Plotting His Own Path

Jeff Shuman, HRE's 2011 HR Executive of the Year, breaks the mold as he steers Harris Corp. to a new level in identifying top talent.

By Michael O'Brien

Almost three decades after being identified as "high potential," Jeff Shuman continues to rewrite the definition of the term, both for himself and for future generations of HR leaders.

In addition to holding the title of vice president and chief human resource officer at Harris Corp., the Melbourne, Fla.-based communications and IT firm serving both government and commercial markets, he's also chief administrative officer for the organization's 16,000 employees who work in more than 150 markets. But his list of duties doesn't end there.

He also chairs Harris' extensive lobbying efforts and sits on numerous other boards outside the company, including the National Association of Manufacturers and Enterprise Florida, a private-public partnership that organizes statewide economic development.

His dedication to education has created ripple effects both within and beyond the organization. Under his leadership, the Harris Learning Center has enabled employees to complete 98,426 online training courses over the past three years and lasting ties have been formed between the company and high-profile schools -- such as the University of Florida -- which help keep the company's talent pipeline stocked.

"I consider myself a nontraditional HR executive," Shuman says, a sentiment that his boss, Howard Lance, Harris' president, chairman and CEO, agrees with.

"Jeff," says Lance, "expands the HR function beyond traditional boundaries to encompass architecting and nurturing not only the workforce of the future [i.e., its people], but also the workplace of the future [his description for Harris' future business needs]."

He calls Shuman a "strategic adviser" to the executive team in its formulation of the business' goals and mission, as well as a "confidant" to members of the company's executive committee and board of directors.

"It would be difficult to overstate the value of Jeff's counsel in this area, which is vital to the smooth functioning of any successful, large organization where there can be differing viewpoints among executives," Lance says.

Among his achievements, Shuman deployed a business-simulation training model to help the company develop its high-potential talent and led the creation of an organizational development/organizational effectiveness capability to assess internal talent as well as newly acquired talent.

"This assessment capability enables the leadership to make well-informed decisions that will have a lasting impact," says Lance.

These are but a few of the reasons Jeff Shuman has been named HRE's 2011 Human Resource Executive of the Year.

And to think it all began many years before -- and many floors below the C-suite -- with two simple questions posed to him on a manufacturing floor.

Enabler or Cop?

One day in the mid-1980s, when Shuman was a line manager at the Avon Products production facility in Suffern, N.Y., he was told he had been identified as a high-potential employee.

"Then they asked me: 'What's the area that is your impediment here?' and I said it's the organization called 'personnel,' " he says. "I told them that they try to do what's right, but they keep telling me 'No' and haven't allowed me to do my job. They were the policemen, rather than the enablers, of the organization."

Given his rather harsh response, the question that followed stunned Shuman: "Would you be interested in going into personnel?"

He wrestled with that offer in his mind. He saw the opportunity as "a tough decision, almost a challenge," he says. Ultimately, he decided to accept it to, as he puts it, "help remove the impediment" for others.

"At this same time," he says, "we were transitioning from [calling it] personnel to [calling it] human resources, and I went in with a caveat: I would do it, but I wanted a return ticket . . . to maintain dual paths" in the event that personnel/HR was not a good fit.

Since that fateful decision, Shuman has continued on his HR path at a number of organizations. Among the stops along the way to his current perch at Harris, Shuman was vice president of human resources and administration for Northrop Grumman's information-technology business; he also held the title of senior vice president of human resources for Litton Information Systems Group when it was acquired by Northrop in 2001. And before that, he was vice president of human resources for AlliedSignal's technical-service business.

Lance praises Shuman's ability to retain the important lessons of his past through each and every phase while simultaneously passing it along to the next generation of HR leaders.

"Many of Jeff's management and human resource skills were honed in line positions that have afforded him keen insight into the workings of the organization as a whole," says Lance. "Jeff's leadership and advocacy ensure that the HR function at Harris doesn't just sit at the table; it has an active role in running the company."

