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14 Lessons on Strategic HR from the HR Superstars Summit

Bruno Boksic

On February 16, 2022, 15Five held its second HR Superstars Summit, a virtual gathering where strategic HR leaders came together to learn more about what it takes to become a better HR leader in 2022. Attendees came away with actionable insights that will facilitate innovative ways to create impact at their organizations.

In his keynote, Dr. Jeff Smith, the VP of People Strategy & Insights at 15Five, presented HR leaders with data and insights on becoming more strategic in their approach towards HR. 

Following Jeff, Christine Kaszubski, CPO of Pindrop and recently named one of the top 50 women in SaaS, shared insights on becoming a more strategic people leader from her 25 years of experience.

Read on for a recap of the key takeaways from this year’s keynote speakers.

The State of Strategic HR with Dr. Jeff Smith

In his keynote, Dr. Jeff Smith presented his research on the state of strategic HR. The research included a survey of over 1,000 HR leaders from around the world, interviews with strategic HR leaders, a literature review of over 100 secondary sources, and 15Five’s proprietary data.

From this research, Dr. Smith identified the 10 most important HR trends that HR leaders need to consider in the coming year.

People need Whys to work

Yes, the why is plural. Now, more than ever, people want purpose, personalized perks, a good paycheck, fulfilling career paths, and more from work. In a sense, work has almost become like a new church, where individuals integrate who they are, a community they identify with, and what they value.

Thus, personalization is about making perks and benefits relevant for your candidates and employees— understanding what each individual values the most and creating systems that help your organization meet those needs. Still, a company should remember to pay their employees well since an employee can’t pay their bills with meaning.

Invest in HR-chitecture

The foundation of scalable, high-quality employee experiences is building a good HR architecture. Therefore, HR teams should invest in HR tech processes that can enable them to scale. 

According to 15Five’s research, around 70% of HR teams report spending 70% of their time or more reacting to things in the company. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave that much room for innovation and proactive work, so HR leaders should invest in HR tech and scalable processes to offload or automate some tasks from the HR team. 

Stop building your processes from scratch

When a problem is solved once, HR leaders shouldn’t have to go and solve it again. HR should learn from open source software, where people build upon the work of others. 

This means finding high-quality resources that can be tailored to your organization. You don’t need to build the process from scratch for employee experiences like interviewing, exit interviews, engagement surveys, goal setting, and 1-on-1s.

It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but taking its foundation and customizing it so it fits your needs perfectly.

Take a breath and play Mario Kart

In addition to burnout, many HR people are languishing due to the additional stress of supporting their organizations over the past few years. While HR teams usually serve others, they can’t forget to “put their own oxygen masks first,” or they won’t be able to help anyone. 

Referencing this TED talk on languishing from Adam Grant, Jeff recommends that HR leaders allow themselves to take a break and do things they enjoy, such as playing some Mario Kart.

One team, many dreams

People and HR teams need to be flexible about achieving organizational goals. Sometimes, the best talent can be found internally, maybe in some roles where they’re not utilizing their skill set at 100%.

There’s quite a lot of pressure on recruiters to find the best talent externally, so the HR team should innovate together in that area — find new ways to get talent into the right roles in your organization, upskill people proactively, look at gig economy and contracted resources, and promote roles internally.

Put the EIB into DEIB

DEIB stands for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. 

Most of the current focus is Diversity, but you need the other three as well. The more you invest in DEIB, the better your retention rate, engagement rate, and employee well-being will be.

DEIB is an organizational investment and should be treated as such, not as a side project.

Productivity everywhere

This trend is about providing your employees with trust, clarity of goals, and the right tech so that they can succeed in their jobs. Many people are worried about surveillance and their managers becoming micromanagers. To prevent this, the managers should have tools that help them ensure that people stay on track of their goals and hold them accountable, while giving them as much autonomy and freedom as possible. 

It’s about measuring outcomes, not log-in times and around-the-clock responsiveness. 

There’s a forgotten leak in your talent bucket

The forgotten leak in the talent bucket is avoidable, regrettable turnover. Stopping the leak means proactively identifying high-performing people and flight risks, then taking actions such as stay interviews, compensation benchmarking, and personal development plans.

To counteract this, gather continuous feedback from your people. The HR team needs to know about the problems in the workplace before the exit interview, because then it’s too late.

Talent acquisition isn’t just FTEs and external backfills anymore

Hiring full-time employees is no longer the only option when it comes to filling business needs. You have internal marketplaces, freelancing platforms, reskilling, gig workers, and people working on side hustles. Staying on top of these trends is hard for HR and almost impossible for your C-level executives and departmental leaders. This creates an opportunity for the HR team to inform and coach the C-suite about how talent works today.

Your people are people

It’s always important to remember that your employees are people— seeing them, appreciating them, listening to them, and supporting them at scale should be a fundamental part of your HR strategy. 

Put your entire HR team in a position where they can take care of others, by taking care of themselves first.

Becoming a More Strategic People Leader with Christine Kaszubski

Following Dr. Jeff Smith’s keynote, there was a fireside chat between HR Superstars community leader Adam Weber and Christine Kaszubski, Chief People Officer at Pindrop. The conversation brought Dr. Jeff Smith’s research together in a tangible way by highlighting how Christine has grown as a strategic people leader and uncovering in real-time some of the most pressing issues she is solving today. Here are a few of Christine’s lessons for becoming a more strategic people leader:

Become comfortable making hard decisions

To make yourself comfortable making hard decisions, you should know the ins and outs of your business. Everything from marketing to sales to business development and product development will give you the “How” of the business. When you understand the “How” of the business, you can combine that knowledge with what you know about the people and make better strategic decisions.

This means also getting comfortable with failing at times. As Christine says, “Get comfortable in failing fast, course correcting, and learning from it.” As the company evolves, your level of strategic decision making will evolve along with it.

Reflect on core values

The past few years have completely changed the workplace, and there is a good chance that the core values no longer reflect the organization as it is now. As leaders, we tend to feel like we must stay true to our core values, but it is okay to pause and consider if the core values need to be adjusted. Through employee focus groups, surveys, and 1-on-1 conversations, you can dig into what really matters and ensure that the core values align with the organization as it is today.

In gathering this feedback from employees, Christine recommends identifying “culture carriers”. Functional leaders can nominate individuals who they think are great carriers, and they should represent a cross-section of tenure, diversity, team belonging, etc.

The HR team can meet with these culture carriers to gather feedback and information. To minimize bias, Christine also recommends having an external consultant speak to these culture carriers.

Set employees up for success

As humans, we innately want to do a good job. No employee shows up to work hoping that they underperform. But do employees actually know what doing a good job looks like at your organization? 

Emphasize the importance of role clarity and goal clarity to your teams. Create a work environment where employees know what is expected of them, and what goals they need to achieve in order to be successful. At the same time, be sure to have conversations with employees about what they enjoy, what energizes them, and how they can bring more energizing work into their roles.

If you can create a culture where people can be themselves, understand what is expected of them, and are empowered to thrive and be successful, they will want to stay.

Connect your work with the bottom line

If you are struggling to get other executives to buy in and support the programs and strategies you are trying to implement, connect it to the bottom line. If you are trying to create an employee resource group, for example, tie it to the potential reduction in employee turnover and how much money that could save the company.

In order to scale your impact as an HR leader, you must be able to use data to tell a story of how and why investing more in the organization’s people is crucial.

Join the Movement

Want to learn more about being a strategic HR leader? Join the HR Superstars community today to get timely resources, connect with peers and experts, and continue growing to create an impact at your organization. By joining the community, you can also watch the HR Superstars Summit on demand.