When it comes to promoting HR leaders up the chain of command, in the past companies tended to shut the C-suite door to them. They were often relegated to administrative roles and supervised by executives who might not have much understanding of the value of human capital and its management.
But recent years have been nothing if not transformative. More and more, as companies respond to the enhanced sense of worker empowerment, HR leaders are finding their way into the C-suite.
“The employee is really at the heart of what companies are facing right now,” said Soni Basi, global chief people officer at the global communications and marketing firm Edelman. “Employees are more influenced today by their employer and their employer’s views than they are by NGOs, by other businesses, by anyone else. The employer is front and center for them in terms of what they’re thinking through, what they want to do, and so for all of these reasons I think [executives] see the HR role as more and more imperative for organizations.”
Speaking in a fireside chat with Lydia Dishman, a staff editor at Fast Company, at From Day One’s May conference in Brooklyn, Basi added that HR leaders like her are indeed finding seats at the table when it comes to corporate decision-making. “It’s not the baby seat, the high chair at the table. That’s not the seat that we want,” she said. “We want the real seat and we have to earn the real seat.”
Basi, who had secured her “real seat” inside Edelman’s C-suite just two weeks earlier–she previously had been global head of talent for AIG–said that her company had recently compiled research data that said a belief-driven employee can have significant positive impact on a business. These types of workers want to work for organizations that are going to be vocal about their support for a cause and take actions that will enact change.
“Communicating that sense of purpose is really important to employees right now,” said Basi. Among the initiatives she’s working on in her new role: building communication pathways to workers so that Edelman leaders might better communicate their values. But it’s also vital that corporate leaders share their organization’s values with job candidates, too.
“Your [Employer Value Propositions], your websites from two or three years ago, probably don’t communicate what you need them to communicate today,” Basi observed, adding that not only will talent scan these resources for information on what causes a company has taken up, but investors will too.
Basi advised company leaders to leverage social media platforms for the same purpose as well. Investing resources into a strong TikTok presence might help them land some of the better young talent in the job market, too.
Another challenge for HR personnel in our late-pandemic reality is the fragmented staff, who want to log into virtual meetings perhaps from locations as close to down the street and as far as the other side of the world. But Basi’s up for it. “Having a distributed workforce just makes it even more fun,” she said. “To try to get to the talent that you really need in an organization, there’s always questions [such as] ‘How remote do you want to make your workforce?’ And it’s not an easy question to answer for every organization.”
Executives might genuinely want their company to go all-remote, for example, but then quickly come to realize it’s not practical for many of their team members. There are many considerations, she said, including tax implications and real-estate footprints to name only two of the many factors that HR managers need to keep in mind when working to carry out that initiative.
“Advice from me would be to put some guardrails around that,” Basi said, “unless you are an organization that has said you’re 100% remote and you’ve got the backing of your finance and your legal organization on how to do that well.”
Because the adoption of a distributed staff is so new—at least on the scale that industries are experiencing now—what they will look like is difficult to predict, she said. Basi might not have the answers to this conundrum now, she acknowledged, but solutions are likely to present themselves in the next couple years.
In any event, she believes that keeping staff connected should be a top priority. “There’s so much to be gained from connecting,” Basi said. “The purpose of being in the office is three-fold: It’s about connecting, collaborating, and creating. And if you’re there you might as well add another ‘c’ [word]: ‘celebrating.’”
She added that there’s a “richness” that comes with in-person professional development that should help inform decisions about hybrid or all-remote workplace models. “But we have a reality that we can’t always bring people in-person,” Basi said, referring to safety concerns, “and so we have to find new ways to integrate and develop new talent.”
Michael Stahl is a New York City-based freelance journalist, writer, and editor. You can read more of his work at MichaelStahlWrites.com, follow him on Twitter @MichaelRStahl, and order his first book, the autobiography of Major League Baseball pitcher Bartolo Colón, at Abrams Books.