‘Most Admired for HR’ Leaders Speak Out

This year the HR Tech Conference featured its first-ever panel of CHROs from “The Most Admired Companies for HR,” an annual ranking produced by HRE in partnership with Korn Ferry. The panel, moderated by conference co-chair Steve Boese, included (from left to right in the photo above) Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president and CHRO at The Walt Disney Co.; Peter Fasolo, executive vice president and CHRO at Johnson & Johnson; Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and HR officer at Accenture; Matthew Breitfelder, managing director and chief talent officer at BlackRock; and Joanne Smith, executive vice president and CHRO at Delta Air Lines.

Boese got the discussion started by asking the panelists what “great HR” looks like today.

“HR has evolved during the last five years to the point that it’s now all about human beings, as opposed to people being the subjects of the process,” said Shook. “We can have a very human experience in our companies today thanks in part to technology.”

Later on in the discussion, Shook cited an example: With hundreds of thousands of employees spread across the globe, it’s difficult to impossible for Accenture’s leaders to connect in person with employees at all its locations. These days, Accenture’s leaders are addressing that by attending employee meetings around the world via three-dimensional holograms of themselves when they can’t make it in person.

“They can see our facial expressions, they can see our humblenessit lets us create a more human experience,” she said.

Fasolo said great HR means “having a talent mindset at all times. HR leaders have to be very good at picking winners and getting them to join and stay.”

At Disney, great HR is ensuring that employees feel that their input is valued, said Parker. “We define ourselves as a creative company, and so our employees have to feel their voice is heard. We, as HR leaders, need to both understand the business strategy and ensure employees can have a voice in that.”

Boese asked the panelists what they do to ensure their corporate cultures help drive business outcomes.

“At Johnson & Johnson, we have a proud history of our culture being driven by our credo, which states that our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, patients, mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services,” said Fasolo.

It’s critical, Fasolo added, for companies to ensure that the people they’re putting into leadership positions make it possible “for employees to bring their best selves to work every day.”

The panelists also discussed the importance of diversity and inclusion for business outcomes.

“When you dial up diversity it leads to greater innovation,” said Shook.

As a “storytelling organization”through its movie, television, theme-park and other divisionsDisney knows it can’t tell great stories to a wide audience if the company itself isn’t diverse, said Parker. “The work of diversity is critical. The Disney Co. cannot do what it’s supposed to do for its shareholders without a diverse group of employees,” she said.

At BlackRock, the CEO has a “no-replicants” mantra, said Breitfelder. “If the people you’re hiring, as a manager, are just like you, then you have a problem,” he said. The investment company, which has $6 trillion under management for its clients, looks for diversity of background and education as well as race and gender in the people it hires, said Breitfelder.

“We’ve found, for example, that people with liberal-arts degrees can make excellent investors,” he said. “It’s important to identify the skills of candidates and get past the mindset that says there’s only one model that succeeds. We need people to come to our team who will challenge us in new ways and create healthy tension, because it works.”

Companies that want to continue succeeding must invest in their employees’ knowledge, even when it doesn’t have an immediate ROI to the workplace, said Parker. This is especially critical in the media industry, which has changed dramatically within the last few years, she said.

“We’re introducing a program called Disney Aspire, in which we’re going to pay for our 80,000 hourly employees to take college classes in whichever area they choose,” said Parker. Disney will pay for their tuition upfront and will reimburse the employees for the cost of books and fees. The company plans to devote $150 million over the next five years to the program.

“Our goal is to set them up for success in the future,” said Parker.

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.