Managing the Unknown

How Loews Corp.’s Laura Cushing believes businesses can maximize performance in the era of diversified workers and cloud computing

Laura Cushing, Loews Corp.

Laura Cushing joined Loews Corp.—one of the largest diversified companies in the United States with businesses in the insurance, energy, hospitality, and packaging industries—as its chief human resources officer in 2016 after spending more than two decades rising in the ranks at JPMorgan Chase. One of the most important lessons she’s learned in that time is that her career path is ancient history—and so is the way business leaders need to do their jobs.

The workforce in the United States now includes people from five generations. At one end, young go-getters want to leverage their talent immediately, not wait years for a promotion. And at the other, there are seasoned veterans who have more that they want to offer.

“You can’t think about the workforce as a collective whole,” Cushing says. “You have to think about it within the context of where people fit in and are coming from, which puts more pressure on managers and leaders. How each generation thinks about their commitment to their employers is different.”

It also means these managers and leaders must change their approaches to enduring human resources initiatives. Workplace diversity is one example. A lot of focus has been placed on diversity and inclusion education and awareness, but Cushing says that’s still not enough.

“I’ve seen managers who are inclusive in terms of ensuring they’re hearing the voices of many different people and that people can contribute ideas,” Cushing says. “I would argue that approach could almost be a check-the-box exercise because the input isn’t always valued. Moving forward, companies need to place more emphasis on manager accountability and measuring the degree to which inclusion and lack of bias in recruitment, promotion, and pay takes place.”

Career-pathing, along with learning and development, are other areas ripe for a paradigm shift. Again, traditional paths to success don’t apply to younger generations of workers, who tend to prefer jumping from one opportunity to the next versus spending an entire career with one or two employers.

“We need to ask ourselves, ‘How do we create a path that’s not done in a traditional way so we continue to attract and retain the best talent?’ Career-pathing will not be about getting to a certain level. Rather, people want to build skills and competencies through projects, assignments, and tours of duty,” Cushing says.

In Cushing’s opinion, companies need to be more willing to bet on people’s skills. For example, leaders will need to be identified earlier in their career and given increased levels of responsibility at a faster pace. This gives an organization a chance to test people’s capabilities while increasing the likelihood of retaining key talent.

“On the other end, there is a role for the population between the ages of sixty and late seventies, which can be valuable to the employee and the employer,” Cushing says.

Going forward, managing human capital will be about identifying key people—no matter what generation they’re from—and leveraging their skills the right away.

As Cushing and her HR peers grapple with ways to engage all working generations, they are also trying to decide how to address the growing prominence of cloud computing. Its adoption by businesses large and small is inevitable, so there is no avoiding it or putting it off due to concerns over compliance issues. “So much is getting shifted to the cloud,” Cushing says. “That means work processes will change and skill sets will be different. As a result, there will be wide-spread disruption to the workforce, but it will also create opportunities at the same time.”

HR professionals are aware of this evolution, however, managing and leading the change will be the challenge. Cushing says that HR will need to play a major role in helping employees and organizations adapt and embrace these technological changes. The real risk with cloud computing isn’t security, according to Cushing, but a failure to respond to the movement fast enough to train and hire the necessary talent. Fortunately, she is already ahead of the curve in that respect.

“Laura recognizes the importance of leveraging technology to help HR be a stronger business partner,” says Mark Olson of Willis Towers Watson. “She’s focused on using data to create insights that directly support the business in making better, more informed decisions.”

Already, there is a greater demand in the job market for digital and big data expertise, as well as analytical thinking skills. But even those needs may change soon. As businesses put more data into the cloud, new skills may be needed to access and use it more efficiently. The ever-changing workplace and maximizing performance of an increasingly diverse workforce will require a new kind of leader and manager, not just at Loews, but also across all businesses. “Preparing for and building resiliency around uncertainty, adaptability, and strong leaders are critical core competencies for all organizations, coupled with the ability to clearly articulate key messages and interact with people,” Cushing says. “Next, early talent assessment and the ability to swiftly assemble and reassemble teams with a very broad and diverse workforce will be essential. Leading will be more challenging than ever before.”

It won’t be easy, but Cushing understands that businesses really have no choice. They have to adapt, and it’s up to her and other HR executives to show them how.

Korn Ferry Hay Group values our relationship and strong partnership with Loews Corporation. We have worked with them over the years in the areas of executive search, leadership development, executive pay and governance, broad-based reward and organizational design. Korn Ferry is the preeminent global people and organizational advisory firm.

Photo: Calbert Warner