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Getting a Seat at the Big Table

By breaking down silos and giving executive leaders a comprehensive perspective of its talent needs, HR can play its part in helping the business to find and retain its critical human capital.

by Yvette Cameron

Most HR leaders seek to have a voice at the executive and board level—the coveted “seat at the table.” Achieving this position provides HR a significant opportunity to be a strategic partner within the organization. Today, only a small percentage of CEOs look to their HR departments for assistance with critical talent-related strategies, and fewer than two-thirds of HR leaders report directly to the CEO. Why does HR continue to be sidelined, and what does it take to get HR a seat at the big, decision-making tables? In a word: alignment.

A study by Harvard Business Review showed that companies typically realize only 60 percent of the potential value of their business strategies. Many reasons cited for this gap stem from deficiencies in talent processes, including strategy communication, alignment, and accountability. These challenges to strategy value realization are echoed by line of business (LOB) owners. In a recent survey by the McKinsey group, there was clear misalignment between HR and LOB owners around HR’s influence on talent-related initiatives. The survey revealed that HR is viewed as siloed, administratively focused, and insufficiently accountable for the results of talent initiatives. Getting HR integrated with the business—and hence to the executive tables—requires that HR correlate the performance of the workforce with business results.     

Consider the situation in many organizations today: With different talent functions (learning, leadership planning, performance, recruiting) owned by different organizational units, discrete processes and systems erupt across the enterprise. HR is left to deal with islands of information that are disaggregated and disjointed from the holistic view of the workforce. While important metrics such as time-to-fill jobs or reductions in training expenses can be reported back to the business, what cannot happen in such an environment is the more strategic value-add of cause/effect correlations to business performance. With silos of information, business leaders are still unable to answer questions such as “Who are our next leaders?” or “How can I ensure the right talent is onboard today to meet tomorrow’s business objectives?” HR can earn a seat at the table by ensuring these silos are broken.

Talent management strategies shouldn’t be focused purely on process automation; they should be designed to support operational activities such as selling, product development, customer service, ongoing innovation, and managing quality. Underpinning all of this must be technologies that support the enablement of these strategies. A unified technology platform can ensure that the data used across all talent initiatives is consistent. Whether evaluating individual performance, planning and scheduling resources, or correlating increased revenues to hiring practices, the underlying talent definitions—roles, profiles, competencies, reporting relationships, and other components—should be commonly defined and uniformly leveraged across the enterprise.

The technology used within the HRO environment is likewise critical to ensuring value realization from investments in talent. For multiprocess HRO providers, the ability to create a unified platform for process and decision support is similar to the challenges outlined above for on-premise technology deployments. In recent years there has been an emergence of specialized providers for talent outsourcing, such as for Learning Services Outsourcing (LSO) and Recruiting Process Outsourcing (RPO). These providers can certainly drive process efficiencies as operational improvements, but only within their scope of service. Clients of these services will be challenged, for example, to provide business owners with a comprehensive view of the bench strength across the full (internal and external) talent supply chain.  

Getting positive visibility at the board level starts with achieving operational efficiency. (Continually miss that, however, and the seat you’ll get will be the hot seat!) Beyond efficiency, however, HR needs to focus on operational excellence: having sufficient understanding of the business to develop effective talent strategies; focusing on the areas of highest impact; and ensuring flexibility in processes as talent practices naturally change and evolve.

To this end, outsourcing talent management shouldn’t be thought of as simply a traditional cost savings. Uniquely in this area, it’s about getting the strategy and execution right. HRO providers experienced in the areas of talent management and who are able to leverage their syndicated infrastructure and competencies effectively can best support strategic talent initiatives, bringing success to their clients and HR leadership to the Big Table.

Tags: Engaged Workforce, Learning

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