Indeed, Shuman has been instrumental in creating and overseeing a number of initiatives designed to solidify greater alignment between the HR function and Harris' bottom line. Key among them are the creation of an integrated talent-management system that includes an organizational development/organizational effectiveness capability to assess company talent, the expansion of offerings at the company's online learning center and his continuing participation in the company's emerging business opportunities.

Under his leadership, 26 percent of the company's early-career high-potential workers have been promoted into higher positions, while 25 percent of high-potential executives have moved into positions of increased responsibility. Impressive statistics, considering the company did not even track such metrics before his arrival.

But before Shuman even entered the business world, he graduated from the hard-knocks military institution known as the Citadel with a degree in psychology -- further proof of his more nontraditional beginnings. (After graduating, he also served for a time in the U.S. Army as a Medical Service Corps officer.)

While he may not have realized it at the time, both the psychology degree and the military training were preparing him for many of the challenges he would later face in corporate America.

In both the military world and the business world, he says, "you have a rank structure" and the ability to navigate those structures effectively is a must-have for any executive, especially when it comes time to being the bearer of bad news or acting as a referee between those "differing viewpoints among executives" that Lance mentioned.

"There's a delicate balance," Shuman says. "While you can wear a [high] rank on your shoulders, you may also have to deal with an upperclassman. How do you lead in that situation?"

Learning how to speak truth to power is also "critical in HR," he says, not only because it presents HR's tougher side to other departments, but also because it sets an example for how HR workers should view their roles within the organization.

"While you may sit in a certain place on a company's org chart," he says, "it's all about how you're going to lead your own organization."

Rich Rosen, a partner in Chicago-based Heidrick & Struggles International's Leadership Consulting business, has worked with Shuman on a number of recent projects, including executive assessments and mergers-and-acquisitions integrations. He says one of Shuman's greatest strengths is his ability to thrive as both a functional leader of HR and as a top-level business executive whose input helps shape organizational direction and scope.

"Like all the best executives, he's much more of a business leader than just a functional leader," he says. "In his role, he does a really nice job of straddling the corporate fence."

Rosen also points to Shuman's "ability to put everything in the context of business issues" as another key to his success. "He has an ability to see all the variables to manage that [business] complexity in a simple way, and he can fold the human resources side into that, as well."

Hi-Po Hunter

When Shuman arrived at Harris in 2005 as its senior vice president of human resources and corporate relations, the company did not have a comprehensive strategy for managing and growing its human capital. Given his history as being one himself, Shuman concentrated his efforts on improving how the company identified and assessed its high-potentials.

"As we all know, it's the people component that makes a company successful," he says. "So one of the things we've done is [improved how] we assess the best of our talent to really determine who's the right one" for new opportunities. He says the company took a page from General Electric and began using 9-block grids, among others, to help identify its best and brightest.

Under Shuman's watch, the company also changed its organizational and talent-review processes through a three-phased approach that first looked at the pivotal positions within the company.

"What are the pivotal positions? What will it take to achieve the strategic growth plan? Do we have the talent? Are we developing it?" were among the questions Shuman fired at his HR staff during this phase.

The second phase, he says, involved looking closely at the company's strategy and included a full organizational review to answer the question, "Do we have [the company] equipped to handle our goals?"

The third phase of the revamp, he says, was to "do a deep dive" into the organization by using annual and semi-annual assessments for all employees, including "day in the life" assessments from an outside vendor he declines to name as well as more traditional approaches, such as 360-degree assessments.

"We really expose our people to a comprehensive battery in order to see if they can take that step forward to be future C-suite material," he says, "and it's been very effective. These things have been worth their weight in gold as we transformed the company."

This identification-and-development process now enables Harris to expose its top talent to senior executives on the board through mentoring programs as well as place them into accelerated-development plans.

