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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Elizabeth Clarke, Executive Editor, Human Resource Executive
Episode: 347
Air Date: December 6, 2019




Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

John Sumser 0:13
Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. I’m your host John Sumser. Today we’re going to be talking with Elizabeth Clarke who’s the executive editor of Human Resource Executive, the new executive editor of Human Resources Executive magazine. Elizabeth, how are you?

Elizabeth Clarke 0:31
I’m pretty good this morning. How about you?

John Sumser 0:33
I’m fantastic. I am sitting in beautiful Dallas and out from my window there’s a row of ducks walking single file I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a row of ducks walk in single file before. So why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself and labor over your years in journalism, 25 years as a reporter and editor what amazing thing, so tell us about yourself.

Elizabeth Clarke 0:59
Sure, I don’t feel old enough to have you be able to say that about me, but apparently I am. So I, yeah, I’ve been here almost six months. I think Christmas Eve will be my six month anniversary with HR Executive. I started in journalism kind of much to my surprise right out of college, I didn’t think I’d be able to get a job, just kind of based on the economy and things that were going on. But I started as a just a community reporter writing about small towns in a small county in South Florida, Martin County, Florida, and you know, just got to know people and got to kind of enjoy the fun of telling stories. I had a lot of free rein and was able to sort of write about whatever I wanted, which is a luxury. I spent a few months doing that. And then I took a job as what we call the night editor and basically worked a three to midnight shift editing stories that were going into the paper the next day for the metro section, that same little papers called the Stewart News. Then a couple years doing that and I learned a lot about working with people. Particularly as I was pretty young to be managing people, and not that I managed a lot of people that was more on the spot people management, you know, there’s a news event happening tonight at eight o’clock, there’s a fire, a house fire, so I had to dispatch people. And so it was sort of moment by moment management. And I moved from there into a position as a sports copy editor in the sports department of the Palm Beach post, which, as you’ll probably able to tell from this long and winding tail, I didn’t plan too many of my moves through my career. Just sort of, Oh, that sounds interesting. Let me give it a try. And so I went from working from three to midnight to working four to 1am, which was not really the time schedule I was looking for, but I learned a lot about sports and working really quickly in terms of editing and again, working with a lot of different people in on the spot. How are we going to handle this situation management. And then I decided as this kind of happened a few times through my career Well, I better get some more writing experience. And also that will give me a slightly more normal schedule just for me personal reasons You know, working until one or two o’clock in the morning is okay for a while depending on your personality, but I was a little too late for me. So I became a sports writer and wrote about high school sports for a while and then just kind of moved all around covering a variety of sports. You know, I covered college football, I covered professional football for a year including Miami Dolphins, great quarterback Dan Marino, I covered his final season in the NFL, which was exciting and interesting being sort of in the locker room Scrum of 50 journalists standing around somebody right after they finished the game, trying to get something unique for them to you know, get them to say something unique for you for your story. I also covered professional tennis came open, you know, just was something that I had enjoyed playing as a kid and I thought, hey, sounds interesting as it happened. A couple of high school kids at that point, I think moved to Palm Beach County named Venus and Serena Williams. So I got in on the early end of writing about their their careers, which turned out to be obviously pretty amazing dope and still going on to this day. So I spent about five years as a sports writer, I got married, decided want to have kids and travel wasn’t quite so interested in traveling around so much. So I actually started covering religion filled the Palm Beach post, you know, it was a great newspaper to be able to do lots of different things. And writing about sports is something that’s very important to people. You know, people get real passionate about how could you write this about my favorite coach or my favorite team, writing about religion was similarly you know, important to people. And that was really, I really enjoyed that. Being able to kind of spend time with people and talk to them about things that were really important to them, you know, that people would trust me with that kind of information was it was really a highlight I’m going on and on here, but I took a few years off after my second child was born, did some freelancing, so kind of got to see the industry from the other side and worked writing for a variety of publications while juggling potty training and on the side, and then I had an opportunity to return to the company that owns a palm beach post and I joined the pommy to daily news, which is the very special mall newspaper that covers the very wealthy town of Palm Beach. So it’s a pretty exclusive little newspaper also covers the interesting because it covers every little small town thing you can think of somebody brought their dog to the supermarket and put it in a cart and people objected and it bit the bad boy, little stories like that all the way to the President’s in town. Obviously, his Mar Lago state is there in Palm Beach. So it was a pretty exciting time to be working at the Palm Beach Daily News. I was editor there for about four or five years and had a really good time, it was a similar place where people feel really attached to, you know, really passionate about the paper, they feel like it’s part of the community. And you know, it was really a privilege to be able to do work in an environment like that, where it still felt like journalism was important to the community. And so here you are, and so here I am, yeah, less boring. Go ahead.

