Category Archives: HR leadership

Transforming UHG

Lori Sweere, executive vice president of HR for UnitedHealth Group, opened Bersin & Associates’ IMPACT 2011 conference this morning with a compelling keynote on business transformation.

In late 2007, you may recall, UHG was coming off a well-publicized stock-option scandal that led to the departures of its CEO, COO, CHRO and CFO. At the same time, the company was facing serious integration issues following some recent acquisitions.

“It was apparent that we needed to do something differently,” said Sweere, who was appointed to the top HR post there in May 2007.

To determine what steps needed to be taken, Sweere said she talked to 2,000 managers across the country. “What I found was that the majority of managers had limited faith in human capital,” she said.

In response, Sweere helped to craft a people strategy that focused on four areas: workforce capability, employee engagement, performance culture and human capital effectiveness.

I was particularly interested in hearing what Sweere had to say about how UHG approached the fourth area, human capital effectiveness.

Part of her response pertained to structure and included moving the recruiting function back in house. At the time, 75 percent of all positions were being filled from the outside, not a number Sweere considered acceptable. She also moved talent management and recruiting into a single entity that addressed talent acquisition, talent development and mobility — or what Sweere described as the “entire lifecycle of the employee.”

Further, to elevate the competency level of the company’s HR practitioners, Sweere and her team developed a curriculum and certification for HR generalists, who were required to earn a certification within two years. If they failed to do so, she said, they wouldn’t be able to retain their HR generalist jobs.

The goal, Sweere said, was to get HR generalists to “think strategically everyday … and learn how to effectively use data in a way that influences positive change.” She added that the initiative is now being expanding to centers of expertise, such as recruiting.

Thoughts on the HR Function

There were lots of thoughts to absorb from the Cornell University HR Executive Summit, held as part of the HR in Hospitality® Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington this morning.

It was a huge roundtable discussion, with 16 panelists, but moderator Bruce Tracey, associate professor of management at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration did a good job of engaging the entire group and keeping the conversations pithy.

Some food for thought:

*HR Hit Hard: At the Four Seasons, the HR department “took a disparate hit” of a 20-percent reduction in headcount, said Debbie Brown, its VP of HR for the Americas. Overall, the organization lost 4 percent of its workforce.

HR was hit even harder at Hilton Worldwide, where there was a 40-percent global cut, said Barbara Holkamp, senior vice president of HR consulting, who said the HR function focused on providing simple, automated toolkits and models related to people practices and focused on “top grading,” meaning talent development.

She noted that the reductions did not affect hotel-based HR directors – and that guest-service satisfaction scores remained “very high.”

Brown said the organization looked at outsourcing transactional work, “anything that is not mission critical” and that “learning took a real hit.”

*Doing More with Less: In a survey result taken by attendees, 100 percent said their organizations are doing more with fewer resources. In another question, asking for important HR issues for 2011, retention (23 percent) came in first (if you don’t include other, which received 28 percent of the votes); followed by recruitment (21 percent); productivity (18 percent); and compensation (10 percent).

* Adding Instead of Cutting Training: At the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the recession actually prompted “the most comprehensive service training program than we ever had in our company’s history at a time when many of our competitors were cutting back or cutting training all together,” said Carolyn Clark, SVP of HR.

But the difference was the program was led by operations, she said, not HR.

“We were really looking for behavioral change to drive business results,” Clark said. The workers completed a self-audit at the end of the training program and created an action plan that was integrated into future performance reviews.

This year, she said, a refresher course will use 30 actual case studies drawn from guest survey results.

* Finding Talent: Recruiting “actually got harder for us” during the downturn, said Greg Smith, executive vice president of HR for Denihan Hospitality Group. “Yes, there were more people looking for work but the people we needed were harder to find.”

So, he shifted the recruiting function down to individual properties and further down, to individual functions, so room attendants were involved in looking for room attendants; front desk managers looked for front desk managers, and so on.

“We have had some pretty good results,” he said.

* Salary Grumbling on the Rise: Don’t expect workers to accept doing more with less forever, the panelists said, especially if their pay is not seeing an increase.

“Their patience is wearing thin,” said Laura FitzRandolph, SVP and assistant general counsel at Interstate Hotels & Resorts. “You have to manage expectations,” but noted that, for the hospitality industry, “the climb back is going to be longer than the fall into the basement.”

* Just-in-Time Staffing: John Longstreet, president and CEO of Quaker Steak and Lube, said he remembers when one major brand laid off 130 managers in a single day – and he wondered how an organization could be so overstaffed.

“I am trying to do more with the same,” he said, noting that he would prefer to under-staff and over-pay. He also has invested in technology to make it easier for his restaurant managers to access the information they need and therefore be able to spend more time with team members.

* Preparing for Retirement: Want to engage your workers? Ask them when they will retire. That’s the advice of Alan Momeyer, VP of HR at Loews Corp.

