Boards of directors, in dire need of human resource expertise, need to offer a seat to top professionals
By Todd Humber
There are plenty of career paths for HR professionals. You can be a generalist. You can choose a speciality, becoming a recruitment, compensation or benefits guru to name but a few disciplines.
You can rise to the top office, snagging a vice-president or chief human resources officer (CHRO) role.
But there’s a new brass ring starting to emerge at the top of the ladder: A seat on the board.
Boards of directors need help with HR issues, and it would be a folly to try and find that expertise anywhere outside of a seasoned HR professional. In the Sept. 9 issue of Canadian HR Reporter, Pamela Jeffery, founder of the Canadian Board Diversity Council, wrote a feature titled “Getting HR on board.”
It makes a great case for HR representation on boards of directors. In the wake of the financial meltdown, and terrible board oversight at many organizations, winds of change are blowing through many boardrooms.
One of my favourite quotes about boards of directors (not that there’s many to choose from) was included in Jeffery’s article. Irving Olds, when he was chairman of U.S. Steel, said: “Directors are like parsley on fish — decorative, but useless.”
Organizations can’t afford to have decorative, useless boards. They need active, engaged directors with a wealth of experience who can guide the business and ensure it’s making sound financial decisions.
“The depth of knowledge in such important issues as executive compensation and pay for performance will continue to be an important focus of directors,” wrote Jeffery in Canadian HR Reporter. “Boards are now realizing HR professionals with this knowledge can add considerable value for shareholders in addressing these issues.”
She lists a litany of skills HR professionals will bring to the table, including:
• executive recruitment
• compensation negotiations
• diversity strategy
• succession planning
• corporate culture.
It’s impossible to think of an organization that wouldn’t benefit from an improvement in any of those areas.
Top HR professionals at major organizations should start thinking about grooming themselves for a director’s seat.
There are resources to help out. Women, chronically under-represented on boards, can turn to an organization called Women On Board Canada. Started in Vancouver, it was recently acquired by New York-based Catalyst, a group that advocates for women.
It pairs top female executives with board members who can mentor them, and has an impressive track record — one-third of Women On Board alumni have been appointed to for-profit boards, it says.
Boards of directors should be actively, and aggressively, recruiting HR professionals to sit on their boards.
If only they had someone at the table who could help find that top talent.
Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at email@example.com or visit www.hrreporter.com for more information.