For People@Work’s first interview publication, we are happy to feature Carmen Robertson. Carmen has over 15 years of experience in HR, labor relations, and strategic talent development. She is currently the Director of Human Resources at the Atlanta offices of SAI Global Inc., an international risk management, standards compliance and information business, a position she has held for over a year now. Carmen previously worked at United Technologies Corporation for 17 years. She holds a Masters degree in Occupational Social Work from Syracuse University in New York.
Alicia, in charge of content here at Duuoo, was lucky enough to get the opportunity to pick Carmen’s brain and get her thoughts on some of the emerging trends in the world of HR and tech. In this rapidly changing environment, what does Carmen think the organization of the future will look like?
Q1: How should HR develop with the entrance of a new generation of employees in order to ensure hiring and retaining the best talent?
A: It’s all about the vision
“We're finding the things that we tend to focus on to attract employees are very different than what I would have seen maybe even five or ten years ago. An organization that has a vision - that is very important to them”.
The new emerging workforce desires a vision, says Carmen, not just a job or a paycheck. Millennials and modern employees want to see this vision, they want to hear it articulated. Moreover, it needs to be something that they want to be a part of, something that really resonates with them. Finally, it’s not enough for them to simply see the ‘vision’ presented in pretty slides once a year at the company conference; they desire to know how to execute it.
She provides an example: When considering whether or not to take a position, a software developer not only wants to understand the vision but also wants to know how they, as an individual employee in the product team, will fit into this vision.
“It’s what potential hires want to see”, she continues, “vision and implementing it is important, and that's where I see what [organizations in general] didn't do that in the past very much”.
And from an HR perspective, Carmen makes sure that employees in her department realize that their part in the vision of SAI Global Inc. is that the new hires directly affect the overall business and in that aspect, the ‘bigger society’.
Q2: With the digitalization of HR on the rise, how do you keep the ‘H’ in HR?
A: Blending the ‘new’ and the ‘old’
Carmen identified work-life balance, as well as training and development to be key attractions to modern and talented employees.
Work-life balance is huge when it comes to Millennials. And continuous training and development is another big draw because they want to learn and grow. Carmen encourages the engineers in her offices to come in when they’re most productive - even if that is 3 PM - as she believes that working on your own schedule, as well as remote work, is important for the well-being of the employee.
“...we could potentially lose really good talent if we tie them to their desks and say you have to work from 9 to 5”.
However, there is a delicate balancing act to be done here, says Carmen. Working in HR, one needs to be aware of the more well-seasoned employees that are being introduced to to these emerging trends: “For me, making sure that those that have been in place for a while, those that may not be Millennials, that they understand. It's not a bad thing, they understand that it's a good thing and it works”. And having everyone on board with these changes is important, as work-life balance is not the only thing that is new to people at work.
Carmen is fully aware of and embracing the positive changes that come with the shift to more automation in HR. At the moment, SAI Global Inc. is working in conjunction with ADP to create a global product which can be used across all of the businesses regionally, in order to free up time, as things such as a simple headcount can be extremely time consuming. Branching off this concept of standardization and digitalization, she continues with how the interview process benefits from this shift as well. As technology such as FaceTime and Skype make things more aigle, the process changes a bit. There is no need to wait for a candidate to travel to the office. For example, Carmen may speak via Skype with the top 5 candidates, and then the top 3 will meet with the manager.
However, she does realize that this takes away the ‘human touch’ sometimes necessary for HR. So how does Carmen ensure that the human aspect isn’t totally eradicated? With face-to-face meetings.
“...[sometimes] you need to look at the person. We've done some trainings where people can sit in the room together and they are very effective situations. Leadership training to help managers, for example, part of the things that we do when a new manager starts in order to assimilate them with their organization...They're much more productive because a person can give you their feedback and you can feed off the energy in the room. And that’s really important”.
Q3: What are the biggest gaps between what organizations should be doing and what they are actually doing?
A: Cross-functionality and understanding
“I think that with cross pollination and the hybridity of jobs, that we have to rethink this whole thing”.
One of the key things that Carmen learned early on in her career was the importance of establishing good working relationships with the people she is in a partnership with - she always wants the rest of the organization to see HR as a partner. To achieve this, Carmen will sit and talk with the different departments to understand their business, their cycles, and peak seasons.
She explains: “[Knowing their busy times] was huge for the sales group. They had these quarterly meetings where all the managers would be together. That's when I say ‘Listen, can I have an hour of your time.’ So really understanding the manager and their business, and their timing - that's been really helpful because they don't feel as if I'm encroaching in on their time, which is so precious.”
It’s not that these managers didn’t want to talk things over with their team members, but it’s a business and things get busy. Carmen’s strategy encourages continuous leadership development, which in turn will be great for the employee. This ‘cycle of life’ is what keeps attrition low. And from a strict business viewpoint, an understanding across departments is beneficial for the company, as it simply means less hiring and less churn, so less money spent.
Carmen’s Top 3 Recommendations
1. Subscribe to SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), for all things great about HR.
2. Subscribe to a publication in relation to your organization’s niche. For example, Carmen subscribes to WIRED to have a better understanding of how things work and get done at SAI Global.
3. Find yourself a mentor. Find someone who can provide honest advice to what you should be doing and how you should do it.