Why I Loved Attending the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference

SHRMIt was our first visit to the SHRM annual conference and it certainly won’t be the last. It was refreshing hearing HR and Learning and Development (L&D) professionals completely embracing the learning services and consulting underpinning of workforce management. They welcomed chats and even took surveys. It would be easy to simply stop there; however, practically every presentation made the case for positive change, and the lessons learned can be applied across the board.

A handful of themes seemed to show up everywhere: the need for new forms of leadership, meaningful metrics attached to goals, the need to embrace rapid change and measureable losses.

Two presentations stood out, the first scholarly and the other pragmatic:

  1. How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete — presented by Amy C. Edmondson
  2. Understanding Metrics: How to connect HRs Goals to your Business’s Strategy — by Ryan Kohler

Edmondson, a Novartis professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, started by describing Novartis’ self-governing focus on maximizing personal relationships to impact enterprise success that changes the world. She built on that foundation to create an excellent case that leadership is greater than the individual.

Edmondson’s research uncovered three leadership traits that were common across multiple studies (talk about significance in one example morbidity was decreased by 18 percent):

  1. Accessibility
  2. Inviting input
  3. Acknowledging fallibility

She calls the combination of these approaches “Inclusive Leadership” and believes that the high payoffs are a result of the emphasis of high personal safety linked to high accountability. High personal safety (where everyone feels safe to provide input and failure is considered a useful data point) combines with high accountability to create the “Learning Zone,” the documented high-performance environment where anxiety and apathy are absent.

The “Inclusive Leadership” approach lowers the cost of failure and simultaneously raises the cost of silence. In this environment, “yes men” become superfluous, leaders learn from their subordinates’ difficult questions and leaders also learn by regularly questioning their own managers (or their manager’s manager).

Failure takes on new meaning because properly designed projects that fail become learning experiences. Leaders “hug” the messenger for delivering the news, “failure parties” pull everyone together to socialize and measure results and the entire group becomes accountable for future failures of this type. And with well-documented processes, the data from failures often open the door to follow-up successes.

Leadership and data were also the center of Ryan Kohler’s presentation. However, his focus was on HR as the strategic partner, and he set the tone with a common dilemma:

– Executives claim that they would pay more if employees would step up and do more.

– Employees say they would do more if they were better paid.

– HR struggles in the middle to try close the gap.

Kohler made a case that HR rarely acts strategically, and one of the crucial first steps is to understand senior management’s hidden needs and to frame communications in their language. Revenue, expense, profit, cash flow, shareholder value and reputation must map to any metric, and complex formulas need to be broken down into key components to ensure that all steps are represented and analyzed.

He used “Time to Fill’ as an example – HR rarely measures the actual impact of unfilled roles. Instead, they measure the variables that they directly control. Therefore “Time to Fill” is usually defined as the period from when HR receives all completed paperwork until the offer is accepted.

By assigning a revenue multiple for a specific role and extending “Time to Fill” back to the date of the employee’s resignation, the cost of management paperwork delays becomes clear. Considering that HR has access to most of the data, Kohler imparts that HR becomes strategic by documenting and making a case for change.

Kohler summed everything up with habit five from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” Kohler believes that HR is in a great position to understand far more and to radically change the game.

The value of purposeful change was at the heart of practically every discussion at SHRM15, such as:

– Find a way to speed up onboarding and time to productivity with the younger generations.

– Help the organization understand that skills and knowledge gaps need to be analyzed and that planning, change management and education are required for effective workforce transformation. (Most self-rated around 1.5 on IDC’s MaturityScape WorkSource Digital Transformation Model.)

– Help the organization understand that a new learning management system (LMS) or HR system only adds value after key processes have been defined.

CareerBuilder sponsored a presentation that strongly reinforced HR’s need to connect with senior management. And they included a short video from Jack Welsh (former CEO of GE) that essentially said:

If profitability is a result of getting the best strategic and tactical team on the field, who’s got the more strategic role? The team accountant (Finance)? Or the talent scout and player manager (HR)?

At Global Knowledge, we combine learning services (management, technical and business) with experienced consultants to help HR and L&D drive workforce transformation and become more strategic. If you are ready to implement change across your organization, see what our Business Transformation Services can do to help.

Check out more about Why it’s a Great Time to be in HR and L&D.

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  1. John Laskaris Reply

    I do agree that LMS can add value. Such a simple solution yet when being employed properly might bring many benefits both for employers and employees. But firstly the so called learning culture in organization has to be recognized well – this is the basis.

  2. Michael Stierhoff Reply

    John, you are absolutely right – throwing software at a process doesn’t work, but deploying a process that doesn’t fit the organization is also unlikely to work. As usual, the key is to analyze, plan, deploy, test and close the loop. Keep it small, repeat regularly and it becomes clear rather soon if the initial analysis was off base.

    Great feedback!