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Great Accomplishments in Human Resources

During Stan Litow’s 31-year career at IBM, one of the most remarkable and insightful Human Resources leaders he worked with was Sheila Forte-Trammell.

After more than 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, Stan had a discussion with Sheila about the most key strategic areas in the future for human resources professionals.

Q: 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?

A: The 21st Century has presented a variety of new challenges and business complexities that HR Leaders are dealing with because organizations are functioning in a competitive knowledge economy and 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 since 2000.

Q: How do leadership development and succession planning fit in with this complex business environment?

A: The development of the leadership pipeline has taken center stage now more than ever. HR leaders should no longer 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 an organization. This approach ensures there is an adequate pool of employees who have the capabilities to execute on the tactical and strategic plans.

Q: Can you talk a little more about this expansion of succession planning to a broader set of employees. Why is this so important?

A: Many organizations are “lowering the center of gravity”, allowing business decisions to be made at lower levels within an organization. So the new normal is to create a high trust culture where knowledge transfer occurs at all times.

In addition, employees must be encouraged to take bold but intelligent actions that deliver measurable results. Empowering employees in this manner helps them to value themselves and the process.

Q: What is the role of HR leaders in fostering this richer employee and leadership development environment?

A: When employees feel that they are valued, engagement and retention tend to be high. However, given the dynamic and disruptive nature of business today, HR leaders also 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 develop the skills to show resilience and resolve in the face of challenge so they are able to see the business opportunities that reside within disruption, challenge and crisis, instead of retreating in response to it.

Q: You have accomplished so much so far in your past career, Sheila, and you still have a tremendous impact within the Human Resources Community. Which accomplishments that you are most proud of?

A: In partnership with Dr. Lisa Dragoni and others from the Cornell University Industrial Relations School, a longitudinal study was conducted to show how supervisors facilitate leader development among transitioning leaders; the results of this study were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in January 2014.

They also reinforced that leaders must model the way and provide instructions and guidance to new leaders. This approach has proven to enhance and accelerate the development of transitioning and new leaders.

Another accomplishment that I am proud of is mentoring others over the course of my career. At one point, I had 25 mentees. To help them, I had to get creative and engage in many lots of different forms of mentoring: I utilized group mentoring, individual mentoring, just in time mentoring, virtual mentoring and speed mentoring to connect with my mentees.

The relationships that I developed were reciprocal in nature: learning was bi-directional. I always tell my mentees that “their success is my reward” and as I watch them develop, I achieve a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

Despite the fact that I am retired, I am still a mentor. One of my mentees sent me a note in 2014. It said: “I wanted to send you a thank you note for all you’ve done for me during my time at IBM. You believed in me when I lost faith in me. You planted a seed in me that is growing daily.”

And wouldn’t it be amazing to have Sheila Forte-Trammell as your mentor! How will you contribute to the world of human resources? What will you get out of it? Who will you form relationships with in the field. We wish you a very satisfying career. Please let us know if we can help you along in any way.

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