Although great strides have been made, benefit professionals still struggle to have a seat with a company's big decision makers.

I spoke with high level human resource professionals at Grant Thornton, the American Medical Association, DIGITAS, NALCO, Northern Trust and Harris Bank to get insight on how to get the C-suite to take notice. One piece of advice for benefits pros looking to get a seat at the table was universal: Pull up a chair, and know the business.

"Know what makes the company money. Think like the CFO. Follow the money, and you learn the business," Deirdre Drake, SVP/HR, Harris Bank & Trust said.

Here are five tips for learning the business to get the C-suite to take notice.

1. Ask yourself: what are the three things that keep the company CEO up at night? Meet regularly with the CEO to ensure that you understand the mission and goals of the company. How can you align your goals with the goals of the company? Consistently offering solutions to any problems will earn a permanent seat at the table.

2. Read and understand the company’s annual report. This may seem like a daunting prospect, especially if you don't have a business or finance background. But if you can't read and understand the annual report, you aren't really speaking the same language as the C-suite. Understanding and relating to the annual report will display your vested knowledge and interest in the well-being of the entire company.

3. Instill a rotational program. Your team will better understand the needs of the company if they can sit in on a meeting first hand, or learn about a project a team is working on as they are working on it.

4. Take a business class. While it might not be feasible for you to earn an MBA, it is absolutely to your benefit to make time for a business class at your local college. By taking accounting, finance, or operations, you can better understand business fundamentals. You can learn how to understand your P&L statement, cost center and profit center. Having sharp business acumen is important in the eyes of C-suite players.

5. Get reading. Subscribe to trade newspapers and trade magazines, and familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the industry and business landscape for the company. This will build a better understanding of the economy/market, trends, and important business drivers to see the bigger picture at the organization.

Karsh is a workplace expert and president of JB Training Solutions. He can be reached at

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