John Sumser 5:52
Now, it’s a tortured path to get to be the editor of HR Executive Magazine. And, you know, I’m tempted to ask you how working at HR Executive is like writing about religion, but that might take us way down the track.

Elizabeth Clarke 6:12

John Sumser 6:12
So how’s the change going from the newspaper business, which has some fairly straightforward boundaries between editorial and publishing to the trade magazine world? That’s quite a transition Really? How’s that part of it?

Elizabeth Clarke 6:29
Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, at some moments, it feels very straightforward. You know, I’m sitting at a computer, someone has written a piece of content. I’m reading it, I’m editing it, you know, we’re putting it on the website. We’re preparing it for the magazine and it feels very familiar. And then you pull kind of on one string and ask one question, and you realize, I realize, Oh, I’m in a, you know, in a different space, and I need to go and talk to some other people about how we want to handle whatever the issue might be, you know, with Something about an advertiser, it’s something about a big company, it’s a request to change a quote that someone said, Well, you know, in the newspaper world, they’re very clear answers about how you handle that. For the most part, you know, there can be some nuances. There’s a lot more nuance to not necessarily that request, but a lot of different things that we’re considering here. Somebody would like their photograph to look a little cleaned up. How do we handle that? I’m having a lot more conversations about those types of things than I did before where I felt like all right, we know the rules here. This is we don’t do that we, you know, so it

John Sumser 7:37
was extraordinary. That sounds subtle in the saying, but it’s a difference in the relationship between the publication and its content. That’s interesting.

Elizabeth Clarke 7:49
Yeah, it’s comforting that I have with me here at HR executive. Another recent I don’t want to say refugee but another former newspaper editor, Who I can bounce things off of, and I kind of know sometimes walk into his office and say, Okay, here’s the situation. Here’s my inclination. You know, here’s my sort of newspaper training on this. But we’re in a new space. And so I have someone that I can, you know, we can kind of wrestle over it together. How do we handle this? What’s and then, you know, sometimes we’ll, let’s call the salesperson Let’s call, you know, somebody in marketing and kind of hash it out. So there are a lot of really interesting conversations that we’re having that probably in a year, I’ll feel more comfortable about, Oh, I know the answer to this. But for now, it’s a lot of discussions.

John Sumser 8:33
But well, that sounds great. And I am so excited that you’re here the world of industry press in our universe, you know, the big regular professional players in HR and HR tech, it’ll be nice to have a kind of a straighter shooting operation at the heart of it. So I’m excited. Now you’re learning about HR tech at the same time and it’s a beat that somewhere between really Women’s Sports been covering up the learning curve.

Elizabeth Clarke 9:04
It is a steep learning curve, the you know, all I sort of came in with was a little bit of experience managing a very small team and working with an HR department at a fairly good sized company, the Palm Beach post for a long time was owned by Cox Media Group until we had some, you know, we had a few HR tools. And I grumbled about a whole lot of stuff that I had to do with HR. And I had an HR director, who was actually one of my mentors, kind of through my leadership training. And there would be things like all right, well, we did our employee survey, and now we need to put together an action plan and use this tool and, okay. It felt like here’s a separate job, you know, like this is Here’s your regular job, which is putting out a newspaper. And then on the side, you have these management roles and this get involved in using these tools. So that’s kind of the extent of the experience that I came in with and so learning about what the options are and how companies can use the And how can you possibly measure culture? I’m still trying to get my head around that like, Can that be a data point, a company’s culture, and I’m sure that I’m sounding, sounding very ignorant, but it is a very steep learning curve that I have a feeling I will be climbing up for a long time. Luckily, the HR, you know, everyone that I’ve met is incredibly willing to help almost every person I talked to offers, what can I do? How can I help you? What can I you know, who can I connect you with? There’s a lot of collaboration, it seems like within this industry, you know, just the folks who have called me up and said, Hey, we can do this together and who are just super open to helping and teaching and working together is impressive.

John Sumser 10:41
Yeah, that’s nice.