“There’s nothing wrong with that question,” he said. Plus, it will require them to think about designating successors and then making sure those successors are qualified to step in when necessary.

Those conversations will cascade through the organization — and that’s what results in engagement, he said.

Conaty’s Closing Keynote … With Feeling

For all the logic he offered — and there was a lot — on best ways to become a master of talent, it was the emotion referenced quite often by Bill Conaty that resonated most in his closing keynote at the Human Resource Executive Forum® on Wednesday.

Conaty, the recently retired senior vice president of human resources for General Electric Co., who spent 40 years at the company and was instrumental in creating its reputation as a talent-building giant, used words like “obsession,” “intimacy,” “passion” and “compassion” as he laid out his blueprint for “Becoming a Talent Master: Why Smart Leaders Make People Their Top Priority.”

In fact, item No. 1 on his tips to talent mastery — the subject of his new book co-authored with fellow talent guru Ram Charan, entitled The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers — was to “make talent development your obsession.”

There were myriad other sage pointers from Conaty’s proven track record, such as making leaders accountable for talent development, giving frequent and honest feedback, integrating business plans and people reviews, and — as he put it — “drilling down on talent like you drill down on financials.”

But the punch lines of all his lists for success all had to do with authenticity and “balancing passion with compassion” and “having that personal touch and intimacy with your top talent,” as he put it.

Whether working in tandem with former GE CEO Jack Welch or current CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Conaty said, “we would always spend time with our high-potentials on site visits to find out who they really were and how they thought, so there would be no surprises.”

His formula for championing talent to the office of the CEO was equally straightforward and heartfelt. “Courage of conviction, candor and trust” were mentioned in that equation. So were “solving problems instead of just identifying them.”

“The real point,” he said, “is you should use your persuasion and intelligence to convince your CEO” of the value of the HR function. “No talent, no numbers.”

“Change that environment,” he said. “Convince that CEO that you’re really going to give him a business advantage. HR’s got the opportunity here to really make a difference, but it really needs to step up.”

 

Grappling with HR’s Role in Innovation and Growth

Four top leaders of the HR profession took to the stage Monday in the opening session of the Human Resource Executive  Forum® to share their respective challenges and solutions when it comes to igniting — or at least mining — innovation in the workplace.

The general consensus of the session seemed to be that some senior HR leaders are tackling the challenges pretty well — including panelists J. Randy MacDonald, senior vice president of human resources for IBM; Mirian Graddick-Weir, executive vice president of human resources for Merck & Co. Inc.; Richard Floersch, executive vice president and CHRO for McDonald’s Corp.; and Daniel Sullivan, executive vice president of human resources for Qualcomm Inc. — while most HR leaders still, and sadly, are not.

Leading off the Senior Executive Roundtable, subtitled HR’s Role in Driving Innovation and Growth, moderator Susan Meisinger, author, speaker and former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, presented findings from a recent Human Resource Executive® poll suggesting all is not well in the land of HR and corporate innovation.

Citing first an IBM survey showing global HR leaders in agreement that driving creativity and innovation is their No. 1 business challenge, Meisinger went on to present some of the HRE innovation survey results, showing virtually half of the HR executives polled not doing anything about it. Though a majority, 70 percent, said HR plays a significant or somewhat significant role in fostering innovation at their organizations, a whopping 71 percent said they don’t use any screening tools designed to bring in creative and innovative candidates, 53 percent don’t tie performance-management systems to driving it and 53 percent don’t even have a formalized suggestion system in place.

“The takeaway for me in all this,” Meisinger said , “is we all think these things matter, but most of us are not doing something about it.” Second takeaway, she added, “it’s difficult; if it were easy, we’d all be doing it.”

Interestingly, and almost as a juxtaposition to it’s being difficult, one of the strongest admonishments of HR’s failure to drive innovation and growth came from MacDonald: “Five years ago, we launched something called IBM Think Place,” he said. “We burdened this thing with so much bureaucracy and so many policies [something HR is all too prone to apply], that we blew it up. In many ways, the informal system is the best one for generating ideas.”

MacDonald and the others also shared their successes in this quest for creativity. Some included: IBM’s Think Future, which recently let employees engage in real-time expertise-sharing to arrive at five new ideas for the company’s future workforce; Qualcomm’s Innovation Network, which allows employees to submit ideas to peers for instant collaboration and communication, regardless of who gets there first; Merck’s program that sends teams of HR practitioners to nonprofit companies where they collaborate to help them build new HR processes; and McDonald’s innovation center, a mock store where managers can brainstorm applications for their markets.

So what’s slowing most of HR down in this arena? Meisinger asked. Fear of failure? The notion that risk equals failure?

