Finally My Place at The Table: OOPS Someone Took My Chair

by Michael Haberman on June 24, 2008 · 0 comments


For all you aspiring Vice Presidents of Human Resources I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that CEOs are recognizing the importance of HR. The bad news is that they are tapping non-HR executives to fill those roles. According to an article in the June 23rd issue of The Wall Street Journal more and more large companies are opting to fill the head HR position with executives who “know the business” as opposed to an HR professional who “… can get hung up in the process and forget what the goal is.” These large companies that have tapped non-HR execs to head HR include Microsoft, Qwest, Avnet and athenahealth. (A side note to yesterday’s post on Aggressive Recruiting. Microsoft is aggressively going after Yahoo employees. Perhaps this is because Microsoft’s chief HR person was running a business unit and took this competitive approach to HR.)

The article said this trend reflects “… a perception that some traditional HR professionals lack the deep understanding of business and financial issues that CEOs increasingly want.” The article quoted a headhunter saying “Many organizations are looking for their HR leader to be able to understand in great detail the business and the challenges of the business.” Well this as always been a complaint about HR and the self-admitted shortcoming of many people in HR.

So how do you keep this from happening to you? Here are my recommendations:

  1. Get out of human resources! No not permanently, but try to take on some other responsible role in your organization in order to learn the operational side of the business.
  2. Learn the financials of your business, of business in general. If you skipped those finance classes in school go get the education.
  3. If you can’t move within your company, take on a responsibile role on a volunteer board. Take a leadership role. (I posted about this earlier here.)
  4. Pay attention to your industry beyond the HR aspects. Read industry periodicals. Read the marketing and operations stuff.
  5. Track trends. Become a futurist.
  6. Speak up! Make observations, make suggestions. Get paid attention to. Be a resource for solutions in general.
  7. Take on the hard assignments. Volunteer.
  8. Lastly, do what you are currently doing VERY WELL. If you don’t know your own craft and you do slip-shod work no one is going to care what else you do.

Well those are just a few suggestions. What else should be on this list?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy Missildine-Martin, SPHR June 24, 2008 at 12:18 pm

I concur with all you have said and it worries me for our profession. I would like to add one thing to your list and that is the measurement piece. We have to start showing HR is effective by showing efficiency and effectiveness.

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR June 24, 2008 at 5:09 pm

I agree Cathy. HR should be much more accountable and be able to produce numbers important to the organization. I think one of the reasons other executives are getting these jobs is they are comfortable with “the numbers.”

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Wally Bock June 24, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Marvelous post, Michael. What worries me most about all of this is that I hear too many HR people talking about a “seat at the table” but not about helping the business. I hear too many other discussions about the minutiae of HR regulations and very little about how people with a base of HR knowledge can use that knowledge to help the business become more profitable. There’s far too much chatter about what can’t be done and not enough about possibilities. And there is the persistent and pernicious language of entitlement.

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR June 24, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Thanks Wally. I appreciate the comment. I have met a lot of HR people who forget that their purpose is to first be a business manager before anything else. Too many are unprepared to do that.

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Article June 24, 2008 at 11:55 pm

Dear Michael,
Spot on with your observations. I have seen this happen with Indian companies as well ex-CFO’s moving into Group HR Director roles. They tend to perform better because, as you said, they have a grasp of the business from a different viewpoint.

I am trying to get a blog going. It deals with Career, HR & Talent issues and entrepreneurship to a limited extent.I have spent only 2 years in the Executive Search field but I am loving it and want to make a career out of it. It would be much appreciated if you visit my blog at bharatinsync.com

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The Office Newb June 26, 2008 at 12:16 pm

I actually think this is good advice for any executive position be it HR, Marketing or Sales. I worked at an ecommerce company where many of the senior execs were hired from outside the industry and would ask questions such as, “what is a URL?”–seriously!

A person might be able to sell sand to the desert, but that won’t help a company who sells health supplies.

Know your business. Know your market.

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Sanjeev July 1, 2008 at 8:59 am

Great article, i have come into HR after spending 10 years on the business side…sales, operations, six sigma. For the last 6 years that i have been in HR, every minute of my experience in the business side has been invaluable. So i would urge people to do a stint in a non HR role to get the ‘Perspective’.

Understanding the business and speaking the same language brings in a lot of credibility. The other important thing is to become data savvy, we have tons of information, we need to dig into it and bring out inferences and insights that help the business manage better.

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR July 1, 2008 at 10:16 am

Sanjeev: great comment and observation. I have often found that HR people who came from operations positions have a much more grounded view of the position they have in HR.

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Krupo July 20, 2008 at 1:29 am

I agree with Office Newb – and wrote a posting to that effect too! 🙂

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