Tomorrow’s Challenges Are HR Issues

By Laurence O’Neil Oct 1, 2008

In her final column, retiring Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO Susan Meisinger, SPHR, offered some pointed advice. She dared us to “be bold, take pride” in the contributions that our profession has made to the success of hundreds of thousands of organizations and their employees, and to make HR an essential element for our organizations’ success.

As guideposts for me, as the incoming chief executive, I find Sue’s words to be timely, true and very important. They remind me of how far our profession has come and of the exciting responsibilities that lie ahead.

For nearly 28 years, I’ve had the privilege of working in the field of human resources. In positions in the United States and overseas, I’ve seen firsthand how HR can change a life … and change the world.

Early in my career, while learning about compensation, benefits and pensions, I came to understand the critical nature of HR. This practical experience proved invaluable when I became Bank of America’s chief human resource officer (CHRO) for the Global Corporate and Investment Bank. Every HR professional with whom I worked took great pride in supporting the bank’s people and businesses throughout the world, and during challenging economic periods, there was no more essential function.

More recently, when the HR function at Kaiser Permanente needed to keep pace with a $40 billion annual health care business, HR dared to be bold. In my role as Kaiser Permanente’s CHRO, I led a transformation of the human resource organization to better serve our 150,000 employees and established centers of excellence that brought a strategic business focus to HR.

Being bold, taking pride and making our role essential are more important than ever for HR. Our profession faces the same challenges as the organizations we serve: leadership development; new strategies for health care, compensation and retirement security; global organizational change; and labor-management relations.

These are HR issues. We’re the only people who can address them with the level of expertise and credibility they require. The leadership we demonstrate today will define us as professionals and as a profession.

I’m thrilled to be joining SHRM at a time of unprecedented promise. This is a time that is of critical importance not only for the country but also for organizations and human resource professionals throughout the world. I’m deeply committed to SHRM’s mission because I’ve seen what can be accomplished when the private, public and not-for-profit sectors collaborate with compassion at home and abroad.

As I embark on this responsibility, I am reminded of Sue’s final words of advice: Keep the “human” in human resources. I will strive to make this a key component of everything SHRM does to serve you, our members.

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