Getting A “Seat at the Table”: One Man’s Perspective

by Michael Haberman on July 18, 2008 · 0 comments


“Your place at the table.” How many articles, conversations, blogs, moaning sessions, crying sessions and musings have occurred around this topic? Countless, yet the question continues to be asked. So I figured I would put in my “two cents worth.”

In my mind there are professional characteristics and personal characteristics that enter into this discussion. The professional characteristics include:

  • You must be knowledgeable in HR. Yeah I know, obvious. But I mean more than just a cursory knowledge. This means you study. Be it in school (Masters degree), be it in continuing educations (SPHR) or be it on your own (reading books, magazines, websites, blogs.)
  • You must be knowledgeable in business, both business in general and your industry in particular. This means more education. Understand how your company makes money and what it does with it. Assets, liabilities, debt, income statements, balance sheets and the other language of finance and accounting. Understand operations issues. Supply, demand, inventories, scheduling. You get this two different ways. Read! There should be several industry journals on your reading list. Relationships! Spend time with the finance and ops people.
  • You must be knowledgeable in the world. This means you pay attention to and understand the impact of globalization, localization, politics, social trends, economic trends, legal trends and more. This means you are an environmental scanner.
  • You must be knowledgeable in people. This means you are a student of psychology. You understand behavior and the principles of motivation and reward. You know group dynamics and team building.
  • You must be knowledgeable in strategy and planning. Knowing “stuff” does not do any good if you cannot apply it to the current and future direction of the company.
  • You MUST be competent and good at what you do. If you can’t keep a file straight or keep track of a new hire why in the hell would I want you at my side advising me, if I were the president of a company.
  • It helps if you have worked in some other area other than human resources. Sales, operations or finance will all work. That gives you great perspective on the problems departments face on a day to day basis.

The personal characteristics you must have are:

  • You have to be smart. Sorry, but it is the truth. There has to be the “horse power” in the cranium. There is a lot of stuff to know and apply and if you don’t have it you won’t make it to the top. You have to be able to see the big picture and read the future and that takes some brains.
  • You have to be a hard charger. You don’t make it to the Vice Presidential level by coming in late and leaving early. You also don’t gripe about how hard it is. You eat the stuff up. You want more. PASSION!
  • You have to have some “backbone.” If you are afraid of making decisions you don’t have the “right stuff.”
  • You have to learn from your errors. Don’t be afraid to admit a mistake, but move on once you have.
  • You have to have DESIRE. You want to have that VP role then you have to ASK for it. In this case the meek shall NOT inherit the earth.

Ok. That is my take. In my experience I have met few HR professionals that meet this standard. Nothing wrong with that. There are limited jobs at the top and the rest of us will be gainfully employed in some aspect of HR. But if you want to be the “lead dog” then you need to work for it and I hope this helps.

Feel free to leave me your comments, opinions, additions or suggest a deletion.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan McCarthy July 18, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Michael –

That’s a fair list for an HR VP role. It describes what’s needed to own a seat at the executive table, I wouldn’t delete anything. I’d only like to add that you have to be a good general manager and leader as well, given you’ll probably be responsible for running a multi-million dollar organization with lots of infrastructure and employees.

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR July 18, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Dan, very good point. Good management skills are always a must.

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Lance Young, SPHR August 7, 2008 at 12:39 pm

I do agree with what you have said. I think it would be almost impossible to find all of those characteristics at a high level in a single person. If you can hit on most of them, I think you have a top notch professional. Ultimately, all HR professionals need most of this “stuff”.

Lance Young, SPHR

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