When human resources pro Jeff Smith led global human resources at BlackRock, he played a lead role in the merger with Barclays Global Investors. Afterward, he served on the senior-most executive committees and was highly influential. His organization was responsible for all aspects of hiring, executive development, training, compensation and succession planning, among other things. It’s no wonder HR turned out to be so essential to the CEO’s larger vision.
When people examine the success of different companies, it can often be traced back to the vision, the business model and the level of talent the organization can attract and keep motivated. In the book Talent Wins: The New Playbook for Putting People First, authors Dominic Barton, Ram Charan, and Dennis Carey discussed why people like Smith are so instrumental to companies that prioritize cohesion and efficiency. Smith is featured in the book, which explains how it’s the human resources directors who determine who’s best for what role, which makes them one of the the root causes of the final results.
Financial Capital vs. Human Capital
Talent Wins points out the importance of valuing human capital as much as financial capital.
In other words, critical roles often drive an entire organization — making each person in those positions a vital cog in the corporate wheel. This has raised the value of many chief human resources officers to the same level as the chief operating officer or the chief financial officer. Whereas this might have been considered an overstatement in the past, the book correctly notes that companies need to rethink how they rate and resource human resources departments if they want to keep up.
Jeff Smith is a good example of this fact. At BlackRock HR, his desk wasn’t tucked away in a corner. His office was right next to that of Larry Fink, the company’s CEO. This wasn’t an accident, but a conscientious understanding of just how pivotal the HR role is to the success of a company.
Assessing Soft Skills
Becoming an HR pro like Jeff Smith is far from a cakewalk. Smith graduated with a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. His advanced education taught him a lot about how different skills function within groups, which made it easier to see why even the most technically talented teams can sometimes fail. It’s no wonder Jeff Smith’s BlackRock HR journey lasted more than a decade and he is a top expert around talent innovation, HR, and culture.
Smith learned how to assess soft skills, including purpose and drive, which unfortunately don’t come across as well on a resume as hard skills. Jeff Smith understood and championed HR’s role in supporting business expansion while transforming the diversity and talent agenda to be a central part of the role of all leaders.
Heading up BlackRock HR, Jeff Smith had a broad range of responsibilities including recruiting, benefits, compensation, analytics, HR infrastructure, executive succession planning, and management and leadership development — a full slate indeed, but one that companies which have learned the value of human resources must implement for enhanced success.
Finding the Backbone
Talent Wins stresses that while it’s essential to have some degree of agility and autonomy within teams, you still need a strong core to back it up. This is why it’s so important to have a roster of employees with enough resilience to weather even the worst storms. The human resources team at BlackRock and the CEO learned to trust Smith’s opinions, and HR played a big role in the growth of the company and ensuring the right people were onboard to grow the business.
HR departments need to ensure they are at the center of talent decisions and are focusing on the key things that help grow the business — not just serving as administrators, as is often the reputation of the function.