People and Strategy

Jim Link on HR Trends and the Bigger Picture

Episode Summary

In this episode of People and Strategy, SHRM CHRO speaks with host Tony Lee about identifying solutions to talent shortages, the relationship between compensation and employee engagement and how to think about HR roles at both larger and smaller organizations.

Episode Notes

SHRM CHRO Jim Link started his HR career writing the company newsletter and responding to union grievances before advancing to HR leadership roles at organizations including Porsche and Randstad. In this episode of People and Strategy, he speaks with host Tony Lee about identifying solutions to talent shortages, the relationship between compensation and employee engagement and how to think about HR roles at both larger and smaller organizations.

This episode of People and Strategy is sponsored by UKG.

Episode transcript

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1 (00:00):

This episode is sponsored by UKG. UKG offers HR and workforce management solutions that support your employees and transform your workplace into a work of art.

Tony Lee (00:16):

Welcome to the People and Strategy podcast. I'm Tony Lee, vice president of content for the Society for Human Resource Management and the SHRM Executive Network, which is the premier network of executives and thought leaders in the field of human resources. We advance the HR profession by engaging HR executives and senior practitioners to create solutions and drive success for people and organizations. I'm excited to speak today with Jim Link, the new CHRO of SHRM. Jim offers a great example of a thoughtful HR career progression. After college, his path took him from various entry-level jobs to an HR director position followed by an HR general manager role, then an HR managing director post. His persistence paid off when he was named CHRO of Randstad North America, part of the world's largest HR company before becoming SHRM's CHRO. Jim, thanks for being here.

Jim Link (01:10):

Thank you, Tony. It's a pleasure to be with you today.

Tony Lee (01:13):

Well, it's our pleasure. Let's start at the beginning. How did you become interested in HR?

Jim Link (01:19):

Well, Tony, I grew up in Western Kentucky on a working family farm and the farming economy at the time I was growing up also required that my parents work in what they called "public jobs" and both of those public jobs were positions where that unions represented the employees in those organizations. My mother in particular became a union official and she would come home and talk about the things that she was experiencing as a union official in that organization. I just became intrigued by what she had to say and about those relationships.


I ran off to college, and while I was there, I had the opportunity through an internship program to become employed with General Electric. In that role, I had two jobs. The first job was to write the company newsletter for that local manufacturing plant, but also to answer a first step union grievances. I just loved it. I liked solving problems. I liked reading that contract and trying to figure out how you could make someone's life more impacted, or more meaningful because of the things that they were doing at work. That began a career when I was, well, very young. I was 19 years old when I began that cooperative education assignment. Here I am a couple of years later in my career doing work on a much different level than I did then, but I've been happy to be a part of growth of several different organizations by applying effective human capital management in those companies.

Tony Lee (03:04):

That's wonderful. Well, I'm pleased to hear that at the fork in the road where you could have gone journalism or HR, you picked HR. That was a very smart move on your part.

Jim Link (03:12):

It was, Tony, but you know what? I learned a very valuable lesson early and that is the ability to verbally communicate and communicate in writing is essential to the development of a career.

Tony Lee (03:27):

Yep, no, absolutely.

Jim Link (03:29):

Yeah. Fortunately, I had that opportunity to learn that at a very, very early age, and I've continued to hone those skills as I've progressed.

Tony Lee (03:37):

No, that's terrific. Now, you mentioned GE. You've worked at some pretty large organizations in your career, Pillsbury, Porsche. Can you talk a little bit about the benefits of working for a large company versus, say, a small one?

Jim Link (03:52):

Working at a large organization is a great place to learn, particularly in my view, when you're in the developmental stages of your career, you're trying to access knowledge and information, and a lot of times, those larger organizations have very structured programs that help you do that. But there's also a flip side to that. In smaller organizations, you get exposed to more broader types of thinking earlier in your career, so there are advantages to both. I find that if you're one of those people who really enjoys knowing exactly what you want to do and can find an organization that can help you progress, and those are usually larger organizations, then that might be the right place for you. But if you're more interested in a broader foundational type of knowledge set, it might be appropriate for you to work in a smaller organization because you're going to get exposed to more faster in those organizations than you necessarily would in a large one.

Tony Lee (04:51):

Yeah. It's interesting that you mentioned the large organization. You can specialize, you can be the comp and bin person, the recruitment person, the learning and development person. At a small company, you're all of those things, right?

Jim Link (05:04):

Exactly, and building out those generalist skills, and not just in human resources, but general business skills, I find is easier in those smaller organizations because you're asked to do more more quickly. Like you said, you become specialized a little bit faster in the large ones, but you certainly have the potential to get a broader skillset quicker in small organizations.

Tony Lee (05:27):

Now, you're at an organization with roughly 400 employees, so how do you take the skills from a large organization and apply them to a smaller one?

