Walter J. Cleaver
President and CEO
Human Resource Planning Society
As head of the Human Resource Planning Society, a 3,000-member organization composed mostly of senior HR executives from large corporations, Walter J. Cleaver is in a position to help shape the dialogue about the profession. This year the society, which wants to strengthen HR’s strategic outlook and practices, helped fund a study, "Achieving Strategic Excellence: An Assessment of Human Resource Organizations." Cleaver recently spoke with Workforce Management staff writer Mark Schoeff Jr.
Workforce Management: What is the biggest HR challenge facing corporate executives today?
Walter J. Cleaver: Engaging the workforce is one of the most important. We have to reach out to the organization and establish a climate of trust. If price is driving everything, CEOs are realizing that human capital is the only differentiator. It is taking center stage. The opportunity is as great as it ever has been for HR to add value to an organization.
WM: What is the best way for HR to contribute to business strategy?
Cleaver: HR leaders need to understand all the details of the business—the nature of the business, leadership needs, how to develop bench strength in an organization. Companies that year in and year out achieve their financial goals invest in their leadership over a long period of time.
WM: Explain the HRPS value proposition and your five areas of focus: HR strategy and planning, leadership development, talent management, organizational effectiveness and strategic human resources.
Cleaver: Everything we do is through that lens. We don’t do compensation; we don’t do compliance issues. We talk about the strategic value of those five areas. We’re also a networking organization. Our position in the market is to go after the top vice president or the person who reports to that person. A SHRM will go after all the functional areas. SHRM is always the 500-pound gorilla. We’re looking for people who have a strategic focus in this job.
WM: How is the HR profession changing?
Cleaver: As HR has evolved and become a topic for a degree in college, people are coming into that strategic role a lot sooner. So, we’re looking at (connecting to) that next generation of leaders. As HR is outsourcing the functional areas, you’re seeing a broader range of experience in terms of the HR executive.
WM: You often talk about sustainability. How do you define that term?
Cleaver: Sustainability is not just looking at the short term; it’s building for the long haul. A lot of companies are looking at the financial, social and environmental impact of what they do. Starbucks pays more for coffee beans because it donates a certain amount to the farmers and schools (of a foreign country) so they can keep a good supply source. A company’s long-term existence is in many ways connected to how the public perceives it in terms of values. Companies are looking to HR to help them be more accountable in this area. One of the ways you engage people is by having them work for a company they’re proud of.
Workforce Management, July 31, 2006, p. 7 -- Subscribe Now!