At Work

Excerpts from @Work Talent + HR Conference

CNBC's @Work Talent + HR conference convened earlier this week in New York City, featuring panel discussions on the future of work. Topics ranged from finding new sources of talent, maximizing retention and adopting new technologies to improving workforce diversity. An audience of chief human resource officers and senior HR professionals attended to learn best practices. Here are some edited excerpts.

Developing a talent pool in an age of A.I.

Ginni Rometty, Chair, President and CEO of IBM, speaking at the @Work event in New York City, on April 2, 2019.
Cindy Ord | CNBC

Ginni Rometty, Chair, President and CEO of IBM: I expect AI to change 100 percent of jobs within the next five to 10 years. This will require skills training on a large scale, and companies have to do it in a way that is inclusive — even embracing people who may not have a four-year college degree. The last time we had such a major paradigm shift was when the internet was introduced.

There are ways this can be done. I am a big advocator of six-year high schools that work with community colleges to develop needed skills. At IBM we also have an apprenticeship program to train workers for "new-collar" jobs in many fields.

In today's world, companies need to be agile and realize their workforce is a strategic renewable asset. At IBM we employ 350,000 people and we spend half a billion dollars a year retraining our employees.

We also put an emphasis on retention. The best time to get to an employee is before they go. We use artificial intelligence technology that can predict with 95 percent accuracy which workers are planning to leave their jobs. Its success comes through analyzing many data points. AI has so far saved IBM nearly $300 million in retention costs.

Measuring workforce happiness

Jon Cohen, Chief Research officer, SurveyMonkey, discusses workplace happiness at the @Work event in New York City on April 2, 2019.
Cindy Ord | CNBC

Jon Cohen, Chief Research Officer, SurveyMonkey: CNBC and SurveyMonkey teamed up to launch a Workplace Happiness Index. We found that overall workers are happy with their jobs. The index measures how Americans feel about their jobs across five key categories — pay, opportunities for advancement, recognition, autonomy and meaning — and was an optimistic 71 out of 100. The biggest contributor to overall happiness is meaningfulness.

Workers want to have a purpose. They also want a path for advancement and opportunity. It's interesting to note that 85 percent of workers in the U.S. say they are at least somewhat satisfied with their job, according to our workplace happiness survey of nearly 9,000 workers across the country that we conducted in March.

Who are the happiest? People who work in consulting and research.

It's a matter of trust

(L to R) Rita McGrath, Francine Katsoudas and Jayne Parker speak at the @Work event in New York City on April 2, 2019.
Cindy Ord | CNBC

Rita McGrath, Professor, Columbia Business School; Author, "The End of Competitive Advantage": If your CEO is making all the wheels turn, he's using an outdated model.

Leaders who have emphasis on profits over people have a huge blind spot. About 50 percent of a CEO's role is not actually operating the company anymore. It's being a spokesman for the company. He or she is the face of the company and serves a symbolic role.

Francine Katsoudas, EVP and Chief People Officer, Cisco: We work a lot in teams at Cisco, and it's important that employees feel like their team members have their back. We are using AI to better understand how networks of people work together to see if there are any weak spots. It's flipping AI on its head in an effort to help employees.

Jayne Parker, SVP and Chief Human Resources Officer, Disney: The issue of trust is one of the things Disney is working hardest on. Employees need to feel like they trust the people they work with. They need to trust leadership that promotes a culture of transparency. Above all, leaders need to be authentic and honest.

Since the announcement that Disney is buying 21st Century Fox, it's been challenging. From the moment you announce a merger, everyone asks: 'What's going on? What does it mean for me?' You need to communicate as best you can that change is coming and it's not going to be easy.

Making the workplace a better place to work

Vasant Dhar (left) and Jason Fried during a panel discussion at the @Work event in New York City on April 2, 2019.
Cindy Ord | CNBC

Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp and author of "Rework": I don't think work is getting better. It's getting worse. Too many endless meetings, emails, being on call 24/7 and 80-hour workweeks are driving people crazy. Employees are now too busy to think.

One of the worst inventions in modern technology is the shared calendar, where everyone can steal each others' time. Technology and distractions are sapping everyone's attention. Leaders need to respect and preserve the time of their employees so they can be happier and more productive at work.

Nothing will change until people raise their hands and raise their voices and say: 'We need to have a life, recharge our brains so we can be productive.'

Vasant Dhar, Professor, Stern School of Business and Center for Data Science, NYU: We have made tremendous progress with machine learning and AI in the last few years, but we are getting carried away with ourselves. AI isn't going to steal everyone's job in the next few years. Machines have a long way to go before they can understand fundamental understanding of language; they still don't understand humans, our vagaries and our behavior. A lot of this stuff has to happen.

The tool is still the fool. Remember that.

My advice to young people: Study philosophy and digital technology at the same time. Complement your learning with tech skills that are in short supply.