Jim Link (05:37):

We're lucky here at SHRM because SHRM has that upside capability and desire to be a gold medalist organization, both in culture and in practice. Many of the organizations that I worked for in the past also had that as an outcome that they were seeking. To me, it doesn't really matter the size of the organization, what matters is the impact that any particular leader or function can have on the success of an organization. Here at SHRM, you're right, we're impacting directly the lives of 400 employees, but we are sharing our knowledge with 316,000 members around the globe. I like that ability to practice locally and then to share globally. At SHRM, I believe we're particularly good at that, and our members are asking us to do that, so we might as well perform well inside and then share that knowledge outside.

Tony Lee (06:34):

Yeah, no, that's great. Let's pivot a little bit and talk about some of the trends that are going on in the market today. I'm sure our listeners would love to hear your take on something like talent shortages. We are starting to hear rumblings of cutbacks and a recession on the horizon, but most HR professionals will say that they're experiencing severe talent shortages still. Do you think employers are doing the right things in talent acquisition? Are they investing as they should be, for example?

Jim Link (07:02):

In some cases, the answer is yes, but the world of recruiting as we think about it is completely different today than it was just two to three years ago. Prior to the pandemic, we were already seeing a labor shortage, and by "labor shortage," that means in my mind that there are plenty of people out there available to work, but they don't have the specific skills or qualifications that you need in your organization. That's what's generating our labor shortage today. Yes, there are two jobs open for every unemployed person in the organization, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. The real story here is that there's a skills crisis going on, not just in the United States, but globally, and until we figure out a comprehensive, solution-oriented way to solve that skills crisis, we're not going to solve this gap anytime soon.


What I'm encouraging recruiters to do, even our own recruiting team here at SHRM, is to think about stepping outside of the box and identifying people who have the desire to be upskilled, new skilled, or re-skilled into the roles or into the functions and desires that we have for employment here in our organization. We're having some success with that. We are looking now differently at the population of people who want to come and work at SHRM and figuring out how to take the skills they have today and morphing them into a way that they're most accessible and usable for us. It's going to take more of that type of thinking, I believe.


Recruiters are also, I think, continuing to do the thing that is probably causing some of this crisis, which is they are responding to the immediate need of the organization, to that immediate job posting. You have a hiring manager who says, "I need this person yesterday," and the recruiter is going out and trying to find that exact specific skill set rather than hiring for the future. Those issues are going to continue to evolve and I think the crisis will actually get broader with our skills. Now, obviously, you mentioned this in your question, Tony, an economic slowdown or economic setback could certainly level that playing field somewhat, but we're going to continue to have a skills gap, even in a economic downturn.

Tony Lee (09:22):

Yeah. You allude to it and SHRM has been a leader in tapping untapped talent and encouraging HR professionals to do that. Let's just spend a second and get specific on that. I mean, we've been talking a lot about hiring people with criminal histories, but it includes relooking at job descriptions, right, and seeing if a college degree really is required and working with veterans who are returning, working with people with disabilities, perhaps bringing back people who've retired, and want to get back in the workforce. Is that what you would encourage recruiters to look at as they're broadening their sights?

Jim Link (09:56):

Absolutely. I think there's still a desire out there to hire a college graduate into a role, but what we're seeing more and more, and we have some test case companies out there who are deploying this specific skill of looking at what an individual can contribute to the organization and then upskilling or reskilling those individuals in a variety of ways to accomplish a specific task or specific job in those companies. Yes, we are encouraging the casting of a wide net to look at those skills and capabilities. You mentioned some of those, employing the differently abled, employing second chance individuals, becoming a second chance employer, and just looking at digital certifications, looking at badging, and looking at other things that may be just as effective for that particular role as a college degree would have been in the past.

Tony Lee (10:56):

Research has shown that a lot of those individuals who get an opportunity are more engaged, more loyal, which is a good segue to employee engagement. Let's talk about that a little bit. It's been suffering, Great Resignation, great reshuffling, old news at this point, but what are companies doing to improve employee retention and engagement given now all that they know?

Jim Link (11:20):

I think employers have certainly gotten smarter in this space and they've first come to realize that engagement is an outcome, not a specific thing itself, and to get engagement, the best way to do that is have some sense of cultural identity for your organization, whatever that is, wherever you decide to make a mark, not just in your company, but on society, those types of things, if communicated appropriately and shared are clearly tools that an employer can use to help attract people into the organization, retain them and thus engage them.


We know that this is particularly true for young people. They want to see an opportunity come to light in an organization where they can see some part of the things that are important to them represented in that employer's actions. That starts with how they are viewed publicly, that starts with what the leadership team does inside, and it really ends with how effective and successful that organization is in accomplishing not only its business outcomes, but in making a difference in the society in which we all live and work. That's becoming incredibly more important to job seekers, and employers who are doing a good job with that, Tony, are having more success than those who are not.

Tony Lee (12:44):

Yeah. Now, Jim, we are seeing much heightened inflation, something that seems to be sticking around for a bit. What role does compensation have in engagement?

