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Advancing the Mission

Susan Greer

Greatest Challenge: Responding to large-scale recruiting, attrition, training and leadership-development issues.

Greatest Accomplishment: Using cutting-edge social media and other proactive ways, Greer revitalized the recruiting and training-delivery functions and improved succession-planning processes.

This article accompanies Meet Some Future CHROs.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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To oversee the biggest hiring initiative in the history of the Internal Revenue Service, 2012 HR's Rising Star Susan Greer was appointed director of a new Centralized Recruiting Office -- which had few staff, little structure and no funding.

So, of course, she succeeded wildly, meeting the goal of hiring more than 6,000 enforcement personnel in less than five months.

To do that, she developed -- and received unanimous buy-in from senior leaders for -- a boldly colored, cutting-edge multimedia recruiting strategy that included the use of Twitter and Second Life as well as outreach to Spanish speakers, veterans and those with limited English proficiency.

"It's been extremely well received and successful and won all sorts of awards," Greer says. "But most importantly, we have gotten so much talent."

That's not to say it wasn't challenging, she says, adding that she thinks "one of the most interesting things we did when we were rebuilding the [agency's recruiting] website site was we really focused on what were the strengths of the IRS -- which is the mission and the meaningful, interesting work.

"Once you get people in the door, they get excited about the work and the mission and they stay. It's a really cool place to work," she says.

The new recruiting-marketing strategy and branding propelled the IRS into one of the top five best places for a career by Careers and the Disabled and Woman Engineer magazines, as well as jumped the organization from 69 to 47 in Bloomberg BusinessWeek's ranking of the best places to launch a career. In addition, the hiring of veterans increased by 44 percent and disabled-veteran hiring increased by 42 percent.

The Big Four accounting firms weren't hiring at the time, Greer says, "and we were. We had such a short opportunity, a window, to grab up some of that talent. We got them and they are staying."

That success is only one of the reasons Greer, who has since been promoted to director of leadership, education and delivery services, was named to this year's list of Rising Stars.

"Susan is incredibly energetic," says Debra Chew, human capital officer at the IRS, "and just has a very clear vision for whatever group she happens to be leading. She is incredibly innovative and creative. She has a very clear sense of what her values are, of who she is and how she comes across. Authenticity is something everyone here understands and it resonates with everyone."

Greer began her federal-government career as a field investigator with the Office of Personnel Management. She joined the IRS in 1999 as a security program analyst and has been promoted to progressively more responsible leadership positions.

She now leads more than 300 staff members as the chief learning officer at the IRS, where she is responsible for the nationwide training and development of 100,000 employees, including 8,000 managers.

In addition to personally mentoring several current and emerging leaders, Greer transformed the centralized training-delivery system at the IRS to create efficiencies and increase effectiveness.

Working with a project team of customers, stakeholders and HR professionals at all levels of the organization, several manual processes were eliminated, workloads were revamped and web 2.0 tools -- including video, online courses, crowdsharing via a knowledge portal, and job simulations -- were implemented as part of the corporate learning-management system.

She says it "very early becomes obvious" that social networking offers "a revolution in learning," especially with an organization such as the IRS, which is large and dispersed.

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She doesn't see demographics as much of a challenge, either -- "My grandparents are using Skype," she says, noting that there is "an openness [in the organization] to try some of these new tools and, very quickly, if you promote them, they take off on their own. It's not like you have to beat people over the head to use these tools."

Greer was also asked to help with another problem faced by the IRS -- a projected attrition rate of 65 percent at the executive level, threatening the quality of bench strength and other leadership-development issues.

In response, she developed and marketed a new leadership strategy, the IRS Workforce of Tomorrow, which revitalized the organization's corporate executive-leadership council. Through her efforts, the council was able to end a "two-year log jam in finalizing succession-planning definitions used to identify the readiness of internal candidates interested in leadership," according to Chew.

Greer also piloted an unprecedented forum -- Geographic Leadership Communities -- to identify and accelerate emerging leaders in local areas. The GLCs offered opportunities for potential leaders to deepen professional networks, gain exposure across business units and focus on their strengths and development needs.

She credits the success of the initiatives to her staff and co-workers.

"I think the main thing is you really have to trust that the employees and the people who do the work and know the work can help you and tell you which directions to go in. ... I think [in] some initiatives, we get caught up in the process: 'We need this and we need that.' We need to back up and ask, 'Why are we doing this and how can I help?'

"Rather than designing something in a vacuum and trying to push it down people's throats, we made it a collaborative effort. I am a true believer in diversity of thought and collaboration. When you get a lot of people in a room and work on a challenge, you always will get something better than if a couple of professionals get together and try to sell it."

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