HR thought leaders convene to build new paths to prosperity.
By the Editors
While Americans remain glum about the future of our economy, a renewed sense of possibility emerged at the HRO Today Forum (April 30 to May 2 in Washington, D.C.). A humming global economy with good jobs at good pay that unleashes the potential of talented people everywhere won’t be built by HR alone, but it can’t be built without HR. And that truth was evident everywhere throughout the Forum.
From its opening address by Forum Chairman Richard Crespin to its closing keynote by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), the HR executives in attendance heard and answered the call to lead.
The Forum swung into full gear with a panel moderated by Prudential’s Senior Vice President for HR, Sharon Taylor, on “Where do jobs come from?” Panelists John Haltiwanger from the University of Maryland, Brink Lindsey of the Kauffman Foundation, and Scott Case of StartUp America enthralled the audience with a detailed but easily understandable exposition on the birds and the bees of labor flows and job creation. Professor Haltiwanger’s explanation that net-new jobs are mainly created by start-ups surprised some, and Lindsey’s analysis of the slowing rate of start-up creation in America throughout the Great Recession created a call-to-action that HR directors were ready to answer. Case explained how companies can make their hiring and procurement policies “start-up friendly” and how even really large companies can play a role in shepherding start-ups through their awkward years. That described at least one path to create thriving micro-economies, such as the one in Silicon Valley that supports ongoing innovation at companies of all sizes.
Arguments and Lightning Bolts
Things turned a bit contentious when the contenders took the stage for the Forum’s Oxford-style debate on “Is outsourcing good for America?” Moderated by ABC Nightline’s Co-Anchor Terry Moran, the debate pitted the AFL-CIO’s Thea Lee and the World Policy Journal’s David Andelman against the Cato Institute’s Dan Ikenson and the National Association of Foreign Trade Zones’ Dan Griswold. While the audience ultimately declared the “pro-outsourcing” team of Griswold and Ikenson the winners, the verdict was close, and the arguments were well reasoned. The “anti-outsourcing” team of Andelman and Lee raised valid concerns that offshoring had built up the middle classes of India, China, and other developing nations at the expense of the American middle class, while Griswold-Ikenson pointed to the lower cost of living that offshoring has generated for that same American middle class.
The Forum returned to an uplifting note with its Big Idea Lightning Round. Five presenters quick-pitched, in 10 minutes or less, their single best idea to “change the face of HR.” Two audience favorites: Dan Enthoven on data-driven hiring practices and Paul Herman of HIP Investor on putting people on the balance sheet.
Enthoven showed how the same data mining techniques deployed by companies such as Target to predict the likelihood of future purchasing behavior can be used to better predict performance (Choice excerpt: Target can “diagnose” an impending pregnancy based on purchasing patterns and then push relevant offers as the pregnancy progresses.) While many companies use credit checks in employment screening, even the credit agencies themselves say there’s no correlation with a future predilection to commit fraud. Better screening questions would save time and money and improve on-the-job performance.
Paul Herman showed that while Western companies say people are their most valuable asset, they actually list that “asset” as an expense or liability in their financial statements. Now there’s a growing trend—led by Indian companies—to value people as true assets and reflect them as such. Herman went on to show that when companies do accurately value their people-assets, that has a positive impact on stock performance and increases shareholder value.
The Forum also included multiple track sessions on “Building a More Competitive Workforce,” “Running HR Like a Business,” and “Innovation and Competitive Advantage.” Key highlights included several experienced panels, case studies, and in-depth explorations of some of the emerging trends in strategic HR management and operations. One experienced panel of contingent workforce managers included Margie Durham, head of global HR for Dell Service; Patty LaValle-Jones, who leads supply chain indirect procurement at Sara Lee; and Janiene Madison, who manages indirect sourcing for Land O’Lakes. The session, moderated by Janice Weiner, executive director of business solutions for Staff Management, shared secrets for getting to a faster return on investment using strategies such as managed service provider (MSP) solutions.
Another highlight: “Can this marriage be saved?” In this highly interactive session some HRO veterans shared near-death experiences, turnarounds, and success stories. Using a series of composite case studies—a “ripped from the headlines” set of examples with the underlying facts, names, and organizations changed to protect the innocent—our own Elliot Clark, CEO of SharedXpertise, led the discussion. He was joined by Roger Clements from Advantage xPO, Ernie Lareau who formerly worked for DuPont, Trey Campbell of NorthgateArinso, Valerie Egan from Linde, and the audience, who collaborated to dissect the issues and uncover hidden wisdom that all the participants could take to their next troubled vendor relationship.
The Workforce Congress
Another key feature of this year’s Forum was its “Workforce Congress.” The Congress gathered senior HR executives along with government, NGO, and academic leaders to focus on two tough issues facing our society: “Training for Upward Mobility” and “Reintegrating Veterans into the Workforce.”