Top Strategic Human Resource Initiatives for the 21st Century – A Discussion with Sheila Forte-Trammell

Sheila Forte-Trammell, Total HR Services, LLC

Sheila Forte-Trammell, Total HR Services, LLC

During my 31-year career at IBM, one of the most remarkable and insightful Human Resources leaders I worked with was Sheila Forte-Trammell. After over 30 years herself in IBM in a diverse range of HR leadership roles in recruiting, placement, compensation, diversity, learning and employee development, she has now retired and consults as the owner of Total HR Services, LLC.

Recently I had a discussion with Sheila about the most key strategic areas in the future for human resources professionals. In this blog I share Sheila’s insights and in part 2 Sheila and I will discuss more of her accomplishments and current projects.

STAN: Sheila, as a globally recognized expert on a broad range of human resources topics, what would you say must be the key focus for HR leaders from today on into the future?
SHEILA: The 21st Century has presented a variety of new challenges and business complexities that HR Leaders are grappling with. Because organizations are functioning in a competitive knowledge economy, it makes it important for leaders to create processes for employees to acquire the right business skills in a timely manner. Speed to competence, learning agility, innovative application of knowledge and the easy distribution of relevant information throughout the organization have become critical in maintaining competitiveness.

STAN: How does leadership development and succession planning fit in with this complex business environment?
SHEILA: Now more than ever, the development of the leadership pipeline has taken center stage. No longer should HR leaders restrict the use of succession planning as a means to identify the next generation of executive leaders. The succession planning process must be expanded to include the identification of critical technical and key functional skills at all levels of the organization. This approach ensures there is an adequate pool of employees who have these capabilities to execute on the tactical and strategic plans.

STAN: Sheila, can you talk a little more about this expansion of succession planning to a broader set of employees. Why is this so important?
SHEILA: Many organizations are “lowering the center of gravity” whereby, allowing business decisions to be made at lower levels within the organization. Thus, the new normal is to create a high trust culture where knowledge transfer is occurring. In addition, employees must be encouraged to take bold but intelligent actions which deliver measurable results. Empowering employees in this manner helps them to feel a sense of value.

STAN: What is the role of HR leaders in fostering this broader employee and leadership development environment?
SHEILA: When employees feel that they are valued, engagement and retention tend to be high. Given the dynamic and disruptive nature of business today, HR leaders have to communicate business vision with better clarity and help employees develop greater flexibility and adaptability to perform in an ever changing environment. HR leaders are expected to help employees to develop the skills to show resilience and resolve in the face of challenge. This way, instead of retreating they are able to see the business opportunities that reside within disruption, challenge and crisis.

STAN: Thank you, Sheila. In Part 2, I look forward to discussing your accomplishments, books and current projects.

ADDED LATER: Now here is the link to read part 2!

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Sheila Forte-Trammell is now the owner of Total HR Services, LLC. Her professional information is available via LinkedIn (Link to Sheila’s Profile.)

Facing the Truth: Racism Still Persists in the USA

African Americans in the USA are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Whites

African Americans in the USA are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Whites

In my work as a diversity consultant, I often run into people who assert that racism no longer exists in the United States; that this is an issue we have completely addressed and that we are indeed living in a “color-blind” society where people are no longer judged based on their race. And these same people say that everyone in today’s USA has truly the same opportunity to succeed, and some even further claim that with equal opportunity laws, Blacks may even have an advantage of over the White majority.

But as a white man and a diversity consultant, I strongly disagree. Yes, there has been tremendous progress in racial civil rights over the past 50 years, but truly there is so much more hard diligent work needed to continue to address and eliminate racism.

What is racism? One simple definition I like is that racism is “the belief, often accompanied with behavior, that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” And racism can be categorized in two ways: personal racism and institutional racism.

Personal racism is when an individual acts maliciously against another individual or groups of individuals primarily based upon their race. Two examples of personal racism:
• The very well publicized recent story (link) of fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma exuberantly singing a racist song which included the N-word and references to lynching.
• A professional black colleague of mine recently shared that earlier in the year, when stopped at a traffic light, a car of three young white men pulled up beside the car, rolled down their window and repeatedly yelled the “N-word” at her. I supposed they were obsessed that a Black professional could work hard, succeed, and drive a nicer can then they.

Institutional racism occurs specifically in institutions such as governmental bodies, corporations and universities where systemic policies and practices within the institution have the effect of disadvantaging certain racial or ethic groups. Evidence of institutional racism across the USA includes the facts that:

The poverty rate among Black Americans is nearly double the general population, and particularly impacts women and children

The poverty rate among Black Americans is nearly double the general population, and particularly impacts women and children

• The 2010 US Census showed that 15.1% of Americans live in poverty, but the rate is almost double for Blacks (28%). Over the past two decades, there are been virtual no improvement in income disparity between Blacks and Whites.
• African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rates of whites, and even though Blacks and Hispanics only comprise 25% of the American population, 58% of all prisoners are Black or Hispanic. Causes of this include a racially bias justice system and the lack of economic opportunities for Blacks. (link to details from the NAACP).

Not all racist acts are as blatant or intentional as the example provided above. Many racists acts come as a result of unconscious bias or the naïve offender who may not even be aware of what they are doing. Unconscious bias and naïve offenders who are open to learning and personal growth provide opportunities for great teaching moments and constructive dialogue that enables understanding in these sensitive areas.

This short blog only briefly touches on this issue so I encourage my readers to admit that racism certainly is still present in the USA and that we all need to continue to advocate and diligently strive to build a more just and fair society that truly treats and values all equally.

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Additional Links:

Blog on “The Growing Culture of Poverty in the USA.”

A blog on how businesses can align with the community to address poverty issues.