Gavin Pomernelle, Executive Vice President & CHRO at Harte Hanks shows how a perfect mixture of art and science can build a strong HR foundation
For sustainable corporate growth, it is really all about the people – it’s about finding talent already within the organization and making sure their strengths are leveraged, it is knowing where to find and how to attract the talent pool outside the company, it’s about incentives and a culture that inspires productivity and loyalty, and it is ultimately about solid leadership–sounds simple, but is, indeed, quite difficult to achieve. It is both science and art. The science includes examining the neurological responses to different stimuli while the art is molding and designing a human workforce that is a stunning masterpiece of mutual edification. It takes a scientist, an artisan, to thoroughly observe and to coach a corporation into reaching its full potential utilizing its greatest assets, its people.
Gavin Pommernelle is one such aficionado, a human resourceologist if you will. He has observed, studied and lead in a variety of corporations across a number of industries. His experiences with people spans over 65 different countries and in a multitude of sectors. His years of experience and cultural acumen have not only helped him become a valuable asset as the Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer Harte Hanks, but have helped him build his own reputable company, Talent Driven Value, that helps corporations find, develop and coach leaders and teach them “how you drive value through people, how you engage people, and how people themselves can benefit from what we are doing.”
People are People
Pommernelle, a Da Vinci of human resources, has discovered in his extensive studies and experiences with people around the globe, that people are not so different whether they are in Scotland or Thailand. “There are certain things that people look for in the work context that are very similar–respect, opportunity to contribute, to grow themselves… …they all look for those things…” In the same breath, he adds, “the ways we get those benefits are very personality driven.”
Speak the Language
Pommernelle says that one best way to connect with people is to speak their language—figuratively, that is. “The way you phrase things to people, the words you use, the context you give stimulates the brain in different ways, if you adjust or are aware of the outcome you are looking for… the way you go about communicating, the better connection you are going to have with that individual.”
Artists and scientists get very good at observation, and for Pommernelle, it has been the key to understanding and discovering the desires that are unique within each person, each team, each corporation. Pommernelle says that paying attention and being consciously aware of people and what they need is an essential part of the equation. His studies of the human assets in a corporation help him to easily distinguish the subtle nuances that make each culture and its people unique. He listens, he observes, he coaches, and he studies, and he built a foundation for understanding people, in part, with a degree in industrial psychology and accreditation in psychometrics from the British Psychological Society. “You get into the neurological side of things and the how and why we respond.”
At Harte Hanks, his method of creating a masterpiece with his own team also includes putting them in different situations and seeing how they respond. He observes their strengths and what they bring to the table. Likewise, he has a scientific approach where he has his team complete a psychometric assessment which allows him to greatly understand his team’s wants and needs as well as what they require from him.
The Business Side
In order to be able to utilize that psychology in a corporate setting, he also studied economics and earned an MBA. “…the economic side gave me more of an understanding of the macro environment we are involved in everyday… …that context took me beyond purely–you have to do a particular role or what HR itself does–it is more the context in which human resources does it. The business environment and the people interaction piece are very interrelated.”
Pommernelle ensures that HR and the business are complimentary colors that work in a symbiotic relationship to achieve the grand vision. And, to make sure that happens, he aligns his team with business partners. He is confident enough in his people that he encourages them to get involved directly with other business leaders in the organization. “We have a sort of triangular relationship—I have a colleague (from the leadership team), I have a subordinate, and the three of us are working together on an ongoing basis. We reach decisions about priorities together.”
Going Out on his Own
Along with coaching his HR team and increasing their value with the business partners at Harte Hanks, he is the CEO of Talent Driven Value. He started the company when the business he was working for “was quiet and I found myself thinking where do I go from here.” He decided to launch a business that was centered on his breadth of experience and knowledge of people and business; his company helps corporations leverage their talent, find the talent they need, and provide any coaching the leadership team needs. Many organizations know that change is needed but they may not know what the solution is or how to implement a strategy. Through his almost scientific study of human assets, Pommernelle has developed the toolkits and matrixes needed to coach corporations and help them define and understand “what challenges they are facing and what solutions might help them with those challenges.” He also works with them to determine how they can foster the buy in that is as important as the solution itself.
Coaching is a big part of his scientific method with his team at Harte Hanks as well as with his Talent Driven Value clients. Pommernelle discovered the importance of coaching during each of his core jobs. His coaches were people that helped him “work through problems” versus telling him how to handle a situation. When he didn’t have a coach, he sought out someone from the outside. These experiences helped him perfect his craft. “I was applying those techniques more and more… …I was able to make an impact with business leaders and managers.” Eventually, Pommernelle believed so strongly in the importance and need for coaching that he became certified by the International Coach Federation. The coaching has progressed naturally and expanded into other areas and different approaches. “We work worldwide with leaders and leadership teams in businesses experiencing changes in management, business direction and complexity. The way they lead their people is a critical and significant value creator and sustainable driver of their success.”
Solid Advice from a Master
Because of Pommernelle’s vast experience and success at creating HR and business masterpieces, young professionals would be well advised to heed his advice. Attitude is number one. Pommernelle says that all the talent in the world won’t get a person hired unless his or her attitude matches his/her skill level. Making oneself visible is equally important. “Don’t be the person who keeps their head down and thinks that is the safest way to survive. Have an opinion, ask insightful questions, make a suggestion from time to time will get you noticed. Put up a hand for a project without asking what is in it for me.” Likewise, as he has clearly experienced, find opportunities to take on responsibilities that aren’t specific to the function; in other words, be versatile and irreplaceable.
Pommernelle is a human resource aficionado, part artist, part scientist. He has discovered many of the variables that are essential to the human/business relationship and how those variables are best combined for sustainable growth and mutual benefit. And, he is also an artist, a figurative painter/sculpture who knows the perfect blend of psychology and economics—a knowledge he uses to create beautiful works of art throughout the corporate world. ♦
HR Triple Threat
Pommernelle brings together three dimensions that make him a triple threat. The different roles he has played and his willingness to step outside a function have made him multifaceted. The second dimension that makes him such a valuable asset to the HR function is the many markets he has lived and worked in, including China, Germany, and South Africa. “Living in a place really gets you under the skin of a culture.” And the third dimension that has lead to his success at the companies he has worked for and as his own boss at Talent Driven Value, is his number of years as an HR practitioner. “It is one of the few functions that can cross over industry sectors, while there will be differences, there are a lot of similarities.”