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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: CIPD 2012 – Four ways to boost your board-level influence


Influence within the executive team is more valuable than a seat on the board as board members simply rubber stamp executive decisions anyway, believes Linda Kennedy, group HR director at Yell.

During a presentation at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s annual conference in Manchester this week, she advised HR professionals to put anxiety about lack of board representation to one side and focus instead on how they could add value and have the right conversations.
Because having technical HR skills and functional expertise was a given in this scenario, the key skill to develop, therefore, was one of “business impact”. Here are four recommendations for how to do this:
1. Be commercial and measure results
Build a proper business case – work out the costs, evaluate the risks involved in doing or not doing something and demonstrate a return on investment. It’s about hard finance, but also about demonstrating that you can build a platform for sustainable company growth.
As a result, although not an area of traditional strength for HR, always use data where you can and back things up with objective facts and figures. Also learn how to read a profit and loss account and understand concepts such as margins, cash flow, debt and the like – and, if you can’t, find someone who can help you do so.
2. Know the business and the broader environment
Be aware of the operational context – in a social, economic and even military sense – in which the business works, and who the other key market players are.
Reading publications such as the Harvard Business Review or Economist can make a “huge difference to your perspective” here by offering views that are broader than the traditional HR one. “It’s about understanding where the business is positioned and if you can’t express that, it’s hard to become credible,” Kennedy explained.
By way of explanation, she added that one former boss had told her that he wanted someone who could look around corners, while another demanded someone who could gather information and see where the puck was going, not where it had been.
Another consideration, however she believes, is understanding the business strategy well enough to be able to link the people strategy to it. “If you’re doing HR for HR’s sake, you’re on a hiding to nothing,” Kennedy said.
3. Build up credibility and trust
As a colleague once said to Kennedy: “Credibility is like virginity – once it’s lost, it’s lost”.
As to how you find it in the first place, this involves showing integrity, delivering on promises and building effective two-way relationships. For example, if you have agreed to vote in a certain way with members of the executive team, do so.
“Credibility and trust are key – once you get to this level, you spend more time on building this than on delivery,” Kennedy said. “Early on in your career, it’s all about delivering and so it can feel uncomfortable at first not ‘doing the doing’. But the alternative is to deliver an HR solution that no one’s bought into.”
Another important consideration is to always have the courage of your convictions. “Other functions bang the table more and stand firm, but we’re not good at that – we tend to assume that others are right,” Kennedy said.
However, if organisations truly believe that people are their greatest assets, HR professionals can “bring that to the table and can influence in our sphere of know-how”.
4. Exercise the art of influencing
Build up your influence by getting members of the executive team on side and developing positive relationships with them and the CEO in particular, the aim being to become a trusted advisor.
But also get to know members of the non-executive director team and find out what other companies they represent in order to have a meaningful discussion in their language.
Because most board decisions are taken before anyone even enters the room, however, it is likewise important to lobby effectively, know who will support you or not and mitigate the risks. It’s also vital to understand the issues and ensure that your proposals are presented as a win-win situation for everyone.
If you don’t have a board position though, you can start to boost your influence by taking part in broader organisational projects than just HR, assuming a line of business role or working abroad for a while if possible.
Networking and building a group of people who can provide help, support and advice is also a good move – but they shouldn’t be called on only if you want something. “At this level, it’s all about networking to expand your sphere of influence,” Kennedy pointed out.
The final message is to “prepare, prepare, prepare”.
"Be ready, know your audience, anticipate questions, have the data, figures and analysis to support your business case at your fingertips,” Kennedy said. “People want to understand the ‘why’ not the ‘what’ and they want to know why they should support you so you need to know too.”
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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