Where's my seat?

I am the highest ranking HR leader in the firm and I report to the Finance Director but I don’t yet have “a seat at the table”. Do you have any advice for increasing my level of influence?

Dear Laurence,

I am a senior HR manager with a manufacturing company in Malaysia. I am the highest ranking HR leader in the firm and I report to the Finance Director – I don’t yet have “a seat at the table”.  I have completed a “Finance for HR” course, and feel I do present compelling business cases for the workforce and culture changes I know would have a lasting positive effect, but I can’t seem to get past the financial director’s focus on immediate cash-flow.

Do you have any advice for increasing my level of influence with him or the rest of the leadership group?

Where’s my seat, Kuala Lumpur

I would take the CFO out for lunch or dinner and ask them to walk me through how they support the CEO; how they help the company grow; and what are their priorities and strategies – not in a technical, functional way, but in a very human conversation. “You are the second most important person in this company; help me understand” is what you need to say, and then really try to enter their view of the world.

Understand the pressures they are under, the performance indicators they are trying to meet, and how they are just as committed to the future growth of the organisation as you are.

Because you face a dilemma. In many more traditional companies, HR is seen as a cost. It reports into the CFO who, quite appropriately, manages it as a cost.

In more progressive organisations, HR is a peer of the CFO and you both report directly to the CEO.

In the short-term, it is unlikely you can change this. You may want to look for roles outside where you can report directly to the CEO and can add more value.  But if you wish to stay at this organisation, the first thing you must do is understand the world from the CFO’s perspective. Once you have that empathy and rapport, you can begin the journey of helping them understand how you can help them meet their objectives through HR and your capabilities, but you must always ground it in the business objectives.

It’s great that you’ve taken Finance for HR. I’d really recommend you also read deeply on Dave Ulrich’s work on how to be a credible activist. This is the role you need to step into.

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