Erik Smetana is a senior level HR leader and talent management/human capital strategist with extensive experience working in and managing teams across a wide array of functional areas with an eclectic mix of dynamic organizations including Fortune 500 companies, international not-for-profit organizations, major market media outlets, and institutions of higher education and research.
He currently works as Director, Total Rewards Operations at the University of Missouri System. He is also the Publisher & Founding Editor of Stymie Magazine. You can find Erik on Linked here and Twitter here. You can also read his blog “The HR Field Guide” here.
1. Most job postings cite “X” years of relevant work experience and specific education criteria as requirements to be considered for the position. With this in mind, what prior work experiences and degrees/certifications/training helped prepare you for your current role?
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of the “X” years qualification; sometimes it makes sense, other times I’ve seen it as a limiting factor when it came to attracting and securing the best talent available for a job. At the end of the day, someone needs to have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job they’re applying to – but that path can vary based on a whole slew of factors. For myself, I worked for several years in the golf industry before getting in HR – I had aspirations of being a club professional – an environment that required a strong focus on customer service, a skill that has proven to be one of the most valuable in my “toolbox” as I’ve worked and learned and grown over the course of HR career. HR gets a bad wrap as the “No” group; HR should be about solutions not roadblocks.
1B. What (if any) additional knowledge or skills that you don’t currently have would make you even better at your job?
I’m always learning something new, sometimes those learning experiences make immediate sense sometimes they don’t. When I completed a Master’s degree in Writing it was originally intended as an avocational experience, but the time spent learning to communicate clearly and effectively in writing has been one of the most valuable educational experiences over the course of my career. There are days I look at different certifications – Benefits, Compensation, other areas of HR or Human Capital Management, or even areas like Project Management and wonder how they could make me a better organizational partner. There are days I look at other advanced degrees and try to determine how they might fit into my career path. My point is, as much time as I spend in webinars, seminars, conferences and the like I know that my formal education process isn’t over and I suspect it never will be – when we stop learning, we stop growing. When we stop growing, we lose touch with our profession, our industry, and our organization.
2. Some jobs require the incumbent to be very analytical. Others require one to be a strong communicator, and others still require traits like patience, the ability to multitask, self-directedness, comfort with ambiguity, and exceptional attention to detail. Are there any behaviors and/or attributes that you would say are essential to performing the work that you do?
I would say that all these traits are important to my role – a position that has evolved over a very short period of time. My current role has me providing leadership for an HR Service Center, an Internal Communications team, and the Compensation function for an organization with upwards of 35,000 employees. There are days that my job feels nothing like an HR position, times when the strategic nature of it makes me feel like I need to work harder to be in touch with my teams and what we’re doing, and others where it feels very much like I’m working in the trenches with my fingerprints all over everything. I love my job and the eclectic, evolving nature of it. But in order to not just do it well, but to do it awesomely I have to be on my toes; I have to be able to analyze, communicate, lead, develop, work on umpteen initiatives at once, and be able to work successfully in the gray (and manage others as they work through it).
3. Jobs guru Lou Adler says there are only 4 job types of jobs in the world (producers, improvers, builders, and thinkers). Which type of job are you in?
I think it depends on the day – my role often has me looking for opportunities to improve, but at the end of the day I would argue that my role is that of a thinker working and understanding the nature of the organization’s challenges, examining opportunities to create value, and trying to create positive disruption through innovative insights.
4. Does your job involve either directly or indirectly supervising or managing people? If so, how many direct (or indirect) reports do you have?
As I said before, I have three distinct functions that in many ways aren’t interrelated reporting up through me. The breadth of my team(s) (when we’re fully staffed) is in the range of 25 or so employees.
5. How does what you do impact the business? Think complexity (different types of impacts) and scale (degree of impact). Put another way: Who and what would be impacted if your job wasn’t being done well, and why would it matter that they were impacted?
I would like to think my job has a significant impact on the organization – if compensation isn’t managed properly we fall out of the competitive marketplace, salaries go wonky, employees don’t understand their place in the organization, and so on; if our service center operation deteriorates our employees and retirees are impacted and unable to manage their benefits, retirement, pay, and life/work decisions in a manner that lets them focus on work when they’re at work; if our internal communications isn’t operating efficiently all hell can break loose and we could end up in a vicious spiral of putting out fires, losing organizational integrity, and failing to support the critical role of the larger HR organization to attract, acquire, and develop the best talent available.
6. Is your job safe? Rate its safety on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being “seated all day in an air conditioned vault” and 10 being “I’m an astronaut going into space”. If your job isn’t safe, what working conditions (specifically) make it hazardous?
My job is safe (ish) – there are countless people with jobs more hazardous: ice road truckers, tight rope walkers, first responders, service men and women – there are people with jobs that in the grand scheme of things are far more important to the lives and safety and well being of the masses. What my job is though is impactful for the employees of the organization, a group who works tirelessly to create an environment of learning across four top research universities and to provide top quality medical services in a statewide health care system – I do my job so that others in the organization who have the dangerous and the critical jobs aren’t worried about the details of working for the organization and are able to focus on the actual work.
7. Is there anything I missed that people should know about your job? Is there anything else you want to say about what you do?
Universities like the ones that are a part of my organization are akin to small cities – we have nuclear reactors, hospitals, police departments, top tier performance venues, nationally affiliated media outlets (television and radio), and so much more in addition to an amazing faculty that teach, research, and serve. Every day is different, the challenges and experiences vary but one thing has been consistent over the last seven years with institution and that’s a culture that makes me want to work hard and be a better person.
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.