My HR Journey

How I ended up in HR

I was at a tech industry HR event in Boulder a few months ago and we were all asked to talk about our “HR Journey” – what was it that led us to choose HR as a career. Or what was it that led HR to choose us?

The exercise required that we had to get up in front of everybody and tell our story. We didn’t have much, if any, time to prepare as we didn’t even know we were going to do this exercise. The first “drafts” of our stories were a little rough but then we were allowed to get up again and tell our stories again, and this time they were more polished.

I enjoyed the exercise because it forced me to really think quickly of a story that led me to choose HR as a career. My mind was blank but it came to me as I was walking up to the front of the room to tell my story. Funny how the mind works.

So here’s my story…

I started my career right out of college working for a Pacific Northwest based retail department store called The Bon Marche’ (which is now part of Macy’s). I worked my way up the ladder until I reached my desired goal of being a Store Manager. I loved being a Store Manager and in my 13 years as one, I earned the Store/Store Manager of the Year award twice along with a record number of performance awards during my tenure.

I learned that I loved building consistent high-performing cultures filled with employees who loved doing what they did in a tough, low-paying work environment. In retail, HR is a very important and vital element. It was what I enjoyed the most and I was very good at it and thought I’d do it for the rest of my career.

But there was a particular incident that occurred that led me to seriously consider leaving and focusing on HR as my next career direction.

It was Sept or Oct and a young pregnant woman came in for an interview for the Holiday season. As a Store Manager I always enjoyed participating in the interviewing and hiring process. She interviewed well, I saw that she had potential, and I decided to hire her. I didn’t care that she was pregnant. I only cared that she was smart, enthusiastic, and cared for customers. She would be a great addition to the store team.

Years later, she reached out to me via Facebook and told me how much she appreciated me hiring her that day. I had changed the direction of her life. Nobody else in town would hire her because she was pregnant. To make matters worse, she was single and pregnant and her life was a mess. I had no idea at the time but my believing in her and hiring her gave her new hope.

My team at the store was just that, a team that cared about each other and helped each other. The team took her in and she became part of the store family. She was surrounded by people who cared and she responded by giving us everything she had and became fantastic sales associate.

I’m very proud of the teams I build and how they always cared for and loved each other. That is what I enjoyed most about my job. Building strong high performing cultures of people that loved (or at least liked) their work.  That is why I went into HR so I can help leadership build strong, high-performing teams.

Today, this woman owns her own retail business, has her life together, and is doing very well.  She is also is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter.

Bottom line, the main reason I moved into HR was to use my talent and skills to help organizations create positive, high-performing cultures where people really enjoy coming to work. We spend huge amounts of our time at work and I believe our workplaces should be happy and supportive places where we enjoy being every day.

The ability to create and provide a high-performing culture where people want to be, directly helps accomplish the importance of business goals in any organization. The overall company performance improves, productivity increases, and financial performance improves – all of which produces greater shareholder value.

I want to be able to be a positive influence on employees and, by extension, their families by creating a positive work culture where the employee is happy and feels like they are accomplishing meaningful work.

Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.  And I’m glad I’m able to do it.

Building an HR Foundation

Establish your credibility, competence, and trustworthiness

HHHR Photo

The most important thing an HR professional who’s moving into a new job or department can do is to build and establish a rock-solid foundation of credibility, competence, and trustworthiness. Today, I’m going to discuss how to do this.

There are two things an HR pro typically does when starting a new job at an organization or transferring to a new department.

  1. They come in with “guns a blazing” and immediately start changing the way everything is done and immediately start introducing HR initiatives. They focus on quickly making a big splash introducing HR initiatives and impressing senior leadership.
  2. They come in and take the time to get and know the employee’s, their team, processes, and culture. They focus on providing outstanding customer service to their client base and getting a good lay of the land and culture before making significant changes and introducing big HR initiatives.

Yes of course, sometimes you have to come in with “guns a blazing” and get things fixed quickly. The situation, and leadership, demands it because they need things to be fixed, and fixed yesterday. While it seems to make sense at first, it’s not. It will mostly cause significant chaos and business disruption. It certainly does not establish the credibility, competence, and trustworthiness for the new HR pro!

The best and most effective way for the HR pro to establish their credibility, competence, and trustworthiness in the eyes of their new company/department is to take the time to get to know and understand the team, processes, and culture before making any drastic changes. Build that important and critical foundation.

