Human Resources: Before You Aspire To A ‘Seat At The Table’

Before you aspire to sit at the executive table, please confirm that you like what’s on the menu!”

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

I was involved in an acquisition of an organization in southern Switzerland. Stories from the executives first exploring the purchase described the lakeside city of Lugano, on the border of Italy. Not only did the location sound beautiful (palm trees?!) but they also described these incredible multi-course feasts that lasted for hours!

When it was finally my turn to visit Lugano and meet my HR team there, I was excited to experience first-hand the amazing feasts that had been discussed. There’s no doubt that my first and second night meals lived up to the descriptions! The food was a blend of Switzerland and Italy, and the courses just kept coming . . .

It would have been a foodie’s dream, but it was a nightmare for me. For someone like me, who is lactose intolerant, the never-ending cheeses and cream sauces destroyed my stomach and ultimately ruined my trip to the beautiful city of Lugano.

Before I aspired to a seat at that table, it would have been important to confirm that I liked what was on the menu.


Every human resource conference I’ve attended, and countless webinars and other presentations,

have preached that HR professionals should aspire to a “seat at the table.” Now, I firmly believe that “people” deserve a full-power, equal seat at the table, however that isn’t necessarily the only seat in the organization worth considering. Before you aspire to sit at the executive table, please confirm that you like what’s on the menu!

I’ve had a few different executive “seats at the table” in my career and have thoroughly enjoyed my affiliation with the senior leadership teams and the focus on company strategy. Compensation at that level is of course great and the prestige of the role looks good on a resume. What I didn’t realize as I gained that seat is just how much my menu would change.


An effective executive in any organization is an accomplished delegator. For the HR executive with a “seat” to succeed in this new role requires delegation of most of the duties that earned her that illustrious step in her career.

  • If she found success in talent acquisition and found recruiting most rewarding, she now has to delegate those duties to her team.
  • If payroll and HR databases were a passion, she now needs to have others build those systems and run his reports for her.
  • She, who was once the resident expert on benefits, now becomes reliant on her team to keep her updated on trends and changes.


While still expected to be an expert on everything HR, the ‘people’ executive with a seat at the table will become significantly more reliant on her team for information that she once would have pulled together herself. She will also generally spend more time in meetings than before. In fact, those increased meetings will likely have little to do with ‘human resources’, but rather focus on sales, profits, strategy and operations.

There is a high need and incredible opportunity for the right human resource professional to contribute meaningfully at ‘the table.’ To succeed at this new level requires not just effective delegation but also a new focus on the business itself. The customers you now focus on become the external customers. Your employees will not be forgotten, but your daily focus will be required to shift to a significantly different set of critical, business driving factors.

In essence, you’ve worked your way up the HR ladder, building expertise and gaining incredible experience in hopes of attaining the coveted seat at the table – only to learn that very little of your time will be spent using those finely-tuned HR skills. The hat you wear at that level is significantly different than even the most recent seat you might have occupied, which was still very much HR focused.

Gary Lear, President & CEO of Resource Development Systems, shared “If HR wants to get a seat at the table, then many of those working in HR will need to change their perspectives about their profession.”


There are lots of ‘seats’ in the organization and all arrows seem to point to ‘the seat at the table.’ We hear that goal and expectation from every seminar we attend and most articles we read.

A focus on ‘people’ in an organization has been an incredibly rewarding career choice for me and countless others. I think we recognize that there are many incredible seats in that career path. If you love your current seat or have an opportunity to grow in that track, maybe that’s best for you. Happiness in your role goes a long, long ways.

If your aspirations are higher, the business world needs driven, strategy-minded HR professionals to sit next to the CMO, CIO, CFO and the rest, playing an equal role. However, before you aspire to a seat at that table, please be sure that you will like what’s on the menu.

For more information on Rod Lacey or Sunstone HR, click here!

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