(Stay Informed, Think of Others)
Not all heroes wear capes. This is especially true in Human Resources given the myriad of dress codes in respective organizations. Yet all organizations have versions of HR heroes among them, and if we’re honest, sometimes it feels as if we’ve been cast more like an anti-hero or even a villain, depending on who we ask. Our origin stories on how we fell into Human Resources are critical to our journey, and our personal arc to becoming a true business ally.
Some HR professionals fall into HR as their organizations grow and they are transitioned from an Office Manager or a Clerk to an HR Manager. Others seek out a degree specializing in Human Resources and begin their journey in an entry-level role supporting a larger HR team. I’ve known others like myself who fell into HR when accepting a Staffing/Recruiting role. For me, the draw was not about being a “people person” but primarily because it was similar to my prior experience in International Sales, and I would get to use my bilingual skills. That was it. I had no idea what I was getting into. I guess you can say I fell in hard since that was more than 20 years ago.
In my role as a Staffing Specialist, I helped companies secure talent in light industrial, clerical, and some technical roles. It was rewarding matching candidates to positions that met their professional goals, whether on a temporary or long term basis. It was equally enjoyable helping our clients (the companies) staff for their much needed positions while helping my organization make a profit. There was a bit of thrill in meeting our goals week after week. I still remember the excitement I felt when placing a Cost Accountant in a manufacturing firm. I didn’t even know what a Cost Accountant was until then!
In addition to Staffing, one of my responsibilities was to mediate any employee relations issues that occurred with any of our placements. This included dealing with hygiene, performance, and/or behavioral issues. I quickly found out I quite enjoyed this aspect of my job; not because of the drama, but because I enjoyed playing a part in resolving such conflicts and I was not half bad at it. Being able to discuss with someone that we’ve received various complaints about their body odor in a way that conveys the seriousness of the situation while treating the person with dignity in a non-judgmental way is a skill worth developing.
I was with this organization for about three years. At that time, I was blessed in getting to know many competent, helpful HR professionals. I learned a lot from them and it made me curious about external opportunities. There was no ladder to climb as there were no other positions beyond the one I had at the time. I was mostly content and not actively looking when I received a call from a headhunter. A local warehousing/distribution center had an opening for a bilingual HR Coordinator dealing primarily with staffing and employee relations! I interviewed, received an offer, and the rest is history.
I can say with certainty that I was more of an anti-hero in this role. I meant well in a lot of what I did but I was not very knowledgeable and not very receptive to being told as much. Having a supervisor tell me “that may have worked where you came from but that’s not how we do things here” was very jolting to me. I thought that since I was an HR rep, that was enough to command respect, cooperation, and complete support from the supervisors and managers. This was not at all in line with “Staying Informed” or “Thinking of Others”.
A key mistake I made in this transition was reinventing paperwork “wheels” in the first 30 days. I wanted to redo all the new hire forms into “prettier ones”. This meant I kept myself secluded from the supervisors and the workforce, instead of dedicating as much time as possible understanding department pain points and their expectations of me in this position. Had I had more direct, honest conversations with the supervisors initially, I could have built partnerships a lot earlier.
It took me about six months to realize I needed to meet them where they were, both figuratively and literally. I began walking the warehouse 2-3 times per day to become accessible to everyone. I was able to answer many employee questions during those walks. Supervisors were much more open discussing concerns with me “on their turf”.
This lesson was one I took to all of my positions after. Building relationships with those we serve is priority number one. The forms I wanted to make prettier were still there when I returned to my office and no one was harmed in the use of the less attractive ones.
I remained an anti-hero for the remainder of my time at this organization. I had much to learn about business and Human Resources. The realization of “Think of Others” first, would propel me to my next move.
For Part II, I will share what I consider the Building Blocks of Relationship Building during the first 30 days.
What about you? What do you remember most about your first “real HR job”?