Relationships are your most useful tool in the boardroom #hrindaba18

HR industry stalwarts Sandy Mohonathan and Shirley Zinn stress the importance of aligning with key board members.

The role HR practitioners play in any company is absolutely crucial to the success of a business, which is why any items brought to the board by the CHRO should be given the respect they deserve. 

This was the key message Shirley Zinn, CEO of Shirley Zinn Consulting and former CHRO of Woolworths, and Sandy Mohonathan, human capital director at Accenture, delivered at the “How to be a boss in the boardroom” breakout session at the HR Indaba on 3 October. The topic was clearly one that many are grappling with as the session was jam-packed with curious audience members.


Shirley’s advice was to always arrive at a board meeting well-prepared and with a good understanding of who else is sitting around the table. “Try to build relationships with others around the table. In fact, relationship building throughout your career is important. As HR professionals we must carry our professionalism with us and build long-term, sustainable relationships,” she said.

Sandy shared Shirley’s sentiment. “Relationship building is so important, particularly in senior roles. I received advice that has served me well, and that is to build individual relationships with every person on that board.” She added that it is also beneficial to know what is important to the individuals on the board so that you can prepare your presentation to address the queries they are most likely to raise. 

According to Sandy, the CFO is your number one ally. She says the CFO gives the CHRO credibility and working together ensures everyone is on the same page and taken seriously. Being familiar with financial management, however, is also helpful. She adds that understanding the CEO, what their priorities are and your role in making them successful is also a must. The CMO as well as the individual tasked with managing risk were also mentioned as important partners for CHROs.

But, it’s not only relationships with board members that are helpful. Sandy suggests connecting with HR practitioners outside of your organisation to gain advice, bounce ideas off of and to obtain different perspectives on challenges you may be facing. Building on this, Shirley admits that being in HR can be lonely, so having a trusted group of peers and attending networking and knowledge-sharing events such as the HR Indaba are essential.