And that certainly seemsto be the case for Gorrell. As the senior vice president of human resources andadministration for USCS International, based in Rancho Cordova, California (asuburb of Sacramento), Gorrell has discovered that neither a life, nor a career,always fits neatly into a small corral. Start by rounding up some HR experiencefrom different places (like Hewlett-Packard for 13 years and Ziff Davis forthree, not to mention a stint as an employee relations representative for thegovernor of the Virgin Islands).
Then add a littleold-fashioned hard work (with experience in every functional area of HR fromtraining to compensation), and brand it with your own particular HR philosophy(change with the changing business or you’ll never survive). But when he hangshis hat up at the end of the day, Gorrell’s looks an awful lot like a formulafor a great HR leader.
- What’s your leadership style?
- I learned a lot at Hewlett-Packard (HP). Many of my business values and guiding principles came from “the HP way.” I learned a lot about the people business, but I didn’t really learn what I needed to know about the bottom line until I departed HP’s divisional structure and joined a smaller company’s headquarters as the top HR exec, where I got total visibility [of the business].
- When I was supporting a lot of technical, analytical people in manufacturing environments at HP, I learned that if you can measure it, you can manage it. My last six years here at USCS have been an exercise in that [lesson]. Performance measurements inform internal customers what you’re doing on a regular basis, because in HR in the service business, if you aren’t adding value to the bottom line, then why are you there?
- I believe HR has to earn its way and show a return on investment like every other department. I believe HR leadership also has to take ownership for the attraction, retention and development of the [company’s] human resources. HR has to set the example to lead the executive team to do the same. It sounds trite, but you must “walk the talk.” So my leadership style is to help drive and facilitate that for our leadership team.
- How do you best facilitate that?
- The best way to do that is to pick your CEO (or manager) carefully. Having a CEO who’s willing to partner with HR and give it full corporate executive committee and boardroom privileges is a special thing. The relationship and trust with the CEO is paramount, and the chemistry is extremely important. Once you have that and the [necessary] resources, you can do just about anything the organization needs to have happen.
- What do you think makes a great HR leader?
- You have to find a leadership style that you’re comfortable with. Not everybody is comfortable with a process and measurement style. You need to align the attributes you have with the type of industry and organization [you want to be in]. It requires that you do some personal assessment and be honest with yourself. And you have to also remember that at the end of the day, you have several different customer bases - one is your boss, who is the person looking out for the shareholders; one is all your employees, and you’re their advocate; and the other is your company’s customers.
- Some people have tried to convince me that employees are HR’s primary customer. From my point of view, that’s not correct. They’re my constituents. We’re colleagues - we’re here to do things together. HR’s customer is the same as it is for the company, the one who pays for our products and services. We should all be focused on looking at our external customers, and hopefully drive programs and services for our employees that help meet both the company’s and the individuals’ objectives. The area of attraction and retention of both employees and customers is very important to us.
- What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about HR leadership?
- The biggest lesson is that there’s no one individual who knows everything. So the thing I’ve been most successful at doing is surrounding myself with good people who have different expertise and who are brighter than I am in different areas. Collectively, we’re much stronger than one strong single leader could be. At HP, I learned that the ultimate compliment would be that you’d work for anybody that you’ve hired. I could say I’d be thrilled to work for any one of my team members at any point in time, and probably will someday.
- What has been your biggest leadership challenge so far?
- The transition from a private to a public company has been the biggest challenge. When we went public, we were faced with forming a new board of directors. The recruitment of several of the new board of directors was handed to me to coordinate. And I’d have to say we were very fortunate, and brought on some really top-notch people. But that’s not enough. Once the board was in place, they formed the requisite committees as required by the Security Exchange Commission.
- With the formation of a formal BOD compensation committee, we had the opportunity to address many key competitive issues. Among those were incentive stock options, an employee stock-purchase program, broader bonus programs and cash profit sharing. As you’d expect, it was a challenge to transition our entrepreneurial venture-type BOD, but we were able to use competitive data to sell these necessary compensation strategies. The HR team developed and implemented these new programs targeted at attraction and retention of our employees. All of these activities were designed to “share the wealth” further down in the organization.
- So we entered into a very aggressive attraction and retention program about three years ago with the intention of driving down turnover to reduce costs and training time. And the results have been excellent. Our turnover rate three years ago was about 20 percent because of all the competition in technology. Our voluntary turnover rate in 1998 was 11.9 percent, and it’s tracking at about 8 percent this year.
- What question do you think HR leaders should be asking themselves these days, but aren’t?
- I believe HR leaders should ask themselves whether or not they’re developing their internal HR processes and measurement techniques to the point at which they objectively know all of their programs and services are required by their customer organizations.
- If the answer is yes, they should be measuring them and providing feedback about the success and delivery of those programs. For example, is the return on investment there? And are the HR programs meeting the needs of employees and external customers?
- If the answer is no, then ask whether the HR leaders have the courage to step up and change what they need to change (whether it’s minor or radical) to meet changing business needs. It’s important that people have that point of view and those measurements in place, because business requirements are changing so rapidly and you just can’t have HR lagging behind. Today’s business requirements demand HR leaders to be very proactive in their organizations. You have to be willing to step up and take ownership.
Workforce,June 1999, Vol 78, No 6, pp. 27-30 SubscribeNow!