#149 HR professionals: How to win trust and get that seat at the executive table – with guest Tammy Alvarez

Header image #149 HR professional development_ Getting the seat at the table - with guest Tammy Alvarez  - Building a modern, magnetic employer brand podcast with Susanna Rantanen

Are you an HR professional, sometimes frustrated with not getting your voice heard by the management?

Or, perhaps you are eager to develop professionally and learn a more strategic approach to HR, talent acquisition or employer branding but don’t know where to start.

Or this one: people in your workplace seem to have a very negative attitude towards HR, and it’s not your fault! Yet you suffer from their past experiences with HR and want to prove yourself as a harmonious collaborator.

If even one of these resonates with you, then put those sneakers on and go for a walk so that you can focus on this episode.

HR professional development: Becoming trusted advisors for the executive team and CEO

In this episode of the Building a Modern Employer Brand podcast, I have a fascinating guest with me, Tammy Alvarez, the CEO and founder of Career Winners Circle.

Tammy and I address the elephant in the room: why it’s so hard for HR professionals to get a seat at the table. And with the table I mean the CEO’s table.

In this conversation, I am on the HR pro side, and Tammy takes on the CEO side. Before founding her coaching business, Tammy had a corporate career on Wall Street, ending up as a C-level executive.

She ultimately managed 2,000 people in 35 countries and did some really big things because her background was all about transformation.

According to Tammy:

“So much of that was about talent and making sure that you had the right people at the right time. And you were building talent and having all those discussions because the best-laid plan doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the people that can execute.”

About six years ago, she decided to just cash out of Wall Street, move to a tropical island in Central America off the coast of Belize and start a coaching company for successful leaders who want more.  

Here’s our conversation.

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How HR professionals can get the seat at the executive table?

One of the most important things HR professionals can do to really level up and become that trusted advisor of the executive team, the CEO and beyond is to find a way to say yes. And that can be a very difficult part of your job, Tammy Alvarez tells us in this episode.

She continues:

“It’s very common to go into, hang on a second immediately, we can’t do that, for very, very good reason. It’s like you’re breaking laws in six countries, we have lawsuits, not to mention the ethics of some of the decisions people make, so we’ve got all of these competing things happening, and it’s so natural to have somebody say, we can’t. And that’s why you don’t have a seat.

If you start with, let’s work together to find a path to get you where you need to go. The way you want to get there, is probably too risky for what the organization is willing to accept. But there’s, there’s always a way, there’s always a path forward. 

And I think at the end of the day, you’ve got to realize that at some point in time, the business is going to be willing to accept a level of risk, that you may not personally agree with.”

The HR professionals advisor mindset

“As an advisor, it’s important to say, okay, here are all the things that could go bump in the night. Here’s where we’re exposing ourselves in terms of legal or anything else that’s going on.

When you start with yes, when you start with, okay, I understand what you need to accomplish. Let me help you find a couple of different paths to get there, and we can discuss your risk tolerance as an organisation. All of a sudden, you no longer become that doctor no.

I always found that my best HR partners would acknowledge the goals I needed to achieve and help me think through different ways of accomplishing what I needed to get done”, Tammy explains.

What is the best way for an HR professional to acknowledge the CEO’s goals?

I asked Tammy the best ways to acknowledge the CEO’s goals. What’s the best way to get there, to understand, because I know it’s not something many CEOs share with HR?

“This is a great time to start to talk about those questions as the CEO’s direct reports are coming to you about promotions, raises, hiring and reduction needs”, Tammy says.

“Ask them to share how this fits into their business strategy. Take some time to figure out your goals as an HR professional. If you understand what your stakeholders are being measured on and how that fits into the business strategy, you can start to layer in your capabilities to say: I think I can help you.”

Shifting away from the guardian of processes and rules

Why must HR change the guardian hat to the advisor’s hat?

“So many HR people are like: “That’s not our policy. We can’t do that”, says Tammy.

“And while you’re technically correct, that’s not helpful [for the management].”  

“The way you should have that conversation is to understand. Ask me to help you to understand what business outcomes I’m looking for. Forget about the people for a second, even though that’s what you’re here to talk about and ask what the business results are we are trying to achieve.”

Tammy advises HR professionals to present the CEO with small, medium and large risk options for decision making.

“Most of the time, a business owner will not want to do something that will introduce a level of risk to the organisation. That’s unnecessary. 

So, playing into that advisor role is critical. 

And if you don’t have that seat at the table, as you know, with the CEO, then you need to work with their directors. 

Build that level of trust and consultative relationship; then, you will get that seat.”

