The USGA’s first Chief People Officer discusses global interconnection, an overlap of personal and organizational values, and changing a department from the ground up.
Steven Schloss appreciates those who design and create beautiful yet functional things, whether hand-crafted furniture, homes or products. In his own way, his career, too, has been about building things, including meaning, purpose and global interconnection—all in the context of his work as a senior human resources (HR) professional at the United States Golf Association (USGA), LivePerson, Time Inc., and Citibank.
It’s All Connected
Schloss developed an appreciation for the importance of interconnection on a global scale early in life. His parents were Holocaust survivors who met in a concentration camp. They taught him the value of education, culture, history and being aware of the worldwide context in which one lives and operates.
All of the companies that Schloss has worked for have had an international presence. He maintains that one needs to be aware of the social, economic, technological and political implications of what is happening in the world.
“You cannot make decisions in today’s world without always being conscious of the interconnected implications that follow,” he said.
Going beyond mere global awareness, Schloss is actively involved in helping others as a teacher, advisor, coach and mentor. He served as a graduate faculty member at the New School for Public Engagement, teaching about HR, leadership and strategy. He is also a certified professional coach and gives pro bono advice and counsel to leaders at Ashoka, an organization that invests in individuals who are making innovative social change in the world.
Alignment & Meaning
In his own career, Schloss seeks work where his own values and those of his organization are in alignment. The importance of this alignment, he stressed, cannot be underestimated.
“When you experience misalignment between your values and the values of your employer, you need to challenge yourself and decide what’s important,” Schloss said. “You must be authentic and take ownership of your personal and career values alignment.”
As an example, after a successful and extremely fulfilling three-and-a-half-year run at LivePerson, Schloss found that the “extreme pace” of growing a global and public company was taking a physical and emotional toll. On top of that, two of Schloss’ close friends had passed away, and he realized that he was at a crossroads and needed to reset what he wanted.
Schloss took a position at USGA as its first Chief People Officer. He and his new employer had questions about adapting to a very different, albeit slower, operating environment than the world of startup technology. Upon his arrival in January 2014, Schloss realized that while not-for-profit and smaller, USGA is going through its own version of transformation. It was the responsibilities to be addressed, the association’s mission and purpose, the values that govern the sport of golf, and his love for the game that made this extremely challenging role feel less like work and more like a blend of passion and purpose.
“You have to be honest with yourself, and make choices at every stage,” Schloss said. “Being on a start-up rocket ship was an important career experience, yet you can achieve great things with a mission-driven organization that moves slower, especially when they are authentic and intentional in purpose.”
Bringing Change to a Venerable Institution
As the first Chief People Officer of the 120-year-old USGA, Schloss is rebuilding an HR and internal communications organization with the future in mind. As a member of the executive team, he has increased influence on the USGA’s strategy and is working to ensure the HR team is prepared to lead, facilitate and support in a forward-thinking way.
The sport and industry of golf is a connected community steeped in rich history and tradition dating back 250 years. Much of what the USGA performs through the lens of governance, championships and services to the game on a global scale require a unique blend of passion, expertise and connection ability.
Shaping the future mix of talent at USGA is a crucial effort currently underway. Schloss brought staff together, often for the first time, in cross-functional groups to clarify organizational values, inspire ideas and drive greater openness and collaboration—all in the midst of a strategic transformation across the association.
This work culminated in the first-ever USGA All-Staff Conference, at which the group unveiled a new set of core values, celebrated success and deepened connections. Heading into 2015, their important elements for success include a greater focus on innovation, discipline and accountability and challenging people to stretch their capabilities.
Building From Scratch
Schloss’ transformation work at USGA is not his first such undertaking. He says that he “cut his teeth” at Citibank, a process-driven, left-brained organization where he learned the true business, financial and technical side of HR while building small and large global organizations. The experience validated his passion to build things. It has proven to be an important and exciting part of his personal makeup.
At Time Inc., Schloss had the opportunity to build digital content and ecommerce brands, and help the premier magazine company navigate its digital culture and business transformation while flexing his skills in creativity, diplomacy and nurturing relationships. Schloss later joined LivePerson because he was excited about being part of an organization in an accelerated growth mode, and having a chance to design a globally unique culture and values system in coordination with the company redesigning its core technology platform.
While he is “hardwired” to build things, Schloss offers that one must have the willingness to work with no boundaries, be comfortable with being uncomfortable, take risks, and be committed to see a building process through to completion. And, all rooted in strong connections.
“You have to be able to influence and inspire people from the board down to the lowest-level employee,” Schloss said. “You have to be able to authentically connect with others.”
The Need to Network
Schloss’ ability to connect has helped him establish a strong professional network and community of colleagues. He credits this group with introducing him to the Chief Executive Officer of LivePerson, which led to his job at the company. When Schloss left Time Inc., he did not have his next position set up, but he was not concerned.
“I loved the uncertainty of it,” he said. “I owned my career decision. I wasn’t worried, even in the depths of the recession in early 2010, because I’m a connection-driven person.”
Schloss says that he is always very conscious of his network and staying current with it. “It’s more than just having a LinkedIn account,” he noted. “A person must decide who the individuals are that could be meaningful as one’s career evolves. Take ownership of the relationship and nurture it. Paying it forward is also important.”
If someone wants advice or counsel, Schloss is always willing to listen.
Part and parcel of nurturing a network relationship is being mature enough to ask, early on, for advice or feedback. “Some people aren’t confident enough to hear feedback because it requires stretching, and a lot of people don’t like to do that,” Schloss said.
He recalls when a former boss took him to lunch and suggested that he consider a responsibility shift. Schloss took offense, considering his current view of his performance and potential. Later, he came to realize that his boss took the time to offer important feedback which, while uncomfortable, was actually a gift that propelled him to greater things.
As a result of the conversation, Schloss made an honest assessment of what he really wanted, what he excelled at, and what needed more attention. With this, he redesigned his career trajectory to better align with his values and aspirations.♦
The Art of Listening
“In today’s 140-character and visual world, the art of listening and the art of being present are that much more important,” Schloss said.
He recommends that people take the “less-is-more” approach. By talking less and listening more, we will be viewed by others as approachable, mature and capable.
“Young people want to move quickly, pursue opportunity, be taken seriously, be listened to, but how good are they at listening?” Schloss asked.
He believes that learning the art of listening is the more difficult, more impactful half of being a greater communicator.
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