Expand Your World By Thinking Bigger - #SHRM18



Each year the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference and Expo has a theme, some sort of idea that’s woven throughout the event, a guiding force for speakers and attendees as they navigate the show.  This year’s event, which wrapped up in Chicago last week, encouraged us all to “Expand Your World.”

What exactly does this idea mean and what should it mean to HR professionals?  My takeaway from the four days is that very simply we can expand our worlds by “thinking bigger.”

In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, often we get so focused on what has to be done now, what needs immediate attention, and we spend so much time putting out fires that we don’t allow ourselves the chance to think about the future…the future of ourselves, our companies, and our profession.  But that’s precisely where the need to think bigger comes in.

Think Bigger About Our Business Needs

In his keynote, Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines (arguably the airline with the greatest public relations issues of late) focused on the critical role and responsibility HR has in driving customer service through how our people are treated.  When you operate in a “people business” he argued, how you treat each other directly correlates to how your customers are treated.  If you give your people no reason to feel valued, how can we expect them in turn to treat your customers like they are valued?  Often we let our rules and procedures get in the way of allowing our people to do what they know is the right thing, in the best interest of the customer.  We need to determine which rules and procedures are absolutely necessary – in the case of an airline for safety and operational efficiency, for instance – while allowing the flexibility necessary to do the right thing when the situation dictates.  To do this, HR pros need to think like business people, balanced with a keen focus on people and the human side of the equation.  HR professionals are well positioned to find that sweet spot if we allow ourselves to get “out of the weeds” of our day to day and think about our businesses and what makes them successful more holistically.  We need to Think Bigger about our role in business success.

Think Bigger About Our Cultures

“Culture Fit” has been increasingly a topic of focus for HR professionals recently; the idea that it’s more important to hire folks who align with our organizational culture than those with the exact skills and knowledge, that those aspects can be taught while culture fit cannot.  I’ve written about this and even spoke on the Smart Stage at SHRM18 about my thoughts on where our approach to culture fit can get derailed.  In fact I joked that keynote speaker Adam Grant stole my thunder because culture fit is exactly what he focused on as well.      

Adam encouraged attendees to stop focusing on culture fit and start focusing on “cultural contribution.” He offered that it’s not about everyone fitting in, but rather about everyone being able to contribute to organizational success, that in fact cultures that focus too much on fit tend to be really bad at change and innovation – because everyone tends to think the same way.  Rather than striving for an organization where everyone “fits in” nicely, we need to create a culture of and embrace people who disagree, who are comfortable challenging upward to senior leaders when they see something that feels wrong or could be done better.  We need to help drive understanding that our own cultures are not as “unique” as we might have a tendency to think they are, and that we can learn a lot from other ways of thinking and other approaches.

And furthermore, as HR professionals, it’s critical that we stay in tune with what’s happening outside our own organizations and our own industries.  We need to understand larger business trends, economic trends, and consumer trends and preferences…because the more we understand these things, the more we can help bridge the gap between the familiar and the innovative.  We need to Think Bigger about the impact of our cultures on innovation and business success.

Think Bigger About Our Biases, Our Workforce, and Ourselves

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg spent much of her keynote interview focused on workplace biases and how they hold us back.  In her words, “Men are still running the world and it’s not going so well.”  She talked about how expectations for leadership are very gendered – that the more successful men get, the more liked they are where conversely, the more successful women get, the less liked they become.  Men’s success is most often ascribed to their skills where women’s are attributed to hard work, help from others, and luck.  As HR professionals, we need to help make it safe to talk about and address these issues and how they may be holding us and our businesses back.  She also discussed the need to think less linearly about our careers and careers within our organization.  Short term plans and long term goals are both important, but the stuff in the middle is where so many variables come into play.  If we try too hard to connect the dots neatly and consecutively, we miss out on many opportunities in between.  Careers need to be approached more like “jungle gyms” where we embrace the chaos and change in the middle.  We need to Think Bigger about the work environments and careers we’re creating for our people and ourselves.

Think Bigger About Our Profession

In his opening address to attendees, SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor proposed that our profession is hungry for transformational ideas and leadership.  If we want to be ready to move into the future and how our worlds or work are going to change and evolve, not only do we need to keep our own knowledge and competencies current for 21st century HR, lead the charge for inclusive workplace cultures and workforce readiness, but we need to be ready to do things that scare us.  We need to be willing to dream bigger and take risks.  We need to Think Bigger about elevating our profession to something that remains relevant and drives business success as our world and worlds or work evolve.


It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Human Resources profession.  The opportunities to embrace bigger thinking and drive success are here, staring us down, daring us to take the plunge.  HR professionals, the path towards the future starts with us.  Who’s in???



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