Maggie: Hi, Scott.
Scott Boyar: Hi. Is that Maggie?
Maggie: Yes. The presentation is live right now, so you can begin.
Scott Boyar: I want to welcome everyone to our webinar. Today, we’re very fortunate to have a wonderful panel of experts that are going to share with us what it’s like to be an HR professional. The title of today’s talk is, “A Day in the Life of an HR Professional.” What I’d like to do is begin by going around and having everyone introduce themselves, and let us know your title and what company you’re with. I’ll begin. My name is Scott Boyar. I’m a professor in the Collat School of Business at UAB.
Amanda: My name is Amanda [Borain 00:01:07]. I am a human resource management student.
Janet Parker: Hi, I’m Janet Parker and I’m Executive Vice President for Corporate HR with Regions Bank.
Jarvon Pope: My name is Jarvon Pope and I’m a student here at UAB, and I also work at Southern Research as an HR intern.
Speaker 6: Hi. My name is [inaudible 00:01:28] Sutherland and I’m a student here at UAB.
Forrest Cook: My name is Forrest Cook. I’m a senior HR consultant with SS Nesbitt, which is part of EBSCO Industries.
Mike Moss: My name is Mike Moss. I was the Training Director for Regions Bank for 16 years. I’m now retired.
Gene Porterfiel: I’m Gene Porterfield. I work for BBVA Compass here in Birmingham as an Executive Vice President until recently.
Gini Bell: Hi. I’m Gini Bell, Senior Director of HR at Southern Research.
Kate Ray: This is Kate Ray. I was recently retired this year from Synovus Financial Corp where I served as an HR Director and HR Manager, and May 31st was my last day.
Dean Tanner: Good afternoon. I’m Dean Tanner. I’m Vice President of Human Resources and People Development at Mayer Electric Supply here in Birmingham.
Jay Morrow: I’m Jay Morrow. I’m the Human Resources Director at O’Neal Steel here in Birmingham.
John Faure: I’m John Faure. I’m the Human Resources Director with Ram Tool Construction Supply here in Birmingham.
Scott Boyar: Great. I want to thank everyone for attending today, and I want to welcome all of those attending virtually. We have a large audience today. We welcome your questions throughout the presentation. Please send those questions to me through your chat and I will, when time allows, ask the panelists to respond to those questions. Each panelist will speak for two to three minutes and will share what it’s like for them to be an HR professional. We will begin with Janet Parker from Regions.
Janet Parker: Well, good afternoon, everyone. First of all, I want to start out by congratulating you on choosing HR as your career. Wow, talking about exciting times. Boy, so much changing in our business world and how we work. I think about, since I’ve been an HR, we have so many more tools now that enable us to be an even better business partner, and one that comes to mind for me is the use of data for both predictive and addressing trends in our organization. Just to give you a little comparison on how things have changed for me in the HR profession, I want to start out and tell you a little bit about my first job, which was with a small family on manufacturing company in North Alabama that had never had an HR function.
The primary reason that they decided to create an HR function was because they were considering trying to sell their product to the federal government, which meant they had to meet the requirements for federal contractor and they needed someone to take point on that to handle the HR side. I don’t think I raised my hand, but maybe I did. Anyway, I had an opportunity to really just help stand up the HR function for this small organization, so that was about creating policies and procedures, affirmative action plans, training. In the midst of that, I had to deal with two union organizing events. While this was an important time for the company, a lot of what I was doing was basic HR for that organization.
Now let’s fast forward to today. I work directly with our CFO, our Chief Risk Officer, our General Council, and our Internal Audit Director to help them with their human capital strategy for their respective businesses. Let me tell you a little bit about “the day in the life of”. For example, right now, I’m working with our Chief Risk Officer to exist with an expansion plan for our Bank Secrecy Act group. We’re looking at a strategy which will include how to address their current backlog of cases. Now let me stop here and tell you that we have regulatory guidelines that we have to meet with regard to our cases, and so that has to factor in as we talk about strategy.
We’ve got retention and morale that we have to look at because of the uptick in the work, and then because we’ve not been able to find the talent that we need in this one particular area here in Birmingham, we’re having to identify an area where there will be at least a pool of candidates, and if we play our cards right, we hope that we can find a team that we can actually recruit. We call this a [list out 00:06:12]. When I think about from where I started to where I am today, I really couldn’t have done that when I first entered the HR profession. I’m not going to tell you how many years ago. Through career opportunities, development, being curious, being part of a strong professional network, and hard work, I’ve learned how to approach each of these tight situations, but then I’d mention that it’s not a “one size fits all”. The approach has to be tailored to the business leader and the specific situation. Forrest?
Forrest Cook: Okay. Well, [the one thing 00:06:46] [I would impart 00:06:46] is the fact if you’re going to HR and you want predictability, reliability, and consistency, you might as well hang it up because in the HR world, that is not the day. We were discussing just a few minutes ago, and a couple of us [inaudible 00:06:59], how our days changed totally from the moment we walked in the office this morning until now. Going back to what Janet was saying, when we started in the HR world, I was working for Blue Cross Blue Shield in recruitment, college recruitment, a lot of that. One day, I came in and had 100, count them, 100 requisitions for new additional exempt positions dropped on my desk with a three-month window to fill. That blows your day, that blows your month, that blows your entire first course, so that’s the way things happen.
