May 18, 2017
“How Does One Get A Seat At The Table?” - Getting A Position of Impact and Influence

I had the privilege of being invited to speak at an industry event last week, and the audience was largely made up of leaders in various human resources roles. One question surfaced numerous times, making me cringe each time it was referenced, was “How does one get a seat at the table?”  

I believe I understand the question’s intent. People want to know how to get themselves into a position where they are seen as having influence and adding impact.  However,   with a trend of standard issue HR activities being outsourced (think payroll, training, benefits, etc.) and CEOs beginning to consider hiring leaders with non-traditional HR backgrounds into senior roles, it’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves some tough questions. Whether you are an HR leader or in playing any other role in an organization, read on and ask yourself if you are putting yourself in the position where leaders are actively soliciting your counsel.

  1. How strategic am I? If you are constantly focusing on the task at hand, you are likely missing the step of zooming out and considering the bigger picture. Historically, HR professionals - who arguably should have one of the most prominent voices in a company due to their relationship and connection between employees and executives - have long been considered cost centers and “that necessary evil.”  How can you be seen differently? Make sure you are thinking differently. Of course, you still need to execute well. However, ensuring that you are connecting your activities back to the overall business objectives and goals, you’re are much more likely to be viewed as a business thinker who happens to “major” in people – not the other way around.

  2. How well do I understand the business?  No matter how talented you might be with your job-specific skills, understanding your company’s core business, strategy, goals, etc. is imperative. Don’t know where to start?  Do some research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Read the marketing materials and ask to sit in on product demos. Understand who your competitors are.  Have open conversations with employees in a variety of roles, and ask them about their day-to-day role.  Connect the dots, and you’ll gain a better comprehensive view of your company.  Ultimately build a stronger point of view on how your work contributes to the bottom line.

  3. Do I communicate in a way that resonates with business leaders? If you have found success in your field, it’s likely you are fluent in the language of your field.  However, is it language that the other business leaders in your organization speak?  Make sure when you are sharing your point of view or opinion, that you speak in their language; which likely includes supporting data, profit, cost savings, and impact to the bottom line.  Language like “emotional intelligence” and “empowerment” are often seen as soft and unmeasurable.  Frame your messages in terms of profits, ROI and skills, and you might just have a better shot at landing it.

  4. Am I willing to take disciplined risks? Lacking a bit of confidence in your skills or message? You’re not alone. For every one of us who feels like a fraud, there is someone who overestimates their abilities. Focus on striking the right balance. Think business impact first; do not always lead with “This will upset X person” or “I don’t know if we can do this.”  Once you know what business goal you are tackling, you can back into the best possible way to execute this for your people and resources.  Also, focus on resiliency. Along the way, you will have some missteps but it’s your ability to dust yourself off and learn from them that will build confidence.

  5. Do I have raving fans in the right places?  If you were to step away from your job today, how would your organization remember you?  If your answer is, “She was the nicest person on the team!” that’s lovely.  It can also be said of my mom.  In business, you want to be remembered – and respected – for the impact you’ve made to the company and the people around you.  Aim to be respected over liked.  And if you can pull off both, bonus points.

  6. What one thing will I do differently today?  It’s great to read articles and attend conferences to gain new perspective. The only silver bullet, however, is just to get out there and start doing. Maybe it’s committing to speaking up at least once per meeting in a way you haven’t before to flex these new muscles. Maybe it’s finding a safe colleague to give you candid feedback afterwards with how insights landed.  Perhaps you can reach out to someone in your organization who you know is well respected and insightful in their contributions…and then asking them for support and guidance. It doesn’t matter what you do. Just take a step forward.

Having the proverbial seat at the table might be your end goal, but you don’t just get there because you announce you are hungry. One other thing to consider? Don’t think of that seat as an invitation to a never-ending Vegas buffet. You don’t need to be there for every meal to be respected; you just need to be at the ones where you can add the most impact.  Take a realistic assessment of where you are, and why you haven’t been invited yet; and then take the steps to get yourself in the position of the team not being able to consider having a meal without you.  

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.