Category Archives: HR leadership

Capturing the ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’

On Wednesday, a new digital book titled The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders arrived in my inbox.

HRCI_BookCover_front_finalThe book—edited by Dave Ulrich, William A. Schiemann and Libby Sartain—is unquestionably ambitious in scope, running 582 pages and featuring essays from more than 70 thought leaders. Yet it’s also very straightforward in its approach, asking all of its contributors a single, simple question: What do HR professionals need to know or do to be effective in today’s and tomorrow’s business world? The end result: an impressive collection of diverse points of view covering a wide range of topics.

As the book’s website puts it, “the essays describe how HR practitioners must live up to and even extend expectations of their profession’s growing and evolving role. They focus on how HR professionals and the tools they use must adapt to shifts in demographics and the impacts of technology on the workplace.”

(The HR Certification Institute underwrote the e-book and plans to share it with its database of 140,000 individuals who have received HRCI certification.)

As you’ll see, the book is divided into seven sections—Context to Strategy, Organization, Talent Supply, Talent Optimization, Information & Analytics, HR Governance and HR Professionals—and features lots of gems.

For purposes of this post, here’s just one of many perspectives featured in the e-book, this one offered up by John Boudreau, professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business …

“Can any human do human resource management? That’s what HR constituents and clients sometimes seem to believe—especially when leadership teams admonish their HR leaders to adopt practices such as “rank and yank” performance systems simply because they read about them in a book about Jack Welch and GE, or when they appoint leaders with little professional HR training to top HR roles. Although these practices do have value, they can also seem to dilute the profession’s stature by implying that professional HR qualifications are unnecessary.

HR professionals and professional associations work hard to banish the idea that HR is just common sense, and to establish valid professional standards for HR professional status and practice. As the historical development of the medical profession in the nineteenth century shows, emerging professions strive to establish common qualifications, adjudicate professional practice, establish a monopoly on professional practice among members, and carry out science to build knowledge and inform practice.

There are promising efforts to establish HR as a proper profession, including proposed standards for human capital reporting, several efforts to set HR standards with the ISO and others, renewed attention to certification by SHRM and HRCI, and an increasingly clear and independent role within organizational leadership teams and boards.

In an effort to protect the HR profession, it is tempting to draw a line and say, “You cannot practice unless you meet these standards.” Indeed, sociology research shows that placing such limits is one of several paths to transforming an occupation into a profession. Though tempting, it is important that HR not fall into the “profession trap” by using exclusion to define its professional boundary. Evidence from our work on the future of HR at the Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) suggests a more inclusive approach—one that properly welcomes the contributions of disciplines beyond HR while advancing the profession’s stature and evidence-based platform.”

The above excerpt reflects one of a number of threads that runs throughout the volume: that organizations, as well as HR leaders themselves, can no longer afford to view and approach HR in the same way they’ve done in the past. To contribute to their businesses in substantial and meaningful ways, HR professionals, going forward, have little choice but to look at their organizations through a much different lens than the one they’ve used in the past and exhibit a very different set of us behaviors.

Before I conclude, I probably should add I was flattered to be  invited to contribute an essay to The Rise of HR. With our “What’s Keeping HR Leaders Up at Night” survey finding “ensuring workers are engaged and productive” to be the No. 1 concern year after year, I figured I would focus my piece on raising the bar on engagement. You’ll find it on page 257.

I’m personally looking forward to spending more time reading what my fellow contributors have to say on the state and future of the profession.

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HR’s Role in Fostering Innovation

100843802 (1)How do you define innovation?

Chris Hunsberger asked that (rhetorical) question of the 550-plus attendees within minutes of kicking off his keynote talk yesterday morning at the 9th annual HR in Hospitality Conference & Expo at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

A quick Google search will bring you nearly 270 million different definitions, explained Hunsberger, the executive vice president of HR and administration at Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts.

So there are a few different ways to define the term. But, in essence, innovation is about “creative problem solving,” he said, “and doing things in new and different ways.”

Indeed, doing things in new ways is a necessity for any organization with hopes of succeeding in 2015, said Hunsberger, who is, by his count, 75 days into his new role, after 34 years in operations at Four Seasons, where he has spent his entire professional career.

To illustrate the importance leading companies (and their HR functions) place on doing things “a little differently,” Hunsberger pointed to organizations such as Zappos and Netflix.

