19 min 47 sec

Steve Miranda on how to be a better HR professional

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Steve Miranda on how to be a better HR professional

Steve is one of those few engineers who decided to transition to HR. From his first stint as HR Director at Bell Laboratories to today handling the CHRO practice at one of the world's leading IT research firms, Steve has seen HR evolve and grow and weather many storms over the years.

This conversation with Kiran Menon is the real deal with Steve listing out super simple and actionable tips on how to become a better HR leader.

For starters, you need to write your EX strategy the way you would read a book (in English) - from left to right.

Listen in to understand how that works!
#employeeexperience #futureofwork #leadership #hr #peopleops

Steve Miranda is a Global HR & Technology Executive and Former CHRO, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

You can connect with Steve on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stevenamiranda/

For more content on data-driven and personalized Employee Experience, visit https://www.tydy.co

Kiran: 0:42

Thank you, Steve, for being here and being a part of this again. Thank you for taking the time off and having a conversation about HR and the evolution and people ops. Welcome.

Steve: 0:55

Thank you. Kiran. Delighted to be here and chat with you about these topics.

Kiran: 0:59

So Steve, I know, you've kind of, you're bringing in a lot of experience. You're bringing in a lot of operational experience from an HR perspective as well. And so before we get started, maybe a quick introduction about yourself so that everyone could understand the background and what you bring in.

Steve: 1:16

Sure, Kiran. I guess the best way to describe my career has been a series of absolutely fantastic, happy coincidences. One good event leading to the other. I actually started off on the technology side. So my graduate degree is in computer science. I worked several years for Bell Laboratories, which we tell our daughters who are all techies. It was the Google of the day. They don't quite believe it, but it really was. After doing some technology work there, I was asked to come over and become the head of HR for Bell Laboratories. I did that assignment, went to Hong Kong then for three and a half years, did assignments for the Asia Pacific region where I ran Lucent Technologies, HR Ops. Went over to the Society for Human Resource Management, which is the professional association for HR individuals, where I was the chief HR officer, what we call the CHRO. Then made a move to Cornell University, where I headed up the Center for Advanced HR Studies. Went to the Central Bank of the United States where they asked me to run both HR and technology for five years, and then most recently was pulled by what we refer to as genetic magnets, which is our granddaughter and our two daughters who live in Seattle. Our third daughter is down in Palo Alto on the same time zone. Long way around the barn to say it's just been a marvelous journey. I've had an opportunity to work in so many great organizations with so many great people.

Kiran: 2:38

And we're so honored to have you over here with us. What's, what's interesting before I jump into my questions, how did you make that shift from technology to HR?

Steve: 2:48

Yeah, you know, this kind of goes to career management. Kiran, I was literally minding my own business on the technology side when I got a call from the president of Bell Laboratories, who had seen me present in different forums. And he said, Steve, I want to talk to you about an opportunity. I want you to come over and be my HR director for Bell Labs. And I in the old days, we didn't have video. So I looked into the phone and I said that's an interesting idea, but I don't know anything about HR, right? Here's one key message for HR leaders is what he said next. He says, yeah, but you understand how scientists and engineers think. And you've shown a very good level of emotional intelligence. He used the phrase even before it was a phrase. Good way of understanding people to help us figure out how do we take what is in the brains of the scientists and engineers and get it out to market faster. I want you to come in and I want you to learn HR as you're in the job and then make as big an impact as possible. So that was an opportunity that was given to me because of my working in kind of extracurricular areas of Bell Laboratories at the time.

Kiran: 3:51

I haven't heard of too many technologists who have made that shift to HR. So that's refreshing and that's great. So in, in that, move what have you seen as the evolution of HR, because I think it's shifted leaps and bounds over the last few years. But I think, from where you started to what it is today, what's that evolution look like?

