How is TECHNOLOGY being used FOR HUMAN RESOURCES across the world? | Melinda Wolfe | TBCY
Welcome to another episode of The Brand Called You. A vodcast and podcast show that brings you leadership lessons, knowledge, experience and wisdom from thousands of successful individuals from around the world. I'm your host, Ashutosh Garg and today I'm delighted and privileged to welcome a very, very senior HR professional, a coach from New York City, USA, Melinda Wolfe. Melinda, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me. Melinda is the Former Chief People Officer, and an HR consultant. She is an executive coach as well. She is also associated with several nonprofit boards.
So Melinda, let's talk today about human resources and nonprofit boards. Let's start with human resources. And, I'm much older than you. But I remember when I started working in 1979, it was always two functions, the personnel manager and the industrial relations manager. And that has now evolved into the CHRO. I'd love to get your perspective and how has the human resources leadership or function evolved over the decades? It's a great question. And it's evolved dramatically. And I would say that you're right,
it was early on a personnel manager, was kind of helping with the logistics of people, it was really an administrative role. And it was really a police role. And it can be still in some organizations. But today, the chief HR officer is really at the heart of, in my view, culture, the heart of leadership, and at the heart of the business strategy as it relates to people. Because all businesses are based on who their people are. And the person who's in charge of making that experience great, has a huge impact. So I would say today, the role of the chief HR officer is more strategic.
I would say, it's more infused with an obligation to look at the diversity and equity implications of every part of the process of leading people. And it's really setting the tone for what the culture is, in many ways. And, I've been speaking to many CHROs and many CEOs. Now, when I talk to a CEO, they say, when you ask them, who are your key direct reports? The CHRO is generally the first person they name. Earlier, it used to be CFO, what is it that is changing now? It's a great question, because it has changed a lot. And I would say not only from the CEO perspective, the CHRO spends much more time with the board than ever before. So I think overall, what's happened is with greater levels of turnover, with lots of generations being in the workforce from Gen Z, Gen Y, Gen X, you name it, it's a more complex workforce to manage. There's also more employee activism today than there ever has been.
And the judgment calls that are required in order to really lead with integrity, and lead in an inclusive way are just significant in a way that they haven't been in the past. So I find that, I have spent even in a recent interim role, I had an enormous time with the CEO helping to guide through very sticky issues and in a lot of complexity. Amazing. And a few minutes ago, you spoke about culture. And I'd like to
talk to you a little bit about culture, starting with how do you define culture? Well, culture is very ephemeral, in my view. It is an amalgam of a lot of things. It is a reflection of the people at the top and what the top leader does. It is also a reflection of the behaviors of people in a company and the values of that company. But also the behaviors when no one's looking at because that is really when the culture manifests.
So I think, there are many strands of activity that really lead to what culture is. But it is also the alignment between what is articulated, and what people do every day. And so it's not one thing, it's many things. And yet, Melinda, when I look at
my own journey of working for three large corporations, where culture seems to be a part of the gene pool of the organization, I've often seen startup founders struggle with how to develop a culture. I'd love to get your thoughts on how does a new company build culture? Well, with a lot of the startup companies that I currently work with, I find admirably that the people who are leading them, ask themselves, what is the culture I want to create in the company that I am beginning to grow? What are the values that I want to make sure are at the center of everything we do. And so, I think that newer companies have an opportunity to really set that out. But oftentimes, it set out and the behaviors aren't necessarily matching what is said out and what words are there. That's why I truly believe a lot of culture is defined by communication and the way people are communicated to, those communications are really important to put forth what the values and what the behaviors are.
But if the individuals who put those forth don't live those every day, they're not going to reinforce them in the culture. And as a senior CHRO, for several years. My next question to you is something that a startup founder told me, he said that, I've got to develop a strong culture.
So I said, but this must apply to you. He says, no, no, it doesn't apply to me, I'm the owner. Well, I don't agree with that whatsoever. I mean, the culture itself is personified in the leader or leaders of the place, is personified across the organization with every single person who's there, but the leader, the owner, whoever it is, must have a way of embracing the aspects of what they want to put forward. And so culture is owned by everyone. It's not owned by one person, it's collectively owned, but it's oftentimes set out by the owner or the top leadership, and they have an obligation to live what they want to see. Fabulous. So let me now move to some of the HR challenges people have faced post the pandemic.
