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What advice would you give to a new HR, OD or Training Manager about getting to the table and staying there?

In January, we asked our clients and our consultants a simple question: “what advice would you give to a new HR, OD or Training Manager about getting to the table and staying there?” We received 39 responses.

The breadth and depth of the answers demonstrate that the question is far more complex than it originally appeared. We’ve reprinted most of the verbatim answers below.

As you read the verbatim answers, you’ll see that some of the responses stressed the soft skills such as listening and coaching. Other responses focused on hard business skills and ROI. If pressed, I think somewhere in the middle, is where we find our answer.

In my opinion, the biggest difficulty getting to the table is all about repositioning HR’s perception as a supporting role to the business. If you run HR as a support function, then you probably do not sit at the table. All of the HR innovators we know have a seat at the table because they have transformed the role of HR from support to strategic.

There is no “silver bullet” here, each organization and it’s leaders are unique and HR’s contribution needs to be adapted to speak to those leaders in their language and contribute to the bottom line. If you’re not at the table, it will likely take time to be a trusted and valued business partner. War stories from a number of HR professionals reveal that it could take a couple of years to build your credibility. Some of the following ideas may be useful in helping you move closer to the strategic planning table.

Here are a few of the responses from our last quick poll. Please let us know if this information was useful.

* Become a trusted business partner through listening, providing sound advice, being a confidant, and adding value through data driven insights (based on data of turnover, hiring stats, sources, legal trends, etc).

* Build an internal network among the operational managers and learn deeply and quickly the bowels of the business. Learn to translate quickly the $$ impact of decisions and productivity levels. Speak about that impact to others in the operational departments. Utilize the mind power in those departments to solve productivity problems by facilitating problem-solving and process improvement. These will give you a speaking knowledge and depth of understanding that can make you a ready source of the kind of help they care about.

* Learn the skills that the best consultants/coaches employ and use them to provide your clients with an experience ... mainly 'Listening like a Coach'... and then create experiences for them that Brand you as a valued resource. Then employ the powerful skills of Dialogue and Neutral Facilitation to demonstrate your understanding and to bring out the best in your Client - that's where the solutions are.

* Getting to the table is all about selling yourself. The best way to do that is give your prospect/client a new and different experience. Creating a different experience is all about communication. The bottom line about getting to the table and staying there -- knowing how to communicate with your prospects and clients in such a way that you both feel respected and valued after each interaction.

* Demonstrate how your efforts combine with those of others to achieve the overarching business objective. Articulate risks and how you mitigate them. Don't whine.

* Clearly and continuously demonstrate the value/benefits of the work you are doing that positively impact the bottom line.

* The ONLY way is to be able to speak credibly about talent in the organization.

* Build your business acumen competency. Understand the corporate business strategic objectives and those of any business unit you are directly connected to. Understand the critical people resource capabilities crucial to successful achievement of the business competencies. Understand the specific needs of key leaders in your business unit. Build alliances with leaders by addressing their needs.

* Deliver excellent services in everything you do. This includes staying close to your customers' business challenges and anticipating their needs. Consciously and publicly connect the work you do to the Business Strategy and articulate the value you add in strategy terms. Be able to translate your ideas and concerns into the language of decision-makers: finance, value-chain, business objectives, etc. Become an indispensable thinking partner with your peers, leaders in other areas of the company by asking powerful questions. Be the person they want to "run something by" because of how much value you add to the reflection and decision-making process. Be authentically yourself and role model continuous learning by being honest, open, and willing to change your own ideas in the course of partnering with others.

* Show success early in tenure at implementing things that make your internal customers lives easier. Link everything you do to mission, strategy and key business goals. have a sound business case for any initiatives you want to advance. get to know your peers and other executives - build relationships based on trust and delivering what you promise. Model "straight talk" in the organization.

* Know the business and the challenges & opportunities it faces in the environment. Also be very aware of how things work in the organization, especially how the strategic & financial planning cycle works. Finally, always take the time to illustrate the financial impact on the organization & the financial "value add" to the bottom line.

