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Strategies of Successful HR Executives

Strategies of Successful HR Executives

Lorrie Lykins | i4cp

April 23, 2010

For HR professionals who suspect that the never-ending quest for the proverbial “seat at the table” is an unattainable objective, there are a growing number of examples of HR executives who have not only gained entry to the inner circle but have leveraged positions of significant influence within their organizations with great success.

Such wins give those still wrestling with the challenge hope, but they also make us wonder how much of the ability to achieve this goal is about factors such as the culture of the organization or the talent and charisma of the individual HR executive. Is it about a specific process or formula or does luck play a role? Could it sometimes simply come down to having the right credentials and being in the right place at the right time?

It’s all of that and more, says Mike McDaniel, senior vice president of HR at i4cp-member company Alliance One International, Inc., a Fortune 1,000 company. He states that, first and foremost, learning the business is a critical imperative. Being an HR expert might get you in the door of the board room but, to get a seat at the table, you must have an intimate understanding of what’s driving the business.

McDaniel’s edict about knowing the business is supported by the results of i4cp’s recent HR Executive Insight Survey, which looked at the degree to which HR execs are key decision makers. The respondents to this study tended to be a select group comprised of senior HR executives: 87% of the respondents were VPs, SVPs, or senior executive leaders working in the HR function.

Fully 83% of respondents from companies where HR execs play key roles said they highly or very highly agree that they gain credibility with other senior leaders through deep knowledge of their organizations’ financial and other non-HR business issues. By contrast, a mere 33% of respondents from organizations where the role of HR execs is not key say they gain credibility via their business expertise to that same extent.

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But business knowledge alone isn’t enough to win a seat at the table. HR execs had better be very good at what they do. Fully 100% of respondents from high-market performing organizations report that, to a high or very high extent, they gain respect by performing well in their areas of expertise. Such excellent performance leads to trust and strategic business relationships.

The need to be a trusted expert in human capital issues is highlighted by David Kaput, senior vice president of HR at office supply manufacturer ACCO Brand. He says that in order to become strategically effective, HR executives need to aim for the role of trusted advisor rather than a front-and-center spotlight position. “The power base is more subtle,” says Kaput, who recommends investing a year or two in building relationships and gaining credibility behind the scenes.

And HR executives must be equipped with facts and data to back them, Kaput says. This way, incremental value can be established beginning with how HR can help the manager succeed and extend the proof of effectiveness up the chain. If you can consistently prove that the investment is worthwhile, the perception of the importance of the work HR does won’t need to be argued.

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