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Blog : How important is it to HR’s effectiveness to have a seat at the board table?

Blog

How important is it to HR’s effectiveness to have a seat at the board table?


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By Simon Kitto, Commercial Director at Purple Cubed

Over the past couple of years, the debate around ‘HR on the board’ has reached fever pitch. Media titles and high-profile HR professionals have argued their case - that HR is ‘changing’ which entitles a new breed of HR professional to a seat at the table.

Others have debated that people professionals should invest more time focusing on delivering a great people strategy than pining for a coveted position in the C-Suite. Celebrated HR Director, Eugenio Pirri, in HR Magazine stated: “It’s not about having a seat at the table – we already make up that seat. If we really want to help ourselves then we all need to understand this now and not go about trying to convince others that we should have that voice, that presence, that state of mind. We only hurt our profession by going and saying this.”

We wanted to put this argument to bed (in favour of expending energy on more outcome focused activity). We therefore asked some specific questions of our CEOs and C-Suite leaders about their HR counterparts in our research report, Engage, Enable and Empower, in order to understand whether there was a difference in perceived effectiveness between HR on the board, and those who are not.

The results were a resounding “No”. Those in the C-Suite do not believe HR is any more effective when they sit on the board, than when they do not. In some cases, they believe their HR professional is less effective when holding a position at the table.

  • When asked whether HR is effective in their business, 100% of CEOs believe HR is either effective or highly effective, regardless of position in the business.
  • Further still, C-Suite professionals see no difference in the people analytics which are available to them whether HR is on the board or not. When HR is on the board, 50% say they have the data and 50% admit they do not.
  • And when questioned about their engagement strategy, when HR is in the C-Suite, less than half (45%) agree they have a robust strategy.

Based on these and similar findings from the survey, the evidence suggests that regardless of whether HR is on the board or not, it doesn’t impact upon the answers to the other questions (see this month’s lead article).

Is there a not-inconsiderable argument to suggest that HR doesn’t need to be on the board? Can HR directors be just as effective outside of the C-Suite as they would be inside?

Our take? With the right attitude and vision, the right tools and empowerment to focus on transformational HR, we believe that people professionals don’t need a place in the boardroom to be truly impactful. Those outside can deliver the same results as those who are sitting at the table. The time has come for us as an industry to move beyond the ‘on the board / off the board’ conversation and instead focus efforts on being truly effective.

However this comes with a caveat. We’re not naming names, but there are a group of several strategic and influential HR directors out there who don’t hold a C-Suite position but still exert significant influence not just on their own businesses, but on the HR sector as a collective.

These savvy members of the ‘new breed’ of HR sit on leadership teams as opposed to full boards; they focus on being able to understand the language and operational aspects of the business, build strong relationships with all board members and have open and honest conversations with their CEO.

For them, it doesn’t matter if they sit in a particular room or have a corner office, because they are able to deliver a robust people strategy which tangibly impacts upon the success of the business thanks to the connections they possess.

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