Featured Expert

Michael D. Molina

Chief Human Resource Officer
Vistage International

Michael D. Molina has more than twenty years experience as an HR executive in providing HR and OD strategy to corporate and business groups worldwide.

Michael has played an active role on executive teams of global organizations proving guidance on the human resource function to promote new thinking and innovative solutions to the most critical HR challenges.

He offers expert knowledge in new business unit start-ups, mergers and acquisitions, cultural realignment, and extensive human resource functional expertise.

Michael is the Chief Human Resource Officer for Vistage International, a worldwide leading CEO peer advisory organization dedicated to helping organizations improve their businesses. Prior to his current role, Michael was the Chief Human Resource Officer for Brahma Technology and the HR Executive Vice President for Advanced Marketing Services, a book distributor, wholesaler and publisher located in San Diego, California. He additionally has consulted organizations in all aspects of HR service delivery including HR outsourcing models. Prior to joining Advanced Marketing Services, he was with EquaTerra, a sourcing solutions organization.

Before joining EquaTerra, Michael was the Human Resource Vice President at Gateway. There, he led the outsourcing effort of the HR function which included the due diligence, assessment, selection, implementation, and governance components of an outsourced HR service delivery model. His experience at Gateway also included functional expertise in HR operations to include call center and shared services, systems implementation, recruitment, training, employee relations, executive compensation, and benefits design and management.

Prior to Gateway, Michael worked in both domestic and international roles in various industries such as plastics, films, petrochemicals, marketing, refining, exploration, and production while at Mobil Corporation and Marathon Oil. His international experience includes work in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Barbados, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Canada, Ireland and Malaysia.

He holds a B.S. degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations and an M.S. degree in industrial relations, both from West Virginia University.

Michael is a member of SHRM and holds an SPHR designation. He has spoken at domestic and international conferences on implementation of HR service delivery models and culture transformations. Michael recently was named Human Resource Professional of the Year.


Ques 1. How would you like to reflect upon your journey in Vistage International so far? Is it challenging to drive the HR goals of the company at an individual level?

Ans. Since Vistage is a peer advisory organization, it has been an interesting transition from a product company orientation to a human capital organization. What better opportunity for an Organizational Development enthusiast than an opportunity to help lead a company that challenges C-level executives to become better leaders while at the same time finding the hidden opportunities to unlock innovation and problem solve within their workplaces. The outcome means significantly increasing the level of employee engagement.

The first significant piece of work was establishing an appetite for a cultural transformation which included linking the business challenges with the human capital needs that the business was facing. Like most transformations, there really wasnít an awareness that a transformation was required. This is when new eyes and fresh perspectives are required in order to scan the landscape, observe behaviors, talk with leaders, and evaluate processes. This all becomes part of the first 90 days on the job. Then the real work began. Making the connections of business challenges with gaps in the organizational culture chain.

Since the work that we do at Vistage is helping organizations improve their business performance, the Vistage leadership team was eager and willing to take a hard, honest look at its own workplace and recognize the opportunities for improvement.

Translating that organizational work to ensure that every employee sees their personal link in the value chain was important. Focus on developing a common language by which every employee was aligned was critical. Further work was implemented which included quarterly SMART goals, an acknowledgment of the importance of manager effectiveness, incorporation of information sharing from the very top, culture surveys, and regular quarterly personal development and training opportunities. It is not until programs, initiatives, and goals get down to the individual and personal level does change and adoption really take place.

Ques 2. Mobil Corporation, Gateway, Advanced Marketing Services and now Vistage International Ė having worked in such distinctly different sectors, do you yet see a commonality running across these when it comes to making HR policies?

Ans. Beyond making HR policies, what is critical and common in all industries, segments, sectors, and organizations is how essential individual contribution is within organizations. The secret is untapping that discretionary contribution level of every employee, contractor, temporary, intern, and yes leader! Many organizations make the mistake assuming that supervisors, managers, and other leaders are fully engaged in their jobs. When in fact, many donít feel empowered in their roles thus transferring that same lack of enthusiasm and control to their direct reports.

Organizations will continue to compete for the best talent over the next decade due to the shortage of critical skills that companies routinely face.. What will be the organizational attributes that applicants will be examining? The basics are a given - salary, benefits, flexible schedules, work environment. What will be the true differentiators will be culture, contribution, choice, and connection.