“Let’s face it,” said MacDonald. “I’ve never been to a party to celebrate a failure, but bottom line, there’s a lesson learned in every one. There’s also merit in perseverance.” Some of the strongest innovations at IBM, he added, were achieved because HR got its policies out of the way and those with good ideas “kept going in the face of all odds.”

Employees, Customers and HR

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.

Top Stories on HREOnline Last Week

These were the most-read stories on HREOnline™ last week, in case you missed any:

1. Technological Revolution: Sue Meisinger’s latest HR Leadership column:

The ease of using social-media tools, combined with recent indications that the Democratic-controlled National Labor Relations Board will be examining acceptable uses of technology by employees — and not just union employees — means that HR leaders should be taking a hard look at the issue as well.

2. Bridging the Credibility Gap: a contributed article by Sarita Bhakuni and Michelle Johnston, both with CPP.

To retain top talent, organizations need to start talking to their employees. When left in the dark, people draw conclusions which tend to be worse than reality. HR leaders should also be aware of uncharacteristic behavior by their managers, which often indicates high levels of stress.

3. Court Rules for Third-Party Retaliation Claims, by Tom Starner

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reactivate a lawsuit — based on a claim that a company retaliated against one employee by firing her fiancee — should result in more lawsuits being filed by spouses and significant others. But the unanimous decision did not define just how expansive the “zone of interests” is, leaving HR leaders in the dark about where to draw the line.

4. Marketing HR Messages, by Kristen B. Frasch

Should HR leaders turn over their internal communications and engagement efforts to marketing professionals? No, say HR experts, but their organizations sure could benefit by HR learning more about the marketing mind-set.

5. Temp Salaries Rising, By Michael O’Brien

Wages for skilled, temporary workers are beginning to inch up from their low points, according to new benchmarking information. And since demand for temps — which historically precedes the demand for permanent workers — is increasing, does this mean the job market is finally improving?

Most Read Stories on HREOnline last week

See what you may have missed:

* Checking in With the Next Generation

Peter Cappelli ‘s latest Talent Management column looks at Wharton’s annual mid-term exam, which explores students’ view of their last job and the way they were managed. In most cases, management was lacking. Feedback was limited or nonexistent, and bonuses — instead of resulting in engagement and motivation — often prompted these high-potential candidates to quit or slack off. 

* Time to Re-Engage

Top businesses for HR practices — according to an exclusive recalibration of Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” list — are taking employee engagement very seriously in this economy. (A PDF of the Top 50 Companies is here.)

E-Learning Still Trending Up

Companies continue to adopt technology-based training for employees as expenditures in training and development decreased overall last year. At the same time, the expenditure per employee actually remained stable, because the workforce was smaller.

 * Pinpointing Leadership Qualities

Social networking is changing the way HR leaders think of legal risks and recruiting opportunities, writes Susan R. Meisinger in her latest HR Leadership column. It also should make them think about the way they select high-potential candidates for leadership-development programs.

* Talking up Flexibility

Work/life balance is drawing more attention from the White House and other policymakers as research continues to show that the issue has an impact on the decisions of working families. A recent conference brought together representatives from the administration, military, academia and corporate America to attempt to drive the discussion onward.

HR Manager Killed by Workers in India

Sad — and scary –news from India, where a group of workers attacked and killed a 45-year-old HR manager at Allied Nippon, a joint Indo-Japanese venture that manufactures brakes and brake shoes for cars, according to the Times of India.

Joginder Singh died of multiple head and chest injuries about a day after workers suddenly attacked him and other managers with iron bars in protest of staff firings, according to AFP.

Nine of the factory workers in  Ghaziabad have been arrested and charged with murder. Another 27 workers were identified as being part of the brawl and 300 are so far unidentified.

Two company officials remain in the intensive care unit of a local hospital.

As HRE wrote earlier this year, HR seems to be a more frequent target of violence by workers — and not just overseas. That’s because HR leaders are often the messengers of bad news.

William J. Daly, senior vice president of London-based risk consultant Control Risks, was quoted in the story as saying that HR leaders can be hurt by the tendency of senior leaders bringing them up on stage to announce bad news and then leaving them on-site to deal with the repercussions.

“Traditionally, HR [leaders] have thought they were part of the solution and trying to help people but are now realizing that sometimes, during a difficult situation, there is no positive spin on the fact that jobs are being lost or some action should be taken against employees.”

… 

 Daly says [scaling back the HR presence is] not the answer because communication from HR is too vital during those critical times and remains just as important to many laid-off workers after the fact.

 The best they can do, he says, is to handle it like any other security risk — with preparation. Identify workers who may pose a security threat and figure out how to handle violence if it happens.

 “You need to be aware of your surroundings,” Daly says. “This is your job, you need to go and do it, but you need to go in there with eyes open. If there are any threats or issues that come up, know how you’re going to deal with them. Have a plan.”

In this case, police said the company had no warning violence was about to explode.