The thing is the HR person should not be expected to know all the answers to all the questions. I’ll speak very briefly. I’ll get a call, an emergency situation. I had one last week in California. They were getting ready to terminate someone, do away with him because they were not showing up a new employee, da-da-da. They were supposed to be having some kind of medical situation and didn’t qualify for having medical aid. Stop the presses right there. California has whole different sets of laws and regulations, that type of thing, and this person was about to make a strategic error that we could have easily thrown him into court six times over because we found there were actually 10 [inaudible 00:08:01] laws and regulations that applied to this particular situation, so I said, “Hey, play the attorney card.”
That’s the thing. You’ve got to know sometimes that you have to stop and say, “Hey, I can’t provide you all the answers, I can’t provide you the exact solution here, but let’s get someone else to help out. Let’s get someone else from the team. Let’s call the attorney.” That type of thing. HR, even though we’re supposed to be the people with all the answers, we don’t know everything all time. We should not be afraid to rely on other resources, even other people that we know in HR in the community to help us out. That’s one of the most valuable things I think in the day in the life of HR, is you shift on the fly, put into hyper drive. Forget four-wheel-drive [and the G 00:08:37]. Hyper drive, and you get them up because it is unbelievable things that happen day to day. Mr. Moss?
Mike Moss: All right. My name is Mike Moss. I was a training director, so I’m going to talk about training, a particular part of HR. I’m going to try to share with you some basic thinking I have about the training function, and I’m trying to think about this in terms of you get your first HR job and four months into the job, somebody comes to you and says, “Brook, would you take care of the training for us in this company?” What would you do? How do you think about this? The training function, it naturally brings to mind part of developing people. The training function, the group given the training function, is partly responsible for the development of the skills of the workers. I’ll come back to that.
What skills do you train people in? What skills and knowledge? How do you know? What you need to look at is what are the skills and knowledge that drive that business’s success. That’s all you need to think about. What are the core skills and knowledge that drive that business? For example, if you’ve gotten to a company that makes buses run on natural gas, how would you know what to train them? If you work for a company that makes pianos, how would you know what skills and knowledge to train people in? How do you identify the core skills that training is responsible for helping to develop? You got to know the business yourself. If you’re an HR person, know as much as you can about the business that you work for. If it’s pianos, if it’s natural gas powered buses, if it’s a mortgage company, learn the business that you work in.
Ask the leaders of the business. Start to develop very good partnerships with the people who run the business, so spend time with them asking them what are the key drivers that make your part of this business successful. Also, ask them what their expectations are of you and in the training profession. Ask them one key question. If you don’t ask them anything else, ask them this. “How do you, manager, develop the skills and knowledge of your staff? What are you doing, manager?” If they can’t answer that question, they want to delegate the training function, the development function, to the training department, be careful. The manager is part of your team as the developer of skills and knowledge. After you find out the core skills, then you have to design a training experience that works. You might naturally think of the classroom as the place where … Somebody teaching skills.
Think more broadly. You can shadow people, watching people do the job. You can have computer-based courses. Think broadly about how people learn what it is they’re supposed to learn. Also, be ready to tell managers why you think the training you designed is effective because you’re taking their people offline for a while to learn something. You’ve got to do it in a shorter period of time as you can at the least cost. Now here’s an example. Here’s what you need to do. If you are trying to teach somebody … You’ve been given the task of teaching somebody to play Mozart piano concerto and the manager of this person says, “I can only spare my person for 10 minutes and it can’t cost anything.” Don’t do it. Don’t take the bait and think that you’re going to save everybody’s employees and do it in such a short time period. You can’t do it. Be realistic. Tell the truth on what resources you need to do your job as a trainer. Okay, I’ll stop there. Thank you.
Gene Porterfiel: Okay. Well, I’m Gene Porterfield again. I’m going to try not to be too repetitive. The folks that have already spoken have talked a little bit about first jobs and I’ll just tell you real quickly, my first job was with First Union National Bank, which you’ve probably never heard of, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and that was about 30-something years ago. I started off as a personnel rep, so that gives you an idea of how … One way that the function has changed, personnel no longer exists. Human resources is now what [we’re being referred 00:13:33] to as the function.
At the time, I started off as a junior member of the team. I was working with a veteran personnel manager who was a couple of years older than me. We were both in our 20s. Early 20s, actually. I was able to get some just extremely valuable experience. I set up their job posting system, which was leading edge stuff at the time. I put together a supervisory training program and I co-oped with Central [P 00:14:03] in my community college to do that, so even then, it was important to save on resources, if you will. I worked for the local community college to make that happen. Most recently, I had a somewhat similar job to what Janet does now with BBVA Bank here in town. I had the responsibility for all headquarters lines of business and had about 2,000 employees that I was responsible for.
