A World of Change

In an exclusive interview with HRE, Scott Cawood, the new president and CEO of WorldatWork, shares his views on the many HR challenges facing organizations today -- including his own.

Change often comes when we least expect it, and that's true even for people who teach on the topic.

Just ask Scott Cawood, who teaches a course on culture and change at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and was just named CEO and president of WorldatWork, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based membership organization. He will succeed Anne Ruddy, who has held the post since 1999, on May 15.

"I wasn't actually looking for a change," he says, referring to his previous role as global leader for organizational effectiveness at W.L. Gore & Associates in Newark, Del. "But to have the opportunity to join an organization with such a significant voice in improving workplaces, it's a unique honor."

(Cawood actually began his career as a learning and development associate at Gore, before moving onto positions such as vice president of global talent management at Revlon and vice president at the Great Places to Work Institute. He returned to Gore in July 2015.)

Under Ruddy's leadership, WorldatWork became a multi-year recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility. In 2009, it won the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award. In 2011, the organization won the Workplace Leader in Financial Education award from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Society for Human Resource Management.

Ruddy, who was also named one of the 25 top women business leaders in Arizona by the Phoenix Business Journal in 2012, calls Cawood "incredibly humble" and cites his "pure business background" as one of the many factors that won him the new post. "He brings an understanding of what employee engagement is like and that will really add momentum to what we're doing regarding the future of work," she says.

In announcing Cawood's appointment, Lead Director Sara R. McAuley, CCP, said "The WorldatWork Board of Directors is looking forward to welcoming Scott to our organization. His combination of deep business experience, energy, knowledge of best practices in talent management and broad-based leadership capabilities make him exceptionally qualified to take on the next chapter of our strategy."

"We are eternally grateful to Anne for her dedication, wisdom and leadership during her career at WorldatWork," McAuley said. "She has never wavered in her enthusiasm and vision for our profession, our careers and the future of work."

In the following Q&A with HREonline.com Web Editor Michael J. O'Brien, Cawood shares his perspective on some of HR's most pressing issues, and how he envisions his organization's mission in the coming years.

What message do you most want to convey to the HR community as you begin your tenure?

I've always loved the HR profession because it represents the voice of the people, and people are your business. How an organization runs all depends on how you engage, push and challenge people, and WorldatWork in many ways has a unique position to do some forward thinking in that area. But there's no doubt in my mind that the role HR plays will continue to be a critical one.

We are seeing more people moving in and out of traditional HR, compensation and benefit roles. How does WorldatWork adapt to this change and provide relevant resources to people doing the work of rewarding employees, regardless of where they sit in an organization?

The bottom-line message here is that the work itself may be in a different spot, but it didn't go away. You may have different people doing it, but it still needs to get done.  Our task is to figure out who's doing it and where. And I like disruption in business. I think chaos is good. While often challenging, disruption also is a vehicle to innovation and continuous improvement.  When organizations are able to effectively navigate complexity and uncertainty, they perform better and in the end, that helps both employees and customers.  I am a strong advocate of building in agile practices into organizations so they are best prepared when change ultimately is needed.

"The future of work" is a phrase mentioned frequently in the HR world. What does that mean for HR and WorldatWork in terms of gig employment, increased automation, artificial intelligence, issues that are drastically changing the work environment for both employers and employees?

If HR leaders are doing their job, it should constantly be slightly ahead of the curve in terms of what organizations need, so none of these things should be a surprise to them. HR has to maintain its ability to not only get themselves ready, but also the organization's wider team. One of our goals is for any organization to be able to change faster than the world around them is changing, and HR provides the coaching and training to do that.

What do you see as key issues for HR executives in today's business and political climate? What role do you envision WorldatWork playing on these issues?

The world around us is going to continue to be chaotic, and culture is one of our best weapons against that chaos. HR has a duty to help the organization navigate through anything that's going to swirl around it. Regardless of what 's happening, an organization's culture provides stability in an unstable situation.

How will you measure success in this role in your first year?

If I can live up to some of what Anne's done in her 17 years, I will be ecstatic. I'm a little nervous following someone who has had such a great tenure. But now it is time that we need to redefine ourselves in the space of total rewards and compensation. I love change in terms of driving forward; I've got a good sense of what works in the spaces where we play in.

Will you continue to teach at Georgetown?

Yes. Teaching organizational culture and change to college students connects me with a different population and gives me the crossover that is vital in business. And the lessons I taught in that class will definitely come in handy for this new role. I just hope I kept good notes!

What is the biggest challenge facing your members today, from a compensation-planning perspective?

Getting the right comp plan, because one size doesn't fit all. You have to get these pieces right; the pressure is constant. You have to be on top of it and be engaged with workforce, keeping up to make sure that what your folks need is what you are offering so they can do their best work.

Where does the organization stand in regard to this current legislative atmosphere, on issues such as equal pay?

I think WorldatWork is concerned with all the issues that are affecting day-to-day workers. We want to make sure the individual rights of people are protected and protections that exist regardless of their race, gender -- all protected classes -- is ensured. We will continue to monitor and lobby on behalf of people regardless of their differences, and we will be interested in any legislation that has protections that afford you the same chance that everyone else has to succeed in the workplace.

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Apr 10, 2017
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