Category Archives: HR leadership

Posture Really May Produce Power

Before you dismiss the premise that standing up straight can actually empower you in your next conversation with your CEO, consider the fact that such a premise is actually based on a study by researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities. Here is it, as it was published in Psychological Science, appropriately entitled “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance.”

The research — by Harvard’s Amy Cuddy and Columbia’s Dana Carney, along with Columbia graduate student Andy J. Yap — is actually based on hormone levels that get triggered by certain “power poses,” according to the study.

It shows that people (both men and women) who take time to compose themselves and pose in open, confident positions experience a surge in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol. The former hormone is related to an increase in feelings of power and tolerance for risk, whereas the latter gets triggered as a reaction to stress.

As noted in a Sept. 25 story on, the researchers “have confirmed something mothers have long taught their children: Sit up straight, shoulders back, posture counts.”

So, no surprise that an employee-development company called Employee Development Systems Inc. has just come out with a new product based on this research. It’s a course, actually, entitled “Professional Presence in a Casual World,” and according to this release about it (including a link to the company at the bottom of the page), some leading global orgranizations are already using it, or at least looking into it.

“Both domestic and international organizations are taking notice of this latest research,” the release states, “implementing professional-presence training, from front-line customer-service employees to middle managers, executives and leaders.

“While the focus for each job category varies,” it states, “the general strategies stay the same. Professional presence impacts business in ways we couldn’t have imagined in the past, and at a time when organizations are looking for an edge over competition, leaders are taking advatage of the core tactics of nonverbal communications to ensure that they come out on top.”

HR executives looking for every possible way to establish themselves as strategic partners of their CEOs, equally powerful in their leadership and negotiating skills as anyone else in the C-suite … well … they might want to think about their body language before knocking on their CEO’s door.

Rhoades Maps Out Proven Strategies

At the end of day, hiring is the most important thing HR does.

So suggested Ann Rhoades, who held senior HR posts at Southwest Airlines, Doubletree and JetBlue, during a Master Series session on Monday titled “People-Centric Cultures Pay Big Dividends: Lessons from Great Companies”

 In her talk, Rhoades, who serves on JetBlue’s board, expanded on some of the messages contained in her 2010 book, Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition.

 “It’s really important to understand that hiring is the most important thing we do,” Rhoades said. “Everyone [we hire] represents an opportunity to reinforce the culture. Everyone should be looked at as though they will be living the brand every time they touch an internal or external customer.”

Employers need “A” players on their payrolls, not “C” players, she stressed. “You can’t afford [‘C’ players] to affect the culture.”

 “If someone isn’t working out and I want to get rid of them,” Rhoades added, “I’ll send their resume to the competition.”

Other topics she addressed were transparency and involving employees in business decisions.

“People will help with the numbers if they understand them,” she said. “We get them involved the very first day they join JetBlue. Quit just telling them that you’re not making the numbers. Show them that they can help you.”

JetBlue, a publicly traded company, shows its employees the numbers before it releases them to the public, she says, “because we don’t want them to hear about them later.” It’s all about keeping employees engaged in the business, she added..

Rhoades also said Fred Reichheld, author of The Loyalty Effect and The Ultimate Question, is right on target when he suggests that the only questions “you need to ask anyone is ‘Would you recommend JetBlue as a place for family and friends to work? And if not, why not? And would you recommend JetBlue to family and friends to fly? And if not, then why not and what would you change?’ ”

The Changing Nature of Work

Gary Kushner offered lots of data about the future nature of work so that HR leaders could begin questioning the way their organizations are designed, the composition of their total rewards and the purpose underlying their HR strategies — but he didn’t provide any answers during his session at SHRM on Monday afternoon.

Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a consultancy focusing on employee benefits and strategic HR, outlined five global trends affecting strategic HR: technological advancement, outsourcing, changes in demographics and diversity, changing worker attitudes and values, and globalization.

He also noted that, while business success was based on manufacturing processes 40 years ago and on technology 20 years ago — that it is people who “are our competitive advantage” today.

Kushner talked about the adjustments that would have to be made with four generations — and soon, five — in the workplace, especially the way it would impact upward advancement. And that the ever-growing segment of older workers would impact total rewards and benefits.

