Seats at the Table, but Whos Ready

By Ed Frauenheim

May. 28, 2008

When it comes to the long-sought “seat at the table” for HR leaders, Libby Sartain sees both good news and bad. Sartain, who sits on the board of directors at retailer Peet’s Coffee & Tea, notes that human resource leaders are increasingly joining such boards—a clear sign of growing clout for the profession. But she notices a dearth of HR practitioners who are prepared for top jobs in the field.

On the profession’s progress:
    I probably know 20 HR people that are now serving on public boards of directors. That’s a new trend. When you look over my 30-year career in HR, it was a “personnel administrator” when I started, and now it’s a “senior executive” and even a “board member.”

    I can remember when the Society for Human Resource Management changed its name from the American Society for Personnel Administration, because we were part of management. Now we’ve moved from part of management to part of the senior leadership team. We’re that person who is part of the leadership team—some people are fighting to get that seat at the table—there to manage the return on investment in talent or human capital.

    To me, the job of HR is evolving to one of, really, talent management as a resource. Not all the administrative part, which is still there and part of the price of admission.

    The question that boards want to know about and CEOs want to know about—and HR has to be prepared to address—is, if we’re investing this much in our compensation of our senior leaders or our workforce, are we getting a return on that investment, just like if we made any other capital investment? Are we running our company with the right governance when it comes to ethics and policies? Are things above board? Because nobody wants to be caught in any of these embarrassing situations.

On the next generation of HR talent:
    That’s one of the things that I’m very concerned about. I get a lot of headhunter calls for great jobs that are very strategic, that are focused on all the right things.

    And then I try to think, who do I know who can do this job?

    What we’ve done is we’ve created some real specialists in HR. So you specialize in compensation or you specialize in organizational development, or you become a generalist. But we haven’t created the right mixes of experiences so that enough people get everything they need for that top job. They need the comp. They need the O.D. They need to have been the business partner. They need to understand talent management more than anything else. So that’s one thing I feel more HR leaders should be working on.

    That’s one of the things I’m really proud of at Yahoo. I did create the experiences, so I had two candidates who were capable of taking my job.

Workforce Management, May 19, 2008, p. 21Subscribe Now!

Ed Frauenheim is a former Associate Editorial Director at Human Capital Media and currently works as Senior Director of Content at Great Place to Work. He is a co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.

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