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Planning the next move in your HR career? Curious what it’s like to hold a CHRO role? As part of an interview series to address this topic, we sat down with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago interim CHRO Mary Alida Brisk to learn more about her career journey and how she approaches her job.

Having a talent strategy sponsored and led by the CEO, CHRO and CFO together is an important aspect of addressing your unique talent needs.

Was human resources always a career that interested you? What have been some of your favorite parts of your job? What have been some challenges you’ve faced/overcome?

Mary Alida Brisk (MAB): To be completely honest, no. Once I understood how I could influence and improve people systems, I made the shift to fully embracing being part of human resources.

I’m incredibly grateful to serve in roles that make employee’s lives better, so that they, in turn, can support the care of others during critical times.

Some of my favorite aspects of my job are making a difference in the lives of others and ensuring that the teams I support contribute to the success of Lurie Children’s Hospital for years to come. I joined Lurie Children’s Hospital a little more than a year and a half ago, moving to Chicago from Seattle, Washington. This has brought about some of the favorite parts of my work and some challenges. The polar vortex and then a pandemic have certainly made it difficult to get to know more HR colleagues; being part of HRMAC has helped with some great Chicago connections.

Do you have any tips for professionals who aspire to become a CHRO?

MAB: It’s important to know the business and to be able to add value from the CEO’s vision, and to understand how to serve the unique needs of five generations in the workforce. Spend time learning from other experts and select mentors in many different fields. Volunteer to lead or sponsor projects outside the realm of HR.

CHROs help shape the talent of an organization. What are your top tips for addressing talent needs and desires given the tight labor market?

MAB: The talent market is certainly shifting currently for many industries. However, it has brought about some exciting new opportunities as well. Having a talent strategy sponsored and led by the CEO, CHRO and CFO together is an important aspect of addressing your unique talent needs.

I think it is also critically important to attract, develop, support and retain team members who value an organization’s standards and culture, as well as bring a different point of view that positively contributes to your organization. The switch from “cultural fit” to “cultural add” can be daunting. A “culture fit” mindset preserves comfort and familiarity and can possibly lead to bias and a homogenous culture.

Human resources has a critical role as strategic, trusted advisors in ensuring that we retain, engage, develop and/or promote the team members we hire as cultural additions as they are likely to leave within a very short period of time as a culture transforms.

Working closely with other executives to preserve and pivot parts of our culture is foundational to attracting the talent that will innovate and be the next generation of leaders, clinicians, health care professionals and researchers. The book Talent Wins touches on talent as “the value creator,” and details that the CEO must place talent and finance on equal footing, while recognizing that talent must be deployed differently.

Are there any particular considerations HR departments should take into account with more staff working remotely, or – if not remote – under extraordinary circumstances, during the COVID-19 pandemic?

MAB: In health care, we already were working to address issues with resiliency, burnout and critical skills shortages for years. The pandemic amplified those needs and brought about newer concerns:

  • Understanding employee concerns – Testing, what to do if exposed, access and use of protective equipment, physical safety, cleanliness of surfaces, transportation and more.
  • Understanding employee’s needs – We’ve seen an increase in the need for childcare and family care. This is a challenge that all industries are facing from conversations with other CHROs.
  • Understanding and altering the work – For example, how will you determine who can work from home? What a hybrid model could be? Or, what changes are needed to support this model?
  • Understanding how and when to measure productivity – Do you have the technology systems and equipment needed to support the volumes of people working from home?
  • Understanding the impacts of equity, diversity and inclusion on the workforce – How will this alter your business model?
  • Understanding business impacts – In health care, how we deliver care and services is changing. We offered services such as drive-through testing and dramatically increased telehealth visits as part of our changes.
  • Other questions…
    • How will you create communication systems and channels to respond quickly and effectively to new information that emerges?
    • How do you lean into your culture to assist in times of crisis?
    • How do we continue to take care of ourselves so that we can support a workforce that is also experiencing change and pandemic fatigue?

Human resources has a responsibility to be mindful of these changes and determine the impact on the organization and the workforce.

How has technology changed the role of HR? What are some important technologies that all firms should consider?

MAB: Yes, for us as an organization that grew rapidly in the last four years. Many organizations are at the intersectional of demographic, regulatory and technology shifts.

We have begun the steps to implement a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. It will take us several years as we combine our human capital management (HCM), finance and supply chain processes into one system. Additionally, keeping the employee experience, transparency of data and information, how to better leverage the skills and expertise of the entire workforce, and the shifting leadership expectations are elements we are keeping in mind as we begin this transformational change.

What is the best career advice you ever received?

MAB: Three items come to mind:

  1. Ikigai. Understanding and revisiting your “Reason for Being.” This is the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile and is specific to each person. It is the cross section of what we love, what the world needs, what we can be paid for and what we are good at.
  2. Board of Directors. Having a small group of mentors that work with you for specific reasons. When first starting in health care, I was mentored by an associate chief of nursing and later senior vice president and chief nursing officers; and, I also worked with several chief medical officers. As my role supported nursing and physicians, it was important for me to learn from these experts. It is also important to select mentors that will provide tough messages to support ongoing growth and development as well as selecting someone is who willing to help you incubate your innovative ideas. The responsibility for your career lies with you – do not leave it up to chance.
  3. Yes – No – Maybe Lists. A former mentor taught me about “Yes – No – Maybe” lists. Whenever faced with a possibility or decision about life and career, write it out. List out what you would say “yes” to, what you would say “no” to and what you might consider. For example, would you be willing to move to another location for a new or relocated position? Ideally, you would place it in an envelope to revisit later. It does help to be able to hand it to someone and set a time to reconnect, open the envelope, and discuss what was written before and what may have changed.

Required Reading. Share a few articles or other works you think HRMAC readers should check out/save.

MAB: The go-to items on my desk right now are:

What is your favorite place to visit in Chicago?

MAB: The Art Institute of Chicago. It’s a constant source of inspiration.