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Colin Gautrey

the Gautrey Group


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Seven ways for HRDs to boost their influence at the top table


The easiest way for HR directors to make a big impact at the top table is to have big responsibilities – ideally, bigger than most of the people you work alongside.

This means taking on the type of role that grabs the limelight and, to a large extent, the organisation relies upon.
Functions such as sales and operations typically sit in this powerful position, but it does depend on the type of organisation that you work for as well as the context in which it is trying to succeed.
You may be reading this article because you are not currently undertaking one of these big roles, however, and are even struggling to make the impact required to fulfil your responsibilities effectively— as well as deliver the results expected by your line manager.
You may also have been given told at some point that you need to exert more influence with the people at the top.
But despite protestations from the board that your role is vital to the organisation’s success, in the cut-and-thrust of daily life, it can feel like they don’t really believe it most of the time.
Certainly, their actions may appear to contradict these claims as they side-line your views and ignore your appeals to consider matters which, in your opinion, simply must be taken into account to avoid problems further down the line.
But unless you can step up and make a suitable impact, your career will suffer along with your self-confidence and, ultimately, the performance of the organisation.
Strangely, however, the apparently most obvious problem is likely to be a red-herring. Of course, you will need to prove your competence at doing the job and make a credible contribution, but don’t become too distracted by this aim.
In all probability, you got your position because someone in power knew you could do the job – and other executives are unlikely to worry about your competence half as much as you do.
What will concern them instead is whether you can make a credible executive contribution. And there’s a big difference. If you are part of the top team, you must be able to think like an executive rather than just an HR professional.
But here are seven ways to help you boost your impact and influence:
  1. Evaluate your support base: Start off by checking out who among the key players are advocates of your specialist contribution to the top table. Draw a simple map of your stakeholders and then get to work turning mild supporters into big fans.
  2. Change your language: Ensure that each individual understands how your agenda dovetails with theirs as you serve their specific needs. Learn to translate your technical-speak into their language and be sure to demonstrate how they are likely to gain personally by endorsing your contribution —how does a given activity link to their P&L, for instance?
  3. Show the right attitude: Reflect on how your current role, self-image and attitudes could be preventing you from getting what you want. Seek a second opinion as they can be valuable and ask for specific examples of what a ‘right’ attitude looks like in order to help you to learn appropriate behaviours. Sometimes it is simply a matter of awareness – and certainly at your level, it is unlikely to be about whether you have the appropriate skills or not. Sometimes, all that is required is to make a decision and the rest will fall into place.
  4. Change your focus: Even though you may have gravitas and presence, if your mind is filled with detailed HR problems or how to resolve the latest constructive dismal claim — important as they are — there will not be room for strategic thinking. Moreover, unless you have a well thought-out vision of what the organisation should be concentrating on, it will be impossible to make a serious contribution to top-level decision-making. Although it may be outside of your comfort zone now, the sooner you start thinking about these issues, the sooner you will make the desired impact.
  5. Deliver on your personal branding: If you want to make a strong impression, it helps to figure out exactly what you would like that impression to be. Once it is clear in your mind, things will automatically start to fall into place – without the need to adopt marketing slogans or gimmicks. You will need to place special emphasis on delivering on your chosen brand, however, because once you reach the higher echelons, there is little tolerance for pretending to be something that you are not.
  6. Evaluate organisational and personal power issues: What is it that makes people at the top table powerful? How do you compare in personal power terms? Is there anything that gives you unique power? Put another way, what have you got that they want? Look for opportunities to develop your sources of power and gain more influence using sources that already exist.
  7. Develop political understanding: Finally, it would be well worth the time and effort to ensure that you understand the political make-up of the organisation. Who are the key players and how are they connected to each other? What battles have been fought in the past and who were the winners and losers? How are current politics influencing future strategic direction? These insights will help you position yourself appropriately and reduce your personal risk.
But remember…
  • The sooner that you start joining in the strategic debate and decision-making process, the sooner you can make an impact
  • To look at things from the point of view of, if you were the chief, how would you lead the organisation?
  • You must keep up your positive technical track record or you will quickly become vulnerable politically
  • Politics at the top table are more to do with power and less to do with games
  • To take action if someone does not appear to value your contribution – particularly if their voice is a powerful one.

Colin Gautrey is director of the Gautrey Group, a training and development provider that helps people better use their power and influence in the workplace.

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Colin Gautrey


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