To give HR Professionals a space to interact, know and exchange good practices,
that´s how HR Connections was born from WorldCity. In this interview, Ken Roberts, its Founder, and President share with us his thoughts about the contribution being made to the HR community and how technology is impacting everyone.
By LEILA OVANDO
We know that you don´t come from a HR background and nevertheless, you founded HR Connections, a network that reunites HR leaders. How was it founded and where the idea came from?
Sometimes, the best ideas come from listening to your clients. That was the case with HR Connections. WorldCity’s HR Connections arose, as did Marketing Connections, Public Affairs Connections, and CSR Connections, from the data we had gathered for our multinational database Who’s Here. Starting at the turn of the century, we began compiling the names of MNCs with offices in South Florida, the name of each one’s top executive, the country of origin, local address, etc. Each year we added more information to get a better understanding of the functions, needs, challenges, and opportunities for these companies, which we would then chronicle in what was then a newspaper and became a magazine. We realized quickly that, in addition to employee count locally and employees oversaw but not here, we would benefit from knowing the functional roles of the employees here. One day, a client, aware that we had the names of hundreds of HR directors, asked if we would start an event series specifically for them, similar to the one we had already created for the top executive, the CEO Club. And so, HR Connections was born.
“WorldCity has introduced me to the most interesting people and experiences I could have ever imagined.”
What are the common denominators you see among HR leaders and how do you consider the HR Connections network contributes to their job and experiences?
At an HR Connections years ago, I did an informal tally of the majors in the college of those in attendance. What I found, as we went around the room, was that there was a preponderance of psychology, sociology, and similar majors. Not a lot of math or econ or political science majors. I mention this because one of the strongest common denominators — and I say it at the risk of sounding obvious — is that, at least on a personal level, HR leaders are caring people. I mention this because, perhaps known to them and perhaps not, I am not certain that this is the perception others within their companies might have. It can be easy to think of others within our companies as processors. Processors of marketing strategy. Processors of financial information. Processors of compliance requirements. That can extend to perceptions of HR. Processors of people. That caring I describe is certainly for the employees within their companies, but it also applies to each other, in HR Connections. When I look at all the Connections-type events we have done over the years, the HR executives stand out as being willing to help each other, freely and without concern for “what’s in it for me.” Finally, by virtue of having risen to a high-level position within their companies, those invited to HR Connections are also quite strategic, often have a solid grasp of data (whether it relates to retention or financial statements), and understand the importance of the company’s brand in not only growing revenues but also attracting top talent.
We certainly come from a few years that don´t allow us to plan in advance. But in 2023 everyone is kind of going back to normal when it comes to strategy and planification. Can you share with us the next steps you have in your mind for the HR Connections members?
My goal remains the same as it was when I started HR Connections in 2006 as a six-times-a-year, 90-minute event, some 100 events ago. Listen and learn so that WorldCity can create an environment where the HR executives leave glad they attended: Happy they had that one conversation before the meeting, asked that one question to a vexing challenge, were able to help a peer with a vexing problem, made a new friend, reconnected with an old friend. Someone once described one of our other event series, the CEO Club, as a “safe sandbox,” which I always liked. He meant it was a place where you could express yourself freely without worry. While I tinker at the edges, our format — one HR executive leading an open, off-the-record discussion about a topic of general interest that cuts across industries — continues to work well. In truth, the HR executives who attend make my job easy. They provide ideas for the topics and regularly make suggestions. While I have not utilized a Board of Advisors in recent years, and while I am likely to do so next year, I feel as if I have had an informal one all along.
Talking from your experiences and background, how do you see the future of work? Whether it be in an economic or social or talent way.
The future of work is way above my pay grade. But I will offer a few thoughts. I know there are advantages to being with the people you work with, in person. That’s a simple one. My sense is that artificial intelligence will alter the HR function and, by extension, work itself. While I am not sure exactly how — Hiring? Assessment? Development? — the computational power available is just too great for it not to do so. With technology in mind, which would include not only AI but also robotics and more, what will continue to change is the types of companies and jobs in the marketplace. That will require different skill sets. With more remote work and hybrid work, that too will require different skill sets. It will increase the value of trust employers have for employees– and the need to better gauge it. It will also require leaders who can trust. We will have to be better at measuring success in non-sales positions, where it can often be more difficult to quantify. In the end, technology creates companies and creates jobs, makes life easier and better.
Ken Roberts | Founder/President at WorldCity