All of us have been impacted by the pandemic around the world. My first question is, what are some of the HR challenges that CHROs have faced as a result of the pandemic? And then, I'll come to one or two more questions. Well, the pandemic is one piece, but it's everything that happened during the pandemic, that's another. And I would say that around the world, it may be different. In the US, the racial reckoning that happened during the pandemic itself, has led to enormous changes in the workplace, great sensitivity around diversity, equity and inclusion. A number of things have changed in terms of mandatory representation on boards, and as well as in senior management of more diverse individuals. But one of the biggest
issues that has happened globally around the pandemic has been the issue of flexibility and the demand by people to have more flexibility and to be able to balance their work life in a way that has been kind of earth shattering for many companies. The whole question of return to office, when people have been working in their homes has been a big challenge. Companies have been very ambivalent about it. Some have insisted people come back, and people have left as a result. Some have been sustained and people have come back, but they don't come
back necessarily happily. And others come back because they miss the watercooler. They miss the community. They miss all of that. And there has been a mixed bag for many places. But what it's done is, it's given employees a voice like they've never had before. And we see that in the great
resignation. Because companies are noticing that the more that they impose their will on people, the more people in their companies walk, and they go other places. And I would say, also, what influenced the post pandemic world is the complexity of the economy that we all face. It's interesting, but I'd like a follow up question. Again, when I look at my own career, again, as I said, I'm talking four decades ago when I started work. But one of the aspirations of every young person or a lot of young people was to make it to the corner office.
Now, with so many people choosing to work from home, do their own thing, get their own voice, where do organizations get the next set of leaders from? Well, I mean, every generation has its own set of leaders and people who manifest and one of the decisions I made in my career was to move from Pearson, which was a great company to work out to, which is an education company to GLG, which is a different kind of expert network. Why did I do that? I went from a very large organization to a much smaller one. And in the much smaller one, there were loads of millennials and Gen Z's. And this is a whole different demographic that we're managing to. But it's not
one demographic, it's a complex network of people who have digital native experiences, who have different values around purpose, etc. But in that group, you will always find people who have the capability and desire to lead. And so it's a matter of finding them and bringing them up and setting the example and pulling them through. And oftentimes, they don't have the patience to actually stay within these larger corporations, because their desire for progress, their desire for purpose, their desire for any one of a number of things, siphons them off to the startup world. But I would say that, there are still loads of very talented people who end up in organizations and who can be formed and aspire to be the next generation of leaders. It's not
one monolith of people who are only purpose driven, or who are only focused on flexibility. Well, that's very reassuring. A lot of friends, all these young people want gig economy, want to have multiple sources of income. Where will all your leadership come from now? So moving on, Melinda, I've got a question for you on technology. There is a lot of discussion now going on, on how human resources is using artificial intelligence, to be able to actually predict the kind of skill sets that a person may be able to bring to an organization. I'd love to get your thoughts on how is technology being used for human resources across the world? Well, technology, in my view, in HR is being used in three fundamental ways. The first and most,
I would say mundane, is just to take a lot of administrative work and actually automate it. And that is a great thing for HR, because what it does is, it makes HR even more strategic, because HR leaders are not focused on the day-to-day kind of administrative processes. The second is that technology has enabled companies to generate huge insights on their people, and what makes them tick, and what makes them more productive, etc.
