Congratulations to the HR Executive of the Year

By: | October 19, 2018 • 3 min read
David Shadovitz is editor of HRE. He is also co-chair of the HR Tech Conference and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. He can be reached at [email protected]

In her September HR Leadership column, Eva Sage-Gavin wrote that “there’s no greater skill set than the ability to adapt, evolve and reinvent—to navigate away from a predictable course and head into an uncertain future.”

Sage-Gavin went on to say that “Just as constant change is now a consistent norm for us as individuals, so too can we build teams and organizations that are resilient, adaptive and able to disrupt themselves to compete and stay relevant.”

Inevitably, she added, this presents HR leaders with a unique challenge: How do they make it safe to leave the security of the known business, challenge the dominant culture, and both surface and nurture disruptive innovation?

I imagine Diane Gherson—HRE’s 2018 HR Executive of the Year—has been asking herself some version of that question on a regular basis since moving into the chief HR officer role at IBM five years ago.

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As our cover story this month points out, these days have hardly been a cakewalk for IBM. The company had reported revenue declines for 22 straight quarters, before finally growing its revenues and profits again three quarters ago.

The unanswered question, however, is, can Big Blue continue to build on this recent improvement as it pivots to emerging platforms and technologies, such as cloud-based services, AI and blockchain? In time, we’ll no doubt find out the answer. But what already seems clear is that Gherson and her team are unarguably playing a pivotal role in Big Blue’s ongoing transformation, applying concepts such as agility and design thinking to every corner of the business, including the HR function itself.

“The IBM of five years ago was oriented to operating with efficiency; today, we’re oriented to operating with speed,” Gherson told Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine, who wrote this month’s cover story, “This HR Executive of the Year is Transforming IBM.”

“Five years ago,” she said, “we were focused on getting the process right; today, we’re more focused on innovation and the experience we’re creating for our clients.”

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As the story goes on to point out, Gherson and her team have been busy transforming a wide range of HR strategies and practices, including those in talent acquisition, career pathing, leadership development, and diversity and inclusion. One of their primary goals has been making sure Big Blue has the right talent in place (with the right skills and mindset) to ensure its future success.

In a video message prepared for this year’s HR Executive of Year Awards Dinner, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who was unable to attend the dinner in person because of a conflict, praised the instrumental role Gherson is playing in IBM’s transformation, noting that “none of it would have been possible without Diane.” Certainly, that point comes across loud and clear in this month’s lead story.

But I think there’s another important and somewhat related takeaway that stands out in the piece—and that’s the ability for HR leaders to demonstrate their true worth and truly shine in the face of great adversity.

In the case of Gherson, that fact is impossible not to notice.

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