HR Exec of the Year to HR leaders: Lead with compassion, creativity

Honorees at HRE’s virtual Executive of the Year ceremony were quick to recognize all HR leaders serving as vital voices during a tumultuous year.
By: | October 23, 2020 • 3 min read

HRE’s HR Executive of the Year ceremony, held virtually Thursday, honored a select few HR leaders who have made significant contributions to the field. But honorees were quick to recognize all human resource leaders serving as vital voices for their organizations and employees during a tumultuous year defined by a pandemic and social unrest.

Ellyn Shook is HRE’s 2020 HR Executive of the Year. (Photo by Dorothy Shi Studio)

“This crisis has required us to step up and do the unimaginable. … This is where the privilege we have to be in HR really turns into an obligation,” Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer of professional services giant Accenture and HRE’s 2020 HR Executive of the Year, said during the event. “If not us, then who can help us take all the learnings of the unbelievable and wide-reaching crisis and push through it to create a better future for our own people, our customers, our communities and our shareholders? This is the moment our profession shifts from being important to being vital.”

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Shook, who has prioritized mental health and self-care to help 513,000 Accenture employees through COVID-19 and all of its associated uncertainties, urged HR leaders on the call to lead with compassion and creativity to create change in their organizations. “I believe compassion is emerging as the top leadership characteristic of this time,” she said. “I think HR can be a catalyst for this type of positive change, not just in times of crisis but every single day.”

Related: This compassionate leader is HRE’s HR Executive of the Year

Shook’s compassion and creativity has been evidenced by several new initiatives and programs she helped launched for Accenture since the pandemic began. A new virtual onboarding program to help new hires feel connected; a holistic mental wellbeing program called Thriving Mind; and Accenture’s online COVID-19 site, called #moretogethernow, which offers tools for employees to navigate and get through the pandemic are just a few examples.

Shook also partnered with CHROs Lisa Buckingham of Lincoln Financial Group, Pat Wadors of ServiceNow and Christy Pambianchi of Verizon to create People + Work Connect, an employer-to-employer initiative that connects employers laying off or furloughing workers with organizations in need of talent. The analytics-driven platform, built by Accenture pro bono, is free for employers. The group helped take the idea to reality in just 14 business days.

Shook, during a Q&A hosted by Ken Freeman, interim head of HR at Boston University, said despite the difficulty of this past year, there are several silver linings to the crisis. Among them: recognizing the importance of leaders prioritizing their own health and self-care; proof that remote work does work and can help employees be even more productive; and widening talent as a result of remote work. “I believe this will create more equality and more access to underrepresented people in the workforce going forward,” Shook said.

Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, also at the event, called Shook “a courageous visionary” and “passionate advocate for our people.” Sweet also thanked all HR leaders for their time and commitment to organizations, remarking that they provide tremendous value for CEOs.

In addition to recognizing Shook, the event also recognized HR Honor Roll recipients Jennifer Landis, senior vice president and CHRO of Black Hills Corp., and Michelle McGovern, director of human resources and operations of the American College of Surgeons. Landis helped the gas and electric utility company grow a diverse talent base within the organization and has created and implemented paid pandemic leave and hardship leave programs during COVID-19.

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McGovern—who in her years as CHRO has successfully transitioned the company’s 100% paper-based system to a comprehensive integrated platform — was tasked earlier this year with quickly shifting a workforce that rarely worked from home to a nearly 100% remote work when COVID-19 hit.

“Know that you matter and your work truly makes a difference for those in your company,” McGovern told HR leaders on the webinar.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.