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From the CEO: What HR Can Learn from Bill Gates

In today's competitive world, the only way forward is through innovation.

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December Cover 


Bill Gates once said, “Microsoft is always two years away from failure.” This statement is a reminder of the competitive reality that businesses face and a powerful motivator to innovate. Judging from the company’s perch at the top of industry lists—second most valuable brand in the world, according to Forbes, and No. 34 on the Fortune 500—it’s safe to say the tech company has done its share of innovating since it was founded 40 years ago.

Today, as HR professionals, we are called on to create and embrace this culture of imagination, while fostering smart risk-taking and developing a staff that stays one step ahead of the next disruption. To do this, we must continually re-examine some of the old ways of doing business. We must improve what is working and take a critical look at what is not. In an environment where we must innovate or fail, adapt or die, we must rethink even some of the most basic people management practices.

This month, you will see this theme of looking at old things in new ways throughout HR Magazine.

Our cover story, “Beyond the Open Office,” revisits the popular modern workplace design. Touted for its benefits, such as breaking down barriers (literally and figuratively) and reducing costs, the open office is not without its disadvantages: less privacy, more distractions and perhaps even bias toward extroverted employees. To make it work, you need to think outside the box (or, in this case, the cubicle).

In another feature, the annual performance review gets a review of its own. It may be a staple of corporate life, but it is not beloved by many employees or their managers. And in today’s fast-paced, diverse and technologically driven world of work, it may no longer be the most effective way to drive performance. In fact, a recent Los Angeles Times column headline called annual reviews “corporate America’s curse on itself.”

Even our Legal Trends article on defending independent contractor classifications points to the upending of business as usual. Contractors have long been a viable solution for meeting business needs, but the rise of the sharing economy is challenging the very definition of an “employee.”

From the open office concept to the annual review, and from employee loyalty to worker classification, HR must now critically evaluate its established practices to keep our organizations competitive. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is also taking a fresh look at HR and leading the next evolution of our profession through the SHRM Competency Model and competency-based certification, so that human resource management focuses on the leadership behaviors needed for this most critical function to drive business success.

Bill Gates offers us insight into how to do this: constantly reinvent ourselves. Our organizations, our profession and even our jobs are now one disruption away from going out of business. We must continue to innovate our way forward. That’s what we are doing at SHRM.


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