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HR doesn’t (always) need to be at the table
published by , on 12/11/2015

By Tan Ong Jin (regional HR business partner at AXA Insurance)

I was at the Training and Development Asia conference recently when the age-old question came up: “Does HR deserve a seat at the table?”

I almost fell off my chair! How dare this question be asked!

Of course HR deserves to be represented at the highest levels of management.

People are any company’s greatest asset and they will continue to be until robots become truly “enlightened” to take over the workplace.

“People are any company’s greatest asset and they will continue to be until robots become truly “enlightened” to take over the workplace.”

That is why hearing the above question in a room filled with HR professionals left me dumbfounded. Who would dare ask such a question?

And then the little hamster wheel in my brain started to turn. Is it possible that HR is still not at all the leadership tables?

After getting over the shock of the question (and breathing again), the reality hit me.

Run little hamster run … unshackled by my HR arrogance.

A dedicated HR leader is not in place in all organisations, and does not need to be. (I hope you are still sitting in your chair.)

It’s pretty simple actually. Of course HR does not always have a seat at the table. It’s obvious.

In fact, if we think of the evolution of business, start-ups and SMEs rarely have a clearly defined HR leadership position – and fair enough.

Let’s be honest with ourselves – a company of 20 people needs to get its employees paid.

“A dedicated HR leader is not in place in all organisations, and does not need to be.”

While having a five-year strategic workforce plan is beneficial, it is more likely the company’s management is worried about being around in 12 months, let alone how to improve the diversity within the organisation.

This is not to say that people don’t matter in such businesses. Far from it.

Smaller organisations come with smaller teams, smaller offices, less of pretty much everything. This is where interpersonal matters may be even more important to deal with quickly, as there is less space for the issues and people to hide.

If anything, the people in a smaller organisation may matter even more, as there is less space for hiring managers to make the wrong choices.

As such, ownership/management do it themselves. Consciously or not, they become the de facto HR leader, and while they may not always come up with the “win-win” solution (and may likely put forward the “my way or the highway” one), the job will get done.

So maybe a better question then is: when do we get our seat? When is there space?

“Obviously, at the core of having an HR leader in place at any level of any organisation is still the value the person can bring to the organisation.”

I would offer that as a business grows and matures, the operational needs of the business transition into the need for HR management and subsequently HR leadership.

As businesses become more complex, whether it be the diversity of the business or the scale, so do the people complexities, and the need for a dedicated department to help work through the issues and opportunities.

Obviously, at the core of having an HR leader in place at any level of any organisation is still the value the person can bring to the organisation.

This doesn’t guarantee that a business will have a chief human resources officer in place at a certain size, but the likelihood of doing so certainly increases; as do the tangible benefits of putting the right person into such a job.

Well done little hamster. Get a good rest, as I am sure I will need you again soon!

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