Martha Stewart, Adapting to Change, and the World’s Largest HR Conference

LAS VEGAS – So, lifestyle maven Martha Stewart was on stage casually talking about her good (and unlikely) friend, rapper Snoop Dogg.

“I thought he was 60 years old,” Stewart said of first meeting him. “He’s an old soul, but he also looks old. Then I found out he was younger than my daughter by about 10 years. But we really work well together. And it’s astonishing what you can learn from Snoop and his friends.”

Amid the laughter from the standing-room-only audience at the recent annual Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference, Stewart was making a serious point. She was explaining how their odd-couple partnership between two completely different demographics is an example of when change can be beneficial.

The thread that ran through Stewart’s wide-ranging interview with Johnny C. Taylor Jr., President and CEO of SHRM, was the idea of adapting. Change happens, she said, and you have to find a way to change with it.

Stewart has seen plenty of that in her career. At 77, she is one of the world’s best-known businesswomen, overseeing an iconic brand, an Emmy Award on her mantel and author of 75 books, and reaching an estimated 66 million consumers each month.

She also infamously did prison time for charges related to insider trading. But Stewart defied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s belief that there are no second acts in American lives by showing extraordinary resilience as she recast her brand. She emerged from her ordeal as a more relatable Martha who would even co-host a cooking show with new pal Snoop Dogg.

“My motto has always been that when you’re through changing, you’re through,” Stewart said. “I’m always embracing change. Sometimes it can be a sad change, but ultimately it can be good.”

SHRM 2019That was fitting advice for the world’s largest gathering of HR professionals – an estimated 22,000. The 2019 conference was being held at a time of unprecedented change in the workplace. More and more employees are working remotely, at least part of the time. The so-called “Gig Economy” continues to grow. There are rising concerns about the impact of Artificial Intelligence.

David Windley, the Board Chair of SHRM, also noted that while 7.5 million jobs openings currently exist, there are only 6 million potential workers to fill them. He added that the talent gap has only increased the need for businesses in general, and HR teams in particular, to create exceptional employee experiences by designing better work environments.

“More and more, people see their employers as the key relationship in their lives,” Windley said, citing the findings of the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer. “That’s a huge opportunity for HR – and a huge responsibility. What you do matters. We drive performance while creating conditions for an individual’s success.”

SHRM has 300,000 members and their roles influence 100 million workers across the globe. The conference was a chance to focus on new ways and technologies to increase employee engagement, use data to make more informed decisions, and create sound communication strategies.

It’s why the theme of the 2019 event, Windley added, was “creating better workplaces.”

Stewart was one of the featured speakers, and she bluntly spoke her mind to a convention hall that was filled with thousands of HR leaders.

  • The growing influence of AI. “I’m driving a Tesla car. I can sit there and knit if I want to, and the car will drive me. It’s kind of terrifying, but I’ve done it.”
  • On how more women can join her in the C-suite. “Work hard and go for it. Instead of leaning in, go for it. Take that, Sheryl.” (It was a reference to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In.”)
  • How, long before the me-too movement, she stood up for herself as a young model and actress in commercials. “I was taught to put my foot down when I had to . . . no matter where I might have to do that.”

She also talked about the importance of always being curious, not being afraid of change, and showing resiliency in the face of setbacks.

“Making the best of a horrible event is hard,” Stewart said. “You need inner strength and the ability to look forward and not backward, don’t blame others, and move ahead.

“If you’re good, you’ll always be good.”

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G.I. Sanders

G.I. Sanders is Senior Director, Creative Services at Dynamic Signal. He specializes in entrepreneurship, digital and social media, design, and marketing. G.I. is based in Dallas, TX with his wife and two sons. Passions include technology, startups, music, fitness and sports.