SAN DIEGO—On June 28, 2010 former Vice President of the United States Al Gore encouraged Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference attendees to see the opportunities in crises and advocate for long-term rather than short-term solutions.
Gore said that in Chinese and Japanese, the word crisis is written with two characters—one for danger and one for opportunity. Too often, all that is seen in a crisis is the danger, he remarked.
Now is the most exciting and challenging time in the history of HR, Gore said, encouraging HR to lead organizations by focusing on numerous long-term challenges.
First, there is the challenge of diversity, to ensure that people of different backgrounds are making contributions to strengthen organizations. “This is one of the greatest challenges” domestically and globally, Gore remarked.
He recalled visiting the most powerful telescopes in the world in Hawaii. The two telescopes are 200 yards apart, and focus on the same distant object. By viewing the same object from slightly different perspectives, scientists have a greater understanding of what they are looking at.
Organizations can similarly benefit from having different perspectives in order to meet the needs of customers, he noted.
Continuing Education and Incentives
HR can help employees develop their competencies by advocating for their continuing education and personal development. That includes keeping up with the digital communications revolution.
In addition, HR professionals will have to stay on top of organizational development, listening to employees at all levels and taking advantage of their insights. Gore urged attendees to search aggressively for gems of creativity at every level of their organizations.
And compensation and incentives will have to be viewed in the long term rather than as what makes the most sense quarter by quarter. If decisions just focus on the next 90 days, there isn’t the opportunity to optimize the long-term performance of a company, Gore cautioned, encouraging attendees to realign the way they think about incentives, which he said should not just be equated with compensation.
An extremely important challenge for HR is to look ahead to see what is good for employees, businesses and societies, Gore added.
An important dimension of this long-term view is sustainability. Companies need to “find a way to build sustainable capitalism,” Gore remarked. Companies operating in line with best practices are integrating sustainability into the way they conduct business, he said.
Gore warned that the consequences of global warming could lead future generations to ask what people were thinking in 2010 or, if the challenge of global warming is met and overcome, how did they rise to the challenge.
Gore noted that young workers today want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. And he said companies that act for the greater good by finding solutions to environmental challenges have employees that take pride in their organizations.
But Gore said the amount of pollution spewing into the atmosphere each day is much greater than the oil spewed each day into the Gulf of Mexico from the recent oil spill. Every 24 hours, more than 90 million tons of global warming pollutants pour into the atmosphere, he cautioned.
Earth’s sky is just a thin shell around the planet, he noted. But the global warming crisis for many is out of sight and out of mind, despite the continued melting of the Arctic ice cap and a disturbed environment that increasingly produces more severe, powerful storms, he warned.
People need to respond to the environmental crisis with more than just a “woe is us” or hangdog attitude, Gore said.
As society faces some of its most dangerous crises, businesses face some of their biggest opportunities.
Gore quoted an African proverb that says if you want to go quickly, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. He said society needs to go far quickly.
He remarked that HR has the power to help make strategic choices to rise to the challenge, and needs to have the “moral courage to rise up and solve a crisis” even when some say the crisis is impossible to solve.
“Be bold,” he encouraged attendees, saying the environmental crisis is an ethical issue.
We have everything we need to succeed except the will to act, but the will to act, Gore concluded, is a renewable resource.
Allen Smith, J.D., is manager of workplace law content for SHRM.