Home » Knowledge Hub » » From HR to Board

From HR to Board

04 April 2024

Ruth Foster

Story by
Ruth Foster Chief Operating Officer, Eames Group

The boardroom table is set for the Annual General Meeting

Ruth Foster, Chief Operating Officer, Eames Group on how to get noticed and how to get to the C-suite

Let’s be honest. When we say ‘HR’ there’s still by and large a stigma attached to the function. And most importantly, an underestimation of how the function can positively impact business growth. HR is no longer just the standards enforcer, the internal ‘police’ or the cavalry who arrive on horseback whenever any line manager goes rogue. HR is much more than that. And that’s the first, most important thing to understand and believe if you want to progress from HR to the Boardroom.

Balancing people with business

For me, the crux of being in an HR role has always been about balancing people, with business. They’re inextricably linked. And having worked in the consulting services sector throughout my career, respecting that balance has been critical. A business that’s all about business, without any regard for developing and retaining talent, will by and large fail. The cost of hiring, re-hiring, retraining, is eye-watering and the constant revolving door impacts your customers too. And guess what? That hurts your revenue. So you can’t just forget your people. They’re (cliché but true) your business back bone.

On the flip side, a company that is all about the people without any underlying commercial acumen, will likely be a very enjoyable place to work but won’t achieve its goals – as it likely won’t have any. Remember the phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”? Well, it does. But you have to have a strategy otherwise it’s like trying to fly a spaceship to the moon without any understanding of how to make that happen. Or where the moon is.

So balancing and demonstrating a commercial mindset with a people centric approach, in an HR role, is key to progressing to a Board position. But what does that mean in reality?

Aligning objectives

To me, that means aligning the objectives of HR to those of the business. What are the strategic goals of the business and how can your team enable the achievement of those goals?

Enablement is key. So for example, if leadership development is key then defining a plan to assess your current leadership capability, work through an appropriate organisational design, work on a talent attraction plan, create a plan to develop and retain diverse leadership, could all be critical. Dependent upon your starting point and the goal in hand.

Being commercial

Far from being the problem-solving function that HR was once perceived to be, it’s again supporting commercial outputs. In any given challenge or scenario it’s working with your business leads to understand what outcome it is that you’re looking to achieve, the options that you have available to achieve that outcome, the appetite for risk (and indeed, what those risks are) and then advising the best course of action. Enabling outcomes you see?

Getting noticed

If you’re on board with the concept of HR as a commercial function, balanced with people centricity, then your next step is to get yourself noticed. Act the part of a board member. Get yourself noticed, for the right reasons. It’s unlikely you’d have targets to be appointed a Board member but more likely that through promotion to a C-suite role, or through being invited to join the Board, that it happens. So you need to get noticed and stand out.

You do that through letting your drive and ambition, and the results you deliver do the talking for you. Forgive the directness but massaging egos and sidling up to the right people won’t cut it. And you shouldn’t want it to. Get appointed on results and merit only.

When I came back from maternity leave after my second child I was concerned about what my job would have become. So I created a role for myself. I spent time with all the business leads understanding their people challenges, their business goals, and what support was needed. As a result I created a Learning and Development programme. I put myself through an employment course whilst I was on maternity leave with my first child and an executive coaching qualification after my second. But never was that at the expense of spending time with my children. Ever. That compromise is not an option for me.

Creating opportunity

So my advice is: yes, sure. Make the most of every opportunity that presents itself. But, more importantly, create those opportunities for yourself. Take control of your career, your future and make it happen. Create opportunities to showcase what you can do to positively impact the company.

The other advice would be that, when you are in a forum where board members are present, act the part. Have something to say that’s meaningful, considered and demonstrates your thinking. But be authentic. Say something because you believe it needs saying. Not because you like the sound of your own voice. And the bi-product may well be that it gets you noticed.

