HRExaminer Radio

HRExaminer Radio is a weekly show devoted to Recruiting and Recruiting Technology airing live on Friday’s at 11AM Pacific

HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Mark Berry, VP, HR (CHRO)  CGB Enterprises, Inc.
Episode: 152
Air Date: February 10, 2016


Mark Berry is a HR leader & passionate proponent of evidence-based HR practices, who has first-hand experience establishing a successful “People Insights” function at a Fortune 200 consumer packaged goods company, as well as leading HR for a leading commodity transportation company. Mark’s work has been honored with Bersin by Deloitte’s “WhatWorks” Award for Innovation in Talent Analytics and Workforce’s Optimas Award for Business Impact with Workforce Planning. Most recently, Mark named as one of nine “HR Trendsetters” in the January 2015 issue of HR Magazine for his work in workforce analytics & planning.

He has 20 years of HR experience (having started as a child) in food ingredients (ConAgra Foods), paper/packaging (International Paper) and chemical (Borden Chemical) industries, respectively, as well as 10 years of experience in applied psychology. Mark holds B.A. & M.A. degrees in Psychology, as well as a M.B.A. with a concentration in Operations Management.

Mark resides in Madisonville, Louisiana with his wife, Carolyn, and daughters, Hannah and Grace. In his free time, he engages in masochistic pursuits, such as ultra-endurance running, including a number of 50- and 100-mile trail races each year.


Audio MP3





Begin transcript

John Sumser: Good morning, and welcome to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser. We’re coming to you today live from beautiful downtown Occidental, California, and we’re far enough into the year so that there’s finally some sunlight at showtime. You can start to see the camellias are in bloom. The rain has been falling. The redwoods are rich with dampness, and we are delighted to be coming to you today. We are going to be talking with Mark Berry who is, these days, the Vice President of Human Resources at CGB Enterprises, a Louisiana company. Mark is one of the leading voices and advocates for the use of analytics in HR and has made a career out of breaking molds with the analytics tool shed. Mark, how are you?


Mark Berry: I’m very good, John. Thank you for having me today. It sounds like your weather is keeping well in sync with ours. It’s another one of those wonderful February, cloudless days in Louisiana with temperatures projected to be somewhere in the 60s today. We’re roughing it a little bit, got the heavy parkas out.


John Sumser: That’s one of the great things about not living in the North or the East of the country. My idea here of cold is, if it gets under 50, we need another down-comforter on the bed.


Mark Berry: Oh, there we go. That’s … yeah.


John Sumser: That’s how it should be. 50 is a little chilly for my taste. Why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself to the audience. I’m sure there are people who haven’t met you yet out there.


Mark Berry: I’d be glad to do that, John, thanks very much. I’m the Vice President of Human Resources for CGB Enterprises, which is a diverse collection of businesses focused in the primarily agriculturally-oriented commodity and transportation and insurance industries. We’re headquartered in Mandeville, Louisiana. I’ve had the privilege of being here now for 9 months, leading our HR transformational efforts.


John Sumser: One of the interesting things … We agreed, as we got ready for the show, that we would talk about revolution and insurrection in HR. Why don’t we jump on in? What are you thinking about these days?


Mark Berry: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, because we have undertaken a pretty significant transformation in HR here at CGB Enterprises. As I thought about that, and that’s an often used, frequently misused term, and, probably so much so, we might be better served to just set transformation aside, because it means so many things to so many different people. It really means nothing. When I looked at … I’m kind of fascinated by the words and what words mean and how words are used. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been such a passionate follower of you and the work you’ve done, John. You just have that ability to be able to take a phrase or a nuance in a word and expand on it in a way that very few people I’ve know can. As I looked at what we were doing, I was saying, well, is it transformation? Are we being revolutionary? What exactly are we doing? I actually did a little bit of reading on it and didn’t really understand the notion that there is a precursor to revolution that has to take place.


