I Know What You Did Last Summer

Exactly one year ago, I remember sitting in Gerlach Hall room 265 listening to returning 2nd year Master of Human Resource Management students talk about their experiences with summer internships. One comment from a classmate and future friend of mine, Shane, stood out to me as particularly memorable. He said, “you won’t believe it now, but next summer will change you.”

Just as instructed, I didn’t believe him. I remember thinking to myself I already have work experience. I already know myself—this is just another job. I didn’t consider at the time that this would be a summer of firsts—my first experience working in corporate America; my first time working in an HR department; my first time regularly interacting with directors, VPs, and senior level executives; and my first time having the opportunity to make a significant impact on a large organization.

Well, of course I was wrong, and he was right (but you already saw that coming). I admit it now– here on the internet, where it will live forever:

Shane, you were rightthis summer changed me.

Wendy’s may be the home of old-fashioned hamburgers, but check out that modern corporate office.

I was fortunate enough to spend the summer here in Columbus with Wendy’s at the Dublin Restaurant Support Center. I interned on the HR Generalist team under an incredible supervisor who also happened to be an alumni of the Fisher MHRM Program. I like to say that I spent the summer championing “the employee experience.”

Tactically, I had two main projects: the first focused on internal mobility and the second on our onboarding process, but the thread that tied them both together—and the lens through which I was approaching them—was the employee experience. How do employees move through our processes? Do they feel connected to our values and our customers? Do they come home after their first day energized and excited? Are they inspired? Do they feel that the company is investing in their successes? And how do we ensure that every employee has a positive and meaningful experience as part of the Wendy’s family? These are some of the questions I found myself asking this summer.

I think my biggest “takeaway” from my summer at Wendy’s was learning that HR is both a science and an art. Allow me to explain.

In HR, we do one of two things (and oftentimes, we do both):

We create tools, systems, and processes to enhance the employee experience.

Exhibit A: Here we see science happening.

It is our role in HR to use our functional knowledge and expertise to help people do their best work and to build the most effective teams possible to accomplish the organization’s objectives. We design performance management systems, compensation packages, training programs, and learning frameworks to motivate, incentivize, and develop employees.

And then…

We empower managers to use them.

This is the “art” part.

One of the most critical functions as HR professionals (generalists, in particular) is empowering managers to manage. We give them these tools, the guidance, the skills, and hopefully some confidence, and then they transform these raw materials into success on their teams. We coach them toward productive conversations, we challenge them to challenge their employees, and then we let our managers manage.

In other words, we create the conditions for people to succeed.

What a powerful, yet humbling position to be in. We are influencers, advocates, champions, and often times, the “ethical heartbeat” (credit to MHRM Professor John Schaffner for that phrase) of the organization. I feel particularly fortunate to have witnessed each of these roles in action this summer at Wendy’s, and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with my classmates and professors this coming year.

The Frostys didn’t hurt either.

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