Zappos, of course, has famously offered employees financial incentives to leave the company, in part as a way to separate those who are truly committed to the organization’s success from those who are simply working for a paycheck.

Meanwhile, Netflix is piloting a program that allows employees to set their own holiday schedules.

To further demonstrate his point, Hunsberger also offered a few “short stories of innovation” from within Four Seasons.

In search of innovative ideas from employees, Hunsberger and the leadership team asked senior leaders throughout the organization to arrange and oversee “innovation sessions” focused on identifying opportunities to improve the guest experience, for example.

At one of these sessions, the Boston-based hotel’s team came up with an idea for “15-minute room service.”

“We obviously get a lot of feedback from guests, and many felt room service was too pricey and, at an average of 30 minutes to 40 minutes, took too long. So the Boston team had the idea to develop a 15-minute room-service menu,” said Hunsberger.

Leadership loved the idea so much, he said, that “we rolled this out as a global initiative in about 90 days, and we even had a competition to see [which hotel] could come up with the best menu.”

In addition to drawing raves from Four Seasons guests, the 15-minute room-service initiative “really allowed our team to think about innovating,” he said, “and doing things in a new way.”

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Are You a Minister of Culture?

How’s your company’s mojo supply these days?

According to a new piece by Forbes contributor Liz Ryan, it’s likely lower than it could be because some “leaders can’t imagine treating their employees any better than the law requires.”

And that’s what happens when fear-based leaders tell their HR people to simply focus on employment-law compliance instead of employee engagement and other strategic issues, she writes in a new post titled “Reinventing Human Resources For The Human Workplace.”

In the piece, Ryan calls it “a tragedy when HR people are assigned to spout policies and process performance reviews rather than to serve as the Ministers of Culture every organization needs.”

“HR people who see their job as keeping the firm out of court miss dozens of chances a day to build community and trust.”

In order to do this, she says, HR needs “to actively get out there with our teammates and into the talent market and say ‘How do we make this place the hands-down coolest place to work?’ I’m not talking about slogans and happy talk or even Friday night pizza parties or foosball.”

“I’m talking about grown-up accountability for the trust level in the organization. That’s the fuel tank your HR team is responsible for keeping full to its brim. Your Finance team looks after the money. Your HR people keep the mojo stores full.”

And one of the best ways for HR leaders to maintain a company’s good energy, she says, is actually quite simple: “They have to ask way more questions than they answer.”

Indeed, when it comes to mastering a topic as tricky as mojo, taking a “curious” approach certainly seems to make quite a bit of sense.

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What Workers Want and How to Supply It

As most of you embark on your first official work day of 2015, and Bruce-Tulgan-New-Photo-June-2014-200x300just in case a New Year’s resolution was to treat your employees even better this year than last, I thought I’d start you off with some suggestions from workplace and demographic expert Bruce Tulgan.

As I noted in this earlier (summertime) blog post about his recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., is pretty authoritative when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

In this more recent post, What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them, Tulgan once again relies on his and Rainmaker’s more than 20 years of research into workplaces and manager-employee relationships to give you these “key elements of every job that employees typically care about,” he says.

As he puts it in the post:

“You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn’t you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you’re not one of those managers, what is your problem?”

He’s not the only one stressing the importance of treating workers with respect and helping them develop — especially as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce. But he’s one of the few with this much research behind what he recommends.

So here’s Tulgan’s list of what employees really care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?
  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?
  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, co-workers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?
  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is “grunt work” (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities or projects?
  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?
  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Tulgan says the key to making these desires work for you has a whole lot to do with how you leverage them, as bargaining chips. He offers these examples:

  • “You don’t want to work on Thursday? I’m glad to know that. Here’s what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight.”

  • “You want your own office? Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here’s what I need from you.”

“When managers are able to [leverage employee desires and business needs like this],” Tulgan says, “they are giving the employee control over [his or] her rewards by spelling out exactly what [he or] she needs to do to earn them.

“In exchange,” he says, “the employee will probably be willing to do a lot [more] — to work longer, harder, smarter, faster or better” — while getting a valuable and immediate reward in return.

Sure, you can say all this is intuitive, but I would counter with, “then why aren’t more employers doing it?”

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2014’s Top 10 Posts

Here at The Leader Board, it was another interesting year covering the HR arena, with issues ranging from the controversy surrounding the HR certification, to lawsuits based on a worker’s commute, to HR leaders’ efforts to ensure their organizations’ compliance with the Affordable Care Act and various other legal requirements, just to name a few.

