Josh Friedlander, CHRO of Latham & Watkins, recognizes that employees and company success go hand in hand.
By Aly J. Yale
Josh Friedlander learned early on that it is not just ideas, products and strategies that make an organization different. It is the employees, too.
“If you boil it all down, it’s the people,” Friedlander said, “It’s the people who execute, the people who develop the strategy, the people who develop the products.”
A desire to be in a field that recognized this fact—one that focused on the importance of people to organization—is what led Friedlander to a career in human resources (HR).
After spending years in HR at corporations like Exxon and GE Capital, Friedlander now acts as Chief HR Officer at Latham & Watkins, the world’s fourth-largest law firm. His job, he said, is to “make Latham an awesome place to work.”
Awesome, Friedlander said, is an environment in which employees feel utilized to their full potential and one that allows them to be excited about going in to work every day.
Friedlander accomplishes this “awesome” environment by spending as much time with firm employees as possible. He makes it a point to visit every Latham office at least once a year, which means traveling to 31 offices in 14 countries. All in all, traveling takes up about 35 percent of his time, Friedlander estimated. Last year, he traveled more than 125,000 miles.
“I need to be where the people are,” Friedlander said. “In order to be a successful human resources person, you have to be out there with the organization.”
The goal, Friedlander said, is for employees to realize that HR is not just a group that writes them up, conducts performance reviews or manages compensation. It is important to Friedlander that staff members know, too, that the HR team is committed to making Latham a great place to work.
“So how can I do that?” Friedlander asked. “By being with them as often as I can.”
Friedlander also goes the extra mile to add a level of humanity to Latham’s HR Department. Each month, he sends greeting cards to every staff member celebrating an anniversary. If he is well acquainted with the employee, he includes a personalized note.
“By doing this, I show them that I’m a person,” Friedlander said. “Then, when there’s a concern, they know me.”
Handling the Hard Stuff
HR employees often must be the bearers of bad news. What is key, though, according to Friedlander, is not that the negative situation has arisen, but rather how it is handled.
“In HR, what really matters is your reputation and treating people with dignity and respect,” Friedlander said. “There may be tough decisions, but [employees] will understand why as long as you do it the right way.”
An example of such occurred when Friedlander worked for Brandwise, a dot-com start-up, in 1998. After just 18 months as a business, Brandwise was forced to cease operations, and Friedlander was charged with the unfortunate duty of breaking the news to the company’s approximately 100 employees.
“The hardest day of my life, up to that point, was when we closed down,” Friedlander said. “I had sold people on a dream. I had taken people from real jobs, and I felt personally accountable for that.”
So, he took matters into his own hands. Instead of focusing on finding himself a new position, for the next six weeks Friedlander helped every single laid-off employee find a new job.
Counting on the CHRO
To this day, he still carries that sense of accountability into the workplace.
“No one gets shot on my ship but me,” Friedlander said. “I take full accountability for all HR at Latham. Period. End of discussion. I want calculated risks taken. I want people to understand that I am accountable for what goes on. My team needs to know that, so that they can be their best.”
“My goal is to make all of my people successful. I support them, I help them grow, and I challenge them.”As far as managing his employees goes, Friedlander says his philosophy is simple.
Aly J. Yale is a freelance writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.