Nielson's leadership in many industry-advocacy groups earned him a 1997 Society for Human Resource Management Award for Professional Excellence. Recognized as true innovators and leaders in the workplace, the community and the HR profession, the Award for Professional Excellence recipients are role models who set standards for others and apply their expertise in professional as well as personal endeavors.
Q: Does Texas Instruments provide incentives for employee referrals? What type of employee referral program does the company have?
A: If an employee refers an individual, and we hire the person, we pay the individual who referred him or her $1,500. We use and promote this program when we're having a staffing challenge, or looking for specialized jobs. The time this program was hot was when we were having a heavy hiring spree. We're not doing it right now.
Q: Is the program successful?
A: It helps.
Q: Please comment on TI's strategy as it relates to temporary staffing.
A: Previously, we used to have more contingent workers [than we do currently]. We used to have contract or temp people working in a lot of disciplines. Now we don't have as many and we use them in more specialized areas where we can't find that expertise other places, particularly in the software area. It has gone from a broad strategy of having many, which we've backed off from. Now, it's more that we look at what we need. We've also found that many times, using people who work in the software area for example, that's what the people want-to do temporary work. They want the flexibility. So, our contingent staffing strategy has become more focused and driven by discipline.
Q: Does TI take a national/international approach or local market approach in the selection of staffing providers?
A: TI takes a mostly local market approach although, again, it depends on needs. It depends on the supply and demand of people with the specialties we need. And, it depends on local legal systems. This is true for staffing in general. If there's a discipline we're having difficulty filling, we will recruit worldwide. We've done that before for chip designers and software folks.
Q: TI has a definite emphasis on "fit," ensuring that employees fit with the TI culture. Does this philosophy apply with temporary workers as well?
A: Not as much at that level, no. Again, with temporary folks, we're looking for special skills. It's really a skill fit rather than a culture fit.
Q: As part of determining the "fit" of a regular employee, how many interviews does a job candidate go through?
A: It varies by job and level of job. However, the basic pattern would be that the person would be interviewed by someone from HR and probably at least two people in the business where he or she would be.
Q: What steps can be taken to be identified as the preferred employer in your industry or your community?
A: The first reaction I have to that question is you never get through-that's a constantly moving target. You're constantly striving to be there. When you think you're there, you lose. The second crucial thing is to remember it's not us who gets to decide that. It's talking to people we've recently hired and to people we've made offers to but who have turned us down. It's based on real input from real people.
And then, [to be identified as the preferred employer] we've done the things you typically do. We're careful with compensation surveys to ensure we're competitive in what we pay and how we deliver that pay. The same with benefits. We make sure we're as good as anybody else or better, both in terms of value and also in the way the benefits are delivered. We've had profit sharing, for example, and in past years we gave the shares in total stock. Based on feedback, we recently changed this offering to part stock and part cash. That's what I mean by ensuring they're delivered in a way that's appreciated, so people view them as valuable.
Also, the work/life issues are of growing importance-flexibility in terms of hours, workspace and all of that. For a long time, we didn't allow kids under 15 in our operations, for example. We discovered that, although we need to always be safe and not endanger people, people sometimes have a need to bring a child with them to the workplace for a limited time. So even though the old rule made sense from a safety standpoint, it didn't make much sense in today's competitive environment. Flexibility of this sort is of growing importance.
Q: What steps can a company take to retain top performers in turbulent times?
A: To answer the second part of your question on retaining top performers, there are certain givens, such as compensation and benefits have got to be competitive. But then what becomes crucial for high performers is whether they're doing things they view as exciting. Are they doing cutting-edge stuff? Do they feel they're making a contribution to something meaningful? Do they have the tools they need to do their jobs? Are the people they work for and with considered by them to be leaders? In a nutshell, they want exciting and meaningful work.
Q: Where do you think HR as a profession will be in 10 years?
A: I hope it will be at a point in which, if a person comes to someone at TI and says, "Lets see your HR strategy," we would say, "We don't have one, but let me show you our business strategy. You'll see that it's dependent on crucial people stuff." The people stuff will be integrated, not separated. The business strategy will have people elements that are essential to success.
The other thing that I hope is that we will have HR people who are really proud of being responsible for the people component of business strategy, and who are aware they're significantly contributing to their companies' successes. I frequently encounter HR people who ring their hands, have their heads down and grumble like Rodney Dangerfield that they don't get any respect. These people will miss a fabulous opportunity. For forever we in HR have wanted business to recognize that people are the most important resource. We're there, so let's take advantage of that. I worry that some folks are in a negative mode and the world will pass them by.
Q: Given where you think HR needs to be, what competencies do you think are most important for HR people going forward?
A: The things we've identified at TI are, we think probably foremost is the ability to lead change. That's real important. That's not adapt to change but lead change, create change, cause change. Another competency is to have a good understanding of business process. HR really needs to understand what it takes to run a business. The third is to be experts of the HR function, of compensation, training, benefits and so on. Those are the three areas we focus our attention on.
Q: What does being a leader in the organization mean to you?
A: For an HR person, being a leader in the organization means you have the same opportunity, responsibility, accountability and influence as any other member of the leadership team. Being a strategic leader means you can show evidence that you have actually influenced the direction of the business.
Q: What's the greatest contribution HR professionals can make in the years ahead?
A: To lead organizations in their action to hire, train and motivate individuals while, at the same time, being the initiator of actions that result in organizational success.
Q: You've been recognized on numerous occasions as being a leader in your field. To what do you attribute this?
A: First, TI as an organization has demonstrated business success. Secondly, the HR team has initiated activity in a broad range of areas which have been successful, such as diversity initiatives, work/life initiatives, major redesign of benefits programs, innovative reward and recognition activities and succession planning. It should be noted that these activities are evident globally.
Q: I know from having met you at trade shows that you are legally blind. If you don't mind commenting on this, I'd like to know if there are any lessons you've learned as a result of having this additional challenge that you could share.
A: The thing this has taught me most is: My blindness is hereditary, I couldn't do anything about the fact that I'm blind. I didn't have influence over whether I'd be blind or not. However, I have everything to do with how I handle it. No one controls attitude but me. I make decisions on my attitude. Another thing is recognizing the fact that different is an asset, not a liability.
Q: What type of accommodations has TI put in place for you in regards to your blindness?
A: I have an electronic reader on my desk, I use a dictaphone and tape recorder and have had the same assistant for many years. Those types of things I guess would be considered accommodations and make my life easier. I'm sure they're at least enablers. The biggest thing in my own personal view is I've been lucky to work for a company comfortable to accept me for what I am and base me on my results, nothing else.