And the final piece of it, which is I think what you're referring to goes to actually recruiting and recruiting profiles and recruiting the right people. And I think this is a double edged sword. I think technology can be used. And I think there are a lot of predictors of what does well, but people have complex natures. And what does
well is not again, a monolith. I've spent a lot of time listening to Angela Duckworth book on grit, which I think is really an interesting piece. A grid is has lots of components and is made up of a lot of things and can be measured one way or another. And that's the beauty of some of these kind of AI resources you can screen and look for, etc. But at the end of the day, you have to talk to people, you have to get underneath and know what they're made of, and you have to do the interviews. And the reason I say, it's also two sided is that oftentimes,
we, through AI dismiss a lot of people who could be hidden gems. And so, it's really important to use technology in ways that can find you the best people, but to always be on top of making sure that you are a heat seeking missile when it comes to good people, qualities and great leadership. And what you can oftentimes find in a test will not tell you about the fullness of what a person brings to the workplace. What a
great response. Thank you. So Melinda, now let's move to your nonprofit boards. Tell me about some of the boards that you serve on. And then I'll ask you a couple more questions on that. Sure. Well, I have always done nonprofit work, I'm very moved by doing work that is
impact oriented. And I work on very different things, very intentionally. So for example, I chair a small nonprofit in Kenya called ZanaAfrica, that provide sanitary napkins to girls and also education to give them agency to keep them in school, etc. I work on an organization as a board member called Coqual, which is really focused on diversity in the workplace. I am really proud to be a board member of Echoing Green. Echoing Green is a nonprofit that helps seed entrepreneurs, especially social impact entrepreneurs, both for and not for profit, that are focused on making changes that will have an impact across the world. Echoing Green works in
India, Echoing Green works in Africa, as well as the US. So I also do things in my own town, which I'm really focused on local efforts and national efforts. I sit on a nonprofit called Auburn Seminary that builds bridges across religious difference to leverage social justice. So I have a variety. Very wide variety. And what do you look for before
you accept to serve on a nonprofit board? There's a load of things to look for before you take on a nonprofit, one of them is do you resonate with the cause? Is it important to you and why? The second is who is the leader? The third is where are their sources of revenue? And where can you have an impact on what they're doing? Because in many cases, it's really important that you find what your niche is, is it your time, is it your talent? Is it your treasure? How are you going to contribute? And then I think finally, and importantly, it's how is the organization run? Like as a board member, you have fiduciary responsibility. Do you feel an obligation to really review the compliance, the governance, all of that to make sure you're joining something that is squeaky clean, and that can really deliver what its promises? And my next question is that, when you look at your role as a board member for a not for profit, how does that differ from a board member in a for profit organization? Well, I have a limited view of that and that I serve on six nonprofit boards, and no for profit boards. But in my work life, I can comment on it because I've worked very, very closely with for profit boards. Let's face it, there's about a million and a half non for profits in the US. There's about 10 million across the world. Nonprofits really vary in size,
the small nonprofit I work on ZanaAfrica has a handful of people in it. Most for profit boards are working at scale. They're working for very large companies. And they have a huge obligation to make sure through audit committee, through compensation committee, through very structured areas that they are making good on the promise to shareholders, and those shareholders are usually, a huge group of people. So the scale issue is really different when you're operating a for profit and a not for profit. It's not true. I mean, there's the Red Cross, UNICEF, very big nonprofits. But in general, the nonprofit world is a small one, and
the ability for oversight and to understand what's going on is much greater for a board member than a board member of a very large company in which there are just so many moving parts. Very interesting. So I've time for one more question. And this is for the many, many people who will listen to our conversation. Melinda, based on your amazing experience as Former Chief People Officer, all the work that you're doing on nonprofits, all the vast experience that you have, what would you say are three lessons, you would like our viewers and listeners to take away from your own learnings and from our conversation? So one of my lessons, just in life, is to show up, and to know how you're showing up as a leader. And that has two aspects, it's like actually doing it, going there, being part of it. And then being very conscious of how you're
part of it. Another one of my lessons is about service, because I think that it's very important to give back in the world. And that everything that I do is focused on service, and impact and what I can do to make a difference. And then I think my third lesson would be about the importance of connection and community. Because at the end of the day, our workplaces, our communities, and the connections that we make at our workplaces and across the world, are really essential for making a difference in having impact. Connection,
I would tell you is part of my brand and who I think I am and how I go about the world. And making those great collisions in life can really make a difference to people, whether it's in your workplace, whether it's in the nonprofit world, or whether it's just in your daily community. Wonderful. Melinda on that note, thank you so much for speaking to me, thank you for your amazing three lessons, which is show up, service and the importance of connection and connectivity. Thank you for speaking to me about your journey as a CHRO and your amazing learnings and how CHRO's are making an impact, which was much larger than what I started off my life with when I was 21 years old. Thank you also for speaking to me about how the whole HR
function has evolved. Thank you for speaking to me about nonprofit boards and how well you are handling such a multiplicity of different diverse nonprofit boards. Finally, thank you so much for speaking to me and good luck to you. Well, thank you. And I really want to say, that I appreciate that you are so curious about people what they do, and what their impact is in the world. So thank you for taking the time as well. Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Brand Called You, videocast and podcast. A platform that brings you knowledge, experience and wisdom of hundreds of successful individuals from around the world. Do visit our website www.tbcy.in to watch and listen to
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