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CEO’s Letter: Let Me Tell You a Story

I hope that every CEO’s office has a sign paraphrasing political campaign manager James Carville’s advice to the 1992 Clinton campaign (different Clinton): “It’s the Economy, Stupid”. The sign for the CEOs office should read: “It’s the Workforce, Stupid”. The wonderful truth today is that such a sign -so necessary a decade ago -is now largely unneeded. But as the emphasis on the workforce has grown in importance, the responsibility and pressure on HR has grown accordingly.

At the HRO Today Forum North America 2016, we showcased the best leaders in the HR industry. The accomplishments of this group are nothing less than astounding. But through it all was the pervasive feeling that as the bar is raised, the race to keep up with social change continues to make the challenge even harder.

At one point during the conference, Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, asked me if I detected a common theme among the conversations I was having with the more than 30 chief HR officers in attendance. That’s a fairly big question to ask and one I had not expected -he always does that to me. But the answer was almost immediately evident. I explained to him that everyone was struggling with managing culture in an increasingly virtual world.

Humans have evolved as social creatures. We ascended to the role of apex predator and ruler of the animal kingdom in tribal settings, but we live in an increasingly isolating modern world. How do you build collaboration and loyalty, gather feedback, and maintain close working relationships with people you’ve only met on Skype? The watercooler is now called Glassdoor (a topic for another day) and the smiley emoticon (:)) the replacement for the proverbial pat on the back.

The best CHROs are figuring out how to use professional development opportunities, technology platforms, and both virtual and live events to manage culture, instill corporate values, and generate loyalty that pays off in enhanced retention, greater engagement, and employee productivity.

At the forum we heard about a number of new technology platforms for collaboration and team building. One company, Emplo, suggested that email is now an outdated medium. They offer a new platform that incorporates collaboration suites and promotes team building. There are plenty of other tools on the market, and the “smart money” from investors in the HR software space is all flowing into collaboration or recruitment where HR leadership is feeling the most pain.

The elevation of HR and the concomitant expectations requires the department to become a premier marketeer internally to sometimes tens of thousands of buyers (employees). Social media messaging (LinkedIn, Facebook Twitter), technology platforms (email or HRMS), and manager to subordinate communications (face-to-face or virtual) are channels whereby you can teach employees about culture. But ultimately, the endgame for the best CHROs is to offer the same product: storytelling.

In the past, we usually looked to the CEO to tell the stories about company values, but one of the emerging responsibilities for HR is to figure out how to deliver that message in an engaging and packaged fashion to the workforce. Fostering collaboration is not only about tools, but also about examples of why being collaborative is important and fulfilling for our social species. Posting values on a company bulletin board is not as important as being able to give examples of how they apply to everyday life. Every one of the HRO Today Magazine CHRO of the Year winners had a great story about affecting culture through a mass communication program -sloganized or not, recognition driven or not -that changed employee behavior in a measurable way.

And that is the end of the story.

Elliot H. Clark, CEO

Tags: June-2016

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