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January 29, 2018

Someone to Know: Q&A with Hill-Rom Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) Ken Meyers

This year, I’m starting a series that focuses on some of the smartest, kindest and most talented people I’m fortunate to work with and know.  In every interaction with them, there’s much wisdom that they share, and they do it in a way that makes one appreciative and grateful.  Here’s the first in our series of people I think you’d want to know!


Q&A with Ken Meyers, CHRO of Hill‑Rom


Q: As the CHRO of Hill-Rom, how do you think about your role today?

A: It’s less about “role” and more about “roles!”  The complexities in business, driven by technology that changes every time you blink your eye, and customer expectations that increase as fast as technology changes, show up in the heightened expectations of the “roles” of the CHRO. 

Whereas in years past we were primarily responsible for all the components of the human capital value chain (from hiring to retiring), now we are doing all that plus filling organizational capability gaps, coaching leaders to reach higher levels of excellence, and contributing to key board-level decisions from CEO succession to executive compensation in a more regulated world. 

On top of all that, we are responsible for driving a company culture where all employees feel they are respected, that they can grow and that they can contribute to something bigger than themselves. 

We talk a lot about creating a ‘diverse and inclusive’ culture.  Yes, we want to attract and retain people from all walks of life (diversity) who have a seat at the table (inclusion) but when you stop there, you still may not have a culture where people feel they can contribute to their maximum. The hard part is to foster an environment where all of those diverse people who are sitting at the table feel like they belong at that table, can express themselves freely without having to morph into some sort of corporate figurine. 

So, when people think that a good CHRO is someone who solely ‘likes people’ (that’s what I used to hear a lot!) – think again – good CHROs can create tremendous value in an organization – and bad CHROs can be highly destructive.

Q: You often talk about “building our leadership muscle.”  Why is that so important to you and the leaders at Hill-Rom?

A: We say that “leadership is a choice.”  The choice is about how effective you want to be.  Are you willing to adapt so that you can touch the hearts of many or are you the type that thinks everyone else must adapt to be more like you?  I mean if you think you’re a great leader, then I ask you to look around and see if anyone is following you!

Leadership implies followership.  And to attract others to seek your point of view or to seek your wisdom, you need to have tremendous self-awareness and then be willing to moderate your behavior based on the individual, the team or the situation. 

So how do you develop self-awareness?  Well, I find the best way to learn about yourself and your blind spots is to ask people who care about you.  It’s amazing what they’ll tell you when you ask!  I also encourage people to read – not business journals (though those are important, too) but books that help you think about yourself differently. I like to read historical fiction.  I learn so much about myself every time I read about people who lived, survived and thrived during difficult times. 

Work with a coach.  Take various assessments.  For example, you can purchase the StrengthsFinder tool on Amazon.  Like anything you want to get good at, we need to practice.  One becomes a good pianist or tennis player or tap dancer by practicing and building that “muscle”, and it’s hard work.  So is becoming a good leader!

Q: You talk a lot about the importance of Head, Heart and Guts leadership. How do you know when a leader has the right balance of Head, Heart and Guts?  What can leaders do to be better at leading with Head, Heart and Guts?

A: Building on the notion of adapting and moderating your behavior to be effective, I find that good leaders adjust for the right balance of thinking with their head, demonstrating heart and emotion and acting with courage (guts). 

I mean, think of someone who is brilliant and can explain the company’s strategy (head leadership) – if that person can’t make an emotional connection (heart leadership), then you may not choose to follow that person.  Or, if someone can make tough decisions (guts) but those decisions are not based on facts or wisdom (head), you might question how good those decisions are.  You need all three.  Some people point to Oprah or Bill Gates as people who are able to flex and demonstrate a good balance of head, heart and guts leadership. 

If you’re not sure what your natural leadership tendencies and preferences are, ask people around you.  They will tell you!  I encourage you to read the book or countless articles on Head, Heart & Guts Leadership by David Dotlich, Peter Cairo and Stephen Rhinesmith. 

Q: I’ve heard you talk about the fact that we should be called “human doings” instead of human beings.  What’s the opportunity you see for leaders?

A: Leaders need to spend time thoughtfully reflecting or ‘being’.  We are very quick to jump into action sometimes without enough or any careful thought.  How many times do we hear, “If only I could take back what I just said or what I just did or how I just showed up.”  Well, you can’t take it back once whatever was said or done is said and done! 

What you can control is the timing.  This reflection time can be particularly difficult for extraverts who like to think out loud and with others instead of thinking to themselves. 

I once told someone I was coaching, “Program time in your day to kick your feet up, stare out the window and reflect on what you think you need to do.”  I know we may fear the boss coming by and catching you in the act of “reflection” as if we should feel guilty for doing so.  She might say, “Get back to work!” because reflection time can appear to be wasted time.  Au contraire! 

Watch your leadership effectiveness increase by spending some time truly in a state of ‘human being!’

Q: You often talk about how one of the most important and difficult leadership challenges today is managing paradoxes.  What leads you to that conclusion, and what can leaders do differently to be more effective?

