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.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

I have not been able to do any posting or podcasting for the past couple of weeks.  I was actually cramming for the SPHR-CA certification test I scheduled for December 15.

Yes, I passed!  And that feels fantastic.

But the last couple weeks of highly concentrated study before and after work left me exhausted and not willing to spend the time needed to work on HHHR.

In addition, my wife and I are now preparing to go on vacation and spend the Holiday week with my kids, all of whom now live east of the Mississippi.

I plan on posting and podcasting about my decision to take the SPHR-CA.  I live and work in Colorado and Wyoming but I have some good reasons and opinions about the California certification that I want to share.

So, I’m hoping now that I have accomplished another grueling certification, I will have more time to spend on HHHR the first of 2015!

Until then, I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday!

I will see you again in January.

How to Ruin the Christmas Holiday Party

It is the middle of the Holiday season and organizations are having their annual Christmas Holiday Parties.

Christmas Holiday parties are intended to thank  employees and make sure they have a good time.  You want to make sure they feel appreciated and great about the organization and the people they work for and with.  As a leader, it’s important to keep in mind the purpose of the party.

When I was a store manager in retail, I gave away prizes at the end of the party through a random drawing. I ALWAYS made sure that my wife and I did not have a ticket in the drawing.  I did not want to take the chance that we would win one of the really nice prizes because it would look bad and send a very negative message to my team.  I also gained an additional level of respect and credibility once employees realized I refused to be included in the prize drawing.

This philosophy was reinforced a few years back at a Christmas Holiday party I was invited to attend.  The party was very well organized with games and events for employees and their families.  People earned tickets by playing the games, similar to Chuck E. Cheese, and put their tickets in a bag for the prize they wanted a chance to win.  There were 12 expensive and very nice prizes including a bottle of single malt scotch and a high end GPS device.  Everybody at the party participated in the games, including the CEO, CFO, and all the VPs. The party was a huge success until the very end when the tickets were drawn for the prizes.

The CEO was very entertaining during the drawing but every single one of the 12 prizes ended up going to one of seven executives – including the CEO – or their spouse.  What made it worse was the executives got caught up in the excitement of him winning and made a big show of it in front of all the other employees.  I was embarrassed for him.  I observed the line employees and middle management become disappointed then angry as the drawing continued.  They were no longer having any fun and actually left the party disgusted with the leadership of the company.

I spoke to the CEO shortly after the party was over and asked him what he thought about what happened and he said that everybody had the same chance of winning and that was just how it turned out.  Tone deaf to say the least. So deaf that I’d asked him to meet a doctor friend of mine, dr fulman. The execs could easily afford the prizes they won while the line employees and middle management could not.  There is no reason the execs should have put their tickets into the drawing. They should have let the non executive employees end up with all the prizes.

Remember the purpose of the Christmas Holiday Party is to thank the employees and make sure they had a good time.  The party is intended to boost morale.

This party did the opposite.

I Fired Santa.

“He’s doing it again, Rich, and customers and employees are irritated with him” said Tina, my department manager.

“Are you serious?” I said  “I just had another talk with him a couple days ago and he promised me he would stop! I will talk to him again.”

Being the long time retail anchor in downtown Missoula, it was up to us to provide the “official” Santa Clause for the community.  Every parent wants to have a picture of their little one with St. Nick.

Up until then, I had no problem because I just simply hired the gentleman who had been doing it for the past decade, but this year he was no longer physically able to play the roll.  I had to find a new Santa and I hit the jackpot – I thought – when I discovered a professional birthday clown/Santa Clause looking for work!  He had experience, could tie balloon animals, and had his own Santa suit!

We set up his chair, the camera, and backdrop along a main aisle.  We ran an ad in the Missoulain and posted his hours throughout the store.  Now I could focus my attention and concentrate on executing the store’s Holiday sales, profit, credit, and customer service strategies.

Instead, we quickly discovered our new Santa had a very odd personality – one that my customers and employees found very irritating. Irritating enough to complain and avoid him.

He would make a strange comment or crack an awkward joke to everybody who walked by him – nothing inappropriate but strange.  It got to the point where my employees would take another longer route in order to avoid having to walk by him when they saw he didn’t have a kid on his lap.

I sat down with him in my office, with him in full costume, and had a “fierce conversation”  letting him know that I had received complaints and that he needs to concentrate more on being jolly and less on being irritating. He initially resisted but after I gave him several examples of his irritating behavior, he agreed that he would  try to do better.

This was Santa’s first warning.

I noticed an improvement in his behavior but that only lasted two days. He reverted back into his old irritating ways and the complaints started again.  I sat down with him again, again with him in full costume, and we had our second “fierce conversation” where I told him that he needs to alter his behavior quickly. He’s driving customers away and irritating my team causing a reduction in their productivity.  The critical Christmas season is short and I can’t afford to have Santa hurting my business.

This was Santa’s second warning.

Again, it took another two days before his behavior to reverted back to his irritating ways which led to the conversation at the beginning of this post.  Well, I had had enough and sat Santa Clause down in my office for the final time, again him in full costume, and said the words “I’m sorry, Santa, but I am going to have to let you go.  It’s just not working out.”

I had just fired Santa.

So now I had no Santa.  Now what?  Well, all I know is that the General Manager of the store (me) would mysteriously disappear whenever Santa showed up to for his shift…

You gotta do what you gotta do to make things right.

This story points out that we occasionally have to do some very uncomfortable disciplinary action on employees or independent contractors.   I sure could have avoided dealing with the situation, he was Santa after all.  And he was only going to be in the store for a couple more weeks.

You have to have the courage to do what’s right.

Even if it’s firing Santa.

Veteran’s Day Thanks


Capt. Bill Boberg in Vietnam

There will be no Audioblog Podcast today but I wanted to take a moment to write about Veteran’s Day and recognize both my dad, my grandpa, and all veterans on this very important holiday.

Tuesday, November 11, is Veteran’s Day in the United States.  The day is set aside to recognize and honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.  The day was originally set aside as Armistice Day, recognizing the last day of World War I – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

President Wilson proclaimed the first holiday on November 11, 1919.  Armistice Day is still recognized in many parts of the world but the day evolved into Veteran’s Day in the US in 1954.

First, I would like to recognize my dad who served in the Viet Nam war back in the late 1960s.  He spent a year there as an officer with a Combat Engineer Division.  He doesn’t talk about the time he served there but I know he was proud to have served his country.

Next, I would also like to recognize my grandpa who served in the Polish army officer during World War II and was captured by the German army during the 1939 Blitzkrieg of Poland.  Although he didn’t serve in the US Armed Forces, he was an Allied veteran and suffered in a German POW camp for six years.  He immigrated to the US immediately after the war and was a proud American until the day he passed away in 1986.

Group 1942

Col. William Zweck (center front) with his fellow POWs in 1942

Finally, I want to recognize all veterans for their sacrifice and for serving the United States and protecting our freedom and liberty.