Steve: 4:14

Yeah, I'll phrase it this way. I'll give you two thoughts around this. The first is what is the kind of person that will be successful as an HR professional versus the kind that is not. And then I'll talk about at the higher level. The kind of person that will not be successful in HR is one that comes in with a degree or some experience and says, I'm done. I'm done learning and I'm going to take what I've learned up to this point in time and apply it to my current human capital issues. The kind of person who will be wildly successful is someone who exhibits what we call today a growth mindset. They're very interested in learning, staying on top of things, understanding how the world is changing around them, business practices, human capital practices, technology practices, and is constantly retooling themselves to do a better job. You will be very successful if you embrace that attitude of lifelong learning. The other thing I would say about the HR function is it has gotten incredibly more complicated and incredibly more difficult the last three years. And a catalyst for that was COVID. You should think about all of the human capital issues we had to deal with work from home, vaccinations are no vaccinations. Apart from Covid, we had the social challenges here in the United States stemming from many racial issues that we continue to deal. With tons of other societal issues. The pressure on HR continues to build, which from my perspective is a great opportunity for us to show how the profession can shine. So I would say two things. Number one, the amount of learning that an individual needs to do is increasing exponentially. And number two, the demands on the role are increasing exponentially.

Kiran: 5:53

Got it. And so what are the kinds of skills that, HR professionals need today. It's still the same as what they needed um, 10 years ago, or you said there was this whole technology component coming in, there's a human component that's constantly evolving. So what are some of the skills that professionals need today?

Steve: 6:12

Kiran, when I went to undergraduate I had the good sense, maybe some might call it that to do a liberal arts undergraduate degree. And then I got my professional a degree with computer science afterwards. And one of the things that the liberal arts education taught me is there are certain skills, the way to think, the way to communicate that are transferable to any profession. So in terms of HR, things have changed dramatically in the last 10 years, the way we do employee benefits, the way we compensate people, the way we recruit,, all of those things have changed. So the interface to human beings is very different now than it was 10 years ago. However, underneath all of that. The need for HR to be able to communicate clearly, to show care and concern for the individual to help people in the organization, understand how the organizational strategy relates to them as individuals. That's all stayed the same. That's been the same way for millennia. You think back to the times of the Greeks and the Romans all the way to today, people still need that fundamental understanding. So that has not changed, but all of what I would call the wrapping around it, the how we do it has changed fundamentally.

Kiran: 7:19

So basically the mediums of communication, the mediums of engagement, those are fundamentally shifting today, right? More technology enabled, more probably, I don't know, data centric. So what are your thoughts about those then how to adapt over there?

Steve: 7:35

Yeah, you hit it right on the head, Kiran. You know, one of the conversations that's occurring right now is ChatGPT and all of the artificial intelligence. Hey, is my, am I going to be replaced by an AI? And I would say no, but here's something you should be worried about. You may not be replaced by an AI. Who you will be replaced by is someone who's an HR professional that knows how to leverage AI better than you do. So the technology becomes an enabler. I myself have just signed up for a Udemy course on ChatGPT and how to understand it. I don't know whether I'll ever use ChatGPT in my professional career, but I want to be on top of it. I want to understand how it's changing the world around us. So technology is an enabler. And unless you understand how those enablers work. You are destined to be using processes and strategies that are no longer valid and no longer useful.

Kiran: 8:29

When you start thinking about people operations, which is a fairly new term that's coming into the world of HR and employee experience. How does that fit into the whole kind of HR scheme of things? Where does people ops fit in? Is it what is it a merge of technology and HR skills? Is it a techno functional role? Where does that kind of fit in for professionals today?

