In the Decade of Human Capital, HR Must Lead

Jun 28, 2015
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Remarks prepared for delivery by Henry "Hank" Jackson, SHRM President and CEO, at the 2015 SHRM Annual Conference, June 28, 2015, Las Vegas, NV.

I couldn’t have said it better. Those three SHRM members in the commercial are with us today. They are Bhavna Dave,VP of HR for Add-This, Eduardo Sanabia, chief people officer for Think Food Group, and Kristen Medlin, HR director for Aiken Regional Medical Centers. [APPLAUSE]

Hearing these three ambassadors talk about how HR is making organizations successful and leading the workplace raises a question for me: What does it take to make it in HR today at a time when the world around us is changing so dramatically? When one person can reach millions of others with the tap of a finger. When a single hashtag can spark a movement and anyone with an idea and the internet can disrupt an entire business or industry. Just think about Uber.

How do we, the Human Resources profession, navigate the new world of work? Work that is more global, mobile and social than ever before. Work that looks much different than it did just a few years ago and will look much different in the future than it does today. More diverse. More technology-driven. More dispersed.

In today's fast-paced, ever-changing business environment, What is it going to take for our careers our organizations our profession to thrive? That's our focus this week. And to help us get started, I want to share my perspective.

As SHRM's President and CEO, I get to hear from hundreds of HR professionals from students to thought leaders about their challenges and triumphs. I speak with other CEOs and business leaders about their perspectives on HR and what’s needed in business today. I stay up-to-date on all the latest research and, like you, I see all of the commentary on the blogs about HR. I feel fortunate to get a close-up look at human resources at this time in our profession...and here’s what I see: I see a growing, dynamic profession whose value to organizations has made us the business leaders. Not business partners. Not trusted advisors. Not change managers. But business leaders.

Not unlike what the Harvard Business Review recently pronounced when it looked at HR’s need to set the agenda in today’s marketplace. I agree with that. Given where business is now and where’s its headed, HR has no option. We must lead.

You see, we’re at this pivotal moment when the trends we’ve been watching for years are here. Think about it. Remember when it was a prediction that advancing technology would change the nature of work? Well. It’s here.

Technology is raising the bar on the skills and education that people and businesses need. It’s creating some new, innovative jobs and industries...and making others obsolete. But more critically, technology is slowly eliminating the need for the traditional, central office management structure. How do we build or change culture in this environment?

And remember when we used to talk about the demographic shifts that would reshape the workplace?

Well, after years of warnings, they’re here. On the one hand, we have the rise of the Millennials, who only a few months ago became the largest generation in the workforce. It’s official now. And on the other hand, we’re in the middle of that wave of Baby Boomer retirements. And let's not forget there are three other generations in the workforce.

So for the first time in history, there are five generations working side-by-side and they all have different motivations and expectations when it comes to work.

And then, of course, there’s globalization. Globalization has made us literally expand our thinking about where and when work gets done and who does it. Companies no longer have the option of saying, “I’m local,” because a bright employee can work from anywhere in the world. And many of them do. Crowdsourcing temporary and remote work are all on the rise. Talent is borderless so we are all global now, competing for the best and the brightest in the world.

Advancing technology changing demographics and globalization are just some of the mega trends changing work as we know it today. This is a brand new business world.

Now…to make it in this new world, organizations need the most engaged, productive and talented workforces. They need teams and cultures that give them the best chance of competing and winning, no matter where they are located. They need people who embrace change, seek innovation and press forward despite ambiguity. They need you. HR professionals.

I believe we’re in the midst of the Decade of Human Capital. A time when people are seen as the real power behind business. When organizations will draw a clear, straighter line between their people strategies and their business goals. But…you don’t have to take my word for that.

Recently the Conference Board asked CEOs, presidents, and chairs around the globe what their most critical challenges were, what was keeping them up at night. They named the usual suspects: innovation; customer relations; operations; sustainability.

But do you know what topped their list? Human capital. Yes...human capital.

A survey by the SHRM Foundation and the Economist Intelligence Unit found much the same thing: that what organizations need most today and into the future are people management strategies. The World Economic Forum has also said that talent -- not financial capital -- is the key to “innovation, competitiveness and growth in the 21st century.”

