Pamela Ries

Chief Human Resources Officer at Spectrum Health

People Success Insight

Bringing an acute and unusual focus on connecting HR to the company’s business model

Pam Ries’ initial dream was to be a teacher. But she graduated from college when teaching jobs were scarce. So, she took what she could get – a customer service role at an insurance agency. From there, she became the agency’s youngest salesperson, and the sales department’s only woman. While selling group benefit plans, she interacted with many HR leaders who were struggling to educate their employees and keep up with programs and policies that were important for their organization. The agency asked Pam to advise these clients as a means of rounding out the service model. At the same time, Pam was pursuing additional education to increase her HR and business knowledge. Pam ultimately became the insurance agency’s HR director.

Subsequently, she served in leadership and HR roles in post-secondary education, transportation and financial services industries. Along the way, she learned first-hand the key to leading the people side of a company and being a respected influencer is to deeply understand the company’s business model as well. This led to a critical role on the merger and acquisition team.

Pam now serves as CHRO of Spectrum Health, a community-oriented healthcare system and West Michigan’s largest employer. The organization hired her specifically because of her HR and merger and acquisition expertise.

“The CEO at the time was new, and the new executive leadership team was beginning to hire people outside of the healthcare industry who could bring business acumen to the table,” she says.

Now Pam’s goal is to connect 31,000 colleagues to the company’s vision to provide personalized health, made simple, affordable and exceptional. Health services are not just needed when someone is sick, we need to help people stay healthy as best as possible which means knowing our consumers well and meeting them where they are at in their health journey. This vision requires us to work differently for the sake of our consumers. We must make interactions with healthcare easier and more affordable. This type of transformation and cultural evolution is imperative.

“I pride myself in understanding the business first wherever I work. I don’t think I would have been nearly as effective in Human Resources if I hadn’t made that a priority.”

The linchpin, she says, are our team members.

“My desire is that we get our healthcare colleagues to embrace the belief that we need to truly transform to provide that personal, simple, affordable approach,” Pam says. “We need to connect more personally to understand what they do through the consumer lens.”

Her insistence on fully understanding the business impact of every people decision has led her to take unpopular stands now and then. She recalls an early assignment in her role as CHRO – to hire a diversity officer. She took her time filling that position because the organization had a lot of work to do to develop a strategic framework for inclusion and diversity. Simply naming a diversity officer without strategy would lead to unsuccessful tactical attempts which she had seen in many other organizations.

“The community didn’t like the delay, and I felt increasing pressure to rush the decision, but I held my ground,” Pam says. “Now, where I once took a lot of flak for holding back on the decision, I’m receiving many accolades for the choice we finally made. Not only was I able to identify someone internally to fill the role, they have a strategic framework that was designed to benefit individuals, the organization and our community. In fact, we have received local, regional and national recognition in this area.”

Pam believes that the role of HR is going to become increasingly meaningful, transformative, and influential in any organization by providing a unique perspective on the company’s ability to achieve its goals. Identifying the skills and competencies needed, providing quick and easy development opportunities, listening frequently to employees and determining the cultural attributes that need to stay and those that need to go are game changers.

“We may not have all the answers,” she says. “And that’s okay. Our role is to know the business well, know our people well and play an instrumental role in leading transformation. We are armed with more data and knowledge than ever before. It is our job to provoke new ways of thinking, leading and working to help organizations achieve their vision.”

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