Steve: 8:56

Yeah, I really like the phrase you just coined there, Kiran, the techno functional. Here's how I think about this whole, I'll call it bifurcation or separation within HR. It's very similar to what the finance people, the money people have already done. When you look at the CFO organization, you have the accounting part of the business, which is the transactional, the operational piece, closing the books, the income statements, the balance sheets. Very critical work, right? And then you have the finance piece of the function, which is determining whether you're going to do a debt offering or an equity offering, securing money at the cheapest possible cost. And typically that tends to be viewed as a higher level type of capability. Not more important than say the operational. This is at a higher level. I see the same thing happening in HR. There is attention being paid to making sure the operations work smoothly, leveraging technology, leveraging process improvement, eliminating what we call work friction. But then, on the other side, in terms of the finance equivalent of HR. It's things like workforce planning, succession management, organizational change effectiveness, employee engagement, those are the things that are equally important to keeping the trains running on time within the HR function.

Kiran: 10:09

And when we talk about all of that, employee engagement and Maybe even performance nowadays, right? So what are some of the technologies that you're most excited about or the advancements that you're most excited about?

Steve: 10:21

Yeah, one of the technologies I really think is exceptionally promising are all of these tools and applications, which allow people to get just in time coaching and training. So there's a variety of different tools out there. Goldster is one of them. There's several others where you literally you have a situation you're walking into and you can go to one of these apps and get real time immediate advice either through the web or through a quick connect with an online advisor. Say you're getting ready to go into a meeting with a bunch of individuals never met. You can go in there, say, how do I make a good first impression? Or what are the three major points I should make on such and such? Real time right away. Never used to be available to us before. So I think those kinds of applications are phenomenal. The other are what I will call the work elimination applications. So the key is not just to automate your processes is to leverage technology, but it's to figure out how to take work out of the system. And there are all kinds of tools available nowadays, which will enable you to chart out your processes and quickly identify where it is that you can take work out of the system. Because at the end of the day, you It doesn't make any difference if you use a computer to do something in three days, or if a human does it in three days. It's still taking three days.

Kiran: 11:31

If I'm an HR professional today how do I get started down this path? For example, work elimination, what should I be thinking of before I go out and start searching for software that can do it? What is my first step? How am I prepping myself?

Steve: 11:47

Yeah, great question again, Kiran. The way I challenged the teams I work with, the HR professionals that are part of my teams, is to ask them the question in English, which side of the paper do we start reading on? And they look at me like, Steve, what the heck are you talking about? We start at the left side of the paper and we read to the right. I said, that's right. What we want to make sure we don't do in HR is to start reading from the right of right side of the paper and so what does reading from the right side of the paper look like? It looks like, Steve, I have an idea for a great training and development program we should roll out. I'll say stop, go out of the office, come back in the office, let's start again. The left side of the paper is the business issue. What is the business issue? Steve, we're facing a 5% shortfall in our revenue for the third quarter this year, or we're two points under on our margin goal, or if we're a not profit, we're under delivering on our fundraising requirements for this year, right? The middle part of the paper is the gap. What's the magnitude of how big the gap is between what you need to achieve and what it is that you are currently at. And then and only then do you put in place the HR initiative. So advice number one to someone trying to figure out how to approach this is learn the business issues. To actually not focus on HR capabilities but learn what are the biggest business operational organizational issues and then do some homework around how are other organizations approaching this. Do some benchmarking. Great resources out there you can go to. SHRM.Org-Society for Human Resource Management dot org. McKinsey has a lot of great stuff on this. Gartner has a lot of great stuff on this. Searching out their websites and looking for information will provide you with tons of great ideas.

Kiran: 13:27

I love the left right analogy as well. Maybe I'm gonna use that at some point. You talked about that middle part, which is understanding where you are and then it's almost a current state vs future state thought process. So does that require HR folk to now start thinking from a technology perspective as far as process optimization and maybe efficiency improvements are concerned. So how do you go about that? Are you thinking about data flows, flow charts? What's that in between process?