Remember, Human Resource pro, you are dealing with humans and, as such, you need to build a foundation of relationships first before you will be able to accomplish anything with any credibility and trust. Everybody in your organization is watching what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Start building a solid foundation so that you will be seen as a credible HR expert. Make sure there are minimal mistakes made with the basics like payroll, benefits, answers about polices, etc.

Here are the steps I recommend to build a strong and stable foundation that will establish your credibility and ability to effectively manage the HR function in your new organization. I think we all know this but often forget as it is the blocking and takleing.

  1. Most importantly – get to know the team. Get out of your office every single day and CIRCULATE around the office(s), store, plant, etc. and chat with your fellow employees. Learn your employee’s names and what’s important to them both personally and professionally. This helps them see HR as a part of their team, not the Grim Reaper that only makes an appearance when something bad is about to happen.
  2. Study and know the employee handbook (I know, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) and other policies and procedures. You’ll need to be able to answer policy and procedure questions from employees as you circulate and as they come by your office/desk.
  3. Dig into the HRIS and make sure all the data in there is complete and accurate. It often isn’t. Make sure it is so that everything that feeds from the HRIS (payroll, benefit integration, etc) will also be accurate.
  4. Become the expert in the health and retirement benefits your organization offers. Make sure enrollments are completed with 100% accuracy. Build great relationships with your brokers and ask lots of questions.
  5. Respond quickly, accurately, and politely to all manager and employee requests and questions. Remember, you are a service organization supporting the other functional areas of the organization. Don’t ever be condescending because you think they should know the answer. You are the HR expert, not them and they are coming to you for your expertise – the reason you have the job!

By doing these five basic steps, you build the foundation of a successful HR function in your new organization. These are the basics that will establish you as a credible and trustworthy HR professional in your employee’s eyes.

Yes, I know every senior HR professional, and leadership team, wants to do the exciting strategic stuff but without that important foundation, the strategic HR initiatives will fall flat because you will not have the credibility and trust from the very people who need to buy in to those initiatives.

You absolutely must have a solid and effective foundation in order to effectively build the strategic framework that your leadership, managers, and employees will embrace. This will ensure your success in your organization and allow you to more easily have your strategic HR initiatives be successfully adopted.

Downsized…

Job Search Human Resources Recruitment Career Concept

Well crew, I was downsized this summer. Ironically, my last post before this one was about the trouble in the energy industry and how employers in the industry are downsizing. The company I worked for is a uranium mining company and they are having a very difficult time in the current economic climate of the energy and uranium mining industries.

Sometime around May and June, things started getting, shall I say, very uncomfortable at work. My gut was telling me something unpleasant was about to happen soon.

Ultimately, my fears and intuition were accurate and I was sent packing along with approximately 20% of the company. They eliminated almost all of the administrative staff and several folks out at the mine. It was a rough day.

From what I understand, they are now down to a bare bones team to support and operate the mine. It was, in retrospect, something that needed to happen as the company has been struggling for several years hanging on and hoping the market would improve. We had even done earlier Reductions in Force.

Instead, the market continued to decline as the uranium spot price fell. It’s a great company with a lot of great people and I wish them the best and I really hope the market will improve soon!

Enough about my former company and on to the next phase of my life.

So now I’m without a job and looking for work. I’ve never been unemployed in my 32 year career. I knew exactly what I needed to do to find a job but I had never had to actually do it.

After taking a few days to lick my wounds, I brought up my resume, which I’ve been keeping updated every quarter, and wrote a cover letter. When I had these ready, I started my search by contacting several recruiters with whom I’ve worked with in the past. I searched on Linkedin, Indeed, CareerBuilder, and others as well as checking out the career pages of some organizations that interested me. I also contacted my network, who I’ve kept in touch with for years, and let them know my situation and asked them for help.

I was excited to get an interview right away with a tech company in the Denver area. They were looking for somebody with start-up HR experience. I built the HR function from the ground up at my former company so I was a prime candidate. I was thinking how great this would be to land a job within a month! No such luck. I went through the entire interview process and ended up a finalist along with one other candidate but lost out. Dang. Back to the drawing board.

My strategy is to apply to all the Senior HR jobs ranging from SR. HRBP to VP of HR. I’m applying for everything to which I’m qualified in organizations where I think I will be a great fit. I’m very interested in software and tech companies.

