Chris Havrilla on embracing new technology and harnessing people power

Breaking down silos, fostering collaboration, and facilitating the move from a business to a social enterprise

This story is part of Talent Pioneers, a series of profiles on leaders transforming the future of HR.

Chris Havrilla possesses a unique blend of technical, leadership, and interpersonal skills. In 1988, she earned an MIS degree with a concentration in artificial intelligence – before it was even a thing. Her peers describe her as having vision, gumption, and even possible superpowers.

However, if you were to meet her, she’d likely want to talk about Turner Classic Movie’s Noir Alley. Perhaps it is this love of the moody film style, context, and hardboiled humanity that has made her such a well-respected HR professional in the industry.

Havrilla knows that all the tech wizardry in the world will not work without the magic of people. Real people who may not have all the right skills but who are loyal, talented, daring and curious. People who can roll with the complexities of the workplace. People who are not afraid to be the antihero solving the hardest, most fascinating cases.

Learn how to hire the best people with confidence

Meet Chris Havrilla, VP of HR Technology and Solution Provider Strategy at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Q&A

Is your work your passion? What are your passions outside of work?

Yes! I love problem-solving and transformations – finding my way through the fog and helping people through it as well. I love that we get to help not only the people, teams, and companies but also the solution providers that are also helping them. Outside of work, I love spending time with my family and friends, reading, film (classics and film noir are my favorites), theater, and travel– especially exploring amazing food, wine, craft cocktails– and chocolate– across all cultures and geographies.

What were your career aspirations as a child? What did you want to be when you grew up? How has that shaped who you are and how you operate today?

I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t want to work with machines, systems, and computers. The only other things I loved as much were chemistry and math. I was my father’s child, and those were his toys, so they were mine too. I loved puzzles, games, and information. I read, watched, and listened to everything voraciously. Ridiculously curious, I was always looking for answers, meaning, and of course, something to solve. Being a part of the early MIS days, I was blessed to get into the program (largely funded by a big grant from IBM) at University of Georgia. I picked AI as my concentration, which was surging in popularity at the time, and I was fascinated by expert and decision support systems. It was all computer science, data, knowledge, analytics, logic, and rules, but with a purpose: business. A world of endless problems to be studied and tackled, I knew I had found my calling.

How does what you’re passionate about relate to how you approach problems at work?

The world of work is my passion, and I want to see organizations get this right. I love that my work has meaning to me, my organization, and the rest of the world – how epic is that? I get that sense of belonging, esteem (value/rewards), and the learning (self -actualization) that we talk about in our 2019 Global Human Capital Trends. Putting meaning back into the workplace is the organizational mandate of our time. The approach will be the same – using data, science, technology, and a whole lot of strategy, communication, empathy, and art of the possible – to help guide companies toward the solutions and outcomes they need.

What changes in technology and the way we work are essential for businesses (and HR teams) to embrace?

Organizations simply must start embracing emerging technologies such as cognitive and AI, analytics, blockchain, digital reality (augmented and virtual), etc. to be the catalysts to truly reinvent how people work and how work is done in HR and across the enterprise. But it means we have to do the work on the complementary transformational activities that go along with bringing in these technologies, as also pointed out in our Trends report, such as redesigning operating models, data architectures, and user experiences. People must constantly look at changes in tech and determine, “how do we make people more productive and make it easier for them to do their work?” We need to focus on balancing cost, value, and meaning. This was the inspiration behind the current High-Impact Tech Strategy study I am leading. I hope people check it out. The questions should be as thought-provoking and insightful as the findings they will have access to if they participate.

Why do you think evolving the HR function is so crucial?

As IBM points out from its own C-Suite study, in the face of massive disruption from technology, business, talent, and experience (or what we call the rise of the individual), the top C-Suite priorities are all about talent:

  1. Invest in people
  2. Grow business dynamics
  3. Improve business leadership
  4. Accelerate change readiness
  5. Create agile operations

However, as we point out in our Deloitte 2019 Global Human Capital Trends study, HR plays a critical role and has the ability to shape and lead, but it’s not exclusive. It will need to be executed by a symphonic C-suite across the organization, the workforce, and HR. You need to focus on all three levers in order to make this work. There are all these external influences from an economic, political, social and technical standpoint that are prompting organizations to rethink perspectives on work. So, HR will really need to be the conductor or facilitator of this “symphony.”

It really is our time in HR. Breaking down silos, fostering collaboration, and facilitating the move from a business to a social enterprise. As we also discuss in this report, leading a social enterprise requires nothing short of full-scale reinvention – with a human focus. In the face of disruptive social, political, and economic forces, organizations must put humans at the center of their business strategies and bring meaning back to work and the workplace. The imperative for HR is very clear.

Why is AI important for organizations to be leaning into (today, and in the future)?

There’s a huge opportunity to innovate using new, robotics, cognitive, and AI-based tools to support employee productivity at a lower cost, to shift from being a business enterprise to a social enterprise, from purpose to meaning. For HR, if you look at the entire Future of HR category of our 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, there are huge deltas between the awareness and pressure being felt by organizations to utilize these emerging technologies and reinvent talent acquisition, talent mobility, learning, and HR technology versus the actual readiness and action we are seeing across each of the trends. We see huge opportunities for organizations to jump ahead of the pack if they have a bent toward strategy development and are working with their partners to co-create solutions. It will enable them to start doing the real work to tackle those deltas and overall enterprise opportunities (productivity, experience, impact, performance, growth, etc.).

We talk a lot about HR being positioned to be one of the most sought-after professions in the business, shifting from enforcer of process to strategic advisor. How would you advise your HR peers to seize this opportunity and step into this critical role?

I’d take it a step further and call it a shift to strategic leader. Disrupt yourself. Become more business and tech savvy, data literate, and knowledgeable of complex business problem-solving and execution methodologies like design thinking and agile. Focus on facilitating and leading HR, the business, and the workforce through the transformation initiatives to address those deltas.

As used here, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of Deloitte’s legal structure. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

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