An Interview with #SHRM18 Speaker Mary Ila Ward


As a SHRM18 blogger, I was excited for the opportunity to interview Mary Ila Ward. I first heard Mary speak at the SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference in San Francisco last October. Her session was ‘Hiring for Fit and Diversity’. This year at the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition, Mary is talking about How to Get The Best Bang for Your Buck: Are Your HR Programs Bringing in ROI? We sometimes hear a narrative that pits HR’s need to focus on employees against the business need to make a profit. Mary has an ability to show how these two areas complement each other – instead of an either/or perspective, she offers a both/and point of view that I appreciate.

I am also a fan because at her session at the Diversity and Inclusion conference, she offered a prize for a random participant who live tweeted at the session, and I won! I live in a very small house, so most of my books are electronic. I am not exaggerating when I say that my hardback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird has a place of honor on my small bookshelf. Thanks Mary!

If you follow me on social media, you know that I am not a morning person, but Mary’s session at SHRM18 is one of the few that can get me up and at it by 7:00 a.m. 

Q. Can you start by tell us about who you are and how you came to be here?   

My bio can be found here. The short answer to this question, though, is that I’m an entrepreneur with a passion to help move the workplace forward through innovative people practices.  Work is a critical part of shaping meaningful lives, and we at Horizon Point aim to take human resource practices to the next level in an effort to increase employee engagement and experience and business results. 

Q. In your session description, you talk about the importance of identifying ‘which of our programs are making our organizations money, and then translate that value into a financial figure to make a business case for our efforts.’ Recently, I’ve seen some articles on twitter that suggest ROI is no longer the gold standard in HR – that it lacks heart. Why is ROI still an important HR measure?  

Great question! ROI is a quantitative metric, so as an end it does lack heart.  Where heart comes in is through the meaningful programs you put in place that drive employee engagement and experience that then leads to the by-product of ROI. It’s a question of whether the journey or the destination is most valuable. I’ll argue the journey is and because of the journey we get to enjoy the destination (the ROI or returns on our efforts).    

In addition, ROI can help HR practitioners speak a language that other strategic business partners understand that gives us the permission to embark on the meaningful people practice journeys. I’ll speak to some examples of this in my presentation. 

Q. There are so many intangibles in HR, and in my experience conversations about ROI focus on how complex it is and how hard it is to measure. It looks like your session seeks to dispel that myth. Without giving away the whole session, can you tell us more about that?  

I start my presentation off with some humor about HR practitioners going into HR because it was a field where we didn’t think math would be involved. I’ll share a model of a “scientist-practitioner” approach to human resources and give several examples on how to simply gather and use data to measure what matters. The keys to this are: 

  1. Know what your problem is
  2. Figure out how to measure/quantify the problem and what might fix it
  3. Measure it
  4. Prove value

We’ll walk through these keys with some real-life examples. I’ll also provide tools in the way of video resources at the end of the presentation that people can take back to the office to have step-by-step instructions on how to let Excel do all the calculating for you. 

Q. What is your favorite thing about the annual SHRM conference? What should a first-time attendee make sure not to miss?

There are so many great things about SHRM conferences, I’d be hard pressed to pick one!  The short answer though is the people – attendees, speakers and the opportunity to learn and grow together.  At least for this year, I definitely won’t be missing Adam Grant’s keynote.  His research connects so well with the thoughts I’ll share in my presentation on measuring what matters and understanding how to apply that knowledge to solve real problems that impact people and the workplace. 

Q. Besides speaking at SHRM18, what else are you up to? What else might our readers be interested in?

I’m busy keeping up with my kids and husband right now – we are in the middle of spring school activities and sports and enjoying every minute of it. On the work front, I’m excited about a venture we are pursuing to help connect and match employers and jobs with college students and recent grads based on work values and fit.  We’re in the design and development phase now of a tech tool to do this. I’m looking forward to how this will hopefully increase workplace engagement and diversity. 


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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