CEO’s Letter: Brace for Impact

By Elliot H. Clark

In this issue, we have a cover story interview with John Murabito, the CHRO of Cigna and the HRO Today CHRO of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award winner. I have known John for almost 20 years, which is why I do not have a vote in our own award programs because the committee feels I know too many people. The story of Cigna is as much about the story of HR as it is about the company. From the beginning, John’s vision has always been about making HR a part of the fabric of the business and a contributor to the data inputs on critical business decisions. Going back 20 years, these were very unique approaches.

Today, Cigna HR is perceived by its own operational departments to be integral to the business success. This is evident in many ways: John is listed as one of the key business leaders in their public and regulatory disclosures and an important voice on strategy. I know this to be true since John and I went through the details when he was moving through the award process earlier this year.

One of the more gratifying things I do each year is talk to all of the nominees for our various award programs globally. That works out to more than 50 CHROs (HRDs in EMEA) each year. In all of these conversations, I ask about metrics and measurements and am happy to report that now almost every nominee has a quick and cogent answer about their own “dashboard” of key metrics.

This is especially amazing given the underinvestment in HR technology that plagues most companies. Systems are laden with point solutions that poorly integrate. Data is pulled from multiple sources and only 18 percent of HR leaders say their systems integrate acceptably. Yet with a plethora of “work arounds,” HR is getting the job done better than ever and having significant business impact.

The next trend is now coming fast. After exhausting the “big data” trend, organizations now must face the coming “bigger data” trend. Machine learning algorithms and software bots are allowing academics and in-house data scientists to examine data sets that would have boggled the mind a few years ago. I recently attended a conference at Wharton School where half of the audience was senior-level HR executives and the other half was data scientists. There may be things in the data that HR does not want to know and some “sacred cows” may not survive this new level of analysis. For example, there is some evidence that employee engagement surveys may not be the indicator once believed. Much research remains to be done, but access to this new and massive data pool can only improve insight, and by extension, the impact of HR. Of course, that assumes HR leaders embrace the opportunity.

While no one is going to take a software bot out for a drink after work to thank them for a job well done, the opportunity to sharpen the already-established ability to quantify the people equation of business success is exciting. Of course, some of the old benchmarks of HR success, like improving engagement scores, may have to retire in favor of other new measures (although I still believe in engagement surveys regardless of some of these initial study conclusions, as more research needs to be done). However, if organizations embrace the data like the HR team at Cigna does, they too will have enormous impact and be a key factor in overall business success. Most HR leaders now live and breathe metrics every day, but it’s time to get ready for the next evolution of HR.

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