Jim Link (12:54):

It does. We would be remiss to dismiss it. However, what we also know is that when you think about compensation, it's more than just pay, it's all of the things that an employer does in order to attract people and keep people in their organization.


One of the places where we're seeing a significantly greater focus now than we have in the recent past is in the area of wellbeing. Employees, those seeking roles, are looking at an employer, not just for how they pay, but how they wrap themselves around an employee to ensure that they're not only paid well, but that they feel well, that they belong, that they're given the opportunities to grow, and be successful, and that the company is as concerned about their physical and emotional health as they are their business outcomes. When companies are looking at those opportunities and doing a good job in that space by putting a wrapper around an employee and ensuring that they are, have the opportunity to succeed both financially, but also in a healthy way, they are taking the first step in my mind toward really being able to attract and retain great people in their companies.

Tony Lee (14:07):

Mm-hmm. All the topics we've covered so far seem to be the most critical topics that companies are facing these days. It seems that CHROs are literally sitting at the right hand of CEOs more than ever before advising. Do you think that's something that's first, true, and second, do you think that's here to stay?

Jim Link (14:25):

It is absolutely true, and yes, it's here to stay. If we received nothing else positive out of the pandemic, the thing that was becoming abundantly clear prior to the pandemic and even more so afterward is the idea that those who are responsible for the engaging in the culture and in the success of the human capital within any organization were taking a much more important role and being more visibly called upon to help lead those efforts. We're seeing that even being represented in things like environment, society, and governance goals being represented, certainly by public publicly traded companies out there. ESG, the S and G is really often the work of the human capital leader in organizations large and small, public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit, and that is only going to continue.


As we see this confluence of the responses that had to happen as a result of the pandemic, the idea that agility moved forward 20 years in the space of two years, that we now talk about hybrid workforces like it's something that we've been talking about for a long time when in fact, we've only really been talking about that for the last year or so, as people started to return to the workplace, at least those who weren't essential workers and had to stay, so we're seeing a significant confluence of events that have led to the chief human resources officer upgrading and being held more accountable for and being more responsible for those things that are truly part of a human capital workplace and as being represented by that CHRO in that workplace. It's happening, it's here to stay. I expected it to actually shift and change more in the not-so-distant future because again, we have a great coming together of many things, which all have some impact on business and which the chief human resources officer is uniquely positioned to help with.

Tony Lee (16:33):

Yep. One area we haven't talked about that I want to bring up is DE&I. Obviously, the last couple of years has brought a lot more focus on DE&I as well. Lots of things have changed lately. SHRM's own inclusion conference coming in October has far greater interest, I think, than ever before. When you see this kind of attention being paid, is it making a difference? I mean, you've talked to some DE&I experts who say, "It's just talk. We're not seeing actual change." What do you think? What are you seeing?

Jim Link (17:04):

I've been engaged in many of those conversations. The organizations that are doing this well are thinking about inclusion and belonging in their cultures as an outcome. They're publicly stating, "We want to be inclusive. We want you to feel like you can bring your entire identity to work and be successful in our organization." Those companies and groups who are talking about those kinds of things, publicly stating them, holding others accountable to those efforts, and then showing the results of that work are truly a step ahead of those who are not.


I believe that DEI initiatives are not enough. I think that it starts with saying you want a culture of inclusion and belonging and then holding your employees and your leaders to that goal and then using the toolbox of diversity, inclusion, and equity as a way to help you get there. The opposite is also true. I believe that if you just put in a DEI task, or a chore without the broader goal of inclusion and belonging, then it could potentially become just another one of those things that corporations do and companies do to try and be successful in a space whenever they're not really beginning with the end in mind.

Tony Lee (18:29):

Wonderful insights. Really appreciate that. We have time for one last question. It's based on some research we've seen that HR as a profession, as a career is hot, that students are looking at HR like they never have before, that even millennials are looking at career changes into HR, so as a CHRO advising someone who's fairly new to the profession, what's your recommendation? What should they be focused on?

Jim Link (18:56):

They should first learn about the business in which they might intend to go to work. I think the biggest mistake that HR professionals have made over the course of the last years is first thinking about HR only and becoming very, very good as an HR practitioner. I think that's reversed. I think what you need to do is first learn the skills and the outcomes and the importance of the business in which you're employed. That means you should know the annual revenue you should know about EBITDA. You should know about how you go to market. You should know who the competitors are. You should know everything about that business that you can possibly absorb.


Once you've learned that, then it's time to practice your skill, and your skill in this case is human capital and human resources expertise. That will have the benefit if you understand the business of those business leaders listening more closely to what you have to say, of connecting the dots between how they run their business and effective human capital management, and in the end resulting in a better culture of both business performance and a better place to grow your career as a human resources professional

Tony Lee (20:13):

That's terrific. Well, Jim Link, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us today. We really appreciate it. To hear other episodes of the People and Strategy podcast, please go to, and for more information on HR leadership and further details on the SHRM Executive Network, please visit That's it. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1 (20:39):

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