That is this notion of insurrection. Insurrection, according to the dictionary definition, is simply an uprising against a larger force that’s in power. I was thinking about this and said, you know, that’s really what we’re doing here and what we’re trying to do with the partners that we’re working with in this. The larger power, not being our own company, but the larger power truly being the mold in which HR operates and in which people perceive HR. Our insurrection is an uprising against the larger force of expectations. The expectations of ourselves in terms of what HR can deliver, the expectation of our customers in terms of how they see Human Resources. The expectation of our business leaders and our partners and peers, in terms of what we are doing and how we are doing it. It’s been a really exciting journey. We hope, if it’s not put down, this insurrection truly will lead to a revolution for us.


We think that’s something … I think that’s something that’s really critical to happen first, that HR has to throw off those bonds of being transactional and reactionary and marginally relevant to the needs of the business and really think about, when we talk about being strategic, what does that really mean? When we say proactive, what does that really look like? We talk about being impactful. How do we make that truly impactful and not make that smart talk, but make it actions that affect our businesses in a significant, sustainable way?


John Sumser: Why don’t you give me a couple of examples? That’s an interesting thesis, and I bet that some significance of the people that hear this will be scratching their heads, going, “what?”


Mark Berry: Sure. I think one example, John-


John Sumser: So, a couple of examples would be good.


Mark Berry: Yeah. Well, as you know, my entire career in HR has been spent with larger Fortune 200 companies. I came to CGB Enterprises 9 months ago. It was dramatically different in terms of the employee population. About a 16th the size of the company that I had come from. About a 40th of the size of the company I started my career with. I think, as I came in, there was a general sense of people, professional people, I knew outside of this business, but also within the organization, that you can only do so much when you’re a relatively small company, compared to what a large company can do. If you buy into that belief system as an HR leader, you have just shackled yourself for the rest of the time that you are in that role. [inaudible 00:06:56] that doesn’t have to be the case. The way we solve for it is going to be different because the nature of it, or the quantity of resources may not be there, but I can solve for that by thinking about a completely different way of going after this.


If I’m really going to spark a revolution, I have to think about, how do I create the insurrection? The insurrection has been by selectively picking a few people to come into the organization, that building capability that we needed to have people that … in fact, two people that I had previously worked with who previous companies, who really got it in the sense of what HR could do. The second part of it was pairing ourselves with several vendors that … Actually, in retrospect, what I realized as I was thinking about this, they themselves are insurrectionists and revolutionaries. Their companies that are the vanguards in their respective fields. They’ve set completely new paradigms, or are setting new paradigms for how the work that they do should be done. We really have fomented an insurrection with … just simply around the whole issue of small companies can’t be innovative in their delivery of people, programs, and practices, the way large companies can. Summarily reject that-


John Sumser: So-


Mark Berry: It’s a matter of creativity in terms of how you do it.


John Sumser: Part of what you’re talking about is a time-honored principal, that is, that the seeds of failure are always sown in the next success. What one encounters is companies that have grown based on a formula, who adhere to that formula after it ceases to be effective. Transformation, as you’re describing it, is that function that allows a … mature is probably a bad word, but a bigger, more established company to transform itself. That’s … Transformation, the way you’re describing it, is the function inside of a more established company that allows it to adapt to the marketplace or adapt to new sets of circumstances in spite of the fact that it was successful using an old recipe. That process, which upends existing stake holders who are generally responsible for the old success, with what appear to be riskier solutions for the upcoming levels of success. Is that what you’re talking about?


Mark Berry: I think that’s a fair characterization. What we have learned here, that HR has to be … We have to be so much better at than we presently are, which is representing new mental models, because every company I’ve worked in … One of the things that plagued Human Resources in those organizations were the existing belief systems of leaders with respect to people and the role of people in the organization and HRs ability to affect people. We talk a lot about here, with respect to the importance of setting a clear mental model with the customer. The customer who has only seen Human Resources as transactional, who has never seen a Human Resources manager be able to bring evidence-based insights into a discussion about things like cost or return on investment. It’s going to be like you’re speaking in tongues if you try to approach that person without setting this new mental model.