So on the topic of measuring culture, I think that’s a great example of what goes on in the business. It probably is going to be possible to measure culture, but it isn’t really just now That said, there are a ton of people who are selling things that claimed To be able to do that. And it’s interesting to try to sift out the difference between what’s actually possible and what’s being claimed. That’s part of the work in covering and understanding the industry is kind of figuring out the difference between the rhetoric and what’s actually going on. And I don’t know that whatever gets done without because the machine that manufactures buzzwords, operates at a rate faster than humans can keep up with it. So so some of some of what happens in the business for my money is that we learn how to digest new ideas, and then figure out whether or not they are unreasonably visionary or really practical. And it takes a while to figure that out. But sometimes engagement is one of these things where the idea is so much better and bigger than the actuality and what you mostly hear about is the idea and so it’s Not as clean as the house down the street just burned, though it’s a more ephemeral arena the cover as a result.

Elizabeth Clarke 12:07
Yeah. And that’s, of course, where the steepest learning curve is. It’s one thing to learn all the players to learn the people, but to sort of be able to take it to the next level to analyze and figure out what’s what. Now, there’s some of that in traditional journalism, you know, the politicians and they’re determining the truth in what they say, or the reality, perhaps not the truth, but the reality and here’s the plan. There are some similarities there. But first, I’ve got to learn the basics.

John Sumser
Yep, there are waves. There’s a sort of a fashion component to the language that it’s easy to mistake the fact that people are wearing double breasted blazers this year for a permanent face of everything. I noticed. For instance, I noticed this summer I felt like I woke up one day and all of a sudden, all of the ease that used to be the first letter and engagement were now being applied to experience And it was as if somebody changed all the signs in town overnight. And everywhere I looked at it, we’re talking about experience all this. And there are people who are good at spotting that as it’s coming down the road. So it’s an executive magazine has been around forever. And here you come with professional journalism, credentials, things things are going to change. And what do you say, to change?

Elizabeth Clarke 13:23
Do you mean with the magazine? What’s the record? Well, yes, was the magazine. Yeah. I think some of the priorities in my mind are not actually related a bit to the magazine, but related more to just sort of how we approach things in terms of making sure that we’re a little bit more modern, making sure that we’re digitally a little bit more digitally savvy, doing presenting content in ways that our audience is looking for it. Not sure that’s a magazine all the time. I mean, I think there are some things that are to do for the magazine, some things that are, you know, perhaps suited for other platforms. I think we’d like to be Providing a bit more of a future look, perhaps then we have been released in the few months that I’ve been here, you know, trying to frame to push readers a little further down the road, rather than telling them perhaps things that they already know or that seems familiar, it’s always easier said than done, you know, we’re going to push the envelope we’re going to all those sort of cliches, but we really would like to continue to be but to be even more of a must read publication, whether it’s, you know, online, in the magazine, or, you know, on social media, we certainly have to grow our presence there and perhaps step into some new spaces podcasting and and just engaging with different audiences. Not that we want to step away from the ones that we have, but you know, are there other up and coming audiences that we should be connecting with, you know, kind of broadening our scope of who we rely on to provide analysis and help us understand the market. I think those are really my primary thoughts.

John Sumser 14:54
Interesting. So you’re also the co-chair of the HR tech conference, and this year was the first time you actually went to one. First of all, what was that like? You know, I’ve been going a long time and these things are chaos. Almost psychedelic to go to it for the first time. There’s so much to draw your attention and so much value to get that the abundance of choice sometimes is the thing that people experience first, what was it like for you?

Elizabeth Clarke 15:26
Yeah, that sums it up pretty well, including the fact that I’d never been to Las Vegas before. Really?

John Sumser 15:31
How could How could you be a religion writer and never go to Las Vegas?