My thinking is that the more jobs to which I apply will make my resume and cover letter better as I refine and tailor each to the particular job description highlighting my experience and skills appropriate to that job. I’m also taking every interview in order to improve and refine my phone and face-to-face interviewing skills.

My initial resume and cover letter were modeled after a sample from a podcast that I think very highly of. Unfortunately, after getting only that one interview request out of the first 30 applications (a measly 3% return rate), I decided I needed to completely overhaul and re-tool both documents.

I did some online research and found some samples that caught my eye (key point) and modeled my new resume and cover letter from them. It was like night and day. From the 57 applications I sent out with my newly re-tooled resume and cover letter, I got 11 interviews (an excellent 19.3% return rate)! I kept refining this new version and finally hit on a winner as most of those 11 interview requests came through more recently and six of them are still active.

My philosophy is to simply jump in and start doing before everything is perfect. Before my resume and cover letter are perfect, before the perfect company has a job available, or before the perfect job pops up. If I waited for perfect, I would probably still be waiting. Instead, I learned from my mistakes, made improvements, and I now have six active interviews as of this posting.

I also learned that I’m a strong face-to-face interviewee but was a weak phone interviewee. Unfortunately, the phone interview is the screen for the face-to-face. I did poorly in the first few phone calls and was quickly rejected. So I changed and improved my phone interview technique after doing some research and tried out some new things. This resulted in several face-to-face interview opportunities.

Jumping in before anything was perfect and refining and trying new things until I got positive results are the best advice I can give you.  Don’t be afraid to put out something far from perfect (heck, look at this blog and podcast!). I can tell you the more you do it and work on improving as you receive feedback, the better the end result will be.

It’s a tough slog trying to find a senior level HR job. There are days when I feel depressed but I’m the type of person who has a natural positive and enthusiastic outlook on life. I just keep plugging along, working hard and knowing that I will find the right opportunity.

It keeps me going knowing I will find the organization that will be the right fit for me and for whom I will be the right fit for them.

Perfection vs. Excellence

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I once had a boss who was a proud perfectionist. He was such a perfectionist that he had a very difficult time making decisions because everything had to be perfect before he could. Of course nothing is ever perfect so it often took a very long time, if ever, for him to decide.

Now, I’m the kind of guy who likes to get things done then move on to the next project. I’m not a perfectionist. If its good enough, I make a decision and move on.
When you work for a perfectionist, unless you are one yourself, it can be very challenging. They will always pick apart and criticize your work no matter how good it is. They look for the one or two flaws, no matter now minor. They will take forever to make a decision. It once took over a year for this boss to finally approve a project I had worked very hard on. By the time he finally gave me the go-ahead, I was very demoralized and frustrated. This became a common occurrence and eventually, I slowed down my production because my work seemed to disappear on his desk or in his inbox. Ironically, I was eventually criticized for slowing down. Lesson learned! Never slow down your work. Keep producing no matter what.

Our performance under this boss was mediocre at best. His team was more worried about making everything perfect rather than focusing on getting the work done and moving on. It was a very risk averse and toxic work environment. It was unsafe to admit you made a mistake, our morale was low and we dreaded coming to work.

In contrast, I had another boss who was clearly focused on excellence. He was happy with projects that were good enough and as a result his team’s performance was excellent. I thrived working for him. This boss trusted us to get the work done to achieve the goals of the company. He didn’t need to sit on things for months before making a decision. He was quick to make a decision and move on to the next. As a result, his team was one of the best in the company. We won more performance awards than any other team during his tenure. It was fun and exciting and we were all very motivated and enthusiastic about our work.

I ran across this list recently, contrasting excellence and perfection.

  • Perfection is being right. Excellence is being willing to be wrong.
  • Perfection is fear. Excellence is taking a risk.
  • Perfection is anger and frustration. Excellence is powerful.
  • Perfection is control. Excellence is spontaneous.
  • Perfection is judgment. Excellence is accepting.
  • Perfection is taking. Excellence is giving.
  • Perfection is doubt. Excellence is confidence.
  • Perfection is pressure. Excellence is natural.
  • Perfection is the destination. Excellence is the journey

What a great message! As an HR pro, a manager, or a supervisor, it is so important to make sure you’re demanding excellence, not perfection. The same goes for what you should expect from yourself in your career and personal life. Trying to be perfect causes way too much stress.