Culture: Applicants will be looking to determine if they fit into the culture. How does work get done within the organization and can I see myself as a contributing employee? Would this be a workplace I would recommend to friends? One of the biggest indicators of employee engagement and satisfaction is the percentage of employee referrals for openings. And not to go unnoticed is the level of professional respect, fairness and integrity that is demonstrated and required of all employees.

Contribution: Employees want to see their work make a difference. Employees also want to continue to learn and to grow and find ways to contribute. An interesting question to ask your direct reports is what percentage of capacity are they currently working. What if an employee says 40-50%? What an opportunity for a discussion and an opportunity to discover unlocked interests, potential and contribution!

Choice: Offering employees more choice in every aspect of the work they do will come more important as the workforce changes and as younger workers enter the job market. Changing the environment from a command and control to one of choices will keep workers more engaged and empowered. Issues regarding work stations, schedules, technology tools, reward systems, reporting relationships, development tools, etc are all areas where involving the employee early yields positive results down the road..

Connection: Considering how fast the world is changing regarding social media, itís a given that how connections occur and how they are encouraged and embraced will be a sign of an employer of choice. Rather than using social media to disqualify potential employees, it will be used to identify contributors that can change organizations. Humans are natural connectors. Organizations who embrace creating opportunities to connect with others who do similar work or work that we have interest in, establishing a way for new employees to connect quickly, learning more about how valuable tribes or triads are in the workplace, will be attractive employers of choice.

Ques 3. Recruitment vs. Retention Ė in todayís unpredictable and supra-competitive market, what is more taxing according to you?

Ans. They are equally challenging.

On the recruitment side, companies have to work harder than ever today to be attractive to new employees since social media has entered the picture. No longer can organizations hide behind an unknown veil. Employee experiences are documented. Leaders are called out and practices disclosed. Once the challenge was finding the talent. Now itís selling the talent on the opportunity and explaining whatís out in the public dialogue about the company. Itís beyond offering a competitive salary and attractive benefits. Itís more about the organizationís commitment to ongoing learning and development -- both of which are especially important to younger professionals.

The same is true for retention. The quality of the work environment and the quality of co-workers is ever more important. Since collaboration has become an expectation in the workplace, enjoying the company of co-workers and learning from peers is essential. The number one reason for staying with an organization remains oneís ability to contribute everyday in a meaningful way. Meaningful work shows up in workplace satisfaction and engagement scores as well as high retention statistics. The greatest factor in ensuring meaningful work is present in the leaderís careful influence and responsibility to ensure this element in every position.

Ques 4. When we talk about professional training, it is mostly a blanket coaching than a one-to-one executive training. Do you feel such trainings are fruitful and deliver results?

Ans. This is an area that my company -Vistage International- does exceedingly well. Vistage provides leaders opportunities via expert facilitated peer groups to solve problems and to be held accountable for making behavioral changes. This is accomplished through monthly peer meetings where participants have a forum to process current issues and to be held accountable via monthly one-to-one coaching sessions.

Appropriate and relevant content is delivered in multiple methods providing participants success strategies to execute with their teams. Itís the combination of timely issue resolution, a safe environment to share personal and work challenges, expert facilitation, relevant content, ability to connect with peers, and personal accountability that allows for true change to occur.

Our organization also launched an online option called Vistage Connect which provides a similar experience. The key to any successful development or training intervention is personal accountability in making a change. The Vistage experience exemplifies this.

Ques 5. What would be your suggestion to young professionals who face the dilemma of choosing between Ďbig organization-smaller roleí and Ďsmall organization-bigger roleí?

Ans. For oneís first job, I think larger organizations provide a wonderful opportunity to get a taste of everything. Most larger organizations provide training opportunities that can give a new professional broad exposure to multiple areas. This has the practical effect of opening doors to possibilities perhaps never considered. If given the opportunity to enter a training program, jump at it. There is usually forgiveness in learning and allowing newbies to explore and take risks. Though itís important never to forget that you are being evaluated in everything you do. Stay positive, flexible, open to change, and be comfortable with ambiguity.

Regardless if one joins a large or small organization, find a mentor. An organization doesnít have to have a formal mentor program for you to ask someone with more experience and who is recognized as an outstanding performer to coach you. Mentors provide great direction, support, feedback and a roadmap for how to get around in the organization. Mentors also provide a window into the culture which can be invaluable. You are responsible for your career. You have to manage it everyday.