Below are links to the top 10 most-read posts of 2014, according to Google Analytics.

When viewed together, the posts create an accurate mosaic of the issues HR leaders are faced this year and are likely to continue dealing with into the new year.

Enjoy!

  1. SHRM Rolls Out New Certification (May 13)
  2. HR Plaintiffs Build Their Case Against Lowe’s (Jan. 24)
  3. Google Tackles Incentives and Rewards (April 29)
  4. More Restrictions on Criminal-Background Checks (Feb. 10)
  5. Employers Missing ADA Coverage in FMLA Cases (June 30)
  6. Friedman Shakes It Up at SHRM (June 23)
  7. ‘The 27 Challenges Managers Face’ (July 28)
  8. Who’s Leading the Way? (Nov. 13)
  9. Woman Sues Ex-Employer Over Commute (July 2)
  10. Giving HR the Boot (April 9)
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Starting the Ultimate Conversation

Last holiday season, I posted a piece on this blog about what employers should do when employees come to them with news that 465319021 -- difficult conversationthey are dying. It featured advice from Lynne Curry, president of Anchorage, Alaska-based The Growth Co., who stressed the importance — for employers, and HR and benefits professionals — of going over plans and benefits with any and all employees who come to them with such difficult information.

Recently, it seems, The Dow Chemical Co. took that discussion many steps further by partnering with a company called The Conversation Project. Founded by journalist Ellen Goodman, the project offers a step-by-step guide, called the Conversation Starter Kit, designed to carry managers, HR professionals, family members and loved ones through what I would call the ultimate conversation.

The idea to offer such a project and kit to her employees came to Dr. Cathy Baase, global director of health services at Midland, Mich.-based Dow, when she heard Goodman speak at a health conference about her own experiences as her mother’s caregiver and healthcare decision-maker for many years, and her resulting mission to change the way Americans talk about and deal with death.

As Goodman shared then, had she had conversations with her mother before dementia impaired her ability to share her desires, she might have felt more secure in making the decisions she faced.

Dr. Baase was driven by her own experiences as well, not only in seeing employees through this difficult time, but having engaged her own family to talk early, and often, about their mother’s chronic illness. She and her older sister, a nurse, were the forces behind the bi-weekly and sometimes weekly conference calls they would have with their two younger brothers, committed to staying on the same page about their mother’s care until she passed.

“Having these conversations actually made us closer as a family,” says Dr. Baase. “We knew how things were going and what to expect in the future, and we talked through everything until we came to an agreement. It did make things easier — although these things are never completely easy.”

With the help of The Conversation Project, Dow has begun a focused effort to educate employees and retirees about the merits of getting it all out in the open. Information about the project is now on the Dow internal website and has been distributed at retiree-health fairs.

The company also sponsored two webinars for its employees, retirees and staff, and its magazine, Dow Friends, which reaches more than 50,000 retirees in the United States and Canada, featured an article on the effort. It also shot a video recently for use in meetings and promotions, and plans are under way to hold role-playing events to help people break the ice and initiate these conversations at home.

“If we can help Dow employees be less stressed, more comforted and at peace,” says Dr. Baase, “then that leads to less distraction and a break from worry. … We have a history of confronting challenging problems that affect our society, and end-of-life care is an extension of that.”

Mega kudos to Dow, Dr. Baase and the project.

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Does Being a Jerk Really Work?

work jerkA good leader knows when to be forceful and when to use finesse.

Of course, some have to fight their naturally aggressive impulses in delicate situations, while others must dig deep to find their inner Type A traits when the circumstances call for assertiveness.

A pair of laboratory studies outlined in a recent Journal of Business and Psychology article contrasted uncompromising approaches with more diplomatic methods in the workplace , and when each may be best, in terms of sharing and utilizing original ideas at work.

College professors Samuel Hunter and Lily Cushenbery sought to “investigate the relationship between lower levels of agreeableness (i.e., disagreeableness) and [the] innovation process, such as idea generation, promotion and group utilization, as well as potential contextual moderators of these relationships.”

Or, in plain English, the researchers essentially wanted to find out if being kind of a jerk helps one to spawn and advance ideas in the workplace.

The overarching theme emerging from both studies seems to be that obnoxiousness doesn’t necessarily give birth to brilliant ideas, but it may help coerce colleagues into buying what you’re selling.

