It’s March, and you know what that means—the start of conference season. (Indeed, next week we’ll be hosting our own event, the second annual Human Resource Executive Forum® in New York. Look for coverage here.)
Later today, the Human Capital Institute wraps up its annual summit in Atlanta. Because of a conflict, I missed last year’s event in Arizona, where the conference has typically taken place. But this year, especially with it being a bit closer to home, I was able to attend.
As usual, the agenda featured some familiar names: Environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr., Former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, author Daniel Pink (who always manages to deliver at the events I’ve heard him at) and author Gary Hamel (who keynoted this morning).
Perhaps a bit less familiar, but hardly unknown, is Vineet Nayar, vice chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies and author of Employees First, Customers Second. I missed Nayar when he spoke at SHRM’s annual conference last year about the key role employees played in HCLT’s turnaround, but was able to catch his story this time around. Glad I did.
I tend to be somewhat wary of CEOs who write books before they retire (“You really have time for that?”), but Nayar is someone who is clearly passionate about the subject of human capital. He tells a compelling and convincing tale about business transformation.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Nayar told those attending that his book doesn’t include any references to HCLT’s HR leadership. (It’s about being a CEO, not an HR leader, he said.) But in this particular talk, Nayar did devote a few minutes sharing his views on the kind of role HR leaders should play in an “employee-first” company.
Responding to a question from the audience, Nayar recalled that it was initially somewhat of a challenge getting HR on board. “They needed to understand that they were my ambassadors in getting managers to understand that they were the ones who needed to motivate employees to [transform the company],” he said. But eventually, he said, they came around.
He also noted that it was necessary for HR to understand that the initiatives needed to come from the company’s business leadership, not from HR.
More often than not, when CEOs address HR groups, you typically hear them toss out words like “instrumental” and “critical” to describe HR’s part. But not here. Instead, Nayar’s assessment of HR’s role, while certainly positive, was refreshingly a bit more tempered—and perhaps more typical of what happens in the real world.