One Seat at a Time

December 11, 2012 by Wally Bock

Last week, Matt Stollak, Associate Professor at St. Norbert College, posted on True Faith HR about his reaction to the continuing discussion of HR’s “seat at the table.” Here’s the money quote.

“The role of the strategic HR leader has changed…yet, in 2012, there is still conversation about that piece of furniture.”

Matt linked to a marvelous post by Christopher de Mers, OD specialist for Travis County, Texas, titled “Let’s Be Clear On What Counts.” The post includes this about the quest for a “seat at the table.”

“Let’s re-think the quest. People get a seat at the metaphoric table because they’re exceptionally good at two things: predicting the near-term needs of the business and making the right things happen to meet those needs. In other words, be active and mostly right.”

The key word here is the first word in the second sentence: “People.” The way this “seat at the table” stuff will happen is not by legislative action or a collective resolution by corporate directors to pull up a chair for HR. It will happen because individual people will be “active and mostly right” about how human resources can be mobilized to make specific companies more effective.

That’s how it happened for IT. First companies had computer departments that did mostly accounting work and were part of Finance. Then some people showed how computer systems could make their companies more effective. The language shifted and “computer departments” became “Management Information Systems Departments” and later “Information Technology Departments” headed by (drum roll, please) Chief Information Officers. It will happen for HR the same way.

It won’t happen all at once. It will happen because individual men and women are “active and mostly right” about how HR can make their company more effective. They will get individual seats at individual tables. When they leave, someone else will fill the seat.

Here’s the bottom line. Talking (or whining) about a “seat at the table” will not result in much unless individual people who are “active and mostly right” earn individual seats.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

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