“All In” for a Better, Stronger Workplace - #SHRM17


“All In” was the theme for the 2017 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference and Expo, which wrapped up last week.  A theme that could be interpreted in a multitude of ways, it was certainly pervasive throughout the week with attendees often being asked and challenged, “what are you all in for?” So of course, I had to ask myself the same question, what am I all in for in the wake of SHRM17?  My answer is simple: Better, Stronger Workplaces.

Most of the themes and key messages I focused on could be pulled together to support the idea of building better workplaces.  It seems like a simple idea, one that should be a no-brainer for HR professionals, but I’m not so sure that in the grind of life in the day-to-day trenches that we’re always as focused on it as we should be.  But that doesn’t make it any less important.  So where do we start?

Cultures of Innovation

Kat Cole challenged attendees right from the start by suggesting that HR leaders need to be front and center in their businesses; they are the biggest influencers of how culture manifests itself in the organization, and it is a culture of openness and innovation that will always outpace the competition.  Sometimes I struggle with the suggestion that all business cultures need to be innovative as often innovation is synonymous with high-tech and progressive industries, not the more traditional industries in which many of us work.  But then I thought about this fact: Kat Cole comes from the retail/restaurant/food service industry.  It doesn’t get much grittier than that.  So if her culture can be innovative, there’s no excuse for the rest of us.  After all, what is innovation, really?  It’s changing and evolving to meet changing business climates, something that impacts every industry.  And her suggestions for how to build a culture of innovation were simple enough for anyone to embrace:

  • Realize that there will always be legacy people, processes, and thinking that will be afraid of change and will try to hold you back.  Overcome them by finding the “coalition of the willing” who can help build influence and buy-in.
  • As you evolve your practices, make sure you change your policies to reflect them so you don’t get stuck in the past
  • Listen to those closest to the action; they often have the best ideas about what can be changed and what might work best.  And ensure the climate in your company is one in which people feel comfortable stepping up to challenge ideas.

Fight Bias

If we want to have innovative cultures, we need to have the right people in place, people who bring fresh ideas and different ways of approaching problems and opportunities.  But we’ll never have that if we don’t fight the bias to hire and develop people that look and think like us.  Laszlo Bock encouraged attendees to “hire people better than you” rather than those like us.  However, the bias towards those similar to us is not always easy to break.  In the session “The Neuroscience of Breaking Bias,” David Bock, the Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute explained that reducing bias is one of the hardest things to do because everyone has it; it’s a natural tendency and simply a part of life, the way we “categorize” things around us.  Nonetheless, if we want innovative thinking and ideas, we need people who think differently.  So how do we break hiring bias?  Laszlo Bock suggested two ideas:

  • Focus on the attributes required by a job
  • Remove the hiring manager from the hiring decision

Although removing the hiring manager from the decision created a bit of a stir among a number of folks, I do believe there are benefits from at the very least involving more than just the hiring manager in the decision making process.

Build Stronger Teams

An innovative culture with people who think differently will only get us so far if those people can’t work together effectively.  In Patrick Lencioni‘s keynote, he suggested that effective teams are the key to business success, that intellectual sciences are now “permission to play.” To be truly successful we need to be able to get smart people to work together.  And the key to that is team members with three traits: they are humble, hungry for success, and smart (meaning common sense around people, not raw intelligence).  The best team members exhibit sufficient levels of all three traits.  Interestingly, like Laszlo Bock, he also suggested improving our interviewing processes as a tactic to hire ideal team members. 

It Starts With Us

None of this happens without us, as HR professionals, leading the way.  Laila Ali, in her closing keynote, talked about reinvention.  If you want to reinvent yourself (or in this case, your workplace and culture) you have to be intentional about it.  Nothing happens by accident, and you have to start with you.  Patrick Lencioni encouraged us to apply the traits of a great team player to ourselves first, and lead by example.  Kat Cole encouraged us to have courage, confidence, humility, and curiosity with each kept in check by the others.  And Laila Ali reminded us to always be teachable and coachable, never rest on our laurels, and always be willing to change and grow. 

I’d say that’s a pretty good place to start.


We have the power to shape our cultures and guide our leaders to build and nurture great workplaces for our employees.  HR is in a unique position to be the conscience of our companies, to guide its heart and soul.  We have the chance to go “All In” towards building better environments for the employees who work hard for us, who often spend more time at work than even with their own families.  I’d even go as far as to say we have an obligation to them to build great workplaces.  And in the wise words of Kat Cole…

“If not me, who?”


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