The 2016 edition of the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference and Expo is well underway.
The annual pilgrimage of 15,000 human resource pros to experience everything HR related kicked off with a Sunday opening general session featuring Alan Mullaly (of Ford and Boeing fame) and “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe (who was, for the record, the most entertaining keynote I can remember in recent years). What was seemingly an odd pairing to speak together turned out to be a wonderfully complementary approach to breakthroughs (which, incidentally is the theme of SHRM16). We’ll call it the Macro and the “MikeRowe” approach.
The Macro Approach
Alan Mullaly began with a narrative about his days when he took over the Ford Motor Company. At that time, the company was losing $17 million dollars, no sign of success by any stretch of the imagination. However, if one were to review their business charts, everything was marked as “green,” meaning all was well and good and on target.
The approach that Mullaly went on to describe involved an intense focus on people. In fact, he cited Human Resources the biggest competitive advantage an organization can have, as it’s their role to managing the resources – the people – that make things happen. Nice to hear from a successful CEO, isn’t it? He talked about first and foremost about being honest about your failures. Blissful ignorance is not going to help your bottom line, and if your people don’t understand the reality, they aren’t going to know what needs to be worked towards. Then you need to believe in your people to get the job done. You either believe or you don’t believe, and if you don’t, you better get to a place that you can. The next question is does EVERYONE know the plan to accomplish the goals that need to be reached? Communication and setting of expectations is key. Then empower them to listen, help, and respect each other and understand their role in working towards the necessary outcome. Lastly, make sure they feel appreciated for what they do. His approach was everything we as HR pros should already be practicing and preaching, but to hear it from someone as successful as Alan Mullaly really drove it home.
The “MikeRowe” Approach
Mike Rowe then came on stage and entertained the crowd with his hilarious and vividly detailed description of hosting “Evening Magazine” (his former show) in the sewers of San Francisco that ultimately led to the creation of “Dirty Jobs.” Amongst descriptions of everything you’d expect when talking about sewers (there was much simultaneous laughing and cringing in the room), he talked about having a “peripeteia,” a concept used in fictional narratives that essentially means a change in fortune or change in direction. Call it a breakthrough of sorts. In the filth of the sewers of San Francisco, he realized that there are unsung heroes in all manners of work who not only do what most of us would never dream, but many do it happily….more than can be said for a large percent of the unengaged workforce today if we’re to believe the statistics. His peripeteia led to the creation of “Dirty Jobs” where he highlights many of these such people. He took his message further by encouraging the HR pros in the room to find their own peripeteia and breakthrough the fundamental disconnect with work that’s present in so many organizations. Many of our organizations don’t value all work equally, yet the job that everyone does is important and ultimately drives organizational success. How do we as HR pros recognize this, and ensure that everyone is valued for what they contribute, no matter how “small” the job? This particularly resonated with me, coming from a retailer with over 16,000 employees. The cashier that regularly waits on the same customer in a small, rural community is just as important to overall company success as the Category Managers at the corporate office or the District Managers in the field. In their own corner of our organizational world, they make a difference. Do they know that? Are they recognized for that? Do we as HR pros do enough to ensure this?
The theme of everyone contributing to organizational success and the importance of communicating and recognizing that was the thread that tied the two speakers together in my mind. And it was also my biggest takeaway from Sunday’s session.
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has almost two decades of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, learning & development, and employee communications, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.