The diversity conundrum

Craig Robinson moderates a panel discussion with (L to R) Amy Liu Abel, Nancy Reyes and Eric Hutcherson during the @Work event in New York City on April 2, 2019.
Cindy Ord | CNBC

Craig Robinson, EVP and Chief Diversity Officer, NBCUniversal: We can all agree that there are challenges in corporate America in terms of gender, ethnicity and diversity, but it is helpful to look at the data and come up with actionable items that can help CHROs change the workplace.

Everyone recognizes that we need to develop corporate cultures that are welcoming and supportive to all diverse employees; otherwise, they will take their talents elsewhere.

Amy Lui Abel, Managing Director of Human Capital, The Conference Board: Research we've done at the Conference Board shows women compose 20 percent of senior leadership roles. But it will take another 75 years to reach gender parity on boards of directors.

It's depressing news, but there are pockets of hope. Over 60 percent of the HR leaders we have interviewed say they are making progress. The industry with the highest number of female CEOs on the S&P 500 is the utilities industry. That seems counterintuitive, since it's typically a male-dominated industry, but the industry started working early on supporting women. And they tackled gender parity systematically.

We have found that increasing companies realize that mentoring is a powerful tool to help women advance in the workplace. Lots of organizations are building internal mentors in their own company, which is a cost-effective approach.

Nancy Reyes, President, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York: At our company, we were spending a lot of time on developing executive leaders but realized we needed to develop a pipeline of potential women leaders. Two years ago we started the Circle of Women initiative. We identified potential women leaders, half of whom of color, and paired each with an executive coach. This gave them a safe space to find their own voice and anything else they needed. We wanted women to coach one or two junior female employees. We think women lifting women is very empowering. It is about creating an infinite circle of women.

A company's culture is exemplified in its leaders. They should be role models, and they must be held accountable. This is what we can do. We should all treat people as we want to be treated.

Eric Hutcherson, EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer, National Basketball Association: The diversity equation is not an easy one to solve for, and neither is inclusion for that matter. The NBA has made great strides. You have to be intentional. This year NBA had its first woman leadership forum with a number of male allies to discuss the challenges they face in the workplace and what we can do to make things better. We find what works best is finding commonality among our differences. That's why we encourage resource groups to work together.

For employees, there will be headwinds and tailwinds. It's important for organizations to provide the support and infrastructure so they can be successful. Some of it is mentoring. I want people to come to work joyful every day. Our calling is 'to compete with intensity, lead with integrity and inspire play.' That holds true in our workplace as well.

CHRO 3.0: An evolving role in the C-Suite

Adam Bryant moderates a panel discussion with Donna Morris (left) and Kathleen Hogan during the @Work event in New York City on April 2, 2019.
Cindy Ord | CNBC

Adam Bryant, Managing Director, Merryck & Co.; Fmr. "Corner Office" columnist, New York Times: The role of CHRO is a tremendously difficult job that is driving corporate culture and business. More and more leaders see human resources as an accelerant for growth. A lot of CEOs want a strategic CHRO, but many are not sure what that means. To be effective, the CHRO has to have a voice in the boardroom and build strong relationships with C-suite leaders.

You are the ones that have to stand up for what is true and valuable and make the tough calls. You have to build a reputation as being the honest broker.

Communicate to the CEO that HR is going to drive the business, bring data to the discussion, take a big picture view of the organization. The key is how you structure a matrix organization. You can't win if you are operating in silos.

Donna Morris, Chief Human Resources Officer and EVP, Employee Experience, Adobe: What is unique is that all companies are going through a digital transformation right now. HR experts now have to ask: 'How do you build an environment where people are constantly adaptive learners?'

That's because all organizations are being disrupted, and you need to build an environment where people are curious and open to learning new things. Jobs don't remain static anymore. There is a big learning component to the CHRO role today. It's important to have a learning agenda in place that is going to drive the business.

For that reason, I believe cultures have to keep evolving. My role at Adobe is to really make sure a company is living by its values and bringing examples to the table of where we can do better.

CHRO is the loneliest job. It's a lot decision-making that can't be shared. Independently advising your peers, CEO and board can leave you in a lonely space.

Kathleen Hogan, Chief People Officer & EVP of HR, Microsoft: Everyone around the boardroom table, including the CEO, has to be on the journey with you so you can drive the trajectory of the business.

Microsoft's CEO asks for feedback from me and often shares it with the top leadership executives of the company. That is important. On a recent company leadership offsite, he shared my insights with the top 200 executives of Microsoft.

The role of CHRO is a series of balancing acts. I wear multiple hats. I run the HR function for Microsoft. As the chief people officer, I have to connect with 130,000 employees across 190 countries to advocate for them. I am the HR business decision maker who partners with the CEO. In addition, I help on the customers' agenda for the company and how we serve them.

It's important to work with the company's leadership team to have shared responsibility on strategy.