Insights from a CHRO: HP’s Tracy Keogh

How one CHRO helped her company transition to a new CEO through new technologies and processes.
By: | March 11, 2020 • 3 min read

Back in 2011, Tracy Keogh walked into the board chairman’s office at then Hewlett Packard to discuss the future leadership of the company. Keogh had just joined the company several weeks earlier as its CHRO and, while it was a tough conversation, one worker had told Keogh that the company’s entire workforce, their families and retirees were counting on her to help make the change.

Then then-CEO was ultimately replaced, and the company split into two organizations in 2015. Armed with a business degree from Harvard and years of HR experience at other companies, Keogh helped her company—renamed HP—transition to a new CEO, Meg Whitman, by changing HR processes, eliminating titles and performance ratings, implementing a new social-learning platform, modifying the compensation structure and implementing new onboarding technology.

But that’s not the end of Keogh’s story. Hardly. HRE spoke with her about her future plans for HP, what critical changes she anticipates happening in the HR field and her life outside HP.

HRE: How did you end up in this profession?

Keogh: I kind of fell into HR. I was solving a business problem when I worked in management consulting. [My client] asked me to redesign the company’s recruiting process. [That’s when] I realized HR was the most important aspect of business and really loved it. I thought it was the most critical lever in an organization.

HRE: What do you think is next for the HR field, as well as for your work at HP?

Keogh: Deeply understanding technology and how it affects your people and company is going to be critical. While many jobs get automated and go away, the ones where you need talented people are going to become even more important. You’re going to have to be right by the CEO’s side in helping to develop the business with the perspective around who’s the right talent, where should they be, which roles do you want talent in versus what you’re going to outsource or automate. You’re going to have to constantly grow your people, upskill them and reskill them as the world changes. If you’re not agile in being able to reinvent the function to be able to continuously deliver on what the new requirements are, you are not going to be serving your company effectively.

At HP, we constantly change everything we’re doing. [We] constantly look at and innovate work and employee experiences, which is really critical. We actually created … HP HR Labs, which takes all the megatrends coming and impacting the workforce and workplace and translates them into programs for us. There will probably be more automation of general tasks and more emphasis on key strategic talent. Hopefully, we will be doing things I haven’t even thought of yet.

HRE: Is there any specific advice you’d offer someone entering the HR profession?

Keogh: Have deep curiosity. Learn as much as you can about everything you can. Make sure you’re looking strategically at how you can effectively help and direct [employees]. You have to look at other areas and industries and extrapolate out what the implications could be for your area and industry. Listen more than you talk, understand what the business issues are and don’t sit around waiting for business leaders to tell you what they want. Most don’t know. Put your consulting hat on, find out what the business problems are for leaders and then translate them into solutions.

HRE: What’s your next career move?

Keogh: I’m on one board and like serving on boards where I can have an impact. One of the most rewarding things is growing other HR leaders. This year, I’m hosting a conference for start-up chief people officers. About four years ago, I had some senior women friends call me for help with new offers from different companies. I realized they had no idea how to negotiate. It made me realize that women really need help [so] I started teaching a class on negotiations—how to get more money in your next job—and just taped a podcast with Jean Chatzky, who offers financial advice to women. This is something I’m passionate about—making sure women are advocating and negotiating for themselves and getting what they deserve from a compensation standpoint.

HRE: You say that you’re “kind of a Martha Stewart.” Can you elaborate?

Keogh: One of my favorite things to do is throw large parties and create incredible experiences for family and friends. I put a lot of energy into entertaining. I also love to read, go to concerts and plays and have season tickets for Stanford [Cardinal] football games. Back in high school, I was president of the glee club and sang in a choir at Carnegie Hall. Now, I just sing in church (and maybe the shower). I love going out and doing different things. That’s how I unwind and enjoy myself.

To nominate yourself or another HR leader to be interviewed in Insights from a CHRO, email hreletters@lrp.com.

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.