The biggest change that I’ve seen between my first job and all the experience that I got in between was that, as Mike I think alluded to earlier, the function has evolved from being a specialist in human resources to being a business partner. As everyone talks about their experiences, I think the beauty of HR is that when you’re dealing with people, no two situations are ever alike. I can tell you, even recently, I find myself saying as I go through something that this is a new one on me. I haven’t dealt with exactly the same situation.
Rather than focusing on the various kinds of things that I was doing and have done over the years, I want to talk a little bit about some things I kept in mind on a daily basis. I think going back to being a business partner, as Mike said, and I just would reiterate this, learn the business of your company. Don’t just learn human resources. Be curious. Always be curious. I think, Forrest, you said that, I believe. Volunteer for project teams. They don’t have to be HR teams, and frankly, I would recommend that more important is to volunteer for cross-functional teams. Learn the business. Network. Invite subject matter experts to meet with you. Grab a cup of coffee with them and learn what they know.
The second thing that I found to be extremely important I think is true for any function is embrace change. Don’t just tolerate change. Don’t fight change because it’s going to happen with or without you, but embrace it and lead it. Stay in touch with all employees at all levels. I tended to, at the end of my career, spend more time with higher level managers, but I wanted to make sure that I understood what was going on and stayed in touch with all employees, and I think that’s critical as well. The next thing I would suggest is that, and this is true again for any function, be coachable. Have several coaches or mentors, as we like to refer to them, but I think you need to be open to the gift of feedback in general and just remain coachable throughout your career.
The last thing I want to say is that something that I’ve always tried to keep in mind, is that success is about 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Those are words to live by. I used to kid that if I came up with an original idea, it would die of loneliness. I think to a degree, you’re not going to see a lot of original ideas out there. I think you’re going to see maybe reiterations or changes to original ideas, but again, the key thing is to work hard, to keep your head down, and just work as hard as you can in a role. Hopefully, I didn’t go over. I have no clue.
Scott Boyar: Gene, let me ask you a question. This is Scott Boyar. This is coming from our online participants. You talked about some of the things that students need and where that would benefit them in their careers. Teamwork, networking, business acumen, communication skills, teachability, and so forth. The question being posed by the student is are there any other educational requirement that would benefit them in being an HR professional?
Gene Porterfiel: Yeah, that’s a great question, and I would invite the rest of the team to chime in, but I’ll just say quickly, I’ll give you an example, and I think this is true for anything. We constantly had issues with managers, and I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn. This is not just BBVA but I think other companies. We had issues with managers that really didn’t understand budgeting. Our expectation is they got that somewhere, but they didn’t, frankly. I think budgeting is an important part of everyone’s role, so I would tell you that when you have the opportunity outside of human resources in your focus, I would look at other business subjects, business experience, business education. I think finance, accounting, those kinds of things are extremely important as well. Anyway. I would invite everyone else to chime in.
Mike Moss: I think that one of the things that I would encourage you to do is to learn about the different facets of HR. A very good friend of mine is the Head of Benefits at Regions Bank. He is a wonk on benefits, on the Affordable Care Act. He can tell you the ins and outs of all this stuff. You can go as deep in one area of HR as you want to. If you want to manage payroll, go get it and learn all about managing payroll, or you can be a generalist, which is a different kettle of fish, or training. There are different facets of training. If you want to be a training designer, you got a lot of education to do to be a very good designer. If you want to be a classroom facilitator, that’s a whole set of discipline and things that you need to learn there. Learn as much as you can about the different facets of HR and then choose.
Scott Boyar: Great. Well, we’ll continue with the presentations.
Gini Bell: Okay. This is Gini Bell. I’m taking a little bit different approach to this because I came into HR originally in the unusual way. I went to college, have a degree in international business, but ended up in HR in a temporary assignment because I had moved to a new town. I was not trained in HR. Everything is OJT. What I wanted to point out is every role that I’ve had in HR over the years has been a building block of knowledge that I used somewhere else. I started in HR at a company called Owens Corning, building materials background. I actually started in benefits and did that for about three years, moved into college recruitment. That led into building entry level development rotational programs, and then I became a generalist and ultimately a leader in that organization.
Each role built on something else. You built relationships. You learn about what was going on in different parts of the business. Just to reinforce comments already made, I left Owens Corning for NCR and an opportunity to work for a bigger organization and got to be an implementer of a global process. I was a process leader in that environment, and the greatest learning was the opportunity to put something in place that had a global impact. All of those skills totally prepared me to come to Southern Research, a much smaller organization. Now I’m a functional leader, so you not only have responsibility for the function of HR, but how do you participate as a member of management in that organization? I had not been prepared to work for the government contractor side of things, so that was probably the biggest learning curve that I’ve had here.
