Winning Your Seat at the Table: How YOU Can Go From “Annoying Pest” To “Welcome Guest”… 

by Alan Collins

I’m a big fan of Dan Kennedy, the provocative author of the No BS Ruthless Guide to People & Profits. 

Dan likes to tell the story of working at home, one hot summer afternoon, sitting at his kitchen counter.

With a large iced tea in hand, he was on the phone with an important client.

His doorbell rang, but he ignored it.

It then rang again.
And again.
He continued ignoring it.
Then he heard a pounding on his front door.
“Damn,” he said to himself, but he continued his conversation.

Suddenly there was someone banging on the sliding glass door behind him. 

At this stage it was a contest of wills.
And he refused to even turn around and look.
After a few moments, the banging on the front door started up again.
Frustrated as hell, he finally excused himself from his call and went to the door to get rid of this guy.

When he opened the door, he was confronted by a passing motorist…who told him that the shrubs along his backyard wall were completely in flames!

In an instant, this guy was elevated in status from ANNOYING PEST to WELCOME GUEST! 

Why?  Because clearly, he was there trying to help Dan.

“Get the hose going — I’ll call the fire department,” Dan yelled.

Both of them together kept the burning shrubbery from setting his whole house on fire.

How did this good samaritan go from annoying pest to welcome guest so quickly?

It’s obvious: He had something to tell Dan that he instantly recognized as of urgent importance and great value. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case with many HR leaders.

Many are viewed as “ANNOYING PESTS” in many organizations, when they arrive “at the table” for the first time as a part of the business leadership team.

Why?  Because they, unfortunately, fall into the trap of trying to justify their existence by distracting the business team with lengthy discussions of low-impact HR programs with minimal value to improving their business.

Taking this approach can present a huge credibility problem for you as an HR leader.
Especially, if you don’t change course early.

So, what’s the solution? If you ARE the new kid on the block, how do you quickly earn status as a welcome guest and equal partner with your finance, operations, and marketing colleagues on the leadership team?

Well, there are at least three things you should consider doing: 
1-Generate some quick wins.
2-Communicate with impact.
3-Pre-wire your big ideas.

Let’s take these one by one.

First of all, consider putting some quick wins on the board. 

If you’re new to the team, find some problems that are plaguing the business that you can fix with HR solutions.

Then fix them.

It doesn’t matter how small they are because because your initial goal is to build a reputation as someone who gets things done that benefit the business.

For example, let’s say the company is trying to improve it’s online sales of new products.

And you understand that their marketing people lack the fresh, innovative ideas needed to capitalize on social media.

This is your cue to jump into the mix.

You could work with the Marketing department to either attract new innovative marketing talent savvy in social media or help them locate experts who can build this skill in their existing people.

This is the type of quick win that benefits the business and HR. 

Leading or collaborating with other leaders on initiatives like this one will provide you with a halo effect and buy you a little extra time at the beginning.

And this is time you can use to really learn about the real business priorities, how the leadership team operates and to establish deeper relationships.

All of this is designed to help you further your longer-term goal of being accepted and trusted as an effective, respected business partner at the table.

Secondly, begin communicating with impact. 

Initially, it’s important to know when to speak and when to keep quiet. Avoid running off at the mouth just to be heard.

When you speak, focus mainly on the business’ objectives rather than spewing HR speak, jargon and programs in an attempt to impress others. It generally doesn’t work.

You will be most influential with your business leaders if you can present numbers or fact-based arguments.

Backing up your ideas with facts and data like ROI, payback period, and dollar impact should become second nature.

For example, instead of saying “our new mentoring initiative is very popular!”  Instead, talk about how it will increase “revenue per employee” or “new hire performance” (e.g. their job performance rating after 12 months) or decrease “new hire failures” (% of new hires in key jobs that were terminated or asked to leave). Numbers and dollars turn heads and provide punch to your HR proposals.

Thirdly, plan to pre-wire your big audacious ideas. 

At some point, you’re going to want to pitch a big idea or proposal. When this happens, you’ll want to pre-wire it first.

Pre-wiring involves taking key decision-makers through the key elements in your proposal early and getting and including their input — long before you gather them together in a conference room to go through your final pitch for approval.

Pre-wiring involves ensuring that there are no shocking revelations or surprises for your key decision makers when the time comes for them to finally approve your HR idea. You want them already bought-in before the time finally comes for them to officially say “YES.”

For example, let’s say you’re presenting a controversial idea for changing the performance review system. You know this has been tried before and has failed.

However, often resistance to any big, new or innovative HR idea like this one occurs NOT because it isn’t good. But, because some of the decision makers didn’t have enough time (or advance warning) to get comfortable with it.

And to protect themselves from approving something they aren’t ready for, they’ll either cross-examine you like a serial killer on trial, delay making a decision or flat out reject your idea.

Pre-wiring can involve sending out a summary of your recommendations far in advance of their final decision, asking them for feedback and comments first.

Or even better yet, if you can schedule some brief one-on-ones with a few of the key influencers in the group beforehand, your chances for success rise dramatically.

After hearing all this, some HR leaders will say: Why even bother? 

Why put up with all this grief just to be at the table? And that’s it’s valid point. Being at the table isn’t for everyone in HR. And few people do this role well.

However, if you’ve spent your entire career in HR, this is a role you should relish and aim for.

You have a chance to shape HR and business decisions before they are made, rather than having to react to them (and cleaning up the mess after the fact).

You can demonstrate true value of HR and you’ll have a great platform for honing your own HR expertise and know-how.

And most importantly, the most globally in-demand HR professionals are those who can legitimately impact the business.

And by following these steps, you can become one of these rare creatures.

Let’s summarize. 

When you arrive for the first time as an HR member of the leadership team, if you misstep you can be viewed as an annoying pest.

To avoid this trap, your initial strategy should be to generate some quick wins, communicate with impact and pre-wire your big ideas.

Doing this will increase the likelihood that you’ll be viewed as a welcome guest…and avoid having your own HR career go up in flames.


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Want more success strategies for becoming a welcome guest as a  brand new HR leader?  Then check out:  THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS: How To Start Strong, Hit The Ground Running & ACHIEVE SUCCESS FASTER As A New Human Resources Manager, Director and VP.  You can get more details HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books on career advancement. He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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4 Responses to “Winning Your Seat at the Table: How YOU Can Go From “Annoying Pest” To “Welcome Guest”… ”

  1. Suzanne LaFlair Says:

    I’m in a new HR role and have a “seat at the table,” but wasn’t sure what to do with it. Your advice will make me a more active and articulate participant. Thank you!

  2. Alan Says:

    Thanks for your comment. Congrats Suzanne on your new role and having a ‘seat at the table.’ Thrilled you found the advice helpful. Wish you much continued success.

  3. Linda Says:

    Right-O! Always give ’em something THEY VALUE before you propose something YOU think they need!

  4. Alan Says:

    Excellent point, Linda. Thanks for weighing in!