Many HR leaders practice smarter collaboration – that is, teaming up with the right colleagues to achieve a better solution–within their HR department and with selected business partners.
Those who engage this way know that smarter collaboration produces a range of strategic outcomes, including better employee engagement, more efficient processes, and stronger support for the business leaders’ major objectives.
But all too often, unless HR professionals instigate the collaboration, they are not brought into the company’s strategic conversations early enough to have the full benefit that their expertise offers.
Take the example of Cecilia, an HR executive at a major metropolitan hospital. Her Board of Directors has decided that cybersecurity is a prime concern; as a result, executives mobilized a range of functions including technology, operations, risk, and compliance.
But time and again they approached HR as an afterthought. If HR leaders had been present from the get-go, many organizations would have had more robust, human-centric, workable security solutions.
In short: By not getting a seat at the strategy table in time to influence the direction of major initiatives, HR leaders miss a tremendous opportunity to improve the value they add not only to their department but also to the company as a whole: a true win-win.
Here are five ways that HR leaders can get a seat at the strategy table and use this seat effectively.
1. Learn more about the company
Build networks with colleagues at many different ranks and locales, and in many different functions, to learn about your company from the bottom up. This includes understanding its products, technology, supply chain, business processes, and financial position.
To really boost your knowledge, consider taking some field trips. Where in the company is important work getting done that you really aren’t familiar with?
Visit a corporate site focused on this area of the business, and find someone there who will welcome you in.
Be prepared to learn from people regardless of their rank: Everyone has something to teach you, not just the higher-status colleagues.
Another useful technique for getting steeped in the business is to tackle routine tasks with a learning mindset.
For example, every time you review an employment contract think about who is being hired and for what. What special skills and experiences do they bring to the company, and how will they be leveraged? How does their role fit into the larger organization, and how are talent decisions evolving? The more you reflect on these questions, the more you have a deeper grasp of the business.
2. Learn more about the sector
Once you start to have a good feel for the company, learn more about the wider sector in which it competes. This allows you to understand the market dynamics and speak the right language with business leaders.
To start better understanding the market, investigate the trade journals your business colleagues are reading, the ways in which a trade war or economic downturn would affect your sectors, and how emerging technology is most likely to disrupt your market—among other important questions.
But educating yourself isn’t enough. The ability to maintain and grow relationships with business executives hinges on HR professionals’ ability to translate their technical, function-specific language into sector-specific business insights.
For instance, instead of citing a regulation number and the possible associated fines, go several conceptual steps further and talk about a culture of customer privacy and satisfaction. These insights can promote collaboration, and improve your ability to generate buy-in.
3. Develop and share future-focused insights
Effective corporate planning requires the legal team’s deep understanding of the human resources landscape: what’s true today, and what’s likely to happen tomorrow.
The HR team can add remarkable value by helping their colleagues understand the commercial and strategic risks and opportunities of HR issues, but it requires wisdom and courage to address these possibilities.
Developing this perspective requires the HR team not only to follow the HR literature, but also stay close with peers across the industry, academics, and government experts. And then the HR team can add value, in part, by helping business executives understand the future HR and business risks relative to each other, as aligned with corporate objectives.
4. Overcome imposter syndrome
Bringing a unique view to the strategy-setting dialogue is one of the HR team’s most powerful value-adds, and one of the most compelling reasons for them to become thought partners alongside other senior business leaders.
But occasionally the reality of sitting in a board room or executive suite brings insecurities to the surface—even for seasoned HR professionals.
You can try to build up your confidence on your own, say through self-help books or performing research-based exercises (for example, practicing what you feel insecure about), or seeking out an executive coach or mentor who can help you.
You can also grow your assurance—and in turn gravitas—through seeking feedback from others and trying to address this feedback. This could mean improving your content expertise, communication skills, or networking prowess.
5. Grow trust in others
The process of smart collaboration, which brings together specialized expertise to solve complex problems, is fundamentally built on trust—both interpersonal trust and competence trust.
Interpersonal trust, or confidence in another person’s intentions and character, depends on the HR team and their business colleagues strongly believing in each others’ good intentions—that is, automatically assuming their actions are meant to further the good of the company. With this in place, HR professionals have a better chance of fulfilling their potential as strategic partners.
Competence trust is the belief that another person’s expertise is both high quality and useful. Business leaders must believe that their HR leaders are not only high quality in the HR sense, but useful and practical in the commercial realm.
With this in mind, one tip for HR professionals is recognizing that they don’t always have to have an answer on the spot.
They should feel free to think over the answer, and then follow up with relevant updates and reports to deepen the relationship and boost competence trust.
Ultimately, smarter collaboration is brilliant in that it creates new and exciting opportunities for people from different knowledge domains and backgrounds to come together, produce outcomes of incredible value, and then reap the benefits collectively.
HR leaders and professionals should go beyond just practicing smarter collaboration in their departments: They should also use it to engage with and influence business executives to unlock superior HR and corporate outcomes.
Getting and using a seat at the strategy table is a critical step toward those achievements.
The world’s HR conference and expo is back! Don’t miss out on UNLEASH World in Paris this October.
Sign up to the UNLEASH Newsletter
Get the Editor’s picks of the week delivered straight to your inbox!