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Innovative HR strategies are becoming more prevalent as the best HR teams in the United States set aside the traditional rulebook to conquer challenges unique to their respective industries.
“I don’t see it slowing down. In my career in HR, the stuff that I used to do is not even a job anymore,” says Dr. Amy Dufrane, CEO of the Human Resource Standards Institute and the HR Certification Institute. “It’s a profession that is ever changing, you’re always reading, learning, exploring and being innovative. It’s an exciting field to be in and the reason for that is the velocity of change.”
The 2023 awardees of Human Resources Director US’s Innovative HR Teams are at the vanguard of this, pushing boundaries earlier than others and taking risks to create people-first organizations that are prepared for the future.
“The big piece for us has been making sure that we connect people with meaningful work, meaningful relationships, and a visualized career path”
Gary Burrus, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
For the award-winning HR team at Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the country’s third largest sovereign Native American nation, its stakeholders are the 220,275 worldwide tribal members and over 12,000 associates who work across a diverse portfolio of operations spread across the 10,864-square-mile reservation.
The Choctaw Nation’s collaborative HR team uses software and technology to create a seamless experience throughout the associate life cycle.
Among its successes are:
Across the Missouri border in Springfield, fellow awardee Ollis/Akers/Arney Insurance & Business Advisors’ top HR team is driving change through a holistic approach to employee engagement and flexible work arrangements.
The employee-owned insurance company, which also offers HR consulting services to 200+ clients across the US, is increasing trust and retention among its employee owners with a multi-pronged communication and engagement strategy.
The firms’ successes in new ways of working include:
“I think of it like the layers of an onion, but rather than peeling the layers back, the HR solutions that we’re putting together are like building the foundation layer by layer”
Karen Shannon, Ollis/Akers/Arney Insurance & Business Advisors
The best HR teams on the HRD US roster have rolled out forward-thinking recruitment and retention initiatives that are attracting top talent despite a continued labor crisis.
Nowhere was the human capital drain felt more acutely than on the front lines of healthcare during the pandemic. Two-time winner Novant Health, a North Carolina-based integrated health care network of 37,000 team members, rapidly mobilized to identify leading-edge talent strategies.
The health network’s HR team sought input directly from employees closest to the action, and quickly gathered information with safety at the forefront.
The best of those ideas led to the following achievements:
“We had lots of people to take care of and often we will say it’s not a matter of life and death, but in this case it was,” says Carmen Canales, senior vice president and chief people and belonging officer. “It required us to be nimble and aggressive in our talent strategy in understanding how the world was changing and, more importantly, to provide safety for health care providers so they could deliver remarkable service.”
Millions of jobs are going unfulfilled in the US and the best HR teams must think more creatively about how they’re going to fill those jobs, notes Dr. Dufrane.
Organizations are thinking differently and experimenting, she adds, such as McDonald’s with its automated AI chatbot drive-through.
“HR is on the pointy end of the spear on that and really leading the way in thinking about how we reimagine some of the ways we’re working because we can’t find the people,” Dr. Dufrane says.
“It required us to be nimble and aggressive in our talent strategy in understanding how the world was changing and, more importantly, to provide safety for healthcare providers so they could deliver remarkable service”
Carmen Canales, Novant Health
Creating new standards in HR practices is part of the work being carried out by the best HR team at Ollis/Akers/Arney Insurance & Business Advisors. With their consulting hat on, they draw on the creativity and experiences of the diverse businesses they serve to devise novel HR solutions.
“I think of it like the layers of an onion, but rather than peeling the layers back, the HR solutions that we’re putting together are like building the foundation layer by layer,” says Karen Shannon, chief human resources officer and vice president of business consulting.
The inspiration for the Choctaw Nation HR team’s approach flows directly from the vision of chief Gary Batton and assistant chief Jack Austin Jr., and what they want to achieve for their tribe. They focus on attracting and developing top talent, connecting employees to on-demand information, and crafting total rewards packages that prioritize employees’ wellbeing.
“We’re not immune to those key challenges every other employer has coming out of COVID, which is that employees have set the standard for what they expect from an employer,” remarks HR executive officer Gary Burrus. “The big piece for us has been making sure that we connect people with meaningful work, meaningful relationships, and a visualized career path based on individualized career paths.”
The foundation of HR innovation rests on having a seat at the executive table so the team can truly understand what the organization is trying to achieve and be a part of the decision-making process, explains Burrus.
Shannon and her innovative HR team look outside their industry for best practices and invite businesspeople in to share their experiences. She warns that HR professionals can sometimes get bogged down as many solutions are driven by employment law.
“Look at something entirely different to see how others are approaching it, and how you could apply that to your HR strategies,” she adds.
For Novant Health’s Canales, the organization’s 14 business resource groups are significantly contributing to its employee retention and engagement. The groups focus on special interests such as issues concerning women or Latin professionals, she notes.
“It’s really cool to see the peer-to-peer connections that have evolved where we can go in and do things for the community and also check on each other to make sure we’re all OK,” explains Canales.
As part of our editorial process, Key Media’s researchers interviewed the subject matter expert below for an independent analysis of this report and its findings.
Amy Schabacker Dufrane
CEO of the Human Resource Standards Institute and
the HR Certification Institute
The second annual Innovative HR Teams 2023 report by HRD US recognizes firms that are breaking boundaries to move the HR profession forward — whether it’s by taking a progressive approach to recruitment, introducing new technology, or rolling out a ground-breaking reward and recognition strategy. The report offers HR teams a unique benchmarking opportunity to see how their initiatives compare to those of the profession at large.
Readers were invited to submit entries showcasing HR teams that have agile, bold, and forward-thinking people strategies. Nominations focused on areas including talent management, diversity and inclusion, health and wellness, and HR technology.
Initiatives introduced and results achieved in 2022 were highlighted. The HRD US team objectively assessed each entry for detailed information, true innovation, and proven success — along with benchmarking against the other entries — to determine the winners.