Even the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we will catch excellence” which mirrors the last bullet point in the list. He understood the difference between the two and knew that perfection was the enemy of excellence.

In order to perform at the highest levels, expect excellence from your direct reports, the people you work with, and yourself. Expecting perfection and trying to make your work and life perfect will only slow you down, keep you constantly behind, stressed and frustrated. So relax and focus on producing excellence instead of perfection. It will make your work and personal life far more productive, effective and pleasant.

Why I Sat for the SPHR-CA Certification Exam

HRCI_Purple-Red-LogoDuring the month of November and December, I was studying very hard for the SPHR-CA certification and was unable to devote the time I wanted here at HHHR.  In fact, I was surprised when I looked back and saw that I only posted a couple blog posts and released only one podcast!  Instead, I devoted the majority of my free time in the early mornings and after work to studying for the certification exam.

So, why in the world would I, an HR pro living and working in Colorado and Wyoming, decide to take the California SPHR certification?  My company has no employees in California and I don’t see any chance that we ever will. Why “waste” my time??

I have two reasons why I sat for the SPHR-CA certification.

First, I am a strong proponent of certifications, whether it is through HRCI or SHRM.  To quote HRCI, certifications “demonstrate relevance, competence, experience, credibility and dedication to human resources to your employers, clients, staff members and professional peers”.

I want to earn all the certifications I am eligible for.  I’m elegible for the SPHR-CA, so I decided to take it.  I would take the GPHR (Global Professional in Human Resources) if I could but I have no international experience, making me not eligible, unfortunately.  I will also take the necessary steps in January to earn my SHRM-SCP.

Second, the CA certification gives me one more HR specific credential that I can leverage in the job market.  I believe each person is responsible for their careers.  You never know when you will be suddenly out of a job or a job opportunity of a lifetime presents itself.  You are responsible to be ready for these events.

In fact, what initially got me thinking about the California certification was two amazing HR executive opportunities that were presented to me through recruiters in 2013 and 2014.   Interestingly, both opportunities were based in Denver but had the majority of their employees working in California.  I explored both opportunities but, in the end, lacked the necessary California HR knowledge.

I love my current job, but as I’ve said before, I will always seriously consider and explore any great executive HR job opportunity.

So, with my decision made to take the exam, I purchased the study guide from SHRM this past summer and started studying.  I really hunkered down in November and December and sat for the test on the morning of December 15.  The test was just as difficult (maybe even more so since I have no CA HR experience) than the SPHR test.  It consisted of 125 questions and has a time limit of two hours and fifteen minutes.

The exam consists of four areas:

Compensation/Wage & Hour –  comprising 22% of the exam
Employment and Employee Relations – comprising 46% of the exam
Benefits and Leaves of Absence – comprising 20% of the exam
Health, Safety, and Workers Comp – comprising 12% of the exam

I memorized the definitions in the back of the SHRM study guide and I took and retook the quizzes at the back of each study section.  At the first of December, I put the book away and focused just on taking practice tests.  I took the practice test offered by HRCI and I found a great resource at HRCalifornia.  HRCalifornia has a great practice test and a fantastic and informative website.  I took advantage of their 15 day free trial and spent a great deal of time there learning things that were not covered by the  SHRM study guide.

Those of you who have taken an HRCI test, know that feeling of relief when the screen pops up telling you you passed at the end of the 2 1/2 hours!  What a great feeling!  As with the SPHR exam,  the California exam was so difficult, I thought I was surely flunking it as I was going along.  But its important to trust yourself and your preparation and be confident throughout.

So now I proudly hold the SPHR-CA certification.  There are only approximately 500 people in the US who do.  I don’t know if I will ever need it but but now I have it in case I do.  It gives me one more credential and expands my career opportunities should I ever need to look for another job or should a great executive HR job come my way again.

I highly recommend that you take the California certification for those who hold a PHR or an SPHR.

 

Clear the Decks!

Being efficient and productive is essential to being an effective and successful HR leader.  I like to occasionally share my own personal productivity techniques here at HHHR in the hopes that they may be of some help to my readers and listeners.

Soon after starting my concentrated effort to manage my email three times a day, I started a new organization improvement method of “clearing the decks desk”.

Before I go home for the day, I completely clear off my desk and the top of my filing cabinet.  I file away the papers that need filing and put papers that I am still working with in my desk tray.