But once the high-potential crown is placed on employees' heads, Shuman says, their lives change in ways they may not have previously imagined.

"With this 'designation' comes the need to make some personal sacrifice in terms of travel, time away from family, relocation, working outside their comfort zones and potentially changing disciplines -- all with the intent of providing the individuals with experiences that would make them more valuable and prepared to assume greater responsibility."

This focus on hi-pos is part of a larger effort that the company calls its integrated talent-management program -- designed by Shuman when he arrived -- to ensure consistency of processes throughout the corporation that are clearly aligned to the overall organizational strategy.

Under his watch, Harris has also upped its organizationwide objective-setting completion rate to 99 percent, up from 35 percent. And succession plans for key positions are now stocked one- and two-deep, he adds.

Shuman did this by creating clear linkage between objective results and total-reward systems, through competency-based career and development planning, and robust succession and development planning, including the 2006 creation of an annual two-week custom comprehensive general-management program with the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

"At this point, we have 300 of our key executives and mid-career hi-potentials attend [each year]," he says. "This program provides the basic concepts and language to emphasize our leadership competencies in action."

Emerging Opportunities

When he's not reshaping and rethinking Harris' talent-management procedures, Shuman's business insight also keeps his eyes focused on the company's future business opportunities -- and, as a result, he's been making inroads in places where HR doesn't normally tread.

Shuman was one of the architects of the company's Emerging Business Opportunities initiative to identify what lines of business the company should expand into next, as well as what kinds of workers would best thrive in those new operations.

In order for this knowledge-sharing initiative to work, new assessment tools were developed in-house to measure the likely success of a new business venture and to identify current Harris employees who would be best suited to help "incubate" those ventures into stand-alone businesses.

The company now has several new projects -- including its Healthcare Solutions business -- that were created through this initiative.

(In addition to playing a key role in creating entirely new businesses, Shuman was instrumental in Harris' due-diligence efforts -- including those outside the realm of HR -- in acquiring 16 companies over the past five years.)

"Clearly, what we've been able to do is change our assessment of business, change our vernacular, and it's also taught us that an incubation business requires some very different people than a mature one," he says, adding that people who can be good in entrepreneur positions are often tapped to work in these new ventures.

"We've acquired a different way of thinking when it comes to developing business models, and it has made us a much more capable organization, and HR played a fundamental role in the success of these new businesses," he says.

Another area HR is not normally known to inhabit is the field of lobbying. Because Harris Corp. works with government agencies and competes for high-value contracts, a lobbying effort is a must-have, not a nice-to-have, for the company.

As chair of the company's lobbying efforts, he directs a team of lobbyists in order to help Harris win government contracts, as well as "influence company strategy and, in turn, align the government-relations support to have a greater influence in helping the business succeed," he says.

While not a registered lobbyist himself, Shuman says his role requires a blend of business acumen, political awareness and a full understanding of company strategy. He also represents the company in dealings with both state and federal legislators.

The position of chair, he says, requires an individual to understand the linkage between company strategy, how political support can help the mission and how the action aligns with Harris' corporate brand.

So does Shuman get to interact with any other CHROs through his involvement with Harris' lobbying efforts?

"I am beginning to see movement where CHROs are assuming some, if not all, of the chief administrative officer roles," he says, including government and corporate relations, real estate and environmental health and safety issues. "And since I have assumed the two hats [lobbyist and HR leader], I have reached out to a few others who are pioneering this level of increased responsibility. From my perspective, it's a great match."

But when asked to draw a line between his HR duties and everything else on his plate, Shuman insists on keeping it simple.

"I'm a business executive first and foremost," he says. "Because I have an operations and general-management background, that's what I bring to the executive team. I don't wear HR on my forehead."

Given his business-centric focus in a profession that is rapidly changing, Shuman will no doubt be considered the new standard against which future generations of HR leaders will be measured.

Oct 2, 2011
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