Read & React: Should HR Want a “Seat at the Table?”

One of the challenges we face in HR is establishing credibility. It’s this behind the “seat at the table” conversation that has dominated HR discussions the past 20 years. It’s behind the “should we get rid of/divide/reorganize HR entirely.”

Our efforts to get that seat at the table lead to assertions like “HR’s role is to drive business results.” While on the surface, this seems to make sense, in reality it hinders our ability to establish the credibility we so eagerly seek. 

First, what does it mean to “drive business results?” It means increasing revenue, market share, innovation, profitability or other financial metrics. Tell the CFO that HR “drives” those results, and you reinforce the suspicion executives already have that HR doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Sure, HR provides support around many facets of the organization — but that, in leaders’ view, isn’t “driving results.” 

Rather than argue the point, let’s focus on what it means to be a member of the supporting cast. It's not HR's job to drive business results any more than it’s a casting director’s job to deliver great reviews for a play. It's HR's job to make sure the right people are in place. 

To be sure, this is hard work. To succeed, HR has to be deeply embedded in the business to understand what the "right people" are for different roles. It has to be knowledgeable enough about the business to challenge leaders during workforce and organization changes. It has to be knowledgeable enough about human psychology, data-driven decision making and change management to hold leaders accountable when they rely on gut instinct over analysis in talent management.

When HR is successful in all these areas, the people whose job it is to drive business results are the right people with the right skills working in the right roles toward the right results.

Should HR covet the so-called “seat at the table,” or should the function be satisfied with its ever-important supportive role?