation via Jennifer\’s blog The People Equation

0 thoughts on “A Place at the Table

  1. Jane Perdue

    Jennifer — great post, full of great advice. I particularly liked your tips and pointers for word/phrase selection that demonstates senior level leadership…not a hint of HR as the cop!

  2. Jennifer V. Miller


    You’ve grasped the essence of my message: Even though the HR function is many times called upon to play “cop” (enforce rules/regulations), it’s key to step out of that role whenever possible.

    Thanks for the comment!

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