4 Ways HR Can Win a Seat at the C-Suite Table
I was hired at Fleetmatics to transform HR from an administrative function into a “grown-up” strategic role. Fleetmatics, a SaaS company with over 1200 employees currently, was back then around 400 employees globally and was just about to go public when I joined to help redefine their HR function. But it wasn’t going to be an easy task. How do you shift the mindset of managers and C-suite leaders on the value HR brings to the company when they have already achieved significant business success without HR?
Four and half years later, I’m wiser, but still have more work to do as recently, Fleetmatics was acquired by Verizon. Nonetheless, I wanted to share what I learned and what has worked well for me at Fleetmatics. I had the opportunity to speak on an Udemy for Business Innovators Panel in Chicago in November on this topic. Here are a few key steps to help you reshape the role of HR at your organization and win a seat at the C-suite table:
1. Truly understand the business
When I came on board, every manager had a ton of autonomy to make people decisions without the involvement of HR. I had to figure out how to partner with these managers in a way that made sense to them. In order to do this, I first became well versed in the business so I could articulate the business value HR could bring to the table. Everyone knows that you can’t be successful without talented people, but when a manager is focused primarily on hitting a critical business target, the “how” in recruiting and retaining talented individuals becomes a significant factor. For example, we were hiring using agencies that knew nothing about our business but were paid for every employee hired. There wasn’t a concerted effort in building an employment brand and a recruitment process that would enable the most talented people to want to work here and to position them for optimal success.
2. Position yourself as a leader not client service provider
Second, you have to align yourself within the organization from a position of leadership, not from a position of client service. Fellow HR leaders at another Udemy for Business Innovators Panel last June discussed how HR is not a service center anymore. However, many HR functions still call their business partner a “client” which I don’t think is a good idea. The goal of serving a client is to make them happy. But instead, your objective should be to serve the mission of the company as it relates to people.
So for example, if a hiring manager doesn’t make the best decision when selecting full-time candidates, I expect our recruiter to act as a talent adviser and work together with the manager to bring on the appropriate people and skills. It’s not about making the ‘client’ or hiring manager happy, but it’s about implementing the right decision for the company in terms of talent. If the hiring manager for whatever reason doesn’t like the candidate, even though the recruiter feels the person is highly qualified for the role based on the position specifications, HR has to challenge the hiring manager to ensure that the talent decisions being made are the best ones for the company. It’s not easy at first, but with a strong foundational relationship, the hiring manager and recruiter can partner together in these efforts. This does also mean that the hiring manager should challenge the recruiter when the process is not resulting in good slate of talented candidates.
3. Talent is your value proposition
Talent is everything when it comes to HR. Although HR also provides the basic stuff like benefits, it’s not what differentiates the company. Talent is a company’s key value proposition and it drives performance and success. HR’s critical role in recruiting and hiring the right people and investing in nurturing this talent through learning and development is what makes organizations rise above the rest. At Fleetmatics, we use Udemy for Business online courses to help grow and upskill our talent.
At the end of the day, the founders of Fleetmatics saw the value of HR and how the function helps make decisions about hiring and developing people as well as creating the right systems and processes for an effective organization. This more strategic, business-driven role is increasingly winning HR a seat at the C-suite table. Organizations whose HR departments are primarily administrative will get left behind. By leveraging talent as part of strategic business goals, HR can play a key role in helping businesses outperform and succeed.
4. Stay ahead of changing trends
Although the fundamentals don’t change—you’re always going to want hire and retain great people—the dynamics around us are constantly changing. Today, demographics and technology are drastically redefining HR. Millennials are flooding the workforce while baby boomers are retiring. This alters the game of recruiting, engaging, and nurturing your employees. Technology in terms of big data and machine learning is also rapidly reshaping how HR can leverage people analytics to influence strategic business decisions. Riding this wave to the C-suite table will require staying ahead of key trends affecting both HR and your industry.
The bottom line is if you help the C-suite tackle business goals by leveraging talent and people analytics, you’ll be a participant at that table. But if you’re just pushing a traditional HR agenda and aren’t enhancing your company’s business needs, you’ll find yourself stuck in the back office helping to plan the next company party.
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