* Listen, listen, listen. Many new OD professionals are excited about "selling" all the great techniques and tools they've learned in graduate school or professional conferences. Start by seeing line managers as a customer-- not an audience. Line managers are most concerned about productivity and results. You need to be seen as a partner in getting to that goal. Don't "sell" a solution until you know exactly what the challenge is and be able to link your solution to the bottom line.

* You need to gain trust and respect before you can get to the table so position yourself as a resource. From a training standpoint - let your peers/supervisors (company-wide) see the value & benefit of training. At the same time - be a good listener - no one wants to hear one-sided dialogues. You can't just be out to promote your cause but need to be a team player - so to that end be conversant in the other services/business units of the company so people see you're engaged in what they care about and will hopefully lend their ear to learn about training. Continue to educate your executives/clients on the benefits of training, the importance of professional/personal development and how it’s a trickle down from that person to their team, clients and all the work they do. It doesn’t hurt to reinforce the benefit of training to the bottom line: some people only listen when it involves money/resources. Being perceived as an expert/consultant helps in this goal.

* Expose people to your ideas - that can positively affect their day to day - without sounding like you’re on a training soapbox. Identify the senior people in your organization who believe in your objective (training) as much as you do and leverage when appropriate - of course, always with their approval. Also I can't underline enough the importance of maintaining a professional demeanor in appearance, speech, and interactions - in all you do and say. Especially with training, when you're teaching people (or involved in the process of teaching people) how to be more effective, professional, etc., you are held to a higher standard in how you present yourself. Not to mention, it shows and people notice when you are professional and especially when you're not! All of this goes to build your character and your role as an integral part of the team when you're perceived as knowledgeable and capable to manage the work that needs to be done. Be patient with yourself as you learn about your new company and/or your new role. As with any new job, it takes time to learn how to be as effective as you can be given the company structure, culture, expectations, clients, etc. As you learn more about your new company/role - you'll learn to know when to push the issue and when to let people approach you. Be careful that you're not pushy or you'll turn people off to you and to your objective (training). Getting to know the people in your environment and how they tick is very important – which in time reveals itself and you’ll learn how to best approach each person, to bend their ear to training and gain their respect and trust.

* HR Professionals must stop talking about the seat at the table and start earning the seat at the table. Businesses are lead by people who can add "bottom line" value to the organization. Many HR professionals already do this, however, they must start communicating this value in the language that business leaders use. Lose the HR jargon and start using metrics, facts and statistics that demonstrate Return on Investment. HR professionals must step outside of the "HR niche" and relate what they do to their current and future organizational challenges and goals…specially those challenges and goals that link to profit. When we stop complaining about compliance issues and the burden of maintaining policies and procedures, we might find time to get creative and climb the ladder from transactional levels to strategic heights. Only then will HR and those of us who work in this noble profession be invited to the table.

* As a Training Manager I always ask the senior VPs to be my Training Advisory Council. I let them tell me what the training needs are. When I select a training vendor this council gets input into the selection. I ask a senior level person to kick off every training session. I hold quarterly meetings of this group and present to them the feedback data for Levels one through three that we have on programs delivered in that quarter. I have found that by including them in all the training decisions, they have ownership and therefore are supportive in terms of resources and good will.

* First, respond to requests, no matter how "trivial," and deliver better and sooner than they expect. Second, find quiet opportunities to ask them what makes their business succeed or fail. Finally, after your relationships are established for a few years, negotiate strongly to address things that matter most to the business, whether or not they fit your expertise.

* Ask the right business questions and learn how to be a consultant.

* Know your firm's short and long-term business strategy and where HR metrics add value to accomplish the organization's objectives. Bring information that otherwise no one else would have, i.e., anticipated vacancies, competencies of key promote-able individuals, workforce demographic changes, financial information pertaining to health care costs/forecasts, etc. Talk to senior managers as if they are business partners because they are!

