…So I’m relatively early in my HR career. Out of my undergraduate program in 2009, I completed my MBA and Master of Human Resource and Industrial Relations over a two year period. Since graduating, I’ve had five great roles in four(ish) great years with six great bosses.
…I am a moody person by nature… and I would be lying if I said that I haven’t had up times and down times over the course of my career to date. But honestly? Looking back, I don’t think I’d change any of what I’ve experienced so far if given the chance to do it all over.
^At the core of my reasoning here are six amazing managers that each taught me something that I will carry with me forever. I want to share a bit about each of those lessons today.
My first HR role out of school was as a Recruiter. I’d had several Generalist and Labor Relations internships with various companies prior to that point, but this was my first “real” HR job… and boy was it a doozy. I joined the Company right as it was in the midst of a massive organizational restructuring: Almost immediately after starting, I picked up 50+ requisitions mid-stream that were spread across a geographic region covering most of the U.S. The positions spanned from entry level line roles at small facilities in the middle of nowhere… to Regional Sales, Technical Food Scientists, and Plant Superintendent positions at locations ranging from less than 50 to as many as 500+ employees. Furthermore, post re-org the Recruiter role had also evolved from a “source, screen and close” role to a full-cycle role that called on the recruiter to manage every stage of the hiring process from sourcing to interviewing to offer+negotiation, to background checks, drug screens/physicals, pre-employment admin (including I-9, direct deposit setup etc.) and onboarding (first day details and manager hand-off) for every candidate hired.
I had never filled a job in my life, and I was terrified.
^Cue my first manager. She was new to her role: In addition to managing a team of HR Generalists at our global HQ, she’d recently taken on expanded responsibilities over staffing for all of North America. I imagine that it was a very challenging time for her as well.
…And yet she never outwardly showed it… and she always made herself available to me when I needed help.
…In the 6 months I was in that role, I probably spent nearly 20 hours in her office. I had questions about processes, how to manage relationships, and how to source roles and close candidates. She always made time.
I did not have much to offer starting out. I was inexperienced in recruiting, shy, and managing the greatest scope of responsibilities of my entire life. But you know what?
^I filled every single one of those jobs – and then some – within those six months. But I would not have done it without my first HR Manager.
What I learned from her: The importance of coaching and being generous with your time.
^Again – I didn’t have much to offer in my first role. I was a recent college grad that had never been a recruiter before. I was a blank slate. The difference between my success and failure in that role (where I filled 80+ cross-functional jobs across 25+ locations in the United States within 6 months) was having a manager willing to put the time into developing me. That experience taught me that the right manager can develop anyone. And in the years since that role – during which I have had a dozen+ different direct reports – that lesson has stuck with me.
No matter how busy I am or what else I have going on… if someone I’m managing needs me I always make the time. Development is (almost) everything. And the time you make upfront here will always pay enormous dividends over time.
As I was in a rotational program, six(ish) months into my career I had the opportunity to transition into a role as a Global Compensation Analyst. In this role, I managed pay reviews for my Company’s entire non-professional hourly (non-exempt) population in North America, managed job mapping for all new job postings/hires and promotions, did offer reviews and made salary recommendations for non-executive new hires, and did analyses (i.e. market pricing/internal equity review etc.) of executive level positions on a quarterly basis that was reviewed at the board level. It was really good work that stoked a passion for the compensation function within HR that I have to this day. But you know what?
It was a really stressful job.
…The Compensation function also doubled as a ‘reports’ function within HR. This wasn’t hard work… but there was a lot of it and I was always expected to produce it immediately. Anytime an executive wanted to see the compa-ratios of everyone in ‘X’ population, wanted to market price ‘Y’ job, or wanted to understand how extending an offer to a candidate would impact internal equity within ‘Z’ department etc… I was the person in charge of providing that data. I was also a go-to person where it concerned presenting the million different cuts of data required for quarterly board books… which meant that my job was a constant daily grind of ‘drop everything else you are working on to complete _________ for ‘insert executive here’ in a short period of time.’
^But if I had it bad here… my Manager had it much worse. As the Global Compensation Head for the entire company (30k+ employees at the time), she was up against a constant daily grind wherein she was asked to provide data and insights on short notice to executives under extremely tight deadlines.
What I learned from her: My manager was constantly under time pressure… but you know what? No matter what she (or her team) was up against, she always had poise. When the world is beating you up the hardest thing in the world to do is to remain calm… but my Manager at the time always did that. Her calm was infectious – positively impacting the rest of the team and causing us all to show a similar poise. And so whenever I had a day where I was feeling really overwhelmed, I looked to her example as a reference for how I should carry myself under pressure.
Even today, no matter how stressed I am I remember my experiences with that manager and think to myself “Just be cool. Everything is going to be alright”
After spending a little less than a year in the compensation function, I relocated to Wisconsin to take on a Generalist role supporting two sites. One was a 200ish employee unionized confectioneries plant; the other was a 125ish employee division headquarters that housed a collection of Sales Managers, Food Scientists, Procurement Specialists, Product Line Managers, and various support personnel (IT, Business Analysts, CSRs etc.). Reporting to an HR Manager, I had day-to-day responsibilities around employee and labor union relations, recruiting, training, and safety. I was also given a line manager role as a developmental opportunity… which was my first experience managing people (more on that later).
…My experience in the role was eye opening to me for a number of reasons… but the biggest one was being exposed to the power of empathy and transparency in the workplace. During the preceding year and a half that I’d spent as a recruiter and later compensation analyst, I’d gotten exposed to many different union/employer relationships: For developmental purposes, I’d sat in on several labor contract negotiations, participated in dozens of 3rd step grievance hearings for multiple locations, and spent several weeks in a compliance center of excellence where I investigated a myriad of different issues – many involving union/management complaints that had spilled outside of the grievance process. Those experiences – coupled with my labor experiences at other companies – had instilled in me a belief that the union/employer relationship was hopelessly adversarial by nature. In my mind at the time, unions by design existed because management and bargaining unit employees were unable to reach consensuses. I’d never seen a dynamic wherein the two parties had a healthy, highly-communicative relationship where they started from a place of collaboration when faced with disagreements as opposed to being adversarial.
My manager changed that view. No matter who he worked with, his default place was to demonstrate empathy for both sides involved in a discussion, and to seek common ground. He didn’t focus on ‘winning’ disputes – he focused on shared understanding and building consensus. He knew when to bend (and even break) policies, and he knew when to make exceptions to longstanding practices. And perhaps most importantly – no matter what choices he made there was always a long view of how those choices impacted the relationships between any stakeholders involved. Sometimes he acquiesced to less than ideal terms and conditions from one party or another because he recognized the importance of doing so to keep the peace. But conversely, when he had to draw firm lines in the sand he still always took the time to ensure that anyone that might be unhappy with a decision he made understood why he did what he did.
What I learned from him: The importance of empathy and humility. In the year that I worked for this manager, he completely took his ego out of any decisions involving others. He recognized the validity of other points of view, and constantly sought to understand other’s motivations, perspectives, and perceptions. In doing these things, he created a culture of open-mindedness and understanding that allowed for the most harmonious union/employer relationship I’ve ever seen… and when I moved into his role a year later, I internalized those lessons when it came to managing relationships with the employees in my client group.
…Breaking this one up into two parts because we’re at 1,600+ words and I still have three bosses to go. Part two tomorrow.