A: I think this is the hardest concept for leaders to learn.  And it can be learned.  How do you manage what appear to be contradictions and polar opposites such that we actually manage both simultaneously?  For example, we are told to ‘think globally and act locally.’  How do you manage both?  ‘Deliver your monthly numbers and develop a long-term strategic plan.’  You might think the ‘and’ should be replaced with an ‘or.’  ‘Be accountable for your individual results and ‘embrace the team’s collective responsibility.’ 

My favorite is the cliché of ‘work/life balance.’ Let me expound on that one since I find people get it quickly:  You are about to deliver a presentation to the company’s executive committee and suddenly you get a call that your daughter just fell out of a tree and needs you to come to her school urgently.  You could treat this situation as an either/or.  Deliver the presentation and your daughter suffers…or….Rush to the school and forget about the presentation.  Instead you could do both!  How about this as an alternative:  As you rush to your car, you call an associate and explain that you must tend to your daughter due to an emergency, and ask your associate to cover your presentation.  Your daughter is happy to see you, and your presentation is delivered successfully. 

As a leader, our life is filled with these types of paradoxes all day long.  Inexperienced or ineffective leaders deal with them as trade-offs, choosing one or the other, or spending unequal time on one or the other so that these polarities are imbalanced.  Instead, effective leaders treat them as a both/and, and consciously spend their time optimizing each. 

This is really hard work and takes careful thought.  The effective leader is the one who delivers his monthly plan AND has a solid long-term plan in place.  The effective leader is the one who understands the benefit of a global set of employment policies and also understands local customs and norms and when and how to customize so that global standardization is adhered to, yet local norms are practiced. 

There are several good books on this topic including Barry Johnson’s work on polarity management and more recently Linda Hill’s body of work on paradox management.

Q: Having real conversations, I know, is critically important to you.  In today’s culture of email, how do we bring back real conversations?

A: I sometimes think about what the world would be like if texting technology had been invented prior to the telephone.  Could you imagine our world if the telephone were just invented and how exciting it would be to hear someone’s voice instead of the cryptic language and emojis sent via text? 

That said, technology has enabled us to communicate in new ways. I mean, when I was a lad, if I wanted to communicate with someone in Poland, I was given a pen pal by my grade school teacher! And I’d send my pen pal a letter in the mail hoping for a return letter a few weeks later.  Now our kids are talking to people all over the world on their computers.  It’s an amazing phenomenon and advancement. 

Nothing beats face to face, two-way communication, and “in person” can now happen without being in the same room.  As long as we continue to bring our true, authentic self to the conversation, taking advantage of new technologies will help further and advance our ability to have ‘real’ conversations with people.

Q: Any other words of wisdom for leaders who want to be even better?

A: Learning never ends so always be open to continuing your learning journey!  Develop a plan for how you will continue to learn and explore new technologies and advancements to enable your learning.  For example, read books, attend seminars, listen to webinars and Ted Talks, return to school, join a book club, seek out a mentor, and so on. 

I remember the day when we depended on our leaders or the then ‘personnel department’ to tap us on the shoulder to talk about our career options.  I encourage people now to take charge of their own careers and their own development. Don’t sit and wait to be tapped on the shoulder, because you may be waiting a long time! 

And embrace new technologies and new ideas and new ways of thinking about the world.  Once you put your hand up and say, “Stop!  I’m done learning,” soon you will enter the land of irrelevance, and there’s nothing worse than becoming irrelevant. 

I hear parents tell me that they don’t like today’s pop music and the lyrics are profane and the singers are grabbing their body parts.  I ask them about The Weeknd or about Drake and they say they don’t know what I’m talking about. And then they tell me their kids aren’t talking to them.  Well, if you don’t keep current, you become irrelevant! 

Your kids will go and talk to the ‘cool parents’ who can hum along to Drake’s lyrics!  So if you are resisting the next iPhone or understanding Cloud technology, realize that you have stopped learning, and at some point, someone will tap you on the shoulder and say, “You are being replaced.”  Instead, be the future and stay relevant!


About Ken

Ken Meyers is Senior Vice President (SVP) and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of Hill-Rom, a leading global medical technology company. He has three decades of senior leadership, Board of Directors, HR and operations experience and a strong history of success supporting organizations in start-up, turnaround, and rapid growth throughout diverse industry sectors. As SVP/CHRO at Hill-Rom, Meyers is responsible for leading the organization’s global human resources function, with a focus on advancing Hill-Rom's high-performance culture and organizational excellence.

Concurrently, Meyers serves on the Board of Directors and as chair of the Compensation Committee of Syneos Health (NASDAQ: SYNH). Meyers also serves on the not-for-profit Boards of the Kendall Foundation and Elyssa's Mission.

Before joining Hill-Rom, Meyers served as the SVP/CHRO of Hospira for seven years, leading the cultural transformation following the spin-off from Abbott, until its acquisition by Pfizer, Inc. Meyers also served as a partner at Mercer/Oliver Wyman, working extensively with senior teams to accelerate high performance. He served as a principal consultant and coach to senior executives at companies such as Amgen, L’Oreal, Nike, Disney, Deutsche Bank, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Luxottica, Sara Lee and Unilever. In addition, Meyers has held leadership positions with Starbucks, Disney, Gymboree and United Technologies.

Meyers earned a BS from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

To read more executive Q&As in our Someone to Know Series, click here.

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