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HR and a Seat at the Table

Peter Armaly is a Senior Director and Advisor for Oracle SaaS Customer Success. He is responsible for program design and execution of skills enablement for the customer success organization and in that capacity he works closely with senior executives both internally and externally. Peter is a highly accomplished marketing and customer success practitioner/leader who leverages his background by speaking and blogging about the challenges and opportunities around developing sophisticated customer-centric approaches.

Priscilla Echegaray is a Subject Matter Expert for the Oracle SaaS HCM solution. She is responsible for supporting Oracle’s Customer Success Managers and their customers to help them develop strategies and game plans for transforming their HR processes in order to achieve desired results through value-driven transformations. Priscilla has years of experience in the HR field in roles of an HR Generalist and HR Manager specializing in Recruiting, Talent Management, and Employee Relations.

Recently, Peter sat down with Priscilla to discuss a topic that touches everyone who works for a company that has more than a few dozen employees, Human Resources.

Peter:  I’m always looking towards the future to see if we can anticipate and understand the changes we’ll need to make in our professional and personal lives. But today I want to look into the past to better understand today. And when I say past I mean so far in the past that you were probably at the time stuck at the high point of a teeter-totter (are they still called that?) on some playground somewhere.

I recently read this article in the Harvard Business Review and thought it might be enlightening to ask an expert for their thoughts about how things may or may not have changed in the twenty years since the article was published. I can offer my opinions based on nothing more than my personal experiences interacting with the HR departments of the various companies I’ve worked for, or from the numerous interactions I’ve with their recruitment and hiring processes. However, I feel our readers might see those as simply anecdotal. I think they’d be more interested in hearing from someone like you. How do you think HR has changed since this article was published way back in 1998?

Priscilla: This was a great article! I feel that HR leadership definitely has a seat at the executive table today in having strategic conversations. A lot of strategies that were discussed in this article I’ve seen put into action by myself (when I was in an HR role) and by my previous leadership team. For example, having HR staff (called HR Business Partners) work with and advise Senior Management around recruitment and workforce strategies for a particular division enables HR to act in a more strategic capacity.  Like how it was described in the article when they asked, “How do we make our money?”, and “Who are our competitors?” I feel that today HR has a better understanding of the business value in asking those types of questions and is better equipped to recruit top talent as a result.  HR organizations are now being taught to now think differently about their roles and to take more of a consultative approach like the article stated. I agree that HR should become more like teachers and help guide managers in defining and expressing the firm’s mission and culture.

Alright, so, let me pause there. Don’t get me wrong, there are still administrative tasks that need to rest in the HR department and some of these are embodied in what the article refers to as “paper pushers”. A lot of organizations today have taken the approach of having those tasks outsourced to a third-party agency to relieve HR so that it can  focus on more strategic initiatives. Many, though, still rely on in-house talent for such tasks. But those tasks can be critically important, as you probably recall reading in the article about the bonus checks that got disbursed incorrectly. I remember when I was in HR and the person handling FMLA paperwork did not keep the information confidential and released information to the employee’s manager on the employee’s health condition. Ah, a BIG No No! I guess the point I’m making is that even though HR is having success in elevating its strategic profile and is gaining more of a voice at the senior leadership table, the tasks performed at a level much lower down have a significant impact on the company’s culture.

Speaking of the company culture, I liked how the article suggested that that is an area where HR organizations today are still stagnant or too slow to influence. We do observe that there are attempts to create positions that just focus on company culture and culture-centric certifications. Those are good and I believe some organizations today do a good job on focusing on the employee experience. Not just in offering a competitive compensation and performance incentives but in understanding the wants and needs of employees. However, not all employees know or are onboard with an organization’s mission and goals so it’s difficult to have all employees 100% happy and motivated. 

I’m curious, Peter, what was your take on HR before working with them directly?

Peter: Putting me on the spot? Ha! Okay I’ll say that my impression has always been that HR provides a valuable function for a company but that it has historically had very little strategic impact. My opinion has changed though and I believe its impact has increased significantly in the last decade and I want to ask you if you think some of that is due to the onset of technology and its increasing adoption by HR organizations. In my mind, I believe technology has certainly made a difference in how HR delivers its services and maybe then it’s logical that through consistent delivery of high quality service to the employee population and the management teams HR is being included and consulted more by business leaders. To support that supposition I’ll point you to this article which speaks to an Oracle employee survey on that very topic. So, Priscilla, what I’m wondering is whether HR leadership faces the same challenge and opportunity that leaders of Marketing face when it comes to securing a seat at a company’s leadership table. It seems to me that today if you want to have a say at that table you have to be able to empirically prove you can make a business impact. And for me, in the digital age that boils down to effectively leveraging technology. Are you seeing that? HR effectively leveraging technology?

Priscilla: I do see that most HR organizations leveraging technology by going way past the need for automation. The article addressed this topic of going beyond just having an employee self-service system for onboarding by becoming more social. Going back to HR understanding their business and workforce, a majority of positions these days are filled with employees who work remotely at least some of the time and the use of technology is a way to keep those employees engaged with their managers and peers. Here at Oracle, the HCM cloud is meant to be a social solution that provides direct communication with the employee and manager through various functions. Finally, being able to leverage the Oracle Social Network community to engage in specific conversations with other members in the organization is a way that companies can promote and demonstrate a truly employee-centric practice. I feel that today HR puts a great emphasis on linking their HR tech investments to business outcomes, such as gaining an awareness of employee productivity, employee retention, and employee performance. HR leaders are focused on improving the overall culture of the organization through HR technology via managers having visibility into an employee’s career interests and ambitions and employees having the ability to document it. This sparks conversations! Also, leveraging information about an employee’s performance, how long they were in their position, when was the last time they received a promotion or raise by using all those components can let a manager know if the employee is considered “at risk” of leaving the organization. The manager now has insight into what he/she can do to essentially “save” that employee from leaving the company, and this can result in an increase of the employee retention rate and hopefully help with the overall company culture.

I bet as a Director, you would like to have insight as to when a top performer on your team may be thinking about leaving, right? 

Peter: Are you kidding? Of course I would. As a leader, I can’t separate tasks like working on strategic planning from the need to consider how I can leverage the strengths of the people who report to me. I don’t know how I, or any other manager, would be able to accomplish all that’s expected. And, conversely, I don’t see how individual employees can accomplish all they need to do in managing their own performance and their career goals without effectively leveraging technology.

Hey Priscilla, I feel we could keep going on this topic but let’s close it for now and agree to take it up again at a later date. I think it’s an important topic and one that likely resonates with a significant percentage of our readership. Thanks for the chat!

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