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Interviews with Jedi Masters – Gerry Crispin

When I started to plan the “Jedi Masters” interview series I asked my network for people highly experienced people in the HR field.

One person got named again and again was: Gerry Crispin. They called him: “One of the members of the three musketeers”, they called him “highly intelligent”. It was pretty obvious that I had to interview this guy!

What were your career plans when you were a kid?

As a kid, I thought long and hard about joining the military like my father and, even thought of being a priest. Two, most opposite, solutions. Puberty cured me of the latter and Vietnam the former.

What made you decide to work in HR?

I was graduating in 1969 as a BE (Bachelor of Engineering) and I had opportunities to work as a Paint Engineer at Ford Motor in Detroit and as a Sales Engineer at Trane in Lacrosse Wisconsin (and a dozen other similar jobs). In the midst of those not-so-exciting possibilities I was approached by the head of the graduate program for I/O Psychology who had been following my undergraduate efforts as an activist and he painted a totally different picture of a future where the performance of people in collaborative environments could be understood using systems and psyche theory. Sounded a hell of a lot better than mixing chemicals or selling air conditioners and six years later I was a very happy loose cannon among the HR folks at Johnson & Johnson.

And what is your job now?

My exit from J&J after a decade led to a short series of gigs in contract recruiting and executive search and another decade as a GM for a Recruitment Advertising company during the heyday of print and its transition to digital/virtual. I wrote 8 books around that time, consulted and formed CareerXroads (CXR) 22 years ago. Our mission is to nurture a community of world-class Talent Acquisition leaders. We have 110 employer members and about 1000 active TA professionals from those employers participating globally in CXR in 2018.

What are the major changes that HR has undergone since the beginning of your career?

From my perspective as an HR partner at J&J in 1975, it has devolved to obsolescence in most firms. When I was in HR, evidence was an essential component of every conversation and the VP HR was typically a high potential Marketing or Manufacturing VP who had been ‘moved’ to HR for a year to round out his/her background before being promoted as the President of a J&J Company. I don’t need to detail what a model like that might mean in terms of influence and accountability. On the other hand, we were at the beginnings of our understanding of unconscious bias and its negative effect on engagement at work as well as diminishing the pool of exceptionally qualified candidates. HR Technology, of course, was primitive to the extreme but in some instances was fairer in its approach as perceived by candidates than some of the practices in play today.

Do you think that HR is still a good career to choose? Why?

Yes, but only if the focus is on the evidence, the business and a solid understanding of the systems, strategies and processes that make for best practices in engagement and competitive practices in work and hiring.

What personality traits make a great HR professional?

Grit/Guts…a willingness to step up to the long-term implications of short-term profit over the lives and careers of the people who are working to achieve success for the firm. There can be no employer success at the expense of the people who help achieve it. HR serves as the steward and curator of a culture that works for every employee, not just the vested C-level.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your career?

2 Things. 1. Choose every morning whether this is going to be a good day or not. Choose how much room you have to allow for a bad day. If it’s not a bad day, then just how good this one will be is totally up to you. Every day for me is a great day….since I have room for only 1 more bad day. 2. Assess your job in the context of your career. Your career in the context of your life. And live your life in each moment.

Some people think that almost all HR tasks will be automated in a couple of years. Do you agree or do you think that HR will still be important in the future?

If transactions are HR then HR will need to go the way of the dinosaurs. There are lots of tasks I welcome being automated. That frees up an ability to execute on programs and challenges that will certainly change the game.

What do you think is the most overrated HR trend?

Wasting time trying to define AI. The only thing worth any effort is the discussion over the outcome desired.

Who is your personal (HR) role model?

Preston Edwards Sr. founded the Black Collegian Magazine in the 1970’s, published and printed it in his backyard in New Orleans and drove and dropped off copies at college career services departments throughout the US. He’s made a difference…1 X 1.

What do you do better than people starting out in HR today? What do they do better than you?

I’ve never stopped being a student. I aspire to world-class status at learning by observing, questioning, being curious and challenging data to understand its worth. Everyone working in HR/TA does it better than me.

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