Disrupting human resources in order to rebuild

When May 25 arrives and the “disruptors” start to take the stage at Cayman’s – and the Caribbean’s – first “DisruptHR” event, the staid world of human resources may suddenly look a lot more interesting.

Chris Bailey, organizer of DisrputHR in Cayman. - Photo: Disrupt Cayman
Chris Bailey, organizer of DisrputHR in Cayman. – Photo: Disrupt Cayman

In a video introducing Cayman’s conference at the Harquail Theatre recently, human resources maniac “Tim” confronts an underfed, wan-looking woman leaning against a locker in a back room, staring into her phone.

“You know what the problem is here?” he challenges her, shouting “You care less about this company than even your employees do.”

She continues to stare into her phone, resisting his insistence. Slapping the metal locker, he demands: “Pay attention!” He reflects in a stern aside that “it’s not going to be easy; it’s not going to be pretty” to fix her problems.

He renews the diatribe: “There’s a reason you’re failing,” he says, finally making eye contact as she breaks away from the telephone, “You’re not directing them.”

At last responding, she turns with a cry of desperation: “Yeah … I need to fire them.”

Like TV’s “Bar Rescue” hero Jon Taffer, savior of more than 600 food and beverage outlets across the U.S., Tim indulges no one and accepts no excuses: “I’ll do whatever it takes to turn these companies around.”

Only 19 seconds long, the video is compelling, and offers an advance taste of what “DisruptHR” hopes to offer.

Subtitled “The Rebellious Future of HR,” the conference on May 25 and 26 is advertised as “an information exchange designed to energize, inform and empower executives, business leaders and people in the HR field.”

Chris Bailey, vice president of the Cayman Islands Society of Human Resources Professionals and of recruitment agency CML Offshore Recruitment, is organizing the gathering. He says the business of HR is undergoing a sea change.

“Human resources [or] human capital consulting personnel and the host of other names this department is called has gone through a massive overhaul in the last decade.” He recognizes that the public image of HR has not served it well, and the time is right to, well, disrupt old concepts.

“People want to work for cool companies, but what makes a company cool?” he asks, acknowledging that while a brand like Google or Apple is appealing – “would you turn down a job at Google or Apple?” – it is “the people [in the workplace] that make a company cool.

“The people define the culture and the experience you have daily. The companies that have the lowest turnover and highest engagement levels often tend to have the most committed workforce, all working towards making the company great. The heart of that machine is a finely tuned HR practice.”

“DisruptHR,” he says, is built on the belief that the way we have approached people and talent in the past won’t be the best way to approach [them] in the future.

“Are you ready to start talking about talent in a whole new way?” the DisruptHR brochure asks. “DisruptHR is for you.”

A company’s internal departments – accounts, marketing, IT, facilities and research, for example – need to be, if not subsidiary to HR, constantly mindful of HR’s function and what it is trying to achieve, Bailey says.

“All need to understand the strategic direction and the vision to know why they are doing what they do and how they can help achieve that goal.

“They also have to believe in that goal,” he says, underscoring the need for a “buy-in” from every employee.

“That, my friend, is what makes HR sexy,” Bailey says, employing a description all too rarely associated with “human resources.”

“HR is dull if it is not part of making the above happen. If HR is simply about making sure payroll, pension, healthcare and time sheets are filled in correctly, then it is just an administration function and companies are missing the whole point of what HR can really do.”

DisruptHR has proven to be a globally moveable feast, so popular that it is scheduled to convene in 28 cities on three continents throughout the spring, summer and autumn. Immediately preceding Cayman, gatherings will take place in Calgary (Alberta, Canada), Philadelphia, Regina (Saskatchewan, Canada) and Phoenix. Then the sessions will move to New York, Edmonton and London, eventually visiting venues in Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, Lyon and Belgium.

With more than 70 speakers listed as a wide sampling of the caliber of participants, DisruptHR also taps local companies and professionals for each market.

Bailey expects “at least 200 of the island’s HR superheroes” will attend the Harquail conference, “and we have even started attracting registrations from Canada and the other Caribbean islands.”

Jennifer McClure, creator of the Disrupt HR brand
Jennifer McClure, creator of the Disrupt HR brand

Short and to the point

The format is roughly similar to the now-legendary TED Talks, a global set of conferences under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

“DirsruptHR,” according to its website, “is a night of short, focused talks from professionals who want to share their ideas on how we can move our talent thinking forward.”

Presentations are short and to the point: “Each speaker will have five minutes to blow your mind,” it says.

The rules prescribe 20 slides, each limited to 15 seconds. “Presentations can be about anything so long as they pertain to talent,” and the audience “is encouraged to interact – clap, laugh, cry, tweet, text. Just play nice,” the admonitions conclude.

