Faculty Spotlight: Human Capital Strategist Nicholas Clements Talks Reputation, Leadership, and the Importance of an Engaged Workforce

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Photo: Nicholas Clements

When Nicholas Clements tackles HR efforts, he looks first to one thing: the company’s reputation.

As a human capital strategist, Clements looks at an organization’s employees and employee policies to gauge the company’s reputation — do they take care of their people, do their employees feel valued, are there ample opportunities for training and leadership development? Organizations that prioritize the well-being of their workforce, he said, will be able to attract, recruit and retain higher-level candidates, which will then result in better productivity and increased profits down the line.

Clements, a management consultant in the People & Change division at a Big Four Advisory firm, has spent his entire career studying and observing how employees — known in the industry as “human capital” — influence the organization in both positive and negative ways.

Now Clements, a married father of two, is bringing that expertise to MSHRM students at USC Bovard College.

Here is more from Clements, including insights into creating a productive workforce:

How did you get into HR?

I started out my career in a small, family business. It was a design build firm, a 30- to 40-person organization where I had a number of HR duties. From there, I went on to get an MBA with a specific focus in human resources and organization development, and then completed a terminal degree in leadership. I think that an organization’s HR functions really must play strategic roles for the organization to be high-performing – because people are the lifeblood of the organization.

I have spent the majority of my career in the management consulting industry, working for a number of firms, and specifically focusing on human capital, talent, and learning and development.

What is your HR specialty?

I’d say human capital strategy with a more niche focus in learning development and leadership development.

Human capital strategy, in my opinion, is looking at an organization and how they go to market or compete through their “people lens”, if you will. Also, human capital strategy focuses on effectively aligning the people strategy with the organization’s strategy. Often, organization strategy is focused more on the financials, and things of that nature, and leaders look at their people — their human capital in the organization — the same way they’d look at machines.

Effective human capital strategy is really looking at the entire employee lifecycle and coming up with a comprehensive strategy to attract, recruit, develop, retain the right people for the organization so they can be sustainable and not only survive, but thrive, all while taking into account the external and continually evolving nature of the world that we’re operating in.

What are some tools that companies use to attract a productive workforce?

Branding and reputation are huge. There are certain firms out there that you just say their name and people, without a doubt, absolutely want to work for them. The same goes for the opposite. There are certain companies out there where you say their name and people kind of cringe and say, “Oh you work there” or “I wouldn’t want to work there” or “They’ve got a bad reputation.” So I think from that initial point in terms of attraction and recruiting, the organization’s reputation plays a key role.

That being said, I look at the rest of the HR lifecycle — what are they known for in terms of their compensation and benefits? That is another big one. Also, learning and development — how do they train and keep their employees up to date on the skill sets necessary to update their competencies so that they have a high performing workforce.

You have to look at things more systematically and holistically to see how all the pieces fit together.

What do you advise your clients in terms of work-life balance to keep employees happy, engaged and productive?

I will, right off the bat, say I hate that term “work-life balance.” I absolutely despise it because work is so much an ingrained part of our lives these days. We no longer have, for the most part, a typical 9 to 5: you go in, you clock in and then you clock out, and you’re done with work.

For so many organizations, it’s really what I consider a work-life integration. How does work fit into your life? You have all of these things for organizations to take into account based on their specific workforce. You have gyms, you have food, you have flextime.

I don’t think there’s any general rule of thumb. It’s really dependent on the industry, the type of organization. But there’s all these different kind of tools that allow organizations to focus on their employees.

And we’ve had a huge transition over the past 30 to 40 years from what organizations provide employees and what employees provide organizations. Organizations don’t guarantee employees a job for life anymore. You go back to the sort of industrial heyday. You have your grandfather or great-grandfather who worked for, let’s just say General Motors or Ford, in the plant for their entire career. And then they got a pension and retired. The world has changed in a way where that’s no longer how things work.

Employees need to get something out of work and work needs to get something out of the employees. And if they have this kind of symbiotic relationship and they integrate some of these tools where you have a true work-life integration, those types of organizations are typically more successful because they are focusing on employees and the roles that they play.

What are some of the key factors influencing HR today?

I would say globalization, technology, the rapid pace of the change and, communication in organizations. I think those are going to continually impact the HR field, because we have access to information almost instantaneously, but we also have access to a lot of potentially wrong or unfiltered information. That can play a role in implementing HR strategy.

We’re seeing it more and more these days how somebody leaks something about an organization and, going back to the reputation piece, they have to figure out, “What do we do?” It’s either incorrect information or not full information — how can organizations combat that and keep their reputation positive.

What classes are you teaching at USC Bovard and why are they exciting?

I’m very excited I was in the inaugural class. I taught Human Resource Strategy (HRM 500), the very first semester and I’m signed up to teach that again this fall. Being in consulting you look at the entire HR lifecycle, so I’ve been exposed to a number of different areas in HR and I’m excited to see what the following semesters bring.

I’m very excited to teach HR strategy. It’s a good initial course for students to start with because it exposes them to some of the often overlooked business fundamentals of how HR strategy integrates with the organization strategy. It frames their thinking going forward in the program.

What else are you working on?

I’m currently completing my doctorate in organizational leadership studies, and I should be done before this time next year. My dissertation is examining employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) organizations, and how leadership dynamics in employee-owned organizations are potentially different than in more traditional structures. I look forward to bringing my own research into the courses I teach.

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