Notes from Fort Lauderdale (Guest commentary)

Highlights from the 2007 HRPS conference

Editor’s note: Recently a number of members of SCNetwork, a Canadian non-profit HR association for senior business leaders, attended a gathering of more than 600 business and HR leaders from around the world at the 30th annual Human Resource Planning Society (HRPS) conference last month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The following is an outline of some of the major trends and issues discussed.

The strongest trend that emerged at the HRPS conference was a move toward a clear understanding of a mental model and a set of principles to guide decisions about talent within the organization.

This focus on a clear model and rigorous principles was evident in presentations by business leaders such as John Hoffmeister, president and U.S. country chair of Shell; Edward Liddy, chairman of Allstate; Ken Freeman, chairman, president and CEO of Masonite; and L. Ben Lytle, CEO of Axia Health Management. Each presented a view of the use of talent grounded in a clear set of principles and a rigorous approach to making decisions based on their particular model.

Each of these business leaders, some accompanied by their senior HR executive, spoke with a passion and described their vision and mission in simple terms. They embodied all of the characteristics normally associated with leaders but, more importantly, they had a comprehensive, integrated view of how they leverage the talent in their businesses over time based on clear, definable and measurable factors.

Identifying ‘hot spots’

Lynda Gratton, a professor of organizational behaviour at the London Business School, discussed research she conducted to attempt to identify “hot spots” — the organizational points where innovation occurs. Her studies also revealed that decision science was critical to identifying and encouraging these points. Hot spots are created when people feel positive about each other, but most importantly the task must be interesting for ignition at the hot spot to occur and lead to innovation. She found intact teams over longer periods became less hot until a “boundary jumper” was added to the group and new contacts and ideas were able to flow.

Throughout the conference speakers and presenters took a long-term view of talent as the only real sustainable competitive advantage. Robert Carlyle, head of Aon’s intelligence unit, incorporated factors from demographics, economic models, business cycle models and pricing models to present a number of possible scenarios and the consequences of decisions on the outcome in terms of talent and therefore workforce planning.

Work in America updated

In one interesting breakout session, noted researcher Jim O’Toole described his 2005 update to his original Work in America research he conducted in 1972. Both studies produced nearly identical findings about what work practices make companies successful: high involvement HR with high levels of two-way communication and transparency; leadership that respects, engages and motivates staff to become involved in producing and effectively implementing more creative ideas; and properly structured pay for performance. Toyota, Southwest Airlines and many other organizations of all sizes continue to deliver outstanding results and become ever stronger practical examples of this in action.

What also hasn’t changed, unfortunately, is the relatively small number of organizations and senior leadership teams implementing these approaches after 35 years of proof. For some reason, still not entirely clear, many senior line executives doubt them and therefore don’t adopt them.

HR becomes ‘talentship’

In the closing keynote, John Boudreau, professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, said that senior HR leadership must move from the professional practice of human resources processes to become a decision science that he calls “talentship.” Just as the professional practice of accounting led to the professional decision science of finance, HR needs to assist organizations to make decisions based on shared mental models and rigorous principles. By doing so, HR will be fully integrated into overall strategic decision making for the businesses they serve.

Barry Barnes and Dave Crisp are thought leaders at the Strategic Capability Network ( The SC Network helps leaders throughout organizations achieve competitive strength through people. For more information e-mail [email protected] or [email protected] or visit

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