That’s according to the findings of Hunter, an assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, and Cushenbery, an assistant professor of management and director of the Leadership & Conflict Research Lab at Stony Brook University.

In their first study, 201 college students completed personality tests before strategizing together, in groups of three, to develop a marketing campaign. The authors found no real connection between disagreeableness and the originality of ideas created, but did identify a link between unpleasantness and group utilization of ideas.

The second study placed 291 individuals in an online environment to examine the originality of ideas shared with group members after manipulating both feedback and originality of ideas generated by others, and to determine the effect that creative and supportive co-workers have on the sharing of ideas.

This analysis yielded results similar to the first, with the caveat that a bit of belligerence may actually be an asset in environments where new ideas aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

“Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical,” said Cushenbery. “In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”

Ultimately, “being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas,” added Hunter, “but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others.”

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Would the Real CHRO Please Emerge

178125175 -- CEO, CHROWhen HRE Senior Editor Andrew R. McIlvaine posted here last month about a study written up in the Harvard Business Review detailing the similarities in traits between chief executive officers and chief human resource officers, I didn’t make the connection that hit me more recently.

His piece was about research from University of Michigan’s Dave Ulrich and Ellie Filler, a senior client partner in the Swiss office of executive recruiter Korn Ferry, examining “Why Chief Human Resource Officers Make Great CEOs.”

Turns out, according to that research, CHROs not only have traits closest to CEOs of all C-suiters combined, but the CEOs in the report, themselves, even agreed the CHRO could be a contender for their role.

Which got me thinking about an earlier report I had come across from Korn Ferry showing the two positions were as far apart as they could possibly be in a ranking of most-sought-after C-suite positions.

In that report, based on a survey of 1,055 executives, the three most desired C-suite jobs are CEO, chief operating officer and chief marketing officer. The least-sought-after? You got it, CHRO.

Interestingly, the top three most challenging posts, according to executives, are CEO, COO and chief financial officer. Least challenging? CHRO. In fact, here’s the table as it appears in the report:

Most Sought After C-Suite Position

Ranked as Most Challenging (1=most, 7=least)

CEO 87% 1
COO 86% 2
CMO 59% 4
CCO 47% 7
CIO 45% 5
CFO 36% 3
CHRO 25% 6

So what, you ask, is my “connection”? More of a curiosity, I guess. If so many executives want to be CEO and the quickest way to get there is through the CHRO’s office, then it’s puzzling to me that the latter job would be so ill-thought-of — and lacking in challenges, to boot.

Of course, as research goes — and often does — we may be looking at apples and oranges here, in terms of the specific aspects of the job being examined. Just interesting that both reports hail from the same firm.

The latter research, says Filler, takes into account the fact that many CHROs today report directly to the CEO, serve as the CEO’s key adviser and make frequent presentations to the board. And when companies search for new CHROs, many now focus on higher-level leadership abilities and strategy implementation skills.

“This role is gaining importance like never before,” she says. “It’s moved away from a support or administrative function to become much more of a game changer and the person who enables the business strategy.”

Hardly lacking in challenges and the kind of positioning that would make it highly desirable. Right?

Time will tell, I guess, just what the perception of the CHRO becomes, and how the specific and required traits and competencies evolve. Personally, I’m kind of excited to be along for the ride.

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CHRO = CEO?

Based on the results of a new study, you CHROs out there might want to start measuring the drapes in the CEO’s corner suite. The CHRO CEOUniversity of Michigan’s Dave Ulrich (whom we often feature as a source in our news and features) and Ellie Filler, a senior client partner in the Swiss office of executive-recruiter Korn Ferry, examined several sets of data pertaining to the C-suite and concluded that the executive whose traits were most similar to those of the CEO was the CHRO.

“This finding is very counter-intuitive — nobody would have predicted it,” Ulrich told the Harvard Business Review.

Based on their findings, Ulrich and Filler recommend that companies consider the CHRO when looking to fill the CEO position.

Of course, it shouldn’t be news to HRE readers that today’s CHROs are a far cry from the HR honchos of yore. Many report directly to the CEO, as Ulrich and Filler note. They often serve as the CEO’s key adviser and make frequent presentations to the board.

The data they examined to arrive at their conclusion included the salaries for CEO, COO, CFO, CMO and CIO. They wanted to determine the importance of the CHRO relative to other C-suite positions. They found that CHROs are the third-highest paid executives, second only to the CEO and COO, with an average base pay of $574,000. That’s 33-percent more than CMOs, the lowest-paid executives on the list.

