Former BlackRock HR Exec Jeff Smith Says This Is How HR Executives Can Drive Change and Impact

Jeff Smith HR
4 min readFeb 21, 2024


Jeff Smith’s tenure as the global head of human resources at BlackRock was marked by significant achievements in impacting the HR landscape. The impact of Smith’s strategies and leadership at BlackRock offers insights into how HR executives can spearhead advancements in their organizations.

At BlackRock, Smith held a pivotal role in defining the HR function. Under his leadership, human resources at the company transcended traditional administrative boundaries, embracing a strategic role in driving the firm’s growth. Smith’s approach focused on nurturing talent, fostering diversity, and aligning HR initiatives closely with business objectives.

Understanding Change and Innovation in HR

Change and innovation in human resources is about implementing new ideas, methods, and strategies to improve employee engagement and performance and increase the effectiveness of an organization. Jeff Smith’s perspective on driving change in HR emphasizes the need for human resources leaders to maintain their unique professional identity while understanding the business context. He believes that the essence of HR leadership lies not in mimicking other business roles, but in leveraging HR’s specific expertise.

“You should lead as an HR person. You are exceptional at compensation. You are exceptional at talent assessment. You are exceptional as a provider of advice to the business,” Smith shared during an interview with David Reimer, the CEO of The ExCo Group. HR professionals need to be proud of and leverage their very important areas of expertise.

Smith also highlighted the complexities of the HR role, which involves balancing multiple aspects, such as protecting the company from cultural risks and driving the strategic talent agenda​​. This approach underlines the importance of resilience and navigating diverse and sometimes conflicting organizational demands.

A significant focus of Smith’s strategy was working to enhance diversity and inclusion. He advocated for a data-driven yet personal approach to understanding and appreciating diversity.

“If you understand the people you’re working with, you’re going to appreciate diversity more,” the human resources expert told Reimer. This dual approach combines quantitative data with personal narratives, ensuring that diversity initiatives resonate on both an organizational and individual level.

During the same interview, Jeff Smith endorsed “approaching it from both a highly data-driven standpoint and an emotional standpoint, and continuing to talk about it not just as a scorecard.” He continued, “But at the same time, if you don’t focus on building your culture in a way that’s overtly focused on diversity, then it works temporarily, but it’s not going to work for a long time.”

One of Smith’s accomplishments was helping to establish BlackRock’s Human Capital Committee, as highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, which stands as an example of strategic innovation in human resource management. This committee represents a groundbreaking approach to integrating human resources into the broader business community. It was composed of highly respected leaders drawn from various regions and business units across BlackRock, the committee was designed to represent a diverse and comprehensive perspective on talent management and organizational development. Its establishment seemed to help shift from HR being viewed as a support function to a central, strategic pillar of a business.

A profound vision and ambition for change characterize Jeff Smith’s leadership. He believes in the transformative power of HR and its capacity to influence the broader organizational agenda. “I would say that they all have a deep vision and ambition for change. There’s no arrogance, but there is a confidence in their ability to do that,” he stated during the interview​​.

Implementing change effectively requires patience and an understanding of the right timing. Smith emphasized the importance of being thoughtful about the pace and nature of change initiatives. “If you try to push things at the wrong time when the environment around you isn’t going to accept it, it’s not going to be as effective as picking the right moment,” he told Reimer.

Jeff Smith’s Personal Journey to HR Leadership

The HR executive’s journey to becoming an HR leader is marked by personal development and working to realize his potential. After graduating from the University of Connecticut, Smith continued his education, studying industrial and organizational psychology. “In graduate school, you had two primary paths: research or to go into applied work, such as consulting or human resources,” he says.

“I had always imagined being in the corporate world even though I did not really know what that was all about, partially because I had a bunch of role models with corporate jobs growing up and partially because it seemed to offer more opportunities than research and teaching, although I respect that a great deal.”

Being “psychologically minded” has been an asset for Smith. “It’s very helpful in terms of thinking through interpersonal dynamics and not just focusing on the business issue at hand, but on the people who are dealing with the issue,” he explains. “I always found it most helpful in building strong relationships and teams. One of my favorite things about working in companies is the teams and people you work with; that [reflects] my background in sports and psychology.”

Jeff Smith’s tenure at BlackRock is a compelling example of how HR executives can drive significant change and innovation. His approach, marked by a strong belief in the HR function’s unique value, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and a strategic alignment with business goals, provides valuable lessons for HR leaders aiming to transform their organizations.

Originally published at on February 21, 2024.



Jeff Smith HR

Jeff Smith is a human resources expert. Previously, he worked at BlackRock as Head of Global Human Resources.