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April 3, 2018

Someone to Know: Q&A with Rockwell Automation Senior Vice President of Human Resources Susan Schmitt

What do strategy, saddles and sequins all have in common? Susan Schmitt! Susan is Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Rockwell Automation. She is leading the company’s efforts to build leadership capability and make Rockwell a place where employees are energized to do their best work and attract the very best talent. When not leading HR strategy for this global organization, she’s pursuing her other passions – horses and ballroom dancing. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Susan for many years and watching her transform Rockwell. I’m excited for you to get to know and learn from her as well.


Q&A with Susan Schmitt,
Senior Vice President of Human Resources
at Rockwell Automation


Q: How do you think about your role today as CHRO?

A: My role is to create a healthy and vital company in partnership with the executive and HR leadership teams. By doing so, I can help create an environment where employees can and want to do their best work, are customer-focused, and aligned to the company’s mission and purpose. Ultimately, this is good for employees, customers and shareholders.

How I deliver on my role is three-fold:

  • At the organizational level, I partner with the senior team on ensuring the company strategy is clear and employees understand how they align and fit into it; that the company values are articulated and brought to life; and that our HR organization has the right design and structure to deliver on the strategy. 
  • At the leadership level, I look at how to build leadership capability within the company and ensure the right leaders are in the right roles. This includes identifying and assessing leaders and people managers, creating development programs, and providing coaching and succession planning. I also work with leadership teams on how to be more effective. 
  • At the employee level, I look at how we attract talent and then ensure that once people are here, they have a meaningful career and are fully engaged. This includes consistently seeking feedback and input from employees, and continuously evaluating the effectiveness of our HR programs such as total rewards and training and development.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for your team at Rockwell Automation?

A: We are, like many companies, using technology to transform the way we do business. So for my HR organization, the challenge is about taking a company that’s been successful in the past and has a core, legacy business – the heart of the company – and help move it forward in a way that respects our history, heritage and legacy.

While our company is going through this transformation, it is on my team to attract the new capabilities and talent we need to be successful. Also, we focus on how to create performance and trust by looking at where our culture might not be fully supporting the future direction. For example, are we acting fast through effective decision-making on behalf of our customers and the company? Could we be even better? Are we taking the right risks, trying new things and learning from failure?

We are constantly looking at how we bring in leaders and employees to help us get there. We also assess ways to be even more effective at attracting, developing and retaining that talent.

I’m on a personal journey to understand companies that have done this well so we can learn from them.

Q: What workforce opportunities do you anticipate will be the biggest game changers?

A: For us, this is all about software capability. Our strategy is The Connected Enterprise, which is all about leveraging plant-wide data as information and insight at the enterprise level. Therefore, our foundation is STEM talent – talent that understands how to leverage analytics and who are able to create secure cloud-based solutions for our customers – which is hard to find and has been for years already because of the amount of demand.

Q: What’s your favorite piece of advice for leaders who want to be better at engaging their workforce?

A: Based on a lot of external research I’ve come across and exit interview data, we know that many people leave companies because of issues related to career advancement and development.

Every person has a unique and different definition of what career success is and looks like. So, you can’t have a generic or cookie-cutter approach to career development. It must be a custom, employee-centric approach.

So, my advice: take time to understand what matters most to your employees.

Q: What’s a myth about HR that you want to quash?

A: A lot of people have a misperception that HR is the organizational police that always tells you what you can’t do and that everything we do is administrative and tactical. 

Successful HR leaders and teams are influencing an organization’s vitality, are removing obstacles from the culture that get in the way of delivering strategy to solve our customers’ greatest needs, and find creative and innovative ways to attract and keep talent.

There is so much more to the role of HR than many people understand. I simply ask that they be more curious and find out what HR is actually doing and how HR is contributing to the company’s success.

Q: If you could change anything about business today, what is it?

A: There is always external pressure for companies to perform each quarter. It is the reality of corporate life. And we must not only focus on short-term results at the expense of long-term strategy. It’s a balance. And it’s looking at long-term goals, how people are rewarded, and making sure we have the right long-term time horizon in our line of sight.

Q: I know you have a special talent…how do you balance your passion for business and ballroom dancing?

A: I love competitive ballroom dancing, but my real sport and passion is horses. As for how I balance both my passion for horses and business, it’s really about three things:

  • Making sure I create balance in my life
  • Managing my own need to not disappoint anyone and setting boundaries on my time to recharge
  • Being super organized in managing a disciplined schedule


About Susan


Susan Schmitt is the senior vice president of Human Resources at Rockwell Automation, the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information.

She’s spent 25+ years creating value for organizations in a variety of industries, including the Kellogg Company and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, by clarifying corporate strategy to drive alignment; building leadership capability; assessing and developing talent; and advocating a corporate culture of inclusion where every individual can contribute their best.

Susan is inspired by contributing her experience to evolving human resources practices, collaborating with colleagues across industries and sharing her expertise with the world through speaking engagements as well as book, online and print publications.

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

Click below to download the eBook—Tips, Tactics, and Strategies for Your Leadership Toolbox—and get a wealth of leadership tips and strategies all compiled in one resource:

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