LAS VEGAS — As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2019 Annual Conference played out in Sin City last week, an ironic theme emerged: redemption.
SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr. and other notable speakers grappled with HR's identity as gatekeepers of organizations whose staff often fail to represent or include women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. Thought leaders in the space encouraged HR practitioners to redeem a profession often seen as the workplace police force by fulfilling its potential as one that courageously shapes the professional world. In addition, attorneys offered compliance tips to HR pros interceding on behalf of employers with less-than perfect records with employment laws.
Below, HR Dive compiled the most compelling soundbites from #SHRM19. If you missed the conference or need a recap, read on for an overview.
"Uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure — the tagline for Human Resources."
Author and researcher, University of Houston
Any HR person can tell you that the job is emotionally difficult, at times — as any job that manages the needs and wants of other human beings on a day-to-day basis would be. Coming to terms with that difficulty and stepping up to "bravely lead" is the difference between a beloved employer and a psychologically dangerous place to work, Brown said in her keynote talk. HR professionals can become the brave leaders their organizations need to make real change, but not without leaning into that vulnerability and embracing their fear. People may be "the worst part of work," Brown jokingly noted — but people are also "all we have."
"People were my day job — business was my night job. We have to be who we are. We have to live according to our values. I don't care where we are, Dubai, Tokyo, etc. — it doesn't make any difference."
Former president, Starbucks
When Starbucks made Behar its president, he took up a mission to put people first. The movement resonated with his personal management style, which allows and accounts for emotion and opinion — contrary to the advice he received from someone with a more traditional view of management, he said. As he rose through Starbucks' ranks, his vision for leadership hinged on employee prioritization: "Leadership has one responsibility: to grow the people," he said.
"Too many HR people hold things in ... you can't be leaders if you're not healthy yourself."
VP of HR, LaRosa's Inc.
Browne stressed to audience members the importance of one's emotional health to day-to-day HR leadership. Self-care is critical, Browne said, because a lack of it means HR practitioners probably won't be ready to care for others. "And if you can't do that, you can't lead."
Reaching out to colleagues is a useful skill for HR leaders for this very reason, Browne said. He advised those in attendance to form a group of at least five colleagues with whom they could share the details of what they do inside and outside of work. He said it's his worry that HR practitioners talk to too few people.
"The chance for you to lead is now," Browne said. "You need to bring who you are to work every day."
"When you have a seat at that table, you've earned it because you understand human behavior. You understand what your employees need, what their gaps are, and you represent them. But this doesn't just happen because you say it is so."
Speaker and consultant
Swanson was the first female EVP at Walmart, and was quick to warn the gathered attendees about the dangers of complacency at all levels of a business. For change management to succeed, people need to be at the center of it — and that's where HR can step in as a strategic partner, she said. Good HR leaders "understand the heartbeat" of the company's people and know what needs to be done to earn their engagement, Swanson said. After all, change can't happen if it clashes against the company culture. HR people can use that as leverage when trying to talk with the upper echelons of the company.
"The soul purpose of your existence is to help people find the best version of themselves and be the best version you can be."
Founder and chairman, Sampark Foundation
Nayar followed up his vision of HR with several rhetorical questions for his packed audience. "But the question is, are you doing it? Or maybe the question should be do you know how to overcome the constraints which surround you to do what you need to do, to get to the high purpose you signed up for when you became an HR person?" Nayar offered several lessons for HR professionals attempting to achieve a people-focused mission.
"The way we currently recruit is really bad. It's inherently full of bias. To an extent, [AI] gets you a little better."
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
President and CEO, SHRM
Taylor made clear during his press briefing that SHRM's big theme for the conference, "better workplaces, better world," is more than pretty words about the "soft side" of HR. To Taylor, it is about drilling down to the business strategies and examining how flaws within those behaviors could be contributing to an employer's struggles. Addressing AI, Taylor agreed that the technology could go a long way in helping workers escape those instant biases that all recruiters hold — but noted that the technology, built by humans, could still be flawed.
"We're constantly trying to think about how we attract, retain and motivate talent … the best way I ever attracted talent at Toms was our mission."
Founder and chief shoe maker, Toms Shoes
Toms Shoes started out as a fledgling operation in Mycoskie's apartment before quickly drawing the retail industry's attention due to the company's "one for one" business model, through which it donates a pair of shoes for every pair sold. Mycoskie told attendees that Toms' commitment to this philosophy was part of the reason why it was able to recruit talent from powerhouses like Deloitte and Nike.
Mycoskie said he once asked his chief financial officer, who had come from Deloitte, why he chose to work at Toms despite the company's inability to pay the market rate for top positions. Mycoskie said his CFO told him, "'Blake, I took this job because now I get to tell my teenage daughter what I do, and she's proud of me.'"