Part of this process of creating this revolution is even in changing how you set the expectations of your leaders and how you position yourself in the organization. If you fail to do that, it literally does become much like speaking in tongues. You … a lot of activity, but no appreciation for what’s being said, and so …


John Sumser: That’s great. I hear a lot of talk about the importance of HR in arenas like productivity improvement, engagement improvement, and collaboration improvement. It’s always struck me that that’s exactly what HR doesn’t do. I assume that your message, which is a solid routine focused on business fundamentals and the impact of Human Resources on those business fundamentals, is a more appropriate stance for HR to take. I assume that that’s not popular everywhere you go. Is that right?


Mark Berry: I think that’s a a fair characterization, John. It’s interesting. Several months ago, we initiated the first senior leadership enterprise succession planning exercise … talent review and succession planning exercise. One of the things that was most exciting to me about initiating that process was our leadership’s recognition that that is not … succession planning and talent reviews are not HR processes. They are business processes. In our industry, they’re business processes that are critical to mitigate risk to the business and the risk that can be inherent in the business in having someone, for whatever the circumstances are, lead the organization at a time when it wasn’t planned and not convenient. When we look at those things, I often times think my peers want to rest from the business things like engagement and collaboration and communications and things like that, when really those … if they’re really vital to the business, business should continue to own those.


HR becomes a subject matter expert that may help enable that for the business, but let’s not make those HR processes, because we only serve to undermine our ability to affect the organization when we do that. As I said to you earlier, I think, unfortunately, the reason why  things like engagement and collaboration are so attractive to a certain subset within HR is not because they are empirically proven, intervention strategies, but because it’s comfortable for HR people who really want to play social work in a business environment and don’t have the capabilities to be able to make those clear ties between … and I don’t want to use the term engagement, between commitment of employees and their intent to stay with an organization and differential investment in the company and outputs in terms of increased productivity, increased sales, and whatever other metrics you’re using.


That’s where we need to pivot from. Well, we want to drive engagement because engagement correlates to these things. I want to know what specific components of that engaged person affects a specific business outcome, and I want to work to try to influence that. More importantly, I want to quantify the degree to which that intervention that takes place actually affects an outcome in terms of the business. I think that’s what I’m excited about within HR is there are a number of people, much like myself, who are saying, we have to rise up against this larger force that says HR is all about the happy stuff, smile sheets, engagement surveys, things like that. We have to look at what HR really should be, which is a subject matter expert regarding a lever that the business has at its disposal; they’re called people.


We are the I-O Psychologists for the organization, in terms of helping them appreciate how that resource can be leveraged to drive the outcomes that the business needs to drive and to be able to quantify the degree to which that’s happening and have the courage when it isn’t happening to stop what we’re doing and do something different.


John Sumser: How do you find co-conspirators in this? If you go to look at the professional associations and, frankly, most of the major research houses in the area … you don’t hear this story. I think you are on to something really powerful, but this is not conventional wisdom, Mark-


Mark Berry: Yeah.


John Sumser: Where do you find people to talk to about this?


Mark Berry: You go to where you’ve seen it happen before. An example, this last week I had a wonderful discussion with a fellow that I have tremendous respect for, Brian Kelly at [Bestrics 00:16:27]


John Sumser: Uh-huh (affirmative).


Mark Berry: Brian was one of the former leaders at Inform. Inform was, that’s not a shameless plug, because the product in its original state no longer exists. They were acquired years ago. Inform truly was the revolutionary technology for analytics at its time. Kelly and the people that he surrounds himself with, they are all a bunch of insurrectionists. It’s fascinating to talk with him about what he’s doing. People like Dave Wiseback and Ryan Wong at [Viscier 00:17:00] are examples of that or Don Weinstein and the people at the Innovation Lab at ADP. These people are taking no prisoners. They’re going after the conventional paradigms about how we do HR and turning them on their ear. It amazes me … an example … we’re implementing a new technology platform within our business. We have weekly, these weekly project calls that people suffer through-


John Sumser: That’s good.


