Faces of HR

Faces of HR: SHRM’s CHRO on the Art of Simplicity

Jim Link’s path to CHRO at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) started with a lucky break: An internship at General Electric threw him headfirst into the world of HR. Tasked with both crafting the company newsletter and navigating the complexities of union grievances, his early exposure to the crucial roles of communication and employee relations sparked a passion that would define his career.

Jim Link

“Hooked” is how Link describes it. This internship wasn’t just a stepping stone; it was a launchpad. Upon graduation, he transitioned seamlessly into the HR field, embarking on a diverse journey that has seen him tackle a variety of roles and responsibilities.

Now, as CHRO, the leading voice for everything related to workers and the workplace, Link leverages his extensive experience to champion human capability and shape the future of work.

We recently caught up with him at SHRM 2024 to discuss his biggest influences, his best mistake, and more.

In our latest Faces, meet Jim Link.

Do you have a background in journalism? I feel compelled to ask.

I like to write. I’m not a journalist. I would not ever claim to have that skill or that capability. But the idea of being able to share things, both verbally and in written format, is of great interest to me. And people have told me over the years that something that I’m good at is actually taking a complex idea and simplifying it in a way that people can understand. And that’s, I think, an important skill to have in the business world. I think that really comes from the idea that, particularly if you’re trying to drive change in an organization, the easier that idea is to understand, the more likely people are to engage with that idea.

So for me, it’s a fundamental, even foundational component of what businesses and organizations need to do. And let’s face it: Even in our society today, if we were able to explain in a more civil, concrete, foundational way what the things are that we need to do and, more importantly, what we don’t need to do, we’d all probably be in a better place.

Absolutely. And I must say, as someone who’s made a career out of simplifying complex information, making it easily digestible, it’s certainly key. And to your point, if we could all do that in the world, I definitely think we’d be much further along than we are. So, I’m right with you.

I have a great example. So, one of my staff members is this brilliant, very capable, very critical thinking-oriented person, right? And I love that skill. I love that capability. She’s so talented. When she first started communicating with me, it would be these e-mails, right?

They would be like five pages long. And I’m like, listen, you need to understand that I’m not going to read all that. I need the bullet point version, and then let me dig in. So, let’s start with the end in mind. So, in the first three sentences I read, what is it that you want me to know? It’s almost the executive summary, right? So, give me those bullet points, and then that sets the stage for me. It also sets the stage for your readers, the people you’re trying to convince about anything in the workplace. And then let’s dig into the details and the specifics. Thank goodness she was coachable and took that feedback. She is now one of my best communicators in the art of simplicity. So, I love that.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

I was influenced by early business leaders and Jack Welch at General Electric, which is the company where I did my internships and started. I really valued and looked at people who were role models for me. I always thought that if I learned from them, that was probably the biggest gift that I could give back to them—learning something from them and then being able to reflect that in my own deeds or actions, behaviors, words, and responsibilities even. But I was also influenced by the people I got to work with every day.

There was a woman who was aspiring to be a leader in a manufacturing facility I worked in. And she had had a rough life and was one of those people who needed someone to believe in her. So, I chose to believe in her and to help her along that journey. We taught her how to be great at public speaking. We taught her how to be comfortable with her own decision-making. We taught her how to look forward and not back as she was thinking about challenges and opportunities. And so in a lot of ways, it’s not the people I looked up to. It’s people I got to work with to help them on life’s journey.

They became some of my favorite people to work with. Now I read books, and I did those things, but I was more influenced by people who have made change for the better in the world. A lot of times, they were the people who were sitting right next to me.

What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?

Oh, I’ve made so many of them. I’m not kidding. I probably made five or six today. I think every mistake that I made was tied to one thing. And that one thing was that I moved faster than the decisions or the information was available to really produce the right outcome.

So, I think the mistakes I’ve made have all been tied to moving too quickly to get to an outcome. But I made some other doozies, right? Like early in my career, we found out that one of the people who was working on my payroll team was a fraudster, a convicted felon. I was horrified that a person who was running my payroll, which I was responsible for, was there fraudulently.

I still wake up sometimes thinking about that. What should I have seen? What should I have done? What should I have known to have indicated that? So, every one of those places where I’ve made a mistake, I’m kind of like kicking my own self, right? For not being there or being smart enough or not accepting enough of what I thought might be the case.

The other thing I’ve always learned—and I still have to remind myself of this—is to trust my own judgment. It’s not that it’s always perfect because it’s not, but there were so many times in so many cases when if I had just done what I thought was the right thing to do, I would have ended up in a much better place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *