If you don't have a role in the long-term planning and strategic decision making as the top HR executive in your hospital, it's not because you don't have a C in your title. Dennis Colling, vice president for human resources at Boston-based Partners HealthCare, dismisses titles like CHRO.
"The bigger issue is where you are placed in the organization and the scope of your responsibility," Colling says. "Sometimes to make a position attractive from a recruitment standpoint they might give it one title or another, but the telling part of it is when you are in the room and what issues you are discussing."
Sidney Seligman, senior vice president of human resources at Saint Barnabas Health Care System in West Orange, NJ, is another veteran executive who warns against what Oliver Wendell Holmes called "the tyranny of the labels."
"The issue is not the title but how people effectively operate," Seligman says. He believes that HR executives who are shut out of the C-suite have only themselves to blame. "People have to demonstrate that they have value, and that is not unique to HR," Seligman says. "It may be more acute in HR because the function has always had a kind of Rodney Dangerfield sensibility, and the only way one develops respect is showing that you have value."
Of course, to demonstrate value, HR executives should show baseline expertise in traditional HR areas like the cost of health benefits, pensions, compensation, compliance, and legal defense. "Beyond that you have to have a good grasp of basic business principles," Colling says. "And you really do need to speak accounting, because so many discussions are substantive policy discussions but they are clothed in financial language, and you can lose the policy gist if you are not following the financial discussion."