He talked about the challenges that the combination of employees, temps, independent contractors and outsourcing have on creating a shared vision and facilitating teamwork. And he talked about how individuals have changed their attitude from living to work to working to live.

“How do we leverage the way we think about all of these trends?” he asked. “The way work has been done is not the way it is going to continue to be done.”

But it will be up to individual CHROs to take it to the next step — and figure out what the answers are.

What Your CEO Won’t Tell You

Sue Meisinger is in a prime position to tell HR professionals what HR should know about CEOs — she was CEO and president of SHRM for six years and worked for the organization for more than 20 years.

In a packed session on Monday morning, she talked about the 10 things CEOs will never tell their HR leaders — and what the implications were for HR. And the overall message was one of honesty and transparency, of being knowledgeable and speaking the language of business, of taking the risk of offering opinions and making decisions, and of creating a workplace that is conducive to innovation and productivity.

CEOs are often isolated, she said, and it’s up to HR to be an “honest broker,” and keep them advised of what is going on in the business and among the executive team — within reason: No one likes a tattletale and HR should not break confidences in filling that role, she said. “This is risky business.”

HR leaders should also realize that CEOs really don’t understand HR — they don’t know what it does and they view it as a cost center or a bringer of problems. To counter that, HR executives must articulate how HR practices impact the bottom line — don’t tell them how happy the employees are.

And when seeking funding for HR technology or other purposes, discuss the return on investment or the impact to productivity or revenue — CEOs really don’t care if the latest HRIS will make HR’s life easier.

The tenure of CEOs has dropped to 6.3 years in the past decade, she said, and often, when the new CEO comes in, he or she will bring an HR executive along. That may not be a great thing for the incumbent HR leader, but overall it speaks to the “tight bond” and good working relationship that is often present — and should always be present — between the CEO and CHRO.

Sue also writes a monthly column for HREOnline on HR leadership.

SHRM Transparency Group Granted Long-Sought Meeting with SHRM Board

What was intended to be a meeting to announce an aggressive new move to get members of the board of the Society for Human Resource Management to speak to the SHRM Members for Transparency changed course Sunday when Kathryn McKee, a leading member of the transparency group, announced somewhat of an olive branch from the SHRM board.

It wasn’t any formal move by either group, McKee told attendees at a luncheon near the site of SHRM’s 2011 Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas. The branch came in the form of a chance meeting Saturday in one of the conference halls between McKee; Henry Hart, corporate counsel for SHRM; Rob Van Cleave, immediate past chair; and Jose Berrios, current board chairman.

“Henry Hart said to me that the board of directors had just voted to agree to meet with this group,” McKee said. “There’s a hole in the soul of SHRM, but a miracle just happened yesterday that may begin” to repair that hole.

Though no firm date for the meeting has been set, McKee said she had the SHRM board’s word that the two groups would meet shortly after the conference to begin discussion about future leadership and leadership practices that had become a bone of contention since the transparency group began expressing concerns and hopes for such a meeting as far back as 2005.

“I looked in each one of their eyes,” McKee said, after also telling the luncheon group that she had demanded, and got, hugs from each. “I believe them.”

Issues the transparency group hopes will soon be put on the table include its  contention that SHRM board members should be SHRM-certified and many currently are not, the fact that many board members are not current or former practitioners, and the fact that SHRM board directors had voted recently to pay themselves fees for their voluntary services (something transparency group leader Mike Losey called “absolutely wrong” and in defiance of the SHRM bylaws he followed himself through many years as the association’s past president and CEO).

The group — in anticipation of an upcoming announcement just hours away that SHRM had just named a new CEO, Hank Jackson, past interim president and CEO — is also hoping Jackson will also be a part of that meeting, or meetings, between SHRM and the SHRM transparency group going forward.

Gerry Crispin, a leading member of both groups and founder and co-CEO of staffing site CareerXroads, told those in attendance that the transparency group was prepared to activate a section of Article 7 of the SHRM bylaws that would have forced the meeting if 10 percent of SHRM members would express favor for such a meeting. Crispin detailed how the transparency group was prepared to employ social media pushes — through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter — to garner that support, something he and others assured listeners would be, no doubt, very successful.

More importantly, they say, should the promised meeting fail to happen, or fail to lead to their desired goals, such a push to force a meeting would be instituted after all.

“We are very excited that this is a step in the right direction,” said transparency group member Kate Herbst.

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.