* Focus on how HR/OD/Training contribute to the business goals of the group/organization you're addressing

* Show a genuine interest in the business leaders of the company. Specifically, what's on their minds, hearts, and plates? What are they excited about, worried about, motivated toward? Be more concerned about them than about showing how smart you are. This way you will become a friend, partner, sounding board, and confidant, and thus be in a better position to learn about and address their true needs.

* Getting to the table requires being a "buyer" as much as a "seller" when interviewing. This means being objective and finding out as much as possible about your possible new employer. Find out not only the culture of the organization that you may join but also the atmosphere and expectations of the department in which you would be working. Most notable is "the boss" and his or her expectations -- but go beyond that research and look at the attitude of the department. How and who do they work with on a regular basis to get their work completed? What are the measures of successful work for individuals and teams? Who holds the power/drive in making business decisions (sales, manufacturing, finance, etc.) on a daily basis? Where do H.R., O.D., and Training fit into the strategic mix of that organization? Get examples of how it is/was positioned during specific organizational projects. Yes, it's difficult to get this type of information. The point is to thoroughly check out the expectations, atmosphere, and people that will be part of how YOU fit or do not fit with the potential employer. Much time is spent in convincing organizations that candidates are the best fit for the job. In summary, keep your eyes open and understand: a) how the company really operates and works 'in the trenches' on an ongoing basis. b) Is this a good potential fit with your skills, abilities, commitment, and career passion? Compromise is part of working for an organization and clearly understanding what you (and the employer) are all about is a critical step to a successful fit for both parties.

* Pick an expertise and start to publish and speak in that area. Read all you can to get up to speed, attended conferences, network with others who also specialize in this area.
* Think like a business leader or owner and put your ideas into a package that not only addresses organizational needs, but also creates investment value for all parties at the table.

* Really listen to the issues. If the executives are overwhelmed with solving HR issues, provide advice. If the executives are stretched with HR issues, collaborate with them. If the executives demonstrate their comfort with HR issues themselves, challenge them with your awareness of opportunities.

* Listen and learn first. Before implementing new initiatives, absorb as much information about the company as possible. Study the corporate strategic and business plans, organization chart, and other pertinent documentation. Familiarize yourself with the responsibilities and inner workings of all major business units/departments. Become acquainted with peers outside your organization; solicit their input; gain an understanding of the corporate culture. Acquire a clear understanding of the responsibilities for your business unit, and the extent of your empowerment.

* Support the corporate direction. Assure that the strategy for your business unit or department is consistent with the corporate direction and values. Develop objectives for your area that respond directly to corporate goals.

* Adapt a corporate perspective. Work to unite all business units under the corporate umbrella, resolving the conflicting priorities of individual business units. If you are assigned responsibility for developing the company strategic plan, assure that business unit needs are considered impartially, with an eye to the overriding corporate interests. Proactively support the implementation of the strategic plan through reporting, tracking, and enforced accountability. Implement an employee performance review system that ties individual performance to corporate goals.

* Strengthen the infrastructure. Examine additional areas where you can contribute to organizational strength. Assure that the organization structure is clearly defined. Examine the documentation hierarchy and assure that it is appropriate and valuable. Where needed, take steps to develop corporate policy and control documentation to enforce functional authority, strengthen internal control; promote prudent and cost effective business practices; and reduce corporate vulnerability to legal action and other business risk.

* Train and develop. Maintain communication with other business units to assure that training is on target with the needs of your internal customers. Assure that your company is provided training that supports ongoing operations, management and employee development, and new initiatives in both technical and non-technical areas.

As a strategic contributor to the business, HR’s early role is transformation. By removing the mystery of HR from the business and getting your house in order, you can then focus on transforming the function from a supporting role to a strategic role. When you integrate what you know into the business and become an advisor instead of a support function, great things will happen.

Was this information useful? How could we improve it?

Diane Kubal is President of Fulcrum Network. Fulcrum Network is a national agent for human resources talent that matches business needs with consultants specializing in training, human resources, organization development, and management consulting based in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, Diane may be reached at

This article was submitted by - Ben Bradley Please Rate/Review this Article - Recommend it to friends

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