Putting the Human in CHRO

November 7, 2019

Putting the Human in CHRO

I recently had an opportunity to participate in an event along with several academic thought leaders and researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. We covered many deep and important issues—too many to cover in a blog post. But, I wanted to share with you some of my top-level takeaways from the rich conversations. 

1. Every individual in your company now plays an important role in your company’s strategy. Salespeople, support staff, engineers, and administrative personnel hold mission-critical positions—so their engagement, retention, and alignment are also critical. Despite an uptick in employee engagement around the world, most employees are stressed out, working extra hours, and are often overwhelmed by the messages, projects, and communications coming at them. They need a “process shredder” to make their work simpler. Companies that can create such focus and productivity outperform their peers.

2. Culture is more important than ever. Rich Lyons, the former dean of the Haas School of Business and now the university’s chair of innovative leadership, described his journey from Berkeley to Goldman Sachs and back again, and how his 11-year tenure as dean focused heavily on defining the Haas culture. The resulting Haas Defining Principles serve as key differentiators for students choosing business schools. As Lyons describes it, culture must be clearly defined, differentiated (don’t just copy someone else’s website), and then executed at all levels. When the culture is clearly defined and reward systems and management behaviors are aligned, people know what to do—accelerating productivity and facilitating creativity. At Lyft, for example, the values are simple: Be yourself, uplift others, and get things done. This focus on authenticity and inclusion is central to the company’s strategy this attracts people to Lyft. You as a CHRO have to make culture explicit: find out what it is, document and communicate it, and institutionalize it.

3. A happy workforce performs better. Emiliana Simon-Thomas of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center gave us an amazing compendium of information about what makes people happy. Companies that embrace values such as awe, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, gratitude, generosity, humility and social connection have happier workforces. The Center identified four pillars of workplace happiness in its PERK model, which focuses on creating a culture that instills a sense of Purpose, values employee Engagement, fosters employee Resilience, and practices Kindness. The Center has many studies that show how employee happiness correlates to performance.

As we discussed this issue, I realized that most of these “soft” and “warm” values don’t make it onto corporate competency models. I walked away thinking that reminding people to be kind, compassionate, and generous may be one of the most powerful performance-enhancing tools you have. 

4. The topics of inclusion, diversity, and fairness came up frequently. This topic is top of mind everywhere, but nobody has a simple solution in place. Yes, companies now measure gender pay equity and work very hard to hire in an unbiased way, but implicit bias and historic bias is still everywhere. And in today’s politicized world, we need ways to bridge differences.

Tami Rosen, chief people officer of Luminar Technologies, explained how every company she worked at had radically different values, and how important it was to understand the culture as you determine how to fit in. She related that Apple thrives as a functional organization where people thrive through specialization; at Goldman Sachs, employees are expected to be open and transparent and share information. 

We also discussed the importance of authenticity. Each and every individual in your company should have the ability to be themselves. This simple thought is core to D&I. 

5. Agility and flexibility are top priorities everywhere, but dealing with change is still very difficult. Homa Bahrami, a senior lecturer at Haas (and my instructor in organizational design when I was a young MBA student), told the group that “change management” is officially dead; in its place is “steady change enablement.” Our job as people leaders is to find ways to protect and support people as our companies change continuously.
Bahrami described five personas that make up workforces, and each adapts in different ways: 

  • The Crocodile, who stays persistent, focused, and strong.
  • The Starfish, who is resilient, bounces back and adapts.
  • The Camel, who is durable, risk-averse, and forward-thinking.
  • The Cheetah, who goes fast and stays agile and light.
  • The Chameleon, who senses, observes, and adapts.

She taught us how to use these personas to size people up, to find ways to make change workable for everyone, and to make change a part of the humane experience at work.

6. Data is your friend and must be at your core. Sameer Srivastava, head of Berkeley’s Computational Culture Lab, showed us in detail how data can tell us when teams may fail, how different teams operate in different ways, and how you can understand why people may feel left out or don’t fit into your culture. He demonstrated how you can actually find “culture fit” and “culture add” people with data derived from conversations, language, and dialogue.

Bottom Line: You Are the Chief HUMAN Resources Officer.

While there are a myriad of roles and practices in HR, my primary takeaway from this event is that the most powerful people strategies transform your company from the inside out. It is the human parts of work that need our attention right now, and when we improve people’s feelings of belonging, their ability to grow, and their sense of safety and trust, all our HR and management decisions work better.

The Authors: 

Josh Bersin is a global industry analyst, author, educator, thought leader, founder of Bersin™ by Deloitte, and principal research partner for HRPS.