Human Resources: Securing and Preserving a Seat at the Table

Securing and Preserving a Seat at the Table

Posted by Rick Wald on December 12, 2013

With Thanksgiving behind us, and colder weather ahead of us, we are officially in the midst of the 2013 holiday season. During this time of year, there are many occasions that bring family and friends around the dining room table for a festive meal. And, for many, these meals bring up the same questions every year: Who gets invited? And who sits where? Holiday seating arrangements can be tricky: there’s often a kids table, certain relatives are best kept at opposite ends of the table, and grandma has to be able to hear her grandson’s latest stories from school.

In business, these questions around who to include, when, and where arise more often than the once-per-year holiday season. And, it’s often HR executives who are asking, “How can I secure and preserve my seat at the strategy table?”

Due to the more tactical nature of benefits strategies, HR is often tasked with focusing on the short term, developing and executing plans built for the next one to two years. By comparison, the CFO is typically defined by his or her ability to understand the company’s strategic vision and marry that vision with its long-term financial plan. How can HR executives strategically partner with the C-suite and move from a historically more tactical focus to one that’s more forward looking, thus obtaining their seat at the big table—the strategy table?

Recently released findings from Deloitte’s 2013 Survey of U.S. Employers reveal some key similarities and differences between the views of HR executives and the C-suite related to health care costs, benefits, and reform:

  • Both place hospital costs (81 percent and 70 percent, respectively) at the top of their list for why the health care system is expensive…
    …but they disagree from there: CFOs pin the blame on waste/inefficiency (69 percent) and HR executives on government regulation (60 percent) as the second most impactful driver of health care costs.1
  • Both agree that increased transparency around health care costs could improve the performance of the system (58 percent and 52 percent, respectively)…
    …but HR executives place more faith in the possibility that increased use of health information technology could help improve the performance of the overall health care system (49 percent vs. 36 percent, CFOs).2
  • CFOs and HR executives present different views on their company’s preparedness for health care reform: 40 percent of HR executives believe their HR department is completely prepared to navigate the changing health care environment for their company, while only 28 percent of CFOs feel the same way.

These differing views highlight the unique perspective HR executives bring to the table. How can HR executives play that to their advantage?

To move from focusing on the short term, HR executives must be part of defining and working towards the longer-term, shared vision for the company—the common destination the company is working toward. Once this destination is established, it will be up to the HR department to work back from that ultimate goal and develop the roadmap to get there. Like a freshman first entering college with the long-term goal of graduating in four years, choosing specific courses for each semester, selecting a major, and identifying organizations to join is not all done on the first day of school. But, with the goal of graduation in mind, in manageable timelines, courses are selected, majors are defined (and often redefined), clubs are joined, and thus, the path to graduation becomes clearer.

For businesses, short-term strategies begin by breaking long-term goals into year-by-year milestones: to reach a specific destination in 2025, where do we need to be in 2020, 2017, 2015? You’ve now defined a long-term strategic roadmap, as well as year-by-year objectives and tactical implementation plans. By focusing first on the long-term vision, and then working back to create yearly tactical plans, HR executives can position themselves to strategically partner with the C-suite to shape what a healthier, more engaged workforce could look like in 2025 and to create a future vision for their organization.

Companies who place value in partnering with HR and inviting them to the strategy table are likely to see a more cohesive vision for the future and a heightened level of employee satisfaction, performance, and productivity—and to “graduate” on time!

Read more about Deloitte’s 2013 Survey of U.S. Employers on the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions blog: A view from the Center.

Notes: 1The total costs of the health care system have increased by about 4% annually in the last few years. Many factors drive those costs. In your view, how much influence do each of the following have on overall health care system costs? Percent of those answering “Major influence” is shown. 2Please rate the likely impact of each feature shown below on improving the overall performance of the U.S. health care system. Percent of those answering “High impact” is shown.

Rick Wald Rick Wald is the national practice leader for Deloitte Consulting’s employer health reform strategy practice and the employer health care consulting practice. He has 30 years of consulting experience and specializes in employee benefits strategy in a post-health reform environment, rewards transformation and health care consumerism.

One thought on “Human Resources: Securing and Preserving a Seat at the Table

  1. Hi Rick,

    Interesting article –
    Another approach that HR might take to secure their seat at the table is through Employee Engagement strategies. Given the reliability of Employee Engagement as leading indicator of Customer Engagement, Customer Loyalty, corporate revenue and profitability, HR can play a significant role in driving those targets by orchestrating Employee Engagement strategies and initiatives.

    Have you seen this approach used, to “secure” the seat?

    Thanks Rick,
    Jim Watson

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