Mark Berry: On one of the calls a few weeks ago, the project leader came on and said, “I’ve got some people on the phone that we want to share with you some things that you’re going to be getting as an early adopter, because you have early adopter status with our company.” I saw the most … it was a bizarre situation because the subject matter of these two presentations … One was time approval in a time and labor management system. The other one was administration of paid time-off. I can’t think of two things that were more boring. If you told me I had to spend a day talking with people about time and labor management and paid time-off, John, I would eat a gun, okay?


John Sumser: Right, right.


Mark Berry: That’s how I feel about it. Within 5 minutes, they have the room in the palm of their hands on this webinar, because this group had taken the whole notion of how these things are done and completely reimaged them from the perspective of the user, not the perspective of HR. They had come up with a revolutionary way to be able to manage something that you don’t think of as revolutionary. As we implement, it’s going to be a major source, major improvement, for our managers in terms of their time and their ability to leverage insights that are being delivered real time through a very consumer-oriented, user interface. That, to me, is what revolution is about. That’s what these insurrectionists coming in saying, we’re going to do it a different way. I think a lot of times, early on, the insurrectionists aren’t understood, because they are speaking a different language.


Those are the people that I want to go and find in the world, because they’re setting the new paradigms. They’re blowing up the old paradigms. In every one of those cases that I referenced, those are people who have done it before. Those are the people I want to tag onto.


John Sumser: So, I think-


Mark Berry: They’re to me, the cool kids.


John Sumser: I think that what you’re talking about, help me here, is that the real magic is in the fundamentals. It’s not in the lofty ambitions to make people feel good. The real value is in the data and the processes that are the every day coal face of the business. Is that part of the story?


Mark Berry: I think that’s part if it, John, because I think that if … In the world that I’ve been privileged to live in and I live today, I have an open door to the degree that I can take even the most sublime business problem and bring a creative solution to that problem. That says to the customer, gosh, this person is really listening. They’re really trying to understand what my world is like instead of making me understand what their world is like. Honestly, John, I would confess that early in my career, I spent way too much time trying to influence people to see the world my way versus, saying, how do I see the world their way, then take what I have available in my role to be able to deliver solutions to them that meet their needs. Recognizing as I do that, their confidence in me rises, and my opportunity to be able to affect other things that they may not even be thinking about at this time.


My ability to affect those things increases as well, because I’ve won the credibility of my customer, because I’m responding to their felt need, not my interpretation of their felt need. That’s what I see with some of the partners. I use the term partners, versus vendors that we have, because we have a very different paradigm of how we relate with the companies that we do business with that support our HR organization. We have dedicated relationships with these, and we don’t pit them against each other. We don’t go out and seek to get bids to find who can give us the best deal for the best price. We go find the people who can bring magic to our organization and help our business be more successful. Gosh, it’s so simple, and it took me so long to come to that realization, that the most radical thing that I could do in HR was say forget about everything I learned about HR and focus instead on who the customer really is. To the degree possible, break that mold and grind it into dust about what HR has been and should be.


For every organization, it’s somewhat different, but in general, it’s not what we were trained or taught to do. It’s learned through our work with business leaders as they help to convey to us what their issues are, and we find those creative, innovative solutions to solve for those and partners that will help us do that.


John Sumser: That’s really interesting, so let’s sort of broaden the scope here for a second and go … you’re laying out a view that’s an astonishing, interesting, mature approach to how to drive change inside of an organization. Along the way to getting good at doing that, there’s all sorts of pitfalls and risks in a career. While what you say makes a great deal of sense, swimming upstream is not a sport that everybody’s interested in. It includes a level of risk-taking in your job that can have a downside here and there. What do you tell people who you’re encouraging to follow this path to insurrection about the risks that they’re taking with their career and how to think about that?


