Colling says the CFO at Partners has linked about 70% of the health system's costs to labor costs, from benefits and salaries to desk space. "So managing all that is a big part of the organization," he says. "If you are not part of the discussion and part of understanding the strategy, it is very difficult for you to make the moves or the proposals that would be helpful to the organization."
Seligman says the effective HR executive brings to the C-suite an understanding of the entire operation, including finances, an ability to engage employees and align them enthusiastically to the mission, and change-management skills.
"We live in an era where large organizations need to be nimble enough to change on a dime, and for leaders to facilitate the effectiveness of organizational change that do not compromise organizational outcomes," Seligman says.
How do you make your case for a strategic role? "You need to show rather than tell," Colling says. "You don't want to come in, for example, saying only that 'We are required to do this.' You want to come in and say, 'Studies have shown that if we work hard on competency-based evaluation, we reduce turnover and we get better patient quality' and so forth."
"The way to make the case is on the positive side—'This is what I can do'—as opposed to the negative side—'They ought to respect me. If they don't listen to me they're going to be sorry,'" he says. "The other thing you can do is wait for a catastrophe, but what that usually means is your successor has a seat at the table, rather than you."