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Lessons from 4 Organizations Showcasing Transformation at SHRM24


Attendees of the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2024 (SHRM24) heard how HR departments will face new challenges at a faster pace in the years ahead. But they also heard from leaders at organizations that are evolving to meet those challenges.

Here are lessons from four sessions at SHRM24 that focused on achieving transformational change.

H&M: HR Must Enhance Its Own Skills

Clothing retailer H&M emerged from the pandemic era in 2021 to find its sales development had stagnated, profits were lower, engagement was down, and front-line staff turnover had hit 153%. Chris Mikulski, Head of HR for H&M Americas, saw the business’s need to put people first to reverse these trends.

“There were business opportunities where we could really have an impact as an HR team; the problem was we weren’t set up to support it. There was a complete misalignment of resources,” Mikulski said during his SHRM24 session, “Revolutionizing Human Resources: H&M’s Trailblazing Journey.”

He realized HR needed to upskill before launching its new “People Plan” addressing the company’s talent issues. “We’re so used to doing that for others, but we’ve neglected that process ourselves,” he said.

H&M partnered with SHRM Enterprise Solutions to assess its HR department, provide HR staff with scalable resources that helped them develop new skills, and provide them with additional networking and community opportunities.

H&M is now a year and a half into its three-year strategic HR transformation, and already it’s seen employee turnover decrease by 35%, while 100% of HR staff have completed an HR baseline assessment, and 15% have already completed their SHRM CP/SCP certifications. “The No. 1 way to secure a positive outcome in an HR transformation is ‘Don’t do it alone,’ ” Mikulski said.

Lenovo: Resources Help Women Leaders Rise

One of the important ways HR departments set their organizations up for long-term success is by training the next generation of executives. But leadership teams must be reflective of our diverse world, according to Jennifer Broerman Spencer, Director of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Lenovo. If employees don’t see leaders like themselves, they won’t believe the organization will value their contributions.

In 2014, the computer company’s HR leaders saw that the percentage of executive roles held by women was declining, and they decided to take a systemic approach to reverse that trend. “Transformation doesn’t happen through osmosis. You have to be intentional about it,” Spencer said during her session, “Empowering Tomorrow's Leaders: Lenovo’s Trailblazing Women Leadership Program,” at SHRM24.

Spencer said Lenovo’s leadership realized the most significant issue preventing women from rising through its ranks wasn’t a glass ceiling keeping them from the higher levels of leadership, but a “broken rung on the corporate ladder” that meant women weren’t advancing into the director-level roles that prepare them for higher-level positions later in their careers.

In response, Lenovo committed to increasing women’s representation in executive positions. Lenovo leveraged Advancing Women Leaders™, a Linkage Signature Solution, to offer targeted learning and development opportunities to director-level women through a 10-month Women’s Leadership Development Program (WLDP). The elements of the WLDP have evolved over the years, but it has always included the Advancing Women Leaders 360° Assessment™ and coaching support for members of each 20-person cohort.

“Women don’t need to be fixed. What we need to do is fix the system around the women,” said Spencer, and Lenovo’s experience shows that change is possible. To date, 170 women in eight cohorts have completed Lenovo’s WLDP, with 41% earning a promotion afterward, including three women holding vice president positions. In 2023, the company announced that women filled 22% of executive roles.

Chick-fil-A: Strategic Partnerships Require Buy-In

Quick-service chain Chick-fil-A (CFA) is built on a franchise business model. Corporate has control over the operational strategy of the CFA stores, but each Operator (franchisee or owner) is responsible for all HR functions. Most Operators have a Team Member who holds the title of Talent Director or People Manager. These Team Members typically have plenty of operational and management experience, but not the HR knowledge they need.

In 2021, CFA found that 84% of Operators said they were in “crisis” or “crunch” mode when it came to addressing talent challenges, said Adam Patrick, Team Member Experience Senior Program Lead at CFA, during his SHRM24 session “Case Study: Chick-fil-A’s Mission to Upskill Talent Across 2800 Stores.” When CFA studied the 16% of operators who said they weren’t struggling with talent challenges, two differentiating factors emerged: Operator engagement with the business, and dedicated leadership overseeing talent issues.

Patrick knew that getting each store a SHRM membership would help Operators and Talent Directors address their HR challenges. However, because of CFA’s operating model, the decision to join SHRM needed to rest with the individual Operators. He embarked on an awareness campaign, visiting restaurants and speaking with Operators about their talent challenges, starting with a small group of operators already using some SHRM resources.

Because these resources cost Operators money, they must deliver a return on that investment. Patrick found that Operators appreciated that the memberships were easy to use and quickly produced tangible results. Currently, about 325 stores are using SHRM resources. CFA is building on that success by partnering with SHRM to hold its first-ever Talent Director Conference in August 2024.

Patrick said the experience has taught him the importance of listening to stakeholders and clearly articulating the reasons for implementing a program to create organic support. “If I’m building out this solution, I’ve got to listen to my audience, and I’ve got to understand what they really need,” he said.

Bucknell University: Transformation Begins with Assessment

When Nicole Whitehead came to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., she was determined to lead its HR department with dignity and systemic humanity. But she arrived to find a department so mired in antiquated policies and procedures that it had earned a bad reputation on campus as a barrier to progress. “So many people felt injured by HR,” she said during her SHRM24 session, “Strategic HR Leadership: Bucknell University’s Blueprint for Business Adaptation.”

Bucknell’s leadership asked Whitehead, who now serves as the university’s Vice President of Talent, Culture & Human Resources, to create a plan for overhauling the department in less than a year. But as she dug into the department’s challenges, she realized she needed more time and a strategic partner to help her reach her goals.

She contacted SHRM Enterprise Solutions to assist with her department’s strategic transformation. SHRM not only helped her develop a multiyear plan for reinvigorating the department but also assessed her team’s needs and prioritized which problems should be addressed first.

Having benchmarks for everyone’s HR knowledge showed Whitehead which areas most needed improvement. She created individual development plans for all of her staff members and set clear expectations about future performance while giving them access to SHRM resources to help them enhance their skills. “You need to give people the tools to change their behaviors,” she said.

Now, the department is upskilling and reskilling its staff and solidifying its strategic plan, which will launch in 2025. Now that engagement with the HR department and its resources has increased, it can focus on being a strategic partner for the entire university. “A big piece of this is trust, and you develop trust one experience at a time,” Whitehead said.

Learn more about these stories and discover how SHRM Enterprises can act as a strategic partner to your organization.

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