Learn to lead through influence, regardless of your title

One of the most difficult things to do in leadership is to lead through influence. 

As Tammy says:

“It’s easy to lead through hierarchy, you own their bonus. So, you do have a certain level of clout.

But leading through influence, where organisations can really just run into, say, no, I’m not doing that. Where do you go from that? And that is the hardest level of leadership.”

“From that perspective, I think if you can start taking that leadership and advocacy role early in your career and become known as that. Whether you’ve called it or not in your title, you’re going to have a seat at the table.”

Influence leads HR professionals to building trust

Tammy has seen HR folks building both trust and distrust. You want to avoid becoming the dark ops people whispering in the corners.

“That just builds such a level of distrust. In terms of building that level of trust, you’re coming from a negative already. Because no one fully trusts HR. It’s just true”, Tammy admits.

Here’s how to do the opposite according to Tammy:

“The fastest way to build trust ties into helping other people achieve their goals It’s not about what you need. It’s about getting what you need by helping others. 

I’m going to call it a self-serving leadership model in that when you help other people win, then you win along with them. 

So, part of building trust is understanding what they need most and being that advocate and vessel to help them achieve that.

The more transparent you can be about what you do and don’t know and what you can and can’t say, the more trust you build.”

Getting (everyone) excited about Mondays

How can HR contribute to the employees and leaders getting excited about Mondays, regardless of these rules and all the processes that we are providing?

“I would start with themselves. So from an HR perspective, do you have that pain in your stomach on Sunday nights, or are you excited to go to work?” Tammy suggests. 

“Let’s start with looking inward and ensuring you’re doing work that lights you up. Because if you are not doing work that’s in your sweet spot that you’re excited about, that you feel like you’re making a big impact, you’re not going to help anybody else do that”, Tammy explains.

Check out this podcast episode where Suzy Welch and I spoke about the Area of Destiny

HR changing talent development from role-based planning to outcome-based planning

“In terms of helping the organization get there too, we need to start to think about talent development and job descriptions and roles and responsibilities in a new and innovative way.

Millions of hours are spent on career pathing that no one pays attention to. And you know, all of these other things when it’s really, really simple to start to get people to step into the things that they enjoy most.

Just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean you enjoy it. And so the conversations need to be around, you know, what are your strengths? What energises you? So what are the things that you could do for 12 hours a day and not get tired”, asks Tammy.

“When you are talking about hiring for next year and places that you have to fill, it’s not what roles we need to have filled but what our business needs?  What do we need to get that done?” 

“What is our big rock for my group for this year? What’s it going to take to get there? Do I have the people who love doing the things it takes because it’s a multifaceted need? It’s not just you only need one thing to get the outcomes that you’re looking for.”

“That’s a key part of having everyone love Mondays is just having them do stuff that they love”, Tammy explains.

The necessary HR professional development step: Understanding what the business tries to accomplish

“For everyone who’s listening, what are the business units that you’re responsible for? What are their top three business priorities right now?

If you can’t answer that question, then you need to go back and talk to your sponsors, talk to your business partners that you’re supporting. Not about the people strategy, but the business strategy.

Don’t talk about people. 

Talk about their business strategies, what they’re accountable for, and what success looks like for them from a business perspective. Because until you really understand that, you can’t give good advice. You can’t give good counsel”, Tammy recommends.

About Tammy Alvarez

Meet Tammy Alvarez, CEO, and founder of Career Winners Circle. A comprehensive collection of coaching and training programs designed to strengthen leaders to grow their careers quickly and sustainably. Her spirited “Break all the Rules” approach blends decades of C-Suite experience on Wall Street with a pragmatic, results-based coaching style. She helps business professionals like you create impact so you can love every Monday morning again! She is an inspirational coach, trainer, and epic storyteller who delivers transformative learning experiences for her global client base. She believes the
heart of every successful business is leaders who inspire courage.

Tammy on LinkedIn | Tammy’s company website

About me, Susanna Rantanen and Building a Modern Employer Brand Podcast

For those who are new to my podcast and have no idea who I am, my name is Susanna Rantanen. I developed the employer brand marketing industry in my native Finland. My husband and I own the only Finnish employer branding agency listed as one of Europe’s Top 10 employer branding agencies. 

In addition to us helping businesses to overcome the challenge of getting and retaining the talents they need, I am a podcaster, author and keynote speaker, and teach communication and marketing online for both in-house and freelancing recruiting and employer branding professionals and career coaches.

Susanna Rantanen on LinkedIn | Susanna Rantanen on Instagram | Susanna Rantanen on TikTok | Susanna Rantanen on YouTube | Susanna’s agency website

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