Just think about what all of this means for us. It means our job...our job...is now the most critical aspect of business. It means the human resources profession has no choice but to take the lead.

In HR, we’ve always known that people are the power behind business. We’ve always known that talent is the differentiator within organizations.We’ve just wondered when everyone else was going to get it. [APPLAUSE]

Well, that time has come. Our time has come. Because now, we’re in a world where so many mega trends are beyond business control. And no matter the size or location of our organizations, we can't escape these trends.

Leaders are quickly recognizing that the one thing they can do...something they must do in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, is have the right talent. And finding, developing and keeping that talent? That’s our job.

So HR: We’re in the Decade of Human Capital. We’re in the right place at the right time. The only question now is: What are we going to do about it?

Every day, I hear stories of HR leaders who are asking themselves this question, taking on this challenge and doing what it takes to move themselves, their organizations and our profession forward. Leaders like Shara Gamble.

Shara is the HR director for TAMKO Building Products, a company based in Joplin, Missouri with twelve hundred employees nationwide. We featured her in HR Magazine last month.

She wanted her 10-person HR team to do two things: provide useful people analytics; and make sure managers had competent, well-trained talent.

But when Shara looked at how they were actually spending their time, it was more on transactional duties like payroll and benefits. Maybe that sounds familiar to some of you.

Well, Shara decided to disrupt that status quo.

She trained her team on TAMKO’s business model so they would speak the company’s language. She made sure they understood their industry and the talent their business needed to succeed. She introduced cross-functional training so that her team had a greater understanding of the business operations. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, she challenged her team. She encouraged them to offer solutions to the business challenges their managers face.

And this small but passionate HR team rose to the occasion. They transformed even the most day-to-day HR duties into strategies that impacted their business.

For example, TAMKO needed a way to centralize one of its most time-consuming functions: tracking time and attendance. So the team implemented new technology that has reduced time spent on payroll.

But more than that...more than that...they’ve started to use the data from that new system for business insights—to spot and alert management to time and attendance trends that are costly for the company, and bad for employees.

And here’s another example. There is a skills gap in manufacturing, and Shara and her team know that finding, hiring and keeping talent is a competitive advantage.

So they overhauled their company’s onboarding process to make it less like a “task” and more like a TAMKO “experience.” Instead of inundating new hires with paperwork on their first day on the job, they now use a virtual system that explains forms in plain language, introduces the TAMKO culture and even shows the connection between the employees and TAMKO’s branding strategies.

And the key is that all of this happens before talent walks through the door, so that employees feel connected and are ready to contribute on day one.

You see, whether it was overhauling onboarding or turning time and attendance data into business insights, Shara started with her organization’s strategy, goals and needs first, then designed HR functions to drive them. She’s proven herself to be a business leader who just happens to be an expert in HR. And she and her staff, her organization and—I’d say—our profession are better for it.

Now, like any good manager, Shara gives the credit to her team but today I’d like to acknowledge her. Ladies and gentleman, Shara Gamble. [APPLAUSE]

We’re proud to count Shara as one of the nearly 50,000 HR professionals who have achieved the new SHRM certification and taken the SHRM Competency Model to heart. We extensively researched and carefully designed this Competency Model to take HR to that next level. To move our profession further into business leadership...one HR professional, one HR team, one organization at a time.

Just imagine if the more than 15,000 of us here at this conference left with the same charge: To lead the business of our organizations. I guarantee you our careers, our organizations, and our profession will thrive.

HR Colleagues: This is the Decade of Human Capital. It’s a time when the most pressing issues facing organizations are talent management issues. When leaders and others in business are coming to understand what we know: that great organizations are led by great HR. [APPLAUSE]

We now have an opportunity to move our profession from where we are to where business needs us to be...where we want to be...where we must be. So what are we going to do about it?

I firmly believe that if we accept this leadership challenge, there will be no debate about which profession leads organizations. There will be no debate about the need to bring HR into every business decision. And more organizations will live up to their claims that people are their “greatest asset.”

As SHRM President and CEO, I want nothing more than to see the HR profession take its rightful place leading the world of business. It's time...our time.

And there’s no better place to get started...than right here in Las Vegas...together, at the biggest and best gathering of HR professionals in the world.

Thank you, and have a great conference.

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