A seat at the table


You cannot create change without a seat at the table. Recently, I read and responded to this post on LinkedIn by a woman I did not know, in Human Resources, that said how tired she was of the challenges of being recognised and respected within organisations today.

I understand her frustration but have long felt that much of what Human Resources have done over the years has put them in a position where they are not valued, listened to, or understood.

Human Resources have not, in a vast majority of cases, earned their seat at the table because they do not speak the language of business. Yes, their intentions are good. Yes, they want what is good for both the individual and the company, but since they do not couch their concerns and advocacy in the language of others within the C-Suite, their concerns are not addressed, nor are their pleas for change taken seriously.

One of the biggest hurdles is how they have presented themselves over the years as business partners.

Partners are not part of the organisation. They are an outside force, that can either be listened to or ignored, funded or not and shoved aside when expedient. 

However, human resources are not partners but members of the organisation. They are hired like employees, paid like employees, promoted or demoted like employees and therefore deserve to have a voice and access to resources and focus just like any other department within the organization.

As a profession, the challenge is that those with Human Resources do not understand how to advocate for what they need and how to make a proper business case to support those needs.

In the case of the women mentioned on LinkedIn, people were frustrated for standing up to power when an injustice was ignored. Commendable. However, the problem is they were looking at this as a right versus wrong scenario, instead of how ignoring this injustice would hurt the brand, stakeholders, shareholders, customers and other employees. A case should have been made about the risk to the brand, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, lost because of possible pending lawsuits, loss of revenue because of a hit to stock price or shifting customer loyalty, or employees leaving the company and possibly taking clients with them.

This is the argument that should have been brought forward, and it would have gained both favour and allies at the board level to make change happen.

When arguments are merely made at a visceral level, advocating for fairness, they do not necessarily have the same reach or response. This may not be fair, but it is true.

People change because of risk or reward. They need to be shown how their best interests are served through changing, or how by not changing, the fallout is much worse than doing nothing.

No matter where we sit within an organisation, we need to think, if I want to see change, who do I need to align myself with in order to succeed and how do I make this a win for them? Whether it is a boss, a team member you lead, or another department, each person or group has their own view of what is right and what is wrong, their own agenda and their own political capital that they will only spend when it benefits them. The more we understand this, the more we can take the time to listen to them, understand what they need and find out how their needs, wants and desires align with ours.

Only through this exercise can we truly be listened to, understood, valued and become partners in change that is substantial, meaningful and impactful.