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SHRM San Diego Conference – Al Gore’s Keynote

Lessons from SHRM: Al Gore’s Sustainable Business Framework

I was excited to learn that Al Gore was going to be one of the keynotes for the national SHRM conference in San Diego. No matter what your political beliefs are, I do think it’s interesting to hear from those that work for a cause and display a lot of passion.

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If you mention Al Gore’s name, most people will now associate him with his cause for the environment. So, it was no surprise when he said, “I want to talk about sustainability.” What was surprising is that he said, “I do want to talk about the environment, but let’s first talk about what sustainability means.” He then went on to say (and I’ll paraphrase here) that sustainability is about making decisions today that will not harm or take away from the future. He says this applies to the environment in a big way, but more importantly it applies in business as well.

The Business Case for Sustainability

We make decisions in business every day that have impacts on today and the future. He says focusing on a longer-term perspective is an emphasis on “sustainable capitalism.” He mentioned a couple of examples that I thought were worth noting, and even one that is specific to compensation.

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1. Are your compensation programs designed around short-term rewards? He talked about how our current compensation programs (most notably at the executive level) are designed around meeting short-term objectives. He talked about meeting the next quarter’s earnings or meeting this year’s profitability targets. He said this is short-sighted and dangerous for everyone. He made a business case for sustainability, suggesting that longer-term incentives (especially at the executive level) are the right approach. They will force businesses and executives to make better long-term business decisions that are reflective of typical business cycles. Mr. Gore suggested that incentives that follow a typical seven or 10 year business cycle are best.

2. Are you investing enough in your employees? Mr. Gore talked about the importance of helping employees in this country develop their skills and talents. He said this is especially important in terms of technology skills. If we want to keep up in the global economy and bring jobs to the United States, we’ll need to keep up with education and learning, especially around technology. He asked all of the HR practitioners in the room to think about doing more to help employees grow their skill set.

3. Stand up and be bold. Mr. Gore made a closing statement that I thought was really impactful. He said “What is my advice for all of your HR professionals? Be bold.” He said we have a responsibility to help solve a crisis and maintain a level of integrity and ethics in our organization that everyone can be proud of. He said it was on us to stand up when necessary and be bold in our approach to preventing poor decisions.

I think he is right. HR practitioners need to be bold. We need to take a stand, not only for the sake of our organizations, but for our own personal development. I once heard a prominent HR leader say, “I wish you all would stop asking for your seat at the table. If you were doing your job – you wouldn’t have to ask.” I think that is what “being bold” is about. Know HR, know business, contribute to the strategic conversations and the seat is yours. These contributions, along with a strong focus on sustainable capitalism, can be a winning combination for a sustainable business framework.

Stay cool,

Stacey Carroll
Director of Customer Service and Education

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Stacey Carroll
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