A Penchant for Leadership

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Early in his HR career, Jose A. Berrios discovered he had a knack for identifying talent and leadership potential.

Berrios starts his two-year term this month as chair of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Board of Directors. Berrios first joined SHRM in 1989 and has been an active leader in the HR profession with SHRM and groups such as The Conference Board, Catalyst and the National Hispanic Corporate Council.

Berrios heads his own HR consulting firm, the Berrios Talent Group, and specializes in helping companies devise strategies to be more competitive by identifying, attracting and retaining the best talent possible.

With a reputation for identifying and recruiting the best and the brightest, Berrios serves as chair of the search committee for the new SHRM president and CEO. He says he is humbled and keenly aware of the key role and challenges he faces in helping to shape SHRM and the HR profession. HR Magazine Senior Writer Bill Leonard recently interviewed Berrios about these challenges and his vision for the future.

Was HR a career path that you chose initially?

Most of my professional career has been in the media, starting out in television production at NBC; then magazine publishing at Time Inc.; and finally at Gannett Co., publisher of USA TODAY and a national group of newspapers. I did not pick HR as a career, but rather it picked me. I realized early that I was good at finding, assessing and selecting talent. When I realized that HR fit my style and personality, my HR career began. My HR career really got its start when Time’s CEO asked an executive named Frank Trippett to start identifying and recruiting minority talent. Frank asked me to help.

How did you become involved with SHRM?

I had been active in various HR networks—I was a founder of The Conference Board’s Diversity Council, a founder of the National Hispanic Corporate Council and served on the board for the National Association of Minority Media Executives. Networking with colleagues in these organizations and within SHRM was a great way to learn and stay current on HR issues. So, when I was asked to serve on the SHRM board, it was an honor. Before being selected to be chair designate, I chaired the governance committee.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? What advice do you pass on to younger HR professionals?

A mentor once told me: “Take the work seriously, not yourself.” Another piece of advice was: “We’re all weak human beings; be kind, compassionate and understanding, and you will succeed.” But my favorite was Alfred Hitchcock’s advice to Kim Novak when she was having difficulty delivering a line on a movie set. He told her: “Kim, it’s only a movie; just say the lines.” In other words, don’t take this stuff too seriously.

Do you have any advice for other HR practitioners looking to develop their leadership skills?

Do your best work and don’t look for praise or recognition—that will come if you work hard and do your best. Align yourself with successful, positive people; avoid complainers and whiners; praise others’ good work; be kind; play nicely and always clean up after yourself. It sounds simple, but the axiom holds true that what you learned as a child in kindergarten applies every day in your work as an HR professional and as a SHRM volunteer leader.

What are the top challenges facing the HR profession now and in the next five to 10 years?

As the economy continues to struggle and unemployment remains high, business leaders will look for innovative ways to grow their organizations. They will look at HR professionals to help lead the way. Therefore, HR professionals will need to be more innovative in finding ways to do more with less and in helping to engage employees in these efforts. The professionals who do these tasks well will help their organizations to be more competitive and to grow. The challenges of employee engagement, a changing economy and high unemployment will continue to dominate the business agenda of domestic companies and organizations, and HR professionals must be ready to step up and find innovative ways for their organizations to evolve.

What is SHRM’s role in helping HR professionals meet these challenges?

SHRM is positioned well to serve its members. Through relevant research, data and information on topics that are pressing to HR professionals, SHRM helps members stay current and be more innovative in ways that benefit their organizations. Staff members provide quick responses to member queries. SHRM’s “We Know Next” campaign and slogan are very true.

What would make for a successful and productive tenure as chair?

My personal goal is to be an innovative and effective leader of the board. We have an opportunity to grow SHRM in the United States and globally, following the strategic plan the Society has developed. We will see an increase in membership worldwide and an increase in products and services as SHRM continues to expand and develop. One of our strategic goals is to grow this organization globally to almost 400,000 members by 2014. My success will be measured by how SHRM moves toward that goal.

How do you see your role in helping to select the next CEO for SHRM?

This is a responsibility that I and my colleagues on the board take very seriously. SHRM has an excellent and very talented executive team helping the board in this effort, so I feel blessed and fortunate. We will select the best person for this role. The CEO will need to review our overall strategy and our talented staff and assess what must be done to continue SHRM’s tradition of excellence. This person will need to review the context of our growth strategy to ensure that it fits and makes sense, given current and projected economic conditions.

Do you have any other goals that you want SHRM to achieve during your term?

My first goal will be to grow SHRM globally, expanding into areas that make business sense. We will be exploring all regions of the world and going where our members take us. The second area of focus will be to improve SHRM’s technology infrastructure to ensure that we continue to serve our members quickly and effectively by delivering information and data using the best platforms and devices. We will pursue all avenues to improve our infrastructure, and we will dedicate the resources to accomplish this objective.

What would you like your legacy to be?

HR professionals are key players in organizations and responsible for human capital. So, if I were to pick a theme for my tenure, it would be: “HR and SHRM: Making a Difference.” I would like my legacy to be that HR professionals and SHRM made a positive and lasting impact in their organizations, people’s lives and the world community.

The interviewer is a senior writer for HR Magazine.