Roger and Me: “Why Can’t I Get A Seat at the Table?”​ Isn’t the Best Question

Image of a table with employees working (one is standing at the head of the table)
Image of a table with employees working (one is standing at the head of the table)

For a few years, Roger Addison and I have discussed what it means to have a seat at the table. We agree that getting there isn’t the difficult part but keeping the seat is.

The Broader Metaphor

The Table means more than the meeting space for CEOs and direct reports. For HRBPs, internal performance consultants, and professionals in various support roles, it means partnering regularly with sponsors and their teams. Here’s an example from my career:

When I was a talent development manager at Lowe’s, I supported three merchandising departments. For me, the seat at the table included the three department’s staff meetings in which the teams discussed developing their strategies and reviewing how well they executed tactics against them.

The Best Question

Anyone in a support role needs to figure out how to become a strategic partner for the business. The question to achieving this needs is, “How can I get and maintain a seat at the table?” Getting a seat is easier than keeping that seat, and it takes more than having a voice during conversations.

What You Need to Do: The Basics

To be effective, you need to develop a few skills. Here are some of the basics:

Business Intelligence

Before sitting, learn the business at multiple levels:

  1. Within the group: If you support a business unit, find out everything about their current and past strategies, tactics, setbacks, achievements, available resources/budget, and pressures. Get to know the dynamics among direct reports.
  2. Outside the group: Discover how the group functions within the larger organization. How does the team work with other groups? What are group relations like? What do they compete over? What groups are considered allies?
  3. Outside the organization: You’ll want to know about their industry, what competitors are doing, and what the emerging innovations are.

Analytics

In Lexy Martin’s article, she argues that about 10% of HRBPs are comfortable with data. To have a seat at the table, you need access to analytics relevant to the groups you support. Within HR, Finance, and even IT, someone already has data, and you need to find it to arrange regular data summaries.

Analysis

To be effective, you need to be deeply skilled at analyzing business and performance gaps as well as discovering symptoms and root causes for those gaps.

Guiding Principles

You need a set of guiding principles that contribute to your methodology. For example, ISPI describes four principles of performance consultants: Focus on Results or Outcomes, Take a Systemic View, Add Value, and Work in Partnership with Clients and Stakeholders. I’ve developed an HRBP Business-Driven Methodology (for another article) that reflects these principles.

What You Need to Do: Table Etiquette

As Roger tells me, you need to learn table etiquette to keep your seat. With dinner, you learn how to use forks, knives, spoons, and even how to interact. Most importantly, you contribute by providing a unique insight derived from your hard work reviewing business intelligence, analytics, and from conducting your own analysis.

Table Resources

As with any dinner, there are limited resources. Direct reports are competing for them, and the head of the table has to figure out how to divide what they have. Not everyone can have a turkey leg, and some direct reports get more while others less.

Bottom Line

If you can’t add value, insight, and innovative thought, you may find yourself back at the kiddie table wondering what went wrong. Don’t be that person!

Notation

For the image in this blog, I purchased the usage rights from Shutterstock. Please do not use these images without purchasing usage rights.

About the author

Gary is a Leadership Author, Researcher, Consultant, and Podcast Guest. His latest book, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?, is available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. You can learn more about Gary and his other books at https://www.garyadepaul.com.

Written by

Gary is a speaker, author, researcher, and leadership futurist. https://www.garyadepaul.com

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