I had lunch recently with a colleague who coaches HR professionals on how to become more strategic. Ah yes, that elusive destination called “the seat” at the corporate strategy table. Whoever said “it’s the journey not the destination that matters” might be living in what ought to be the cobwebbed halls of human resources. Let’s get it done already! Look up “why we hate HR” and you will find comments about HR being all about the process vs. the result.
But, what does strategic really mean? I set out on the web to read all the definitions of “strategic” so that I could pull together my own simple, common statement. About 282,000,000 results returned in 0.26 seconds. Clearly my strategy was flawed. My strategic approach did not anticipate nearly 300 million references. Either I was in the wrong “seat” or at the wrong “table.” Or, perhaps this failure at being a strategic Researcher meant that I didn’t belong in any seat at any table.
Ok, the definition: in business and in military, “strategic” is an adjective describing a long term goal, plans to achieve it, and the resources to execute the plan. Done. So, the warfare of business is crushing the competition by dominating market share?
Consider the picture below. This group of top brass are shown standing at the table. Not sitting. Where are the chairs? Clearly, they have no need of a “seat” at the strategy table. Hey, that didn’t stop them from being strategic. Regardless, I bet this group of executives will ensure the future holds a strategic surprise for the enemy.
Wait a minute! How did the CFO get a spot at the table? What’s so strategic about his/her traditional role of compliance, reporting and control? Right, the role and the professional have evolved. Today, he or she thinks more strategically about the future of the business and has become a trusted advisor to other leaders, especially regarding the financial implications of growth opportunities and the impact of their functions.
I’m learning that there are strategic and non-strategic executives in every discipline. Look it up. References to strategic executives abound. Wharton Executive Education has a class for CFOs teaching them how to increase their strategic relevance. In my own experience with an IT department, the team felt it critical to have “representation at the table” when I was recruiting a new head of IT. Previously the title of said head position was Director. It was decided that the company had evolved and needed a leader with the CIO title. Assumption: all CxO titles bring their own strategy planning chair and so they have a seat at the table by default. However, in this case, a “seat” on its own would not be enough. It was the CEO reporting relationship that was truly important in order to bring him closer to the technology strategic road map, and therefore his sponsorship of their initiatives. IT was having a hard time collaborating and gaining buy-in; they could not get the CEO to listen. But they missed the point. Title and reporting relationship would not give their work any more credibility. This mindset invalidates the seat at the table. If it can’t be done through credibility, earned by combining business knowledge with functional expertise, along with the ability to be a catalyst of change, you might not deserve any seat, at any table (or desk).
By the way, the person hired had never reported to a CEO and had previously not possessed the CIO title. What? He didn’t come with a CxO chair. Yet, this person will have an impact on strategy. A critical selection criteria was the ability to create value. He will in fact be credible and strategic; a partner, working shoulder-to-shoulder, and arm-in-arm, creating growth with his executive peers.
What I think any executive really wants is to be part of the strategic planning process. We all want to play a unique role in the business plan by applying our functional expertise to achieve the goal; in order to create value.
Here is my favorite definition from vocabulary.com:
Desperate to trap Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote comes up with a strategic plan; meaning a plan designed to achieve a specific goal.
Strategic is a military word, relating to the careful plotting and planning necessary to win battles. But you don’t need to be a general to think strategically. If you recruit your friends to talk you up to the girl you have a crush on, you’re taking a strategic approach to romance.
In other words, strategic involvement is not limited to the coveted “chair” at the C-Suite table. I find that people want to be part of the crucial organizational conversations where strategic plans are formulated. The best of us desire active participation in activating them. Every executive, the CHRO included, has more influence working on the business, shoulder-to-shoulder with his or her peers and through the credibility which comes from working arm-in-arm with them in the business. Credible, influential executives strengthen their value by offering their unique functional expertise; a perspective no other executive has. The more solutions-focused that perspective is, the more powerful the credibility and influence becomes; and your presence at the strategic planning sessions become more critical.
With time, this executive, will not only be invited to that important meeting, but they’ll be consulted before the meeting is even scheduled. So, throw out the chairs and burn the table! Being part of achieving the business goal in a unique way earns you credibility – far more important than a chair at a table. Come on, you can get those from any office supply store.