World HR Congress Day 3: Direct Your Best People to Look Ahead

By Martha Frase Oct 20, 2014

SANTIAGO, CHILE—Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School, talked about a “new playbook for strategy” that takes into account the rapid transformation of technology and the relatively short lifespan of the “next new thing,” at the World Federation of People Management Associations’ (WFPMA) 15th World HR Congress on Oct. 17, 2014.

It all comes down to being innovative and having the mechanisms in place to deliver, McGrath said. She observed that even though everyone talks about it, innovation crusades are often short-lived in the bottom-line-driven company culture. Management may pay lip service to innovation, “but this is usually the first budget to be cut.”

Innovation can be hard to implement. “The first step, of course, is to come up with some good ideas. That is the easy part,” she noted. “If we brainstormed in this room for 20 minutes we could get some really good ones.” Harder is the second step: incubation—building, creating a market, testing and piloting, she said.

And hardest of all is the final step: acceleration—ramping up and rolling out the new thing. “The innovation team has to get together with the line business, and these two can be like oil and water. HR has a huge role to play in brokering that.”

To be successful at innovation requires a different kind of “leadership mindset” than most companies are used to, McGrath observed. “Average organizations put their best people on solving problems. Excellent organizations put their best people on opportunities.” In other words, instead of focusing on today’s problems, you need to be looking at opportunities and unite a team to innovate for the future. But to do this, managers have to be candid about their departmental weaknesses. “You can’t manage a secret,” she said, quoting Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who is credited with turning the troubled automaker around in two years at the height of the global recession—in part by compelling executives to reveal the shrouded shortcomings of their departments in front of each other. That new leadership mindset led to shared problem-solving and more targeted solutions, she reflected.

William C. Byham of Development Dimensions International, a human resource training and consulting company, detailed his latest thinking on leadership development, stressing the importance of identifying and nurturing “leadership acceleration pools.” Instead of waiting for the best people to rise to the top over the course of their careers, pick out people with potential—they can be found throughout the organization—and give them special fast-tracked opportunities to learn leadership competencies and excel, he advised.

Championing Workers

The afternoon brought the presentation everyone was waiting for: Mario Sepulveda, a survivor of the 2010 San Jose mine collapse near Copiapó, Chile, held the audience rapt as he told his story—from being raised poor as one of 33 children to his 70 days underground. Amid the fear, boredom, stress, comradeship and stubborn refusal to give up hope, he and his fellow workers came out of the ordeal with a new sense of pride in being a “simple, humble worker.”

He urged the audience of HR professionals to continue to develop and champion workers at both the highest and lowest levels of the organization. “We don’t want your jobs; we just want people like you to listen to us, respect us and make us part of your decision-making.”

Sepulveda closed his talk by acknowledging and shaking hands with the Turkish delegation, recognizing the loss of their 301 miners in the Soma accident last May.

Later in the afternoon, the WFPMA inaugurated its new board and officers, to be led by President Jorge Jauregui of the Mexican Association in Human Resources Management and Secretary General-Treasurer Peter Wilson of the Australian Human Resources Institute.

The Turkish delegation announced the location and dates of the 16th World Congress—Oct. 19-21, 2016, in Istanbul, with the theme of “Connecting People, Connecting the World.”

“This World HR Congress has been really impressive,” said Howard Wallack, vice president of global business development at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Wallack and Robert Garcia, SHRM’s director of global business development, were greeting a steady stream of visitors to the SHRM booth, giving out copies of HR Magazine and giving information about SHRM’s 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas.

“The Circle of Chilean HR Executives has done a terrific job organizing the strong program, mixing Latin American, European and American speakers,” Wallack said. “This is truly an international event, with 54 countries represented. It’s striking how we all share many of the same concerns—and sense of optimism—for the future of our profession.”

Martha Frase is managing editor of WorldLink, the magazine of the World Federation of People Management Associations. She can be contacted at

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