Mark Berry: Well, God only knows, John. I’ve taken risks, and I’ve lost in some of those cage matches. Honest to gosh, I think about it almost more from an existential framework in that if I had the choice of playing it safe versus playing it right, I would hope that I would always chose to play it right. Right, for me, is to be willing to stand out and say, this is not the way to do things. That’s true within my own profession. It’s also having the hoots by the be able to stand up and say to a business leader, with all due respect … I respect who you are as a person, I respect what you’ve done for your business, but I have to point out to you that where you’re going with regard to what you’re doing as it relates to people has risks. Let me illuminate what those risks are. If I advocate that, John, I’ve lost my soul as a Human Resource manager. I’ve really, really lost my way entirely.


Yet, we often times play it safe, because we’re afraid that if we don’t, something bad is going to happen. I can’t say that that wouldn’t happen, but I also can say that I have the great fortune of being in a place today where that kind of feedback is expected and welcomed. It has to be done in a way that gives respect and deference to those people who’ve done what they’ve done. I’m fortunate in that I work in a business that’s been very successful with leaders that have been exceptional business people. They’ve been exceptionally successful without me. They will be exceptionally successful without me in the future. My opportunity is to figure out how to run as fast as they can run in the area that I have some expertise. To be able to be in the position that when those challenges, those opportunities to challenge, come up …


Instead of cowering and hiding in a corner, because I’m afraid of the implications of raising the issue, I can stand up and articulate a reasoned position based on strong evidence and good theory that will be compelling to them. And recognize when that doesn’t happen, it simply doesn’t happen. You don’t win every jump ball.


John Sumser: Is the tag line for this conversation, ‘don’t use analytics unless you have a little bit of courage?’ Because …


Mark Berry: Yeah, I’d say analytics aren’t liquid courage. I think I’ve seen people in the past who did that. Who threw a number out there as ground cover for a position they were taking, when the reality was, it may have affirmed their belief system, but we still have to be … We still have to seek to have the relationship with our leadership to be in the position to influence and use the evidence to help influence, but the evidence itself is not liquid courage. If we believe that that’s what it is, we’ve sold ourselves short. As I tell the folks that work for me today is we’ve … they’ve started to and… It’s been really exciting, John, to see people who have never had access to good insightful data, now being able to get access to it and running with it … is be really careful how you run with this. Don’t run and fall, because you could hurt yourself. You need to walk.


Walking is … the data just … I think I read a quote from you about this one time that you said that, “data is a story with soul.” I think about the data as part of the storyline that I’m trying to convey. It isn’t the storyline itself, but it’s part of the storyline. It should help elucidate and illuminate those areas where there are the greatest opportunities, and then provide a way to be able to substantiate that that new path was the right path, or not, if it wasn’t.


John Sumser: Fantastic. We have rapidly exhausted our available time. Is there something you want to leave as a take-away for the people who have been listening? Maybe the location of the dark bar where the conspirators are gathering for the insurrection?


Mark Berry: Yeah, it’s LinkedIn, and there are several different groups there. The only thing that I would ask, John, is for those people who have this insurrectionist bent themselves, join us in social media. I love following what you do on Twitter. I love keeping track of what you’re doing on LinkedIn. Those social media levers are great places for insurrectionists to hang out. If you’re one of those, please let me know. Love to connect with you.


John Sumser: Please, re-introduce yourself, and tell people how to connect with you.


Mark Berry: Absolutely. Mark Berry. Vice President of Human Resources at CGB Enterprises. You can contact me at Linked-In on SMarkBerry or at Twitter S_MarkBerry and welcome the opportunity.


John Sumser: Thanks for taking the time to do this, Mark. As always, it’s been a fantastic conversation, and I look forward to the next one. Thanks everybody for tuning in, it’s been great to have you on board today. Enjoy the rest of your day. This has been John Sumser on HR Examiner Radio. Thanks again for talking with us today. Bye-bye now.


End transcript

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