SHRM 2018: People at the End of Every Policy

By Rocio Villasenor

Jun. 29, 2018

Being adaptable to change is important, but sometimes the procedures and policies in effect in the workplace are not up to date. The Society for Human Resource Management’s 2018 Annual Conference and Exposition, held June 17-20 in Chicago, included various leadership, learning and development sessions where speakers discussed the need to continue evolving workplace culture.

The opening reception on the first day of the SHRM 2018 conference. Photo by Anne Ryan

On Monday, June 18, general session speaker Coretha M. Rushing, SHRM board chair and corporate vice president and CHRO of Equifax, pinpointed the importance of change for a crowd of about 17,000 human resources personnel, which included more than 1,000 global attendees from 80 countries.

Rushing discussed the #MeToo movement, gender pay inequities, diversity in the workplace, technology advancements and social behaviors.

“These are challenging times for our profession and for us personally. … [There is] always something new we need to learn,” she said.

Rushing discussed five important things HR leaders must make room for: tougher human issues, building and rebuilding trust, audacious thinking, being human and learning to grow.

The general session continued with Oscar Muñoz, CEO of United Airlines, who was interviewed by Johnny C. Taylor Jr., SHRM’s president and CEO.

“For such a long time, HR was the last resort to addressing problems after they had already arisen,” Muñoz said. “The conversations we are having have said ‘HR is evolving’; I don’t think it has evolved entirely yet, but it is evolving.”

Taylor asked Muñoz about the people changes United Airlines has made and the role HR had in past controversial customer service incidents. In April 2017, for example, a United Airlines passenger was forcefully pulled off an overbooked flight and Muñoz issued an apology.

Muñoz said during the session, “We have to be more flexible. We let rules, procedures and policies get in the way of our employees who know the right thing to do, but we didn’t let them do it because of our rules and policies. That’s a key learning for all of [us] … at the end of that rule, procedure or policy is a human being just like you.”

Muñoz also said customer laws were revised for their 130,000 employees to implement four core values: safety, caring, efficiency and dependability.

The importance of evolving was also highlighted during a Monday session, “Cultivating a Culture of Learning from Day One: How Facebook Keeps Learning at the Heart of its Culture.” Presenter Amy Hayes, vice president of learning and development at Facebook, discussed the importance of establishing a learning culture in the workplace. Hayes said this learning culture is described in author Peter M. Senge’s 1990 book, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.” Hayes emphasized the book’s most important takeaway: “People. Working together. At their Best.”

Facebook, like United Airlines, has seen controversy recently. This past April, the social media company had about 87 million users’ data exposed without direct consent. The company also has been combating false news since last year by increasing its efforts via human review and technology.

“Learning is at the heart of our culture … it needs to be recreated every single day,” Hayes said during the session.

Hayes discussed seven  ways Facebook responds to issues when things are going well and when they are not, which includes hiring for builders, encouraging ownership, playing to strengths, embracing failure, talking about the hard stuff, maximizing diverse perspectives and democratizing learning.

Pertaining to maximizing diverse perspectives, Hayes discussed the #OpenUp mental health campaign in the workplace that Facebook began last year. “When we started this we were nervous — we wanted to give people the chance to open up, encourage them, but we didn’t want to put them in an uncomfortable spot,” she said. “This internal program is strictly voluntary, and the effects have been tremendous. So far 51 people have shared stories about depression, anxiety or just going through a tough time.

“This [campaign] was proof that this was a conversation people wanted to have, and more permission to have it,” Hayes continued. “This is a diverse perspective we wanted to bring to the organization.”

Dan Schawbel, author, partner and research director at executive development firm Future Workplace, presented an afternoon session, “The Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2018.” These included economic policy change, artificial intelligence, upscaling, new learning options, the aging workforce, prioritizing diversity, more humanity, employee burnout, lacking empathy and employment impacting consumerism.

One of the things Schawbel discussed was how technology overuse and misuse in the workplace is making individuals feel empty and lonely, which he referred to as the “loneliness epidemic.” This affliction, Schawbel said, was discussed in a New York Times opinion article, “Happiness is Other People.”

The 2018 conference boasted its highest attendance ever. Amid the hustle of hundreds of sessions and a busy show floor, one of Muñoz’s remarks resonated throughout the remainder of the conference: “Don’t forget the human portion.”

This story originally appeared in Chief Learning Officer, a sister publication of Workforce.

Rocio Villaseñor is a Chief Learning Officer editorial associate. Comment below or email

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