From my perspective, I think we don’t always have to take vertical moves to enhance our careers. I think you can always sidestep, take what I call “horizontal moves”, get some new knowledge and experience that you can use in a different way. Probably the experience I had at NCR was the opportunity to work across the business and what they call their cross-functional business teams. I was working with people in the Six Sigma group. I had project management. I had IT. I had finance. I had all these people at my disposal to help put a big project in place. The project management was the biggest learning curve, and I think today, that is a skillset that HR professionals should really consider developing.
We were asked to talk about what a typical day in the life is, so I just thought I would highlight maybe what this week is. This morning, we had a compensation committee. I’m interfacing with members of the board. That in itself is a different audience that you have to think about. We’re evaluating technology tools, so we have to know enough about the processes we’re trying to implement to know what to be asking vendors to show us. Dealing with employee relations issues, trying to determine what our benefits offerings are going to be for the next year, so a financial impact to the business, but still trying to think about what do our employees need and what do we want to provide for them, and what I call “special business support”, which is, because of the highly regulated environment we work in, we have programs that talk around suitability, we have insider threat programs.
Both of these are programs that require self-disclosure by employees, so you have to understand what your government requirements might be in those regards, but you have to help employees know that it’s okay to self-disclose in certain settings. I have a request for a J-1 program, so this would be to bring PhD level students in. We do a lot of immigration work in our organization. Again, I had the opportunity back in the early days to learn about immigration and what does it take to help someone go through labor certification in that. In our world today, I have an individual who has developed that expertise, but for up and coming HR folks, I would really strongly consider outside support on that one and start looking for groups that can help you do that because it’s becoming more and more complicated. That’s what I had to cover.
Kate Ray: This is Kate Ray. As I mentioned, I work for Synovus Financial Institution, and locally in Birmingham, one of our banks is First Commercial Bank, and recently retired. Just to explain my background, I obtained a degree in human resources in the business school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. My first job was in a bank. They provided a management trainee program, and as Mike and several others have mentioned, that was critical in my understanding of the banking business, but the focus was for me to go into their human resources department, which I did. Surprisingly, within a year, I was supervising two people, so to be well-prepared would be something that I think is particularly important for any graduate.
My career continued in banking over the years. I’ve had an opportunity to work as an HR generalist. Just as we said before, your classes in accounting and finance and other basic business skills are going to be very beneficial because that allowed me to lead our deposit operations and loan operations groups within the banking business, as well as HR. I continued to focus on human resources and went on to be a regional HR director and an HR manager. The day in the life that I’m going to describe to you just to set the groundwork is the business units that I interacted with were Synovus Securities, so investments, financial consultants, bond traders. I worked with our mortgage division. We had Synovus Trust, as well as the financial planning group and investment house. That’s the kind of areas.
A typical day can be interesting. I think as everybody mentioned, being able to adapt to change is going to be a critical skillset to keep no matter what because your day, although well-planned, will unravel quickly because there are going to be demands placed on you from other individuals that you did not have planned. This would be an example. Let’s say the first day is a meeting and it’s going to be to develop a new compensation plan for individuals who are on straight commission, say, the bond traders or financial consultants. In that meeting, I probably would have representatives from our compensation department because we have a specialty area.
We’d have the leaders of the business units so that we would understand what their expectations were, why we would be changing the commission arrangement, what type of performance expectations would be set, what type of goals would be implemented. Frequently, we’d either have the Chief Financial Officer or a representative from the finance team because of the impact of the cost of that commission that we’re about to roll out, how is it going to affect the bottom line. Sometimes you have individuals within the business unit that specialize an actual software program that calculate the commissions because once you change any type of a grid or system, you’re going to affect their technology, and they’re going to be concerned about that and how it’s going to affect what they do every day.
The point of this is it’s not just an HR professional deciding to change somebody’s compensation [inaudible 00:28:27]. You have multiple individuals, typically, whenever you’re making decisions. You need to understand why you’re implementing this. What kind of behavior are you trying to change, and how is it going to impact the business? Because everything goes back to if your business does not remain profitable, you cannot change the commission or compensation agreement at the detriment to the profitability of that organization, so a lot of players in any decision that you make.
Let’s say that’s the first meeting of the day, and then the next thing that happens is unplanned. Other individuals have mentioned employee relations, but you would have calls or I would from a manager who would indicate that there is a performance issue. Let’s say you have a mortgage loan officer who has a sales goal and they are not meeting performance expectations. This is an impact to the bottom line if they are not bringing in the sales that are expected of them. It’s a performance issue. How do you handle it? Is it a progressive disciplinary situation where it’s a written warning, counseling session, or is this an initial conversation just where you’re going to have a development plan about, “Your performance is not meeting expectations, but then what do we do about it?”
How do you collaborate with that individual and the manager to help them have a constructive conversation about what are the next steps? What are we going to do? Is it additional training? Is it additional mentoring with another individual? Is it changing their understanding and their educational level on that particular product that they’re selling? Those type of phone calls about performance issues or unplanned phone calls will happen throughout the day, which could interfere with your meetings or just layer on top of whatever meetings you have in place.
