2009 Thought Leaders Retreat
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2009 Thought Leaders Retreat


Chair’s Summary: 10 Themes
By William A. Schiemann
Chair Elect, SHRM Foundation and Chair of the Thought Leaders Retreat Planning Committee

At the end of the retreat, Bill integrated the following ten themes that were highlighted by two or more presenters: 

1. Market/Customer Driven Strategy and Value.  Organizations and HR leaders need to focus more on the market (competitor, labor, global trends) and customers to better understand what creates value (e.g., Beatty, Ridge, Creekmuir).  Given the amount of change taking place, what creates “Value” is continuously changing.  Long range forecasting appears nearly useless (Cappelli), but current and continuous feedback from the market and customers is essential.

2. Alignment with Agility.  While the strategy might be changing much more frequently than in the past, the organization still needs to have Alignment (from customers to employees; from department to department; from CEO to front line employees) in order to operate effectively and efficiently.  The key appears to be developing strong adaptive skills that enable the organization to have agility to continually re-align itself.  (e.g., Cappelli, Ridge, Creekmuir)

3. Speed.  Based on data regarding the pace of global competitive changes (Eamonn Kelly), it appears that speed—especially decision-making speed—will be a major differentiator.  This is a significant challenge for larger and more bureaucratic organizations (e.g, Beatty).  Current processes and structures are likely to be inadequate to compete effectively.

4. Core Values.  Who are we?  There were many presenters who talked about the importance of values such as trust, ethics, communications transparency, and so forth (e.g, Kuchta, Hillman, Gherson).  Garry Ridge spoke about WD-40 core values that were coherent and applied consistently as an example.  There also appear to be emerging values, such as openness and flexibility that are being thrust on organizations by younger generation employees (although perhaps embraced across many generations). 

5. Talent Management/talent optimization is central.  While it is unclear what the various forms of labor will be (employees, external partners, contractors), it is clear that optimizing a more diverse workforce will be key to success in the future.  This poses many challenges to current organizations in terms of job structures, compensation, talent acquisition, acculturation and so forth.  It seems likely that traditional employee relationships are on the decline (e.g, Hillman, Gherson).  There were cautionary tales of over- and under-staffing by Peter Cappelli.  It was suggested that we might think about “employee-less” organizations, as well as considering talent as a critical resource to be managed using thinking that is informed by supply-chain planning.  How would an organization structure itself to accommodate such an environment? 

6. Making Average People Great.  Will Kuchta, from Paychex, spoke about developing great performers, not necessarily hiring “A” competency employees.  Instead, he develops approaches to create “A” performers building on aligned values and focus. There was emphasis on putting the top talent where it is most needed, when it is most needed, and focusing on identifying talent more on fit, and less on specific skills.  Alex Hillman also emphasized that organizations may need to grow talent without owning the talent. 

7. Leveraging Technology.   Luis von Ahn, Alex Hillman, and Diane Gherson suggested that technology is not only accelerating the speed of change, but also the way work is done.  Technology is enabling remote access, changing the nature of communications, offering ways to capture and focus shared information and computing.  Challenges include data overload and adapting to new ways of connecting.

8. Need for Social interaction and Connection.  While e-mail and other rapidly emerging technologies are overwhelming many and allowing people to work alone, there is a significant need in most people for social interaction and connection, whether remotely or in person.  Affiliation still seems to be a strong drive (e.g, Arkless, von Ahn, Hillman).  While Garry Ridge described the need to be “part of a tribe,” other presenters suggested that the new world will likely have individuals belonging to multiple overlapping “tribes.”  And, there were many comments about the importance and continual need for mentoring.  Sylvia Ann Hewlett spoke about the way in which different generations make a connection--all part of the increasingly diverse environment.

9. Measurement.  Measurement appears to be a continuing challenge for many organizations:  too much inappropriate benchmarking, not strategic, and not timely.  There was also recognition that many in Human Resources are not savvy when it comes to knowledge and measurement in other parts of the business (e.g., Financial); Dick Beatty in particular, implied that HR has not done as good a job as it needs to in educating non-HR executives regarding key people concepts and measures.

10. Service and Giving.  While the Western World has continued to shift from a manufacturing to a service dominated business model in which people are most often the largest asset, it has not shifted mentally in terms of a service mentality (compared to Asia, for example).  Values, processes, and measures are still insufficient to excel in a service differentiated competitive field.   Eamonn Kelly also described some of the other risks of thinking through a “Western lens.”

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