I recently had a conversation with our NED in which he mentioned that I ‘came on to his radar’ around 14 years prior. Little did I know. In retrospect, I guess that’s where my journey to the board started and I didn’t even know I wanted it then. Let alone realise I was on that path. We had quarterly meetings as a partner group during which I was relatively vocal on topics I understood, had an opinion to impart and was confident I was doing so in a professional, solutions-focussed manner. That got me noticed apparently. But in sharing those opinions you also have to demonstrate that you are listening to your peer group, to those who know more, questioning and challenging anyone about anything but in the right way. That being done with active listening, with genuine interest and a genuine desire to understand. It can’t be about winning a debate. It’s about arriving at the best decision to progress the business – whether that’s yours or not.

That all might sound rather contrived. Doing those things to arrive at an outcome could be contrived. Or it could be career driven. Honestly, that’s not why I was doing them at the time but they are what got me here. Most importantly, I was just me. I was authentic to myself. And being me, I was always restless to do more, be better and progress further. To learn, to know more. And that’s maybe just DNA. I don’t know. But this I do know. As Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

So what do you think? Can you?




Latest Events

Attract Top Talent: Master Social Media Recruitment for the Modern Workforce

The talent landscape is changing - Millennials and Gen Z now make up a growing majority. By 2025, 75% of the workforce globally will be Millennials. Are you planning your Employer Branding priorities with them in mind?
DNA social media webinar

Spring Networking Event

In the surroundings of the National Treasures: Constable in Bristol “Truth to Nature” exhibition, we’re hosting a free drinks and networking opportunity for you to meet and connect with business leaders and colleagues.
spring networking event hrw

May 2024 – Employee Benefits: How to Stop Wasting Money

Are you throwing money at employee benefits or a health and wellbeing programme that aren't appreciated?
employee benefits how to stop wasting money

June 2024 – All Promises? Is AI the Answer to your HR and L&D challenges?

The impact of AI on the workplace and working life in general has been the subject of much speculation, but what of the impact on HR itself? With the ability to offer key data for HR streamline work processes, AI could be the answer hard-pressed HR professionals are looking for.
all promises is ai the answer

May 2024 – Equality, Diversity, Inclusion: Put your money where your mouth is

Is EDI still a vital part of every business' agenda and what good does it deliver for HR?
equality, diversity, inclusion webinar

AI in the Workplace, The Potential, The Pitfalls and The Risks

In recent years, advancements in AI technologies have surged, permeating nearly every industry and facet of our lives. From automating routine tasks to augmenting human decision-making, AI holds the promise of revolutionising productivity, efficiency, and creativity in the workplace.
AI in the Workplace

Apr 2024 – Reward and Recognition – is that the best you can do?

What are the standard ways HR should be seeking to reward and recognise its employees - and what are the more innovative ways?

Mar 2024 – Leveraging Digital Learning Tools: Empowering HR Teams for Success

In today's fast-paced business landscape, the role of HR teams is evolving rapidly. To stay competitive and foster organisational growth, companies must leverage effective learning programs strategically.

Mar 2024 – The Efficiency Programme: How HR can maximise technology benefits

There are huge promises and potential for the use of AI and technology in HR and in this session we discuss the best way ahead for HR for technology and AI use.

Effective Resourcing Models & How We Guarantee the Integrity of Inclusive Recruitment Regardless of Approach

A opportunity to debate how can we adopt a cohesive inclusive approach that enhances the candidate experience without creating barriers between us and the talent essential to your organisational success.
15 may 2024 sanderson effective resourcing models

Feb 2024 – It’s All HR’s Fault

Despite being a trusted voice in the C-suite, HR is still viewed with distrust and outright disdain by many employees – the very people HR is there to support.
Its all HRs Fault On demand Webinar

Jan 2024 – Health and Wellbeing: Making it Personal

If you’re investing in a health and wellbeing strategy, you want to make sure it meets the needs of your workforce.

Dec 2023 – Year in Review 2023

In this webinar we brought back some of our previous 2023 webinar speakers who gave their view on the past 12 months.