Another typical meeting would be about … We refer to them as talent reviews. Here again, the partners that I would be participating with would be the business unit leaders and we would be evaluating the talent within that particular business unit. Let’s just pretend it’s the mortgage corporation, and it may be the top three tiers. If you have an individual within mortgage that is leading your operations, do you have a succession plan for that person? Are you going to promote from within or are you going to hire from the outside? Once you have that succession plan in place, if it’s an internal candidate, what are you doing to develop that person so that they’re prepared for the next level?
A talent review will also talk about individuals that are your key or top talent. You certainly want to retain them. If you are going to retain them, how do you go about doing that? Are you retaining them to go into a leadership role, and if so, how quickly? Are they ready in one year, two years, three years? A talent review meeting can start to multiply to where I would leave that meeting and then have appointments and calls with anywhere from 10 to 15 people to follow up, bring that material back together again, and this is an ongoing activity or project that will happen over the course of two or three months.
The latter part of my day may be a meeting with the business unit and they’re going to roll out a new product. A new product for a bank could be something as simple as a checking account or a money market, it could be a new investment option, but just whatever that product is has such a huge impact. Back to understanding that business, I have to ask a lot of questions. Is there going to be training on the benefits of this new product? If so, how much time is that training going to take? How will that impact the team member? Will they have to work later hours? Can they get their job done while they are training? What is their aptitude level? Then is there a learning curve? How long will it take?
Then it’s a change management issue anytime you roll out a new product. How are they going to adapt to the change? How are customers going to adapt to the change? Is it going to cause an impact on their existing responsibilities? Will they have enough time to take care of the new product, dedicate what they need to, and also not have a negative impact on their current existing performance goals? Is there new technology? Is there a software system associated with the new product? Are they going to have to learn how to use the new software system in order to open the account for their customer? Is it going to be easy? Is it complicated?
Will their pay change? Will they get compensated for selling this new product? Will there be a commission plan associated with it? As you can imagine, rolling out one product just has a multitude of layers as to how it could impact an individual, so human resources has to partner again with individuals from several different areas and have collaboration, communication, change management, project management. All of those skillsets come into play to be effective in your role.
Dean Tanner: I’m Dean Tanner from Mayer Electric Supply. I’m not an HR professional, but I play one on TV. I fill in to HR. I consider myself a business manager who happens to manage the HR function for an organization, which I think is a healthy way to look at it. Because of that, I have to rely on a lot of people who, too, have HR education and are far more qualified than I am to handle some of the day-to-day things, but if I were going to say just a couple of things about what you should be prepared for as a student, and you’ve heard many of these already, one, know the business. Know what drives the business.
Know what are the two or three key metrics that are measurements of success for that business. If it’s top line revenue, if it’s bottom line net profit, if it’s gross margin dollars, whatever it is, know what those are, and then take that and tie back everything you do in your role, “How am I impacting the success of those measures? What am I doing today that’s going to help to drive that?” I remind my managers of that all the time. “What are we doing?” I had that conversation with my learning and development director about an hour and a half ago. “How does that tie back to being successful as an organization? It sounds great that you got really busy and there’s wonderful stuff you’re doing, but how is that helping us be successful?”
The second thing that I would encourage all of you to know this, not just the measurement or the metrics, but understand the strategic initiatives of your senior leadership, what is it they’re focused on, because they get paid to look around the corner and see what’s coming next. The better you understand those things, the better you could help. You will set yourself apart if you’re interested in those things instead of just checking the boxes and doing your job. Then the last thing I’ll say is communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate. Go take a journalism 101 course. Learn how to write a story in three paragraphs. You do not have the time today in today’s business world to make a long plea for, “We need this, we need that.” You got to figure out how are you going to communicate that.
You will set yourself apart if you can communicate in writing and verbally and in a presentation in a concise, well-supported way. It boggles my mind the things I read that are written by people whose titles are Vice President or Executive Something. Learn to write something concisely. It will benefit you in whatever you do, HR or not. Learn to do that. Then the last thing, be prepared for change. You’ve heard it over and over and over again. The pace of change will never be slower than it is today. It’s the way we live our lives today, and you have to be able to adapt to that and move forward with that on a daily basis.
Jay Morrow: Jay Morrow, O’Neal Steel. I really don’t have a lot to add. I think the panel has done a great job covering the day in the life. I will say as I thought about it, I thought about that work and how to package that to deliver it. As I looked in my early jobs, really, I looked at that. It really wasn’t a whole lot different than what I do today. Really, those jobs are typically around process, projects, and what I’ll call issues. When you think about process, that’s the core job. What were you hired to do? Why does that job exist? I think that’s something that we would all expect in a day in the life. Early in my career, I was a recruiter, so I’m working the jobs. I’m calling candidates. I’m setting up interviews. I’m screening candidates, making sure that talent acquisition process is executed.