This daily clearing the decks forces me to do the filing and organizing that tends to get procrastinated throughout the days and weeks causing work to be forgotten, misplaced, and piled up.  Before I started this effort, my desk was never out of control but it was usually messy and disorganized.

As you see in the photo I leave work with my desk cleared off and when I come in to start a new day, I’m greeted with a clean and organized office that allows and motivates me to quickly get right back to work.

I’m much more efficient and effective and able to produce higher quality work.

As David Allen says in his book “Getting Things Done”,

…our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve effective productivity and unleash our creative potential.

Clearing my desk every evening helps me clear my mind and plan for the next day.

Coming into a clear desk every morning allows me to start the day fresh without any mental or physical clutter from the day before.

It takes discipline and effort to get into the habit but when you make it part of your daily routine, it will pay off with increased productivity and reduce the amount of daily stress at work.

You Must Take Control of Your Career

I read a post over at TLNT a while back that reminded me of my experience with my previous career at Macy’s (formally The Bon Marche).  It’s about workplace loyalty and how it can work in the job market today.

A point she made personally resonated with me:

If you’re an employee and believe that your loyalty will be remembered by your employer when it’s time for the tough decisions, my question to you is, “why on earth would you place your career decisions entirely in the hands of someone else?” Not only will working at one place for too long make you stale, you’re giving up the control of managing your own career.

What if your manager retires, transfers or gets a new gig outside of the company? So much for all of those years of loyalty. Do you think your manager is going to present a succession plan for you on their way out the door? Avoid being naive and recognize the excess of “dog eat dog” attitudes in Corporate America.

I spent 22 years working for The Bon Marche’/Macy’s.  Twenty of those years  for The Bon Marche’ which was reorganized and converted to Macy’s where I remained for two years.  I worked my way steadily up the ranks during my twenty years at The Bon Marche’ where there was a core group of executive and regional management who I knew well and who knew me and what I was capable of accomplishing.

We had a long and positive professional history that I was proud to have developed and count on when it came to my performance and career decisions.

When the company reorganized and converted to Macy’s, they closed the Seattle corporate office and laid off all the executive management.  They also restructured the regions and brought in “new blood” and expanded the regional management staff.

My entire 20 year history of accomplishments, skills, and knowledge was immediately wiped out and meant nothing to the newly reorganized company.

Rather than being relied on and trusted to run and operate my store as I was trained to do – and was very good at – I was being told how to run my store by group of people who never ran a store.  I gave it my best but eventually realized I was no longer a good fit in the reorganized company.

I was miserable and dreaded going to work every day. My experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, and creativity were no longer valued or even considered.  I had to leave and move on.

I made the mistake of thinking my work history, accomplishments, and loyalty to the company would benefit and help my continued career with newly organized Macy’s.  It didn’t.

So, I left and took my KSA’s to Denver and am loving my current job as Director of HR, IR/PR  at a uranium mining company.

I learned a valuable life lesson.

You need to have complete control over your career. It is your responsibility, not your employer’s.   Network in your profession and in your industry.  Network outside of your profession and industry.  Develop relationships with recruiters.  Grow your knowledge in your profession and industry.  Periodically look at job openings to see what is out there and what they are paying.

You’re not being disloyal to your company, you are being responsible and taking control of yourself, your family, and your career.

As the author of the blog post I linked to above says:

Do you think your loyalty will be reciprocated when your company is facing tough times and has to review numbers and headcount for a reduction in force?

Respect for HR

I came across this blog post – Why Do We Seem to Hate All the Things that Make HR Great – on TLNT over the weekend.

I can tell you I don’t hate the things that make HR great.

Having been a General Manager for Macys for approximately 15 years, I found the soft skills and people smarts are what made me and my management style effective and productive.  A critical part of being a “business person” is to have the soft skills.

Peter Drucker has been writing about these skills since the 1930s and those who read and practice his recommendations are usually very successful.  I understand that there are many in management who don’t consider the soft skills important but that is to their determent.

HR needs to embrace these soft skills and have the courage practice and promote them every chance we get with those in the the other parts of the business.  We should never apologize for being HR and should take our roles as strategic contributors seriously.  We need to speak up when we see something that needs to be addressed from an HR standpoint.  We need to be just as assertive and confident as those in Accounting, Finance, IT, and Management.

We need to act like we belong because we do.