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HR in the boardroom: Why and how HR should help drive company decisions

An Interview With Rachel Kline – Published in Authority Magazine

Elevating the employee experience
Operating a successful business hinges on having great employees. So, creating an exceptional employee experience is truly what sets the tone. The reality is that employees’ wants, needs and what they look for in an employer are changing, and we need to keep up with that if we want to grow and attract talent. There’s a generational shift going on in the workforce right now and HR is right in the middle of this. We don’t want to be stagnant when it comes to attracting younger talent because our competition certainly won’t be.
Most leaders don’t see how to employ HR as a strategic pillar of the business, and this leaves a lot of professionals feeling somewhat frustrated. In this interview series, we talk to HR professionals, business leaders, and anyone who is an authority on HR who can share what companies can gain by having HR in the boardroom and why and how HR should help drive company decisions. This time we had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Sheehy.
As Odyssey Logistics’ Chief Human Resources Officer, Laura Sheehy is responsible for leading the human resources (HR) function for Odyssey globally. With more than 30 years in the HR arena, her experience is as broad as it is deep, covering everything from talent acquisition and management to employee relations, benefits, and payroll. Laura holds a B.S. degree from the University of Bridgeport, where she graduated Magna cum Laude.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my career in retail, and I remember having a conversation with my manager back then. I told her I was leaving for an HR role, and she told me that I wouldn’t be happy pushing papers around all day. To some extent, she had a point. But thankfully, my earlier HR roles were in manufacturing, so I was able to walk the shop floors and learn about the various roles in the company. This helped me learn a lot about what people do, which, in turn, helped me become a more effective partner to the business and its leaders.
As for my HR journey, it’s been quite a ride. I’ve worked in benefits, payroll, recruitment — I can confidently say I’ve covered all aspects of HR. Though I must say that my favorite part of HR is recruiting. There’s excitement in finding the right fit for a team, and that excitement has helped me build a best-in-class HR team.
On top of that, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of industries — manufacturing, technology, restaurant, retail, and logistics. This diverse experience has served me well.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Honestly, it’s like my mind decided to put a lock on those memories! We all make our share of mistakes, and I’m no exception. Like everyone, I’ve had my moments where I’ve fallen flat on my face. But I do think the saying is true: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So, while I don’t have a laugh-out-loud story for you, I can tell you that each time I messed up, I learned something that helped me do better next time.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
I have two people who come to mind, each for very different reasons.
The first is my amazing 95-year-old aunt who is still a ball of fire. She spent her entire career at Citibank in New York City, and she was my role model growing up. I was in awe of the way she dressed up for work and would take the train into the city to work in the office. She supported herself, navigated through a male-dominated world and was an example of the strong, independent woman that I wanted to be. She was also a world traveler and inspired the travel bug in me too.
The second person who significantly impacted my journey is a former colleague from my early management days. This executive left an indelible mark that I still think about to this day. During a customer visit, they introduced me with the comment, “she’s just back office.” At that moment, I felt deflated and disappointed that he said that. But this person’s mistake gave me purpose. It drove me to prove that I’m not just back office. HR isn’t back office; it’s a strategic partner at the heart of decision-making.
In the male-dominated world, we’ve come so far and I’m so proud of the fact that all of us together, no matter the gender, have really worked hard to bring us to where we are today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Thinking back on your own career, what would you tell your younger self?

I would tell her that strength is your most important trait, and you’ll travel through your journey encountering people who are supportive and others who are the exact opposite. It’s the experiences with the latter that will really drive you to continue to work hard — harder than everyone else. Don’t waste time doubting yourself because you know what the right thing to do is. Like I said earlier, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

Let’s now move to the central part of our interview about HR. Why do you think HR deserves a place in the boardroom and in high-level decision-making? Can you help articulate how a company will gain from that?
Absolutely HR should have a seat at the table in the boardroom and play an integral part in high-level decisions. Talent planning and human capital play a big part in making business decisions and setting strategy. The board needs an HR person involved because we’re well-versed in talent planning, reorganization, scaling up or down to support business needs. Plus, we need to understand the business strategy so we can appropriately coach our leaders and, while recruiting, sell opportunities to candidates.
From your experience, how can HR people and culture professionals ensure they’re involved in strategic planning processes?
It comes down to having the support of the CEO and leadership team. It’s very difficult if you don’t have that support. To earn that support and be involved in the strategic planning process, we need to make sure we’re adding value and sharing what’s happening in the organization and the industry. HR also needs to stay on top of the competition’s HR practices as well as convey what employees, managers and candidates are saying internally. In the end, HR needs to jump in and provide insights from their unique perspective that others in the room might not have.
A lot of folks believe that CHROs would make great CEOs, but often they’re overlooked. Why do you think that is?
I love this question because it really affects me on a personal level. My aspiration is to become a CEO! It may be a moonshot since very few HR professionals elevate to the CEO level.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, HR executives are overlooked because of the misconception that we don’t fully understand all the aspects of the business — but this can’t be further from the truth. HR leaders must be well-versed in all aspects of the business to fully partner with other leaders and support, coach, manage and motivate teams to perform. Who would be better for the CEO role than a people expert who has made a career learning, managing and motivating people?
Continue reading the full interview here.

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