How HR Can Become a Corporate Boardroom Player

By Craig Fuller

Jan. 1, 1999

When we ask corporate directors what responsibilities are most important to them, they always point to reviewing the performance of key executives and providing for orderly succession.

As this trend grows in importance, the human resources executive may earn a place at the board table. Shareholders and investor organizations expect boards to set clear objectives for the CEO and other top executives, and to have orderly succession plans arranged in the event of a management turnover.

Human resources executives who lead their companies in developing and adopting effective succession planning and executive evaluations will play key roles on their own companies’ boards—and may receive invitations to serve as outside directors on the boards of other corporations. But what steps can a human resources director take to ensure board status?

  • Transform the human resources department. The human resources function must move from being viewed as merely a processing mechanism to being accepted as a key activator in sourcing and development.

    A new and stronger human resources function must assume the responsibility for identifying, preparing and evaluating tomorrow’s top executives, future CEOs and directors. By transforming the department, HR executives will also be transforming their own roles—and highlighting that those roles should be brought into the top levels of decision making.

  • Demonstrate that human resources planning is required as an intrinsic part of corporate strategy. Board members consider overseeing strategic direction as one of their primary responsibilities. Addressing human resources issues must be an integral part of any company’s strategy.

  • Become a key member of the top management team. Senior human resources executives must work closely with their CEO and have a deep understanding of the corporate culture, plans and policies.

  • Think like a business executive. Human resources leaders must be more than specialized technical professionals with merely a passing understanding of the corporation’s products, strategies and objectives.

  • Understand market conditions. The human resources professional can help define the executive skills and aptitudes that will be most compatible with the new markets and associated problems the corporation to encounter.

  • Develop international skills. The human resources executive must be capable of assessing the costs and benefits of recruiting executives on a global basis, and must be skilled at international executive development.

  • Get the right training and development to help change the role and prepare for the boardroom. Human resources professionals will need new skills to recruit and place tomorrow’s executives and ensure a place at the board table.

Workforce, January 1999, Vo..78, No. 1, p. 40.

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