Projects are the things that maybe you weren’t necessarily hired to do, but they add value or they’re a necessary part of what you do. One of my early jobs actually was with bulk materials here in town. We had a small chemicals division and we acquired a new customer today. Now he qualified us as his federal subcontractor. We didn’t have an affirmative action plan, and guess who did that? That kind of work that you have to … or be organized and find time in your day outside of the process [of what 00:37:25] you do to come to that conclusion on that project. Then the issue is beast. You’ve heard it over and over again. The things that you get interrupted during your day. A manager comes to you for counseling on a particular item, whether it’s an employee performance issue that Kate talked about or a new product line.
You’ve got to be organized and plan your day, but you also have to be resilient. You have to be able to be distracted by new things that come into your office, but then also be disciplined to go back to those process and project things because you’re going to have to execute on those things to be successful. As I thought about my early career, too, I thought about what are the things I know now that I wish I knew then. The question came up without learning in academics. Part of the reason I chose the HR major is because I was woefully untalented in numbers and accounting and finance. I wished I had forced myself to do that. I think an understanding of how any enterprise makes money is critically important to anybody to be successful in an HR job.
I wish that I had spent more time developing meaningful business relationships. I think it’s our tendency, when we’re young, we want to come in, we want to execute, we want to develop work product, but spending some time outside of your office and developing those relationships. What I will tell you about those relationships is they will make your job easier in the short term, but it’s those relationships that will stay with you for a career. Never underestimate the value of a business relationship. Then knowing the business, and I think Dean articulated it perfectly. You’re a business person that does HR. You are there to drive the business results of your organization.
I’ll just leave you with a couple of other things, too. There are a couple of books that I read late in my career that I wish I had read early. One is called, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” by Ben Horowitz. Fascinating, fascinating read. The HR career is littered with having to make tough decisions and executing on tough decisions, having tough conversations. The other is called, “The HR Value Proposition.” I think it will absolutely get your mind oriented to being that business person. It’s by Dave Ulrich. He’s the primary author of that book. Those would be a couple of things that I would recommend for students.
John Faure: Hey, this is John Faure with Ram Tool and I’ll add to what a couple of my colleagues say. Number one, what Dean Tanner told you about writing and communicating, absolutely positively. It will set you apart from other folks. It’s amazing how many people don’t know how to write and don’t know how to speak and don’t know how to communicate. Learn that. The second one that Jay just mentioned to you, the language of business is money, is finance. Whether you’re a profit or non-profit, you need to learn to speak it, so don’t shirk the accounting, finance courses. Those are just as important as anything else, and like Jay said, I wish I had studied more of that stuff early in my career. That would have put me, I think, in a much better place.
The reason that companies have HR people is not because necessarily they just get excited they like to have us around. Hopefully, they do, but we’re here to solve problems and fix problems for them. That’s why they pay us, and so you got to be a good problem solver to be in HR. I just took a look at my calendar for this week and I’ll just run down and do a week in the life of an HR person and tell you what I’ve dealt with this week, which is probably the same as other HR people. This is in no particular order, but the first thing was an employee complaining about not getting promoted. There was a job out there that he was certain that was his job, and he was absolutely aghast that the company would not promote him into this job, so I had to help him try and get to a place to understand why this was not the right job for you at the right time. I think I might have been 50% successful at that and 50% a failure at that.
Next up was a complaint of sexual harassment, and those are always fun to deal with, to try and figure out, is that real or is that something else? Then we had the impromptu meeting about parking because we had some parking problems in the building. That’s not exactly a strategic issue, but that’s something that you get drawn into dealing with. Then there was a conversation about sales recruiting. “We need to hire more salespeople, we need to hire better salespeople, and what’s HR going to do to help us do that?” Right on my plate.
We had another conversation about a class of jobs we have where the market pay for those jobs has risen quite rapidly in several markets that we’re in. It has risen past of what we pay our current people, so when we hire new people, we’re forced to pay them more than the people that are already in the job. Does anybody see a problem in that? Yeah. If you’re working in a job and a new guy comes in and you’re training the new guy and you find out he’s making $2 an hour more than you, you’re going to be unhappy, so what’s the company going to do about that? By the way, we don’t have an unlimited budget to deal with stuff like that.
On the heels of that was a strategic conversation with our CEO about what are we going to do in terms of our internal communication strategy. We’ve gone all the way from parking, very low level, to some pretty high level conversations. This is all in the course of Monday, I think. Right after that, the conversation with the CEO, is a conversation with the maintenance guy in the parking lot who was very unhappy about how he was treated by somebody in the company when he was fixing their desk earlier that day, so again, from the strategic to the tactical right away.
The next day was a really engaging conversation with our CFO about health care expense, which, by the way, is not trending downward. It’s trending upward and it’s a very significant expense for us. The conversation was, “What are we going to do about this and who’s going to pay for all this very expensive health care?” No resolution, by the way, in the conversation. It was just, “We got to figure this out. Now we all go to work. We have to go to another meeting.”
Then we have a discussion with the president about how can we get some really high performing salespeople who … I’m in a sales driven business. We have to have these people. They drive our business. How can we get them to at least follow some of our rules that we have, if not, all of the rules that we have governing employees? We’re not naïve enough to think we’re going to get them to follow all of the rules, but can we pick out a few of them that maybe we can get them to follow? No resolution on that one either. We didn’t have a great solution for that.
