HR leaders are being asked to do more, generally with less resources. They’re focusing more on business strategy and the bottom line. And they’re working more directly with other departments, for example, helping marketers to brand companies as a way to recruit and retain employees.
Those were among insights from WorldCity’s HR Connections held May 9 in a robust discussion led by Ken Finneran, chief people officer for the Americas at Hellman Worldwide Logistics, who is pictured above.
Participants listed growing challenges for HR leaders: greater rivalry for talent, more employees moving between countries and increased measurement of performance, to name only a few.
“There’s a huge demand for HR to redefine itself and become more entrepreneurial,” said Francia Baez Guzman, a long-time HR leader with Visa International who recently launched her own firm, FBG Consulting LLC. “We can’t be the back office anymore. We need to be more innovative.”
How Cable & Wireless innovates for new staff
Cable & Wireless Communications, which recently moved its headquarters from London to the Miami area, illustrates some of the innovative HR practices.
Its HR leaders faced the challenge of “on-boarding” a new headquarters team among people coming mainly from overseas. To build excitement for the new team, HR leaders opted to start early, said Reynaldo Ramirez, HR director for Cable & Wireless Communications in Coral Gables.
A week before a new staffer begins, the company sends a welcome letter to their home. Days later, it follows up with a gift. On the employee’s first day, the office team gathers over doughnuts for a welcome meeting. And the new staffer gets a 3- to 4-hour orientation, along with their new laptop computer and cellphone — all measures aimed to build team spirit, said Ramirez.
Many employees are wowed, telling the HR staff: “I’ve never had this at any of my jobs before.”
Cable & Wireless Communications had five employees at headquarters in December, now has 60 and plans to add 25 more this spring. It has more than 40 visas in process to bring in more talent, he said.
What services does Cable & Wireless offer spouses and family of employees moving across borders?, asked Marjorie Kean, a managing director for executive search firm Diversifed Search in Miami.
Cable & Wireless works with a relocation services company that offers a tour of the Miami area and helps with such items as where to get a Social Security card or send children to school, said Ramirez.
“We are really trying to make it a concierge level of service,” said Ramirez, “because the spouse can make or break the whole experience.”
Challenges in a “VUCA” world
HR leaders face growing challenges, Finneran said, because business now operates in a world of “Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity,” a mix the military has dubbed VUCA.
Meeting the challenges is complicated partly by HR specialization. HR professionals nowadays tend to specialize earlier in their careers in areas such as talent recruitment or compensation. But senior HR jobs increasingly demand leaders that show versatility and can offer a generalist’s view, said Lorena Keough, a Diversified Search managing director.
That means HR executives should consider learning new roles and new specialties if they aim to move up the ranks, participants said. They may even want to try out posts in different departments.
“You have to break the silos,” said Cesar Salas, regional HR and administrative head for the Caribbean and Latin America West Coast for shipping company Hamburg Sud.
Yet executives who reach top ranks would be wise not to confuse versatility with being “a genius. That doesn’t help,” said HR consultant Raul Almeida of Almeida Consulting. Effective leaders recognize the strengths of specialists who work with them, Almeida said, and “leverage the talent on your team.”
What’s really essential for leadership is “learning ability,” a willingness to listen, absorb and apply new concepts and information quickly, said Salas of Hamburg Sud.
The importance of emotional intelligence
Leaders also need “emotional intelligence” — that is, an ability to manage their own emotions and recognize the emotions of others – to work more effectively with fellow executives, added Marta Ramirez, regional HR director for the Americas for Geodis Wilson USA.
HR leaders often have an edge in emotional intelligence, because they focus on people instead of numbers or materials, participants said. Indeed, some HR chiefs now are being asked to moderate and lead meetings for senior executives for their organizations.
Indeed, the recent naming of former HR director Mary Barra as the new CEO for General Motors shows that HR can be a credible path to the top post at multinationals, said participants.
Sara Baker, Citrix Systems senior HR business partner for the Americas, summed up the changing role of the HR leader this way: “We always need to be visionaries.”
HR Connections is one of six event series organized by media company WorldCity to bring together executives in the greater Miami area on international business topics. The HR series is sponsored by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, retained executive search firm Diversified Search and employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson.
The next HR Connections is set for July 18.