Why I’m Sick of Hearing About HR and that “Seat at the Table”

After reading “Survey: Leadership Confidence is Down – Especially in HR,” by Theresa M. Welbourne yesterday at TLNT, I searched Google and got approximately 263,000 results for the phrase “Seat at the Table” HR. The title of the articles ranged from the serious to the somewhat hilarious.

Here’s a sampling of some of the abbreviated titles:

  • Earning the Seat
  • How to get and keep the Seat
  • How to keep the Seat if you have it
  • 10 steps to get the Seat
  • HR needs to have the Seat
  • Beyond the Seat
  • HR from the break room to the conference room
  • Earning a Seat with the big dogs

This was all on the first page of search results. I finally just clicked away. I had seen enough and could not take it anymore. If getting a “Seat at the Table” was as easy as the articles proclaim, the phrase would be retired and never used again in the annals of HR. It would join the graveyard of other buzzwords of the past such as “Personnel Department” and “orientation.”

I, for one, am sick of the phrase. Having worked for a boss who did not want to touch anything strategic, I know from whence this came. She would call strategic projects the “fancy projects.” Regardless of my coaching and counsel, she just refused to move forward until a new CEO arrived and demanded it. She was out of the door within months.

This fate awaits a few of our colleagues in the future. The reasons for this are:

  1. Transformation of the workplace culture;
  2. The residual effects of the current economic environment; and,
  3. The expected tsunami in the workplace once everything settles.

The comfort zone of the old HR mindset is on its last legs. But before HR can be taken to the next level however, the thinking needs to move to the next level. It reminds me of Albert Einstein, who once said, “We can’t solve our problems at the same level of thinking that created them.”

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I have always felt that being strategic had to be part of your DNA. Being inquisitive and not being enamored with the status quo are traits of people that think strategically. Being strategic is the hallmark of someone who is always looking down the road and constantly looking for opportunities. Being strategic is the sign of someone who embraces change and ambiguity, and thrives in it. Being strategic is the mark of someone who is comfortable asking “What if?”

These skills can be enhanced, of course, but to be a true strategist calls for a totally different mindset. The workplace of the future will demand it. The leadership of the future will demand it. The profession of Human Resources will demand it.

So when the Google search for “Seat at the Table” is done years from now, all it should return are archived articles from the past with nothing current in the search results — I hope.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.