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Empathy, Humility Driving Top Executives at Humana

General session panelists describe the company's values, say 'Together, we're unstoppable'

Three people sitting on chairs at a conference with a shrm2 sign in the background.
​Gannett Media President Maribel Perez Wadsworth, left, moderates a discussion with Humana CEO Bruce Broussard, center, and Chief Administrative Officer Tim Huval during the opening general session of the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022. Photo by Paul Morse.

​Facing a dire health condition a few years back, Tim Huval was given little chance of surviving.

While in the hospital for treatment, at a time when things appeared bleaker than ever, a visit arranged by his CEO Bruce Broussard, some co-workers and Huval's family really lifted his spirits, leading to his eventual recovery.

It's genuine gestures such as these that are most remarkable at every level of the workplace, especially given the hardships and mental health challenges that so many have endured since the pandemic began.

Empathy, inclusion, level playing fields and humility are what today's C-suite leaders should strive for, and their HR departments are there to make sure this is achieved.

These were the values and beliefs shared in the opening general session, "A Candid Discussion on Leadership and Workplace Culture from the C-Suite Perspective," presented June 12 at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 (SHRM22) in New Orleans. The session was moderated by Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of Gannett Media, and featured Huval, chief administrative officer at Humana, and Broussard, the health care company's CEO.

Huval described Broussard as "one of the top CEOs in the country."

"If you asked me for his top 10 attributes," Huval added, "nine of them would be based on a human element."

Vulnerability 'Expected' of Leaders

Huval said leaders today need to be more vulnerable.

"It's now expected of them," he said. "And these leaders can drive this at the company level: [make sure] their department heads have open conversations with their staff members; insist on mental health days; make sure their employees are not on their work e-mail during vacation times."

Huval said the pandemic put every employee at "eye level. This gets rid of the hierarchy that we had before, and we can't have that change.

"People are saying, 'Together, we're better,' and that's true. But more true is, 'Together, we're unstoppable.' "

Asked to define SHRM22's theme "Cause the Effect," Huval said it's "making sure every pebble matters in your big pond, and the sum of the parts makes everything better."

Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere

Broussard said leaders need to be more intentional.

"Given the remote environment so many are in right now, never has there been a time when I can reach out to anyone, anytime, anywhere," he said. "My connections with employees are not limited to only what I might hear at the watercooler."

Broussard emphasized that leaders must also ensure their employees have purpose.

"If they don't have purpose, you won't have customers," he said. "If your conversation with your team is all about earnings per share, their eyes will glaze over. They want jobs where they can see that they have impact on other people's lives."

Tim McKeever, SHRM-CP, CHRO of Buffalo City Mission in New York, said, "I was pleased to hear the panel talk about the importance of having a strong partnership between HR and the executive level and that Humana's focus was on its people. Empathy matters, and having one-on-one conversations matters if you want to get the pulse of your workforce. It was great to hear that this is how they measure the success of their company."

Angelique Clark, SHRM-SCP, strategic human resources manager for Rec Silicon Inc. in Moses Lake, Wash., said, "Leaders need to show that humility and be willing to ask questions of their employees—and not just among those at their level. To hear [Broussard] say that he doesn't have all of the answers and wants to have those conversations was powerful. A lot of leaders don't do that."

Anadeen Nembhard, assistant vice president and head of people, culture and talent management for Sygnus Capital Limited in Kingston, Jamaica, said, "It's good to see the same principles being applied here by employees even at that level as to what we have. Companies need to see the value that comes through employee engagement."

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Virginia.


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