We sat at the table and it wasn’t pretty. For the C’s and one D that is.

When I read that Wal-Mart’s CEO, Mike Duke, was “so low-key and friendly that you might mistake him for the company’s human resources chief — as opposed to one of the world’s most powerful businessmen,” I stopped. (Although I recommend you read the entire Fortune article. Great “leadership in business” story.)

Sure, you can read that quote a few different ways, but considering the decade I’ve been in the HR world, I read it as:

HR isn’t powerful business.

Although back in the day…

We sat at the table and it wasn’t pretty. For the C’s and one D that is.

There was the CEO, the COO, the CIO, the CFO, the HR director, and me, the director of marketing and PR.

It was March, 2001. We were a sourcing/recruiting software and services company. Sourcing and placing software developers was our forte, but the dot.com mudslide was washing Silicon Valley away.

We had a stack of about 50 employee personnel folders in the middle of the conference table. The CEO took one off the stack, opened it, announced the name and then we discussed whether or not he or she was to be laid off.

Sales were flat and we were burning quickly through our VC money. The CEO wanted to gut everyone in the stack, and for the most part the other C’s and me agreed.

Imagine Mr. Potter and his eerie crony from It’s a Wonderful Life stamping draft cards.

“4-F, 4-F, 4-F…”

The lone voice of sanity was the HR director. She was amazing, because not only did she have the CEO’s back on compliance issues, which needed having trust me, but she was also very intuitive when it came to recommending keeping folks who had contributed to revenue growth, and still could.

She paid attention to those business drivers and also understood how to coach the “boys club” when it came to better leadership, talent management and the bottom line.

I managed the telesales team and a few other marketing/PR subordinates, and did recommend a few of them and others that we should keep based on the same data, but it was the HR director who was the people’s champion with a business-case cause. I learned some valuable business lessons from her, not the C folk.

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about the seat at the table for anyone in business, especially HR.

But these two recent blog posts highlight different angles of the same postulate — focus on the business, not on the process:

It’s not a new argument, I know. However, this latest recession has taken a huge toll on the workplace, employers aren’t hiring and too many good folk have lost their jobs.

My recommendation?

HR as business partner, coach and HR expert makes for a better and brighter business.

Right on.


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