Elizabeth Clarke 15:39
I’m not quite sure managed to. I’m not interested in gambling but never been. I just tiny correction. I’m not actually co chair of the of the conference. I am involved but the Bose is the chairman right now and doesn’t have a co chair at the moment. So I didn’t know that new to me. So. So what was it like? What was it like to go? Right? So it was definitely overwhelming. You know, I had this website bookmarked and I had the pamphlet of all the different sessions I had. It was marked up with all sorts of sticky notes and circles and highlighted and all kinds of places I wanted to be. And of course, since I’m on the East Coast, I was up, you know, four o’clock in the morning, ready to go. And by about 8am, I realized, well, there’s no way I can get to everything that I want to. And my primary role there this year was making sure that we were covering the conference in the way that we wanted to be. So I spent actually spent quite a bit of time in an executive conference room editing stories and posting them on the web web sites. So there were some things that I missed out on because I was doing that and then walking around seeing all the people, you know, screaming into the expo hall, walking through there and just being overwhelmed by the number of options and friendly faces of people who wanted to demo things and show you how this worked and show you how that worked. And then perhaps the most interesting room was the I guess they called the analyst room, the press room, right and I met with a lot People probably I don’t know, eight or 10. Over the course of those few days, we were there just to sit down and you know, meet someone and hear about their product, whatever it was that they were working on, and that that room was so busy and very different from sort of a traditional newspaper press room because I, somebody called it the press room, I thought, Okay, well, very different atmosphere in there.

John Sumser 17:19
This is a shark room, the pressure.

Elizabeth Clarke 17:23
Right, I think of a press room as a place where you kind of go and you sit down, you write your story, and you might talk to a couple of other journalists. But that was a different animal. And then there were so many compelling sessions that I felt like I could have gotten a college degree in HR tech, If only I’d have the time and the Gosh, the mental attention. I think, for me, everything felt like oh my gosh, I really have to concentrate. What does that word mean? What does that acronym mean? I don’t know that jargon. So I think I learned a lot but not nearly as much as I could have. If I had, you know, been able to clone myself and go to every single session.

John Sumser 17:56
I think it feels like that too much of the people who go there. I think The experience that you’re talking about sometimes gets called imposter syndrome where you’re immersed in something, and you simply are more aware of what you don’t know than what you do. And that is a common experience at the conference. It’s a very interesting thing to try to work with. That’s why I spend time doing an orientation every year because that is a common experience. So we’ve got just a couple of minutes left. And I was wondering if there is anything that you are gravitating towards right now. What has your attention from a sort of a content perspective? What are the things in HR tech that you’re driven to try to understand? Are there

Elizabeth Clarke 18:42
so many things? We are currently grappling a bit with the whole idea of machine learning and artificial intelligence and and how, you know, what kind of role will that play and how in the world is it going to shake out I think you and I have talked about this on a couple of occasions. Seems like no one knows but sort of feels like sand running through my hands like I just can’t get, I can’t catch it. So that was kind of at the top of my list right now we have some content plans in an upcoming for an upcoming issue and you know, some things we’re doing online. And so that’s that’s primarily where my head is right now partly because I can’t I’m, I’m struggling to understand, you know, all the possible uses and and just how valuable it is.

John Sumser 19:24
So I have a great recommendation for you there is – it’ll be easy to Google. There is a wonderful PDF from a junior professor at Princeton called AI snake oil or how to spot AI snake oil (How to recognize AI snake oil by Arvind Narayanan, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University). But if you look for AI snake oil at Princeton, you’ll find it and what’s nice about this is it’s a concise look at what works and what doesn’t work, where the real BS is and where the stuff that’s going to have some enduring power is and so I like pointing that to people and you will find that impact credibly useful. So we’re at the end of the time, any last thoughts?

Elizabeth Clarke 20:05
Not really. I’m still in such a questioning and learning phase that I’m mostly you know, always asking, What do you recommend that I read? What do you recommend that I pay attention to and in the industry or outside the industry to kind of help me along this journey?

John Sumser 20:18
So I’m going to stick with the AI snake oil PDF. That’s a really good clarifying piece. There’s so much to read, but that’s a great place to start.

Elizabeth Clarke 20:28
I will do it. As soon as we finish up. That’s great. Thank you.

John Sumser 20:32
Okay, so take a moment and reintroduce yourself and tell people how to get ahold of you.

Elizabeth Clarke 20:37
Absolutely. So I am Elizabeth Clarke. I am the Executive Editor of HR Executive Magazine and I am based in our Palm Beach Gardens Office of LRP Media and you can reach me at E Clarke. Don’t misspell my last name, is Clarke, C L A R K E. So, And you can find me on all the usual social media platforms, including on twitter at LizClarke92.

John Sumser 21:05
Fantastic. Thanks for doing this. Let’s thanks for taking the time to be here today. We’ve been talking with Elizabeth Clarke, who is the new Executive Editor Of Human Resource Executive Magazine. And you’ve been listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. Thanks for tuning in, and we will see you back here next week. Bye Bye now. And thanks again Liz.


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