I have a long list of speakers I can’t wait to see at SHRM next week. High on that list is Sheryl Simmons, CHRO of Maestro Health. Her #SHRM18 session, Making Your Case to the C-Suite: Why You Should Be at the Table, is on Tuesday afternoon.
Simmons has led HR teams for many years. In this Q&A, she shares how she got into HR, why she runs toward change, her perspective on diversity in hiring and what you can expect from her #SHRM18 session.
Tell me about yourself: What is your background and how did you get into your current field?
I have over 20 years of experience in HR. However, I also come from a variety of industries including finance, legal and the housing industry. This variety is one of the things that brings such strength to someone going into HR — it’s that diversity in background. A funny thing happened at every company. I would start in the position that they hired me for, but I would always end up in leadership. I figured out what makes people tick, and how to motivate them.
I came to Maestro and fell in love with their culture.
How do you think HR is changing? Is it for the better or not?
It is most definitely changing, whether you feel it’s for the better or not. This goes to the core of running to or from change, and I believe in running toward it. In the marketplace, we’re seeing changes as companies are realizing the strategic importance of HR. Think about it: Who else has that bird’s eye view of the organization?
You’re also seeing people from non-HR backgrounds moving to HR because it’s more than just people analytics. They’re not just the referee, the school principal, the party planner. Today, they’re the trusted adviser, they drive cost-effectiveness, they’re productivity-efficiency experts. They’re operating in a different realm than even five years ago.
Why is it so important for companies to put women in positions of power?
I’m speaking from a Maestro point of view and with a Maestro bias. The CEO of a huge staffing agency wanted to interview me, and she was so impressed that we had so many women in tech and such diversity in hiring practices. I told her that we don’t have a diversity policy. We aren’t specifically saying we want to hire women. We hire the best talent out there and many of them happen to be women. Women bring so many strengths to the table that can be gender-related — or not — but your company is going to be at its best when you hire talented, innovative people with leadership skills. As we hire women and they progress through the ranks, it’s not a matter of telling people that we value diversity or showing them a mission statement — they can actually see that we practice what we preach.
You’re the SHRM National Governmental Affairs Advocacy Captain. What does that entail?
A few years ago, SHRM National Government created advocacy captains in each of the congressional districts. These volunteers serve as trusted advisers to lawmakers and their staff, representing HR at the federal, state and local levels in a variety of HR-related areas. I touch bases with constituents in Michigan and also elected officials to make sure that, when they need advice, they have someone who can help.
You’re also a part of SHRM’s National Tax & Benefits Working Group. What does this group do?
This is near and dear to my heart. If the government is going to spend my hard-earned tax dollars, I’d like to have a say in what’s going on, from an HR perspective. When there are new policies being considered at the state and national level, lawmakers will reach out and ask if we have time to contribute ideas. One recent example is 401(k) bleed: Lawmakers asked for input on how to stem the tide of funds going out of retirement.
What will you be speaking on at SHRM? Why should someone attend your presentation?
We will be covering why HR needs to have a seat at the C-suite table to strengthen the core of a business and drive business objects. We’ll be talking about four areas in which we can help HR practitioners shore up their skill sets and the value of translating that in language that executives will understand. Some HR practitioners don’t know how to speak C-suite language. They need to get up to speed before it’s time to pitch their ideas. Practitioners also need to figure out if this is something they want to do, determine if they work for a company that embraces HR in this role and, if not, whether they need to find another company that does.