The factory’s HR vice president Mahendra Chowdhary told the media the attack by workers “was premediated and unprovoked. Workers attacked and chased the human resources staff and those on the board of directors.”

A Night of HR Excellence: Some Connections and Impressions

It was nice to see so many familiar faces — HR leaders we’ve highlighted in our magazine in recent years — taking the stage Thursday night at the annual dinner of the National Academy of Human Resources to become well-deserved inductees into the prestigious group’s Class of 2010 Fellows.

Included among the seven inductees were: Bonnie C. Hathcock, senior vice president and CHRO of Humana Inc., Human Resource Executive(R)’s 2007 HR Executive of the Year (featured in our Oct. 16, 2007 cover story); John T. (Jack) Mollen, executive vice president of human resources for EMC Corp., HRE‘s 2006 HR Executive of the Year (featured in our Oct. 16, 2006 cover story); and Sharon C. Taylor, senior vice president of human resources for Prudential Financial, an HRE 2007 HR Honor Roll inductee (featured Oct. 16, 2007).

Also inducted was Anthony J. Vegliante, executive vice president and CHRO of the United States Postal Service, who we just featured in this November’s cover story for his approaches to some very unique challenges at the U.S.P.S., and for his achievements in helping HR lead the organization through a very necessary transformation.

Completing the list of remarkable HR leaders and 2010 NAHR inductees were Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London Business School; Gary P. Latham, secretary of state professor of organizational effectiveness and professor of organizational behaviour at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto; and Charles G. Tharp, executive vice president for policy at the Center on Executive Compensation and a university lecturer.

Tharp, a 1998 NAHR Fellow and former NAHR president, received the last and ultimate honor as the group’s 2010 Distinguished Fellow, a title given to only 11 others since the group’s founding in 1992. Not only was he recognized for his many years of service in human resource and executive compensation positions, including long stints at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Saks Fifth Avenue, but also for his ongoing commitment to learning, teaching and HR thought leadership. (He’s held faculty positions at Rutgers University, Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston.)

In introducing him, Bill Conaty, former CHRO for General Electric and former NAHR president, even joked that “this guy has more degrees than a thermostat.” (Oh, and while we’re mentioning — admittedly unabashedly — the evening’s ties to HRE, Conaty not only was an HR Executive of the Year, in 2004, with his cover story appearing Oct. 16, 2004, but will also be a keynote speaker at the magazine’s upcoming Human Resource Executive Forum(R), running March 14 through 16 at the Grand Hyatt New York. He’ll be focusing on the subject matter of his new book, The Talent Masters, out this month.)

Tharp, in his characteristically unassuming and humble fashion, took the podium and said to the group that, “As a teacher, I’m going to give you a homework assignment: Look at your calendars and carve out more time to help people in their careers, to give back to people in this profession and help them through the rough spots … because there are rough spots.”

Taking advantage of the opportunity to help less-experienced but promising HR professionals, he said, “is what this academy is all about.”

“My challenge to the fellows in this room, and all the other HR leaders,” he said, “is if we don’t do that, give back, then we’re not doing the most we can with this profession.”

From Tharp’s quiet but impassioned plea to the caliber and accomplishments of his six fellow Fellow inductees, Thursday’s dinner certainly underscored the fact that — at least in this circle — HR excellence is alive and well.

Limiting Your Human Capital Risk

After seeing invites to a number of previous events, I finally was able to carve out some time yesterday to get to Argyle’s Human Capital Leadership Forum in New York.

I was especially interested in hearing the first main speaker, Orlando Ashford, senior vice president of human resources at Marsh & McLennan Cos., who opened the conference with a talk on “Managing Human Capital Risk.” Considering MMC is in the risk-management business and the allegations of price-fixing that plagued the firm roughly six years ago (an $850 million settlement was eventually reached), Ashford seemed to select a topic that’s near and dear to MMC on at least a couple of fronts. (Ashford joined MMC in 2008, coming there from Coca-Cola.)

Unfortunately, Ashford didn’t have much to say specifically about MMC, but he did a fine job detailing some ways HR leaders can help businesses mitigate human capital risk, which he summarized as the ability (or inability) to “attract, develop and retain key personnel and to create an organization whose employees are optimized to create value for the business.”

Ashford shared several examples of human capital risk, but not surprisingly cited CEO succession as the most critical. (MCC has had three CEOs in the past six year, with its current CEO, Brian Duperreault, taking the helm in 2008.)

Succession is extremely important across the entire enterprise, he said, but has to start  with CEO succession. “Most boards agree that one of their most important roles is choosing the next CEO,” he said, “but, on average, boards spend less than two hours per year on CEO succession.”

To be sure, this is a process that’s owned and managed by the board. But as Ashford reminded conference attendees, it’s also one that frequently involves HR, beginning with putting in place processes that enable discussions around succession to happen.