Ques 6. Please share your views on the concept of HR Outsourcing. Where its advantages are felt the most Ė start-ups, SMEs or large corporations?

Ans. Iíve worked in organizations which have gone completely to outsourcing as the answer, to organizations which have gone to outsourcing and then brought the functions back internally, to organizations in which the right due diligence occurred and the right things were outsourced.

Thereís a different answer for every organization since every culture and leadership team is unique. The best advice I can give for those contemplating broad outsourcing is to work with an appropriate third party consultant who has experience specific to your needs and desired outcomes. Companies like EquaTerra provide an unbiased view, financial modeling expertise, and evaluation guidelines which will prove invaluable in the decision making process.

Over the last 10 years, we have learned an immense amount about what works in outsourcing and what doesnít. Looking at the success stories and those that werenít so successful would be step number one!

Ques 7. Drawing from your experience, what aspects of people management need to be paid extra attention to, post a merger & acquisition?

Ans. The care and feeding of every employee is a critical post-merger or post-acquisition function. The question about what happens to ME has to be answered clearly for every employee. Leaders have to be visible and transparent. Information has to be readily available. Open forums where questions can be answered and feelings and opinions voiced are critical. The leadership team at all levels must be prepared to explain the ambiguities and uncertainties that always exist as companies are blended.

Employees will look for authentic leadership during this chaotic time. The key to any major change is to get through it quickly and efficiently with as little dip in productivity as possible. Every merger or acquisition requires a change in management focus. Without a serious focus on what is inevitable during a significant change initiative like a merger or acquisition, success will be nearly impossible.

Ques 8. With a career spanning for more than 25 years now, you must have achieved many milestones at your professional front. If you had to pick any one of those, what would that be?

Ans. As an Organizational Development fanatic, Iíve always enjoyed; and received the greatest sense of accomplishment from the times I see a members of my team grow and develop beyond their own expectations. I have enjoyed mentoring some wonderfully gifted and driven professionals. Many times all they need is a coaching moment, or a course adjustment, or to be introduced to a new concept or methodology. Often they just need to know that the organization believes in them, both personally and professionally.

I have been fortunate to work with some outstanding organizations that exposed me to cutting- edge thinking and gave me an opportunity to learn beyond the HR discipline. I try to pass this thinking along to any one who works for me or who I mentor.

Ques 9. Human Resource as a function is always abuzz with policies, strategies, philosophies etc. However, can you think of any Ďmythí that is often associated with people management?

Ans. I think a myth that many organizations buy into is that a culture canít be changed. I think one of the greatest challenges that an HR person can be faced with is a culture that needs a dramatic and systematic overhaul. Since this is a common challenge that many of us face when we come into new organizations, breaking down that belief system is the first challenge. But when leaders see a significant change occur simply by what we make happen, it creates instant credibility that allows us to move the ball forward.

I often think about the HR models that encourage practitioners to be competitively competent in HR practices, to demonstrate strong business acumen, to be a trusted adviser to the leadership team. The most important aspect of my job, however, is to be the agent of change for my company. Companies change constantly. New strategies, new directions and new policies all succeed or fail with the employee. Embracing change, dispelling fear and constantly improving the environment for employee growth make for a top-tier change agent. If your firm doesnít have a change agent, they should get one and soon.

When we look back to our impact in organizations, it would be great to be able to reflect on how our contributions truly transformed the organization to a better place.

Ques 10. Life never stops teaching and we never stop learning. What has been the most recent and valuable learning you have picked up?

Ans. Recently I was exposed to one of Coveyís programs called The Speed of Trust. What I found valuable about this program is that trust was actually defined.

We often overuse this word on an individual and an organizational basis. This program creates a common language for the organization to use when recognizing when trust is present and absent. It also gives leaders some very specific tools in order to build personal credibility.

So often in organizations, HR practitioners are tasked to identify the root cause of organizational dysfunction. I have found that most dysfunction is attributable to lack of trust within the workplace. Having a language to begin addressing problems and a program that offers action steps that can be used by all levels within the organization is extremely valuable.

Letís face it, what organization isnít concerned about raising the level of trust no matter how well the organization may be currently performing. As with any trust program, the greatest factor for success is that all levels of the organization from the CEO to hourly employees actively participate in the program.

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