Ulrich and Filler also studied proprietary assessments administered by Korn Ferry to C-suite candidates to uncover leadership traits. They examined scores on 14 aspects of leadership, grouped into three categories: leadership style, thinking style and emotional competency. They then assessed the prevalence of these traits among the different types of executives and compared the results.

Of course, not all CHROs would be good candidates for CEO, say Ulrich and Filler. Those who’ve spent their entire careers in HR, for example, probably won’t make it to the top. Instead, CHROs with well-rounded business experience, such as running a business division, have a much better chance of assuming the CEO mantle. They cite CEOs such as GM’s Mary Barra and Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy, who served from 2001 to 2009, as leaders who served stints overseeing HR.

In their white paper, Ulrich and Filler include testimony from CEOs who agree the CHRO could be a contender for their role.

“It’s almost impossible to achieve sustainable success without an outstanding CHRO,” Thomas Ebeling, former CEO of Novartis, told them. “[The CEO] should be a key sparring partner for a CEO on topics like talent development, team composition [and] managing culture.”

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A Most Notable 2014 Class of NAHR Fellows

The National Academy of Human Resources ushered in yet another impressive class of Fellows at its annual dinner and induction ceremony Thursday night in New York.

IMG_7876 copy

From left, James Schultz, chair of the SHRM Foundation; David Rodriguez of Marriott International; Daniel Yager of the HR Policy Institute; and William Allen of Macy’s Inc. (Photo by Robert Knowles)

Added to the elite group of current and former senior HR practitioners and thought leaders were William S. Allen, chief human resources officer at Macy’s Inc. and one of HRE‘s 2011 HR Honor Roll recipients; David A. Rodriguez, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Marriott International; and Daniel V. Yager, president and general counsel of the HR Policy Association.

Introducing the three, NAHR Chair Kathleen S. Barclay, senior vice president of human resources for The Kroger Co., reminded everyone gathered in the Yale Club dinner hall just how significant the academy’s honor is. “Becoming a Fellow,” she said, “is the highest recognition possible in the HR profession.”

Prior to joining Macy’s in January 2013, Allen was group senior vice president for corporate human resources at A.P. Moller-Maersk in Copenhagen, Denmark. He also held HR posts with Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, PepsiCo and RCA Corp. As his NAHR write-up reads: “A common thread through Bill’s career is an unwavering commitment to a high level of organizational performance that helps companies win in their marketplaces. Elements of that philosophy include enhancing talent management and development, refreshing corporate cultures through clear and compelling leadership, and aligning compensation with performance. Bill is passionate about business processes that are simple, clear and aligned.”

Since joining Marriott in 1998 from Citicorp (now Citigroup), Rodriguez, a board member of the HR Policy Association, has provided leadership in the global growth of the company and the successful transition to the first chief executive officer outside the Marriott family. He has also, as his write-up reads, “built the strongest HR team in the industry and has led one of the most comprehensive and successful ongoing HR business-process-outsourcing programs, [in addition to leading] the company’s efforts to nurture and globalize its culture of innovation.”

Yager has been with the HR Policy Association for more than 26 years after working for the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was the principal Republican staff person on labor issues. He served as minority counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee and played a key role in drafting the WARN and Family and Medical Leave Acts. He was instrumental in helping to reinvent the HRPA, which is now an influential voice in public policy for HR at the highest levels of large companies. In addition, he is a leading expert on labor and employment, whose television appearances include The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and The Today Show.

The three were welcomed into the NAHR fold with a standing ovation.

Also honored was the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation, which has been the philanthropic affiliate of SHRM since 1966, helping to shape the future of HR and working to be a catalyst for thought leadership, global HR information and human capital knowledge.

NAHR President Richard L. Antoine, former global HR officer for Procter & Gamble Co. — who will be turning over the presidency in February 2015 to Jill Smart, former chief human resource officer for Accenture Inc. — took a moment to bid the group adieu after his six years of leadership.

After starting in the supply chain at Procter & Gamble, he told the group, it wasn’t until later, when he moved into HR, that he realized how powerful and impactful the profession was — capable of influencing “success in people and their careers.”

“Our job is to hire, develop and retain great people,” said Antoine, “and that is a great thing.

“We’ve had those bad days — those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days — but we’ve had many, many more days [to realize] our calling, [which is] to enhance the lives of people,” he said, “and I was glad to be a part of it all.”

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