An HR leader’s strategic guide to the top table

Rather than talking about how we as HR leaders haven’t got that elusive seat at the (top) table, I argue we need to earn it. Let me share how and why…
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I don’t know many senior HR Professionals who don’t want to be part of that top team and have influence on business focus, goals and budget. Yet, when I speak with CEOs, they invariably do not appreciate the value of strategic HR, until I show them. Why? Because they haven’t experienced it before. My question to you is, why not?

If HR Directors were demonstrating strategic HR, you would have the seat, the bonus, the recognition and yes, the ever elusive Chief People Officer, (CPO) title. The fact that you are still discussing why you do not have it, suggests to me HR people are focussing on the wrong thing- them (the CEO, the business), rather than looking in the mirror.

So if you consider yourself and why you aren’t seen as strategic (or strategic ENOUGH), I recommend 3 simple steps:

1.      DEFINE:              What is the Strategic HR and what is Strategic Value?

2.      REFLECT:            Are you demonstrating Strategic HR and Strategic Value?

3.      ACT:                     How you can strengthen your strategic ability?


So, let’s start with defining what we mean…

1.      DEFINITION: What is Strategic HR?

Google “What is Strategic HR?” and you may read the following definition:

“Strategic HR is the connection between a company’s human resources and its strategies, objectives, and goals. The aim of strategic human resource management is to: Advance flexibility, innovation, and competitive advantage. Develop a fit for purpose organizational culture.”

The CIPD define it as:

“An approach to managing human resources that supports long-term business goals and outcomes with a strategic framework.” (there is more academia-speak, but I’ll save you from it…)

I translate Strategic HR to mean:

“HR activities and interactions that are aligned to business goals. That are measured, focused and built into plans and an overarching strategy with clear timeframes. I believe strategic HR underpins success through an ecosystem of trust with self aware leaders and trust-based relationships.”

2.      DEFINITION: What is Strategic Value?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines strategic value as:

“the degree to which a particular action or planned action is important or useful in relation to something it wants to achieve.”

TRANSLATION: Value that can be measured in terms of its’ impact in the business goals.


3.      REFLECTION: How do you develop strategic thinking and add value to a business?

1.      Reality check: Hold the mirror up and evaluate your current approach.

Would you classify your way of working as reactive or proactive? Are you focusing on putting out fires or preventing them and creating space where employees thrive rather than catch fire (laboured analogy, I know, forgive me).

As the Forbes article, “Why your startup needed a Chief People Officer yesterday” outlines, the role requires “a blend of business acumen and emotional intelligence (EQ)”. Ask yourself, where is my level of understanding in those two areas?

If you are stand-alone and feel like there simply isn’t time. Make some. Nothing is going to change, if you don’t right? Set aside a couple of hours, agree with your CEO that this is going to enable you to develop stronger strategic impact and GO!


2.      Set the strategic bar: Consider what strategic looks like

If this is a black hole, reach out to a mentor, a coach, read up about Strategic Leaders, come on my HR development programme, The A List London, and get thinking.

Using metrics and data is intrinsic to a strategic way of thinking; giving a start and end point for measurement. So consider what quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (words) measures you can implement to your work.

Work backwards from a business goal and create plans that contribute to achieving it.


Here’s an example:

Business Goal: Re-platform by end Q2 2020

HR Strategic Goal: Recruit, on-board and develop new engineering team members to deliver re-platforming on time

• NEW TEAM: Recruit an Architect, 2 Senior Developers and a new QA Engineer by end Q3 2019

• NEW TEAM: Plan and ensure delivery of engaging and motivating on-boarding experience with team and key stakeholders within initial 2 weeks

• NEW TEAM: Support Team Leader to run training on in-house legacy tools and bespoke systems within initial 3 weeks

• EXISTING TEAM: Develop existing engineering team members to deliver re-platforming on time

• ALL: Facilitate company-wide Hackathon before end of Q3 2019


The bottom line here is there isn’t a cookie cutter approach. As you develop your understanding and skills, you will be able to codify what strategic means at your organisation and start using your skills to demonstrate the impact. So how do you do that?


3.      ACT: Show what strategic HR Leadership looks, sounds, and feels like.

When you show your value, you know your metrics, your people, your challenges and priorities. You can confidently discuss and debate with insight. You start the conversation of recognising your value by being valuable.

You open dialogue about how you can add more value; how you can support further company goals and discuss your package and recognition for doing so. Where you would sit- at the top table, with equity, and bonus; and with parity to the most senior leadership team.

Before you demonstrate your strategic value, you have no case for justifying a seat at the table. So act now and start showing it!



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