Speakers at the Harquail will include Jennifer McClure, Cincinnati-based HR executive recruiter and business coach who, Bailey points out, created the DisruptHR brand, drawing on 25 years of studying best practices for recruiting and retaining talent.

“We invited Jennifer McClure to speak at our HR conference a couple of years ago,” he says. “She has been back and graced us with her presence ever since, even being one of the judges for the Top Employer awards.

“Jennifer is probably one of the most in-demand and influential HR experts in the U.S. and is the creator of the DisruptHR brand.

“The events are a free-for-all for HR folk and others to release a message, and it’s proving very popular. This will be the first event tied to a HR conference, and we did that purely to keep our conference … cutting edge.”

Drawn locally, another speaker will be Samantha Nehra, former president of CISHRP, a 15-year veteran of the HR business, former vice president for people and development at DMS, lecturer at the University College of the Cayman Islands, director of human capital development services at Solutions Inc. and a manager for learning and development at Butterfield Bank.

Today, Nehra is a business coach at Shirlaws, a group of companies advising private enterprise on the dynamics of change. In business for 15 years, Shirlaws advertises Nehra as a “human dynamics wizard, changing the world one behavioral shift at a time.”

More humbly, Nehra simply describes herself as a “recovering HR professional,” who sees an enormous need for change in the business.

“I’ve been slowly trying to build HR again. It needs a refresh and a rethink and more skill sets – around the world.”

Samantha Nehra, business coach
Samantha Nehra, business coach

‘The Force’ is with HR

She echoes Bailey’s suggestion that, at its best, HR resembles “Star Wars”’ “The Force – an energy field created by all living things; it surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together,” he says. “Replace galaxy with company and that’s how important HR is in an organization.”

In fact, Nehra has titled her talk “Awaken The Force,” and jokingly fears she and Bailey are on “a bit of a Star Wars geekathon.”

“I believe the way we have approached traditional HR has many flaws,” Nehra explains. “Business would be a whole lot easier without people – yes, I said that! (and I am a ‘human dynamics expert’), but the fact of the matter is that we need people to make our businesses successful.

“No matter where you work in a business, it’s time to spark some behavioral shifts that can keep changing and evolving at the pace of future demands and trends.

“We say people are the most important asset in our businesses and yet our behavior completely contradicts this. No doubt you have spent a lot of time, money and energy on upgrading all of the technology and software around you, but when was the last time you invested the same to upgrade yourself?

“I know what you are thinking,” she says, already preparing her riposte, “and skills training alone does not count. As humans we are well overdue for an upgrade. Let’s start with ourselves, and get some collective traction, rather than waiting for an HR department to wave their magic wand because, trust me, they haven’t got one.”

One anonymous HR blogger at DisruptHR.wordpress.com lists half-a-dozen sites with similar sentiments, describing it as “the not-so-definitive list of people and companies that I believe are the most disruptive in the HR space:

Chequed.com is making reference checking relevant again through automated, assessment-based reference checks in the cloud.

Fistful of Talent is a great blog for innovative people and ideas in HR.

HRRemix is another great blog for interesting thinking in HR.

HRevolution is a really cool conference happening the day before HR Tech in Chicago, focused around the future of HR.

SmartRecruiters is redefining applicant tracking software business model with their free software, making it easy to hire talent.

Evviva is a pretty cool employment branding firm based in the Bay Area. They focus on building brands through the use of online games.

“If you’re a company that truly understands your value is in your people, then understanding the strategic benefits of good HR is key,” Bailey says. “Sure, we have to have some processes in there, that’s the boring bit, but it’s why those processes are in there that is important.

“In a market such as Cayman where we have a diverse array of talent, attraction, retention and employer branding are very important. At this year’s conference we aim to give insight into how you can improve in all those areas.

“Once you reach a critical mass of employees – the Society of HR Management in the U.S. says this is around 50-70 employees – then you should have a full-time HR person,” he says.

“But what you have them doing is crucial. We can’t all be Google, but we can all have amazing working environments; we can all have engaged staff. And the person who is in charge of making that happen sits at the board table and is a partner with the leaders of the company, who also have to buy into the premise that employee of today needs to feel part of something.”

The DisruptHR website summarizes the ethos in fewer than 30 words: “Are you tired of the same old approach to human resources? Are you ready to start talking about talent in a whole new way? DisruptHR is for you.”

Bailey predicts the conference will have an important impact, and says it will be on social media and “live-streamed” on Cayman Life TV: “With several of the leading HR influences attending, it’s a conference that is going to make waves.”