Steve: 14:00

I think there is a place for the data flows and the concept charts, but oftentimes it takes a step even before that. So I'll ask you to visualize in your head sort of a rectangle sitting top to bottom on a sheet of paper in front of you and about maybe a halfway up the rectangle you draw a line across and underneath the bottom square of that rectangle is what you or what the organization knows how to do. Okay. And then the upper part of that rectangle, the blank spot above that line is what you will need to do. So anytime we're faced with anything in an organization, it's what we know how to do, but then there's always more being asked for us. What is the only way for you to close the gap between what you know how to do and what you need to do? There's only two ways. One is to learn how to do more. Leveraging technologies, smoothing the processes, getting things more efficient, bringing in better quality talent or artificial intelligence to grow that. The other Kiran that people often miss on is to want less. Is to go ahead and use your brainpower to say, lower that top line and the HR person is in an incredible position to say, do we really need to do all of this? More organizations, Kiran, die from indigestion than starvation, so taking on too many projects, trying to grow that bottom part, is as often the kiss of death as not doing enough.

Kiran: 15:23

One of the things I keep telling people I meet is adding software is not gonna be the solution. Unless it can really support someone within the organization to do their job better. And very often look at this whole puzzle and then just start bringing in all the pieces of software to try and stitch together the perfect solution, but it's disconnected. It's it's not thought through from a holistic perspective. As you said, you're just trying to add more and more pieces on top, which kind of weigh down on you. So as an HR professional, I think one of my last questions would be is what should I do to upskill myself and in such a fast paced ecosystem. You can do your courses, but are there other ways for me to look at upskilling for what the future holds?

Steve: 16:16

Yeah, absolutely. And, I'd phrase it in three different approaches. One is what I would call the high level upskilling. To your point, take a class, take a one off college education class, a college program where it may not lead to a degree, but you get a chance to sit in and hear a very accomplished individual. Along with classmates who you can learn from. Take a semester course on something. The second is all of the plethora of free available courses right now. Udemy, Khan Academy, all of these other ones. You should be actively going out there and engaging there. Carve out some time during the day where you set aside an hour and say, I'm going to go ahead and take this class. But the third and the most important one is read. Read and understand what is going out there. And I'm not talking about reading Facebook and I'm not talking about reading off Tiktok or whatever. Read a high quality publication. In here in the United States, it might be the New York Times or the Washington Post. In Seattle where I live, it's the Seattle times. I read a variety of financial magazines. I stay up on top of the technology publications as well, because even though you may not have a specific thing you will learn from there, you will have a very good understanding of what's happening out in the world, and that's where you find technology solutions that you can go ahead and bring to bear. So it's what I refer to Kiran as the listening into which we speak. Every time we go into a situation, there is a listening for us or our company, and we have to understand what that is and what's the best way for us to play into that.

Kiran: 17:50

What I'm taking out of that, Steve, is as an HR professional it's really important that I understand business and I follow the business ecosystem and not just my vertical or my function or my job description, but understand the economy as a whole, understand where we fit into that economy. And therefore, in order to deliver the best experience for my colleagues I need to understand the business environment that they're living in so that I can deliver the best experience for them.

Steve: 18:23

Exactly. And I want to make sure I didn't give the wrong impression when I use the word business, I'm not talking just about for profit, publicly listed or private equity. I'm talking about mission oriented organizations, nonprofits, federal agencies, NGOs. They all still need the HR people in those organizations all need to understand how does this place work? What is our broader delivery? What are the business challenges, organizational challenges that we face. And how can I leverage my HR expertise and my team's expertise to close the gaps? Again, we're going from right to left side again here to deal with the business issues. Yeah. You hit it right on.

Kiran: 19:02

That makes a lot of sense, Steve. And with that, I think we're at the end of this uh, session, which has been extremely insightful. And I think there have been a number of uh, gems scattered through the entire conversation. So thank you for that again, Steve and really appreciate it.

Steve: 19:19

Kiran, I'll leave you with one last thought, and it's a joke I like to tell a lot of people, which is, in my experience, there are three types of people in the world. They're the people who make things happen. The people who watch things happen and there's the people who wonder, what in the heck just happened. And you wanna make sure you are only one of those type of people, the kind of people who makes things happen.

Kiran: 19:41

Couldn't have ended it better. Thank you so much, Steve.