Nov 2023 – Reward and Recognition for the International Workforce

In this webinar we explored the dispersed workplace and asked what it means to support employees all over the world.
Reward and Recognition for the International Workforce

Streamlining Year-End HR Operations

Providing seasonal support, ideas and inspiration, this webinar covered the challenges and opportunities presented to HR professionals at this time of year.
Streamlining year-end HR operations

The HR World Autumn/Winter Networking Drinks 2023

At this exclusive evening senior HR leaders were able to meet their contemporaries, talk to other HR thought leaders and experts and access The HR World’s unique network of game-changers and decision-makers.

Compensation Planning – The key to a motivated and satisfied workforce

Compensation and reward strategies have changed radically over the past few years with the impact of the pandemic and the trends that followed.
Compensation Planning - The key to a motivated and satisfied workforce

Oct 2023 – Talent Acquisition: Why your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is more important than ever

This webinar addressing talent acquisition majored on the Employee Value Proposition (EVP).
Talent Acquisition – Why your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is more important than ever

Resourcing Models, Insource, Outsource or Hybrid what are the best solutions?

Discussions on the evening were led by two invited experts Jim Richardson, with spells at Santander and Royal Bank of Scotland as Global Head of Talent, Jim now advises corporate businesses on their TA models, and, Ross Crook, Managing Director at Sanderson Solutions.
Resourcing models round table

Sep 2023 – Retention: Holding on to The Talent You Need

The post-pandemic workforce now presents more of a challenge in terms of feeling satisfied and content in the workplace. This webinar on retention also provided a masterclass on employee engagement.
Retention holding on to the talent you need

Aug 2023 – Professional Development: Making the Step Up

What does it take to be an HR Director, or to take a position at Board level? This webinar looked at professional development for HR leaders.
What does it take to be an HR Director?

Jul 2023 – Employee Benefits: Then, now and next

The importance and value of giving employees choice on rewards and recognition.
Employee benefits, then now and next.

Jun 2023 – HR Data: The Key To Delivering Real Value

This webinar on HR Data brought home the importance of understanding the value of people data not just to HR but to the business as a whole.
HR on demand event - HR data: the key to delivering real value

RPO Market – Insource, Outsource or Hybrid: What are the best solutions?

The HR World and Sanderson Managed Services Ltd held an exclusive Round Table dinner to explore and debate the current RPO arena.

AI as part of the hiring, on-boarding and retention processes

The HR World and Sanderson Managed Services Ltd held an exclusive Round Table dinner to further the discussion of AI among Senior HR Leaders.

May 2023 – AI in HR: The Perfect Balance

AI is hitting the headlines right now as experts forecast a future that’s powered by tech. But what will this mean for HR?
On demand hr webinar - Ai in HR

Apr 2023 – HR Tech: Ensuring your technology delivers for all your people

Technology continues to throw challenges at the HR function as the speed of change increases and new technology (anyone noticed something called AI?) enters the arena.
HR tech on demand webinar with Sympa

Mar 2023 – Equality, diversity, and inclusion: Reshaping thinking for action

In this webinar we explored how ED&I can have a real impact for businesses. At the centre of the discussion was the idea of changing thinking in order to make things happen.
Equality, diversity, and inclusion: Reshaping thinking for action

Feb 2023 – Leading With Agility: How to give your business the behaviours and mindsets it needs for volatile times

This webinar took as its focus agility and how businesses can develop and maintain these skills among its workforce.
This webinar took as its focus agility and how businesses can develop and maintain these skills among its workforce.

Jan 2023 – How can you create a culture of health and wellbeing in the workplace?

This webinar tackled the important and timely issue of creating a health and wellbeing culture in the workplace.
How can you create a culture of health and wellbeing in the workplace?

Bridging the gap: what can employers learn about emerging talent to drive better hiring strategies?

Join us at this cross-learning, in-person event as part of The HR World Culture Clash series, bringing HRDs, founders and emerging talent together to build a better workforce for the future.
Bridging the gap: what can employers learn about emerging talent to drive better hiring strategies?
HRW Membership@2x@2x

Are you a senior HR professional?

Join our membership to shape the future of work, get exclusive access to events, white papers and research content, profile your work, gain access to support from HR experts and celebrate your successes.

Become a Partner

Please get in touch to talk about how we can help your business make an impact in the world of work through our content marketing, partnership plans and advertising.