Then the last conversation, which was right before this meeting here, was we had an employee that came to work today in some inappropriate attire, as noticed by several people, and so immediately, they came to the HR [gate 00:44:09] guy to say, “You need to go talk to this woman about what she’s wearing today.” Well, let me just say to everyone in the room and on the phone, that’s an awkward conversation for any man to have with a woman at work to say, “You’re really not dressed appropriately. You really shouldn’t be showing that much of your underwear to the rest of your coworkers.” Again, I don’t know if the textbook has an answer for that, Scott. I’m turning it over to Scott with this, so, Scott, if you have an answer for that one, I’m welcome to hear it because I did not have an answer. Thank you.
Scott Boyar: Thank you, John, and thank you, everyone, for your presentation of what it’s like, a day in the life of an HR professional. It was very insightful and informative. We do have some questions from the participants, and some of the folks here might have questions as well. One deals with what Jay was talking about in terms of recruiting, and I know a lot of you can comment on this, but the question is would it be fair to say that recruiting is the best approach for entering into this field of human resource management, or are there some other ways to make entry?
John Faure: This is John Faure. I don’t think I’d say it’s necessarily the best approach. I think it’s a great approach to get into HR and I think it’s where a lot of people get into HR. It puts you at the intersection of people getting hired for jobs, and that is a very important part of HR, so if you get in through recruiting, that’s a great place to go in. There are others.
Gene Porterfiel: I think my experience, I was an employment manager fairly early in my career, and my experience was that that gets you in the door. It gets you at the table. You can improve their lives dramatically by bringing in a highly qualified candidate. It just changes things for them, so I found it to be a great way to get in the door to prove yourself, to build that relationship and get that generalist relationship started.
Forrest Cook: You learn the company. When you’re recruiting, you learn the different areas, different functions. One of the best ways to learn all about the organization, like I said, know your workplace. Know your company. The best way to do it.
Janet Parker: The only thing that I will add is that know your strengths, too, because not everybody is a good recruiter. A lot of people think, “Oh, it’s just about talking to people.” It requires analytical skills. You’ve got to be a problem solver. You’ve got to find a needle in a haystack. While recruiting might be an ideal way to get in the organization, it’s got to play to your strength.
Scott Boyar: The other thing I would add to it is that it would give you the opportunity to network with the community and the organization, so you really would get to know a lot of folks and provide great opportunities down the road, hopefully, if you have the right skillset and you’re successful. Great. Another question from the online participants is can you go to school online and get an HR degree or become an HR … I’m sorry. Can you go to school online, like our online program, and get an HR job?
Scott Boyar: Let me open it up and let me preface this by saying that our online program is exactly the same as our face-to-face program. I teach as a professor both in the face-to-face and the online. The courses are identical, and that’s one of the requirements we have. Whether a student gets a degree here on campus or online, it’s the same degree.
Forrest Cook: I don’t differentiate from the learning style. It could be differentiation in institutions, for example, but if I were looking at two UAB graduates, one the distance learning and one the traditional, I would not see any difference in the quality of their education. That’s the way I see it.
Janet Parker: I think it’s really about how you apply what you’ve learned. Whether you’re a traditional student or whether you’re an online student, don’t memorize. Learn it. Understand it so you can apply it because if you memorize it, it’s not going to stay with you, so really make it about learning the different disciplines of HR.
John Faure: As an employer who hires HR people, I would say, you know what? Ultimately, I don’t care where you got the knowledge. I don’t care whether you read out of a book or you learned it through experience or whatever. I care that you have the knowledge, A, and that B, you can apply it, and you can certainly get that through a traditional program or through a distance program.
Mike Moss: My only concern about a complete online education in HR and in a lot of fields would be did it limit the development of your face-to-face communication skills? With online, you can discuss. You can have conversations. I get it, but I would say that if I’m using Match.com to find a date, I’m going to do some online chatting, but I want to meet the person in person. I want to experience that person to see how they think, to see how they look, when they’re having a conversation, how do they engage me, et cetera. That is my only concern about a complete online education in most fields.
Scott Boyar: Well, the one positive thing about our online program is that our students are still required to take an internship or complete some type of experiential learning.
Mike Moss: Fantastic. Fantastic.
Scott Boyar: This is true of our new face-to-face [traditional 00:49:59] students as well.
Male: Yeah, [that’s true 00:50:00].
Amanda: I had a question piggybacking off of that, on the topic of education, is, well, I’ve heard a lot of different things in terms of post-graduate, to go immediately and get experience, to go in and get an MBA, to go in and get a master’s in human resources, so I wanted to get your input on that.
Mike Moss: What’s the question … Do you have to have post …
Amanda: Post-graduate education or going in and immediately getting experience, and then going back and getting further education and a master’s degree or what have you.
