How Jeff Smith, Former BlackRock Exec, Created Innovative HR Talent Strategies

3 Mins read
  • Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from successful startup founders such as Jeff Smith.

Jeff Smith, the former head of human resources at BlackRock, has a fresh perspective on the HR space. While in his position at BlackRock, he was a committed leader who found that all-important balance between dependable operational excellence and strategic ability, sitting on the company’s executive team.

Jeff Smith’s decade-plus at the helm of BlackRock human resources saw him contribute to an innovative model for sourcing, engaging, developing, and retaining talent. According to the Harvard Business Review, part of succeeding is putting the right talent in the right roles. There is speculation that this exact approach helped BlackRock become one of the most successful and admired companies in the world.

Jeff Smith and BlackRock’s Human Capital Committee

Recognizing the importance of managing talent to optimize performance and profit, BlackRock formed a 35-member Human Capital Committee, according to the Harvard Business Review. Jeff Smith, the only HR professional formally on the committee, served as co-chair.

Although the HCC left workforce planning to leaders of the various businesses, it became deeply engaged in developing leaders across the company, creating exceptional talent practices and serving as advocates to ensure that the talent agenda was owned and operated within each business, not out of some HR ivory tower disconnected from the business. The HCC often led focus groups that identified various ways to enhance employees’ experience in the firm. As reported by the Harvard Business Review, the HCC’s very existence sent “a powerful message that talent is not only a strategic and scarce resource, but a matter of critical accountability for line management.”

Jeff Smith’s Focus On Performance and Development 

During his tenure at BlackRock, Jeff Smith helped lead the organization’s human resources department through a period of significant change. According to the Harvard Business Review, he and the HCC’s guiding light was to ensure the organization focused on fostering a high-performance culture. While line managers own the employee engagement process, the focus groups that Smith and the HCC developed found ways of enhancing employee experiences and raising performance standards. Through this focus on performance, Smith helped make sure BlackRock was able to identify and promote high-potential talent within the organization.

As a human resources pro and agent of change, Jeff Smith knew that providing a framework in which employees could develop their skills was critical. In particular, high value was placed on developing managerial development. Managers were expected not only to pay attention to the development of their own employees as cornerstones of the business, but also to take advantage of training for themselves. Smith understood that it was key to have targeted development to help managers move up through the ranks. Well-trained managers are better delegators, more effective coaches, and better able to drive performance in their employees. Smith and the HCC encouraged managers to make use of specially developed management training programs, such as “Driving Performance Through Teams,” “Influencing for Results,” and “Enterprise Leadership.”

Alongside the drive for training at the employee and manager levels, as co-chair of the HCC, Jeff Smith helped emphasize the importance of a fit-for-purpose review process. The employee review process was designed not only to help staffers hit their targets and become better employees. It also served to identify potential targets for promotion and succession roles within their departments and throughout the organization.

The results of these innovations proved undeniable in the reshaping of BlackRock’s human resources function and the organization as a whole. 

Jeff Smith, Human Resources Professional 

It’s abundantly clear Jeff Smith was the human resources person for the job. Years of experience at Barclays Global Investors, Time Warner, America Online, and in consulting honed his chops in the HR space. Once at BlackRock, Smith and his staff were constantly on the lookout for the latest innovations in talent management and human resources practices, all while, reported the Harvard Business Review, “ensuring that BlackRock’s guiding principles are well understood and practiced.

“Little is left to chance at BlackRock: Its executives are committed to measuring everything — talent management, development programs, engagement, rewards, and reputation.”

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Ryan Kh is a big data and analytic expert, marketing digital products on Amazon's Envato. He is not just passionate about latest buzz and tech stuff but in fact he's totally into it. Follow Ryan’s daily posts on Catalyst For Business.
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