Gene Porterfiel: That’s a good question, and I will tell you that my thought on it is get the experience first and then go back. I’ve seen folks go directly on, and without that real life experience, you just don’t have the opportunity, I think, to know what you should focus on when you do get that post-graduate degree. I would say that I’m not alone on that because I’ve talked to a lot of my peers around that and they all have said to a person the same thing, that they really feel strongly that you should get the experience first.
That’s a good question, and I will tell you that my thought on it is get the experience first and then go back. I’ve seen folks go directly on, and without that real life experience, you just don’t have the opportunity, I think, to know what you should focus on when you do get that post-graduate degree. I would say that I’m not alone on that because I’ve talked to a lot of my peers around that and they all have said to a person the same thing, that they really feel strongly that you should get the experience first.
Janet Parker: I think sometimes it’s industry. There are certain organizations that really say, “We want you to have an MBA to be successful here,” so I think it’s looking at what the organization wants, but honestly, at the end of the day, I think being able to apply what you’ve learned. You’re going to get a really good cross-section of information about the HR discipline, and so being able to apply that, and then if you want additional training, go back and get something where you feel like you might have a gap. If it would be in the finance field or even going back and get an MBA as opposed to getting a master’s in human resources.
Amanda: Thank you.
Scott Boyar: Just as a reminder for anyone in the online audience, if you want to send in your questions, we have a few more minutes, so we’d welcome those questions. At this point, I’ll open it up to any one of any of the presenters, if you have anything else you’d like to share while we wait and see if we get any more questions, or if you have a question that we should all ponder.
Gene Porterfiel: Scott, I’d be interested in your experience and everyone who’s on the call in terms of does what we said ring true? What are you seeing in terms of within the industry as well?
Scott Boyar: Well, certainly, both from my own personal experience as an HR professional before coming back to school to get my doctorate and having now been teaching and consulting in the field of HR for some time, a number of years, I agree with everything that you’ve all said. I think for me, as a professor, our academic program is designed to give the students an overview of business and HR so that they have that knowledge base to go out and hopefully make good decisions, problem solve, think creatively, innovatively in an organization to contribute in a meaningful, substantive way.
That’s what our students need, is understand the knowledge, but also ask what does it mean, and that is an important gap. Those of you in training know that transfer of knowledge to the real world is a difficult thing. That’s where having an internship or, like in our program, we have a lot of application-oriented exercises, cases, and opportunities for the students to apply that knowledge so that it has meaning, meaning that they can retain and meaning that they can now apply in a different setting, different industry once they get that job, but hopefully, they have the confidence to do that.
They won’t have all the answers. None of us do. I think someone said that early on that it’s an ongoing learning process and that things move quickly. I do agree with most everything that you’ve all shared with us today. I hope the students heed that warning in that they need to learn the material, but stop and reflect on it and ask what does this mean so that they leave this program with a deeper understanding. The memorization part is easy, and most of you have [inaudible 00:55:41] exams. Those are all manageable. We can learn and memorize the content, but can we contribute?
Gene Porterfiel: Thanks.
Gini Bell: I think the only thing none of us brought up today is, while we’re talking about learning the actual content, but pursuing certification in different areas, so if you decided you want to focus in compensation, they have a certification program. Benefits has a certification program. Of course, we have the HR certification programs. It’s reinforcing knowledge as you go forward because as you get into the world of HR, I think it’s another differentiator that you bring to the table.
Scott Boyar: We’re about out of time. We did receive one more question that maybe one of you could volunteer to answer. This is from our online audience. What is the hardest situation you had to deal with when just starting off in HR? When you first started, what was the hardest situation you had to deal with?
Forrest Cook: How about getting sideways with a member of senior management in the company? In other words, you were [inaudible 00:57:01]. You were basically [inaudible 00:57:03] right. The person way above you in the food chain and the pay grade want to disagree with you. They want to press you down in front of the entire group and the entire department, and you just have to stay in your ground. I was just like, “Whatever.” [inaudible 00:57:22]. It turned out they were totally wrong. They apologized, but not after a very embarrassing situation to say, “Well, you’re standing there and you’re at the mercy of one of the three senior members of the company.” [They 00:57:34] came back and they apologized, but not in front of all of the people [they had 00:57:37] before. That makes you stop and think, it’s like, “Man, I cannot work this person,” because [inaudible 00:57:44] with this person on a consistent basis. It’s tough. It’s hard. I remember it just like yesterday.
John Faure: I think one thing that I face and I’m sure everyone else faces, the hardest things in HR are often situations where you have really good employees, that are great people, but that are affected by illness or injury and are struggling with that and trying to do their jobs but dealing with that or dealing with family medical situations. HR people get involved in that stuff a lot, and really, you get drawn into the person’s personal life. Those, at least from my perspective, can be extremely challenging to get involved in because there’s just a lot of emotion and there’s usually not an easy way to just fix something, and some situations cannot be fixed. Those are very challenging.
Scott Boyar: Well, thank you, John, and thank you, everyone, for participating today. I’d like to thank our presenters and all of those, of you, who attended virtually. This concludes our webinar for today. I wish you a great day. Bye-bye.