One of the things I love about HR is that– when it’s done in an ethical manner– it creates opportunity for people from all walks of life. It’s a function that emphasizes fairness and an equal “playing field” in the workplace. And more discussions than ever are centering upon diversity and inclusion (D&I). The challenge, though, is how to take an abstract concept like D&I (which even those who have no interest in advancing will likely never criticize in front of others) and relate it to business needs.
Last night, I was honored to meet Todd Corley, the former Chief Diversity Officer at Abercrombie & Fitch. As part of Business Excellence 2, he shared with the class his background and his responsibilities at A&F– and sparked very insightful conversation about the role D&I plays to ensure organizational success (it is not just a social cause). His role was created as part of a consent decree by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission– in short, after a class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination, the EEOC forced A&F to create the role and Todd was hired. Imagine stepping into that.
Todd described growing up in New York, the son of a single mother. He also shared a pivotal moment in his career. He was attending an event on the top floor of a major employer on Wall Street and had noticed that several women were intermittently leaving the table. The time in which they were away seemed long. He later found out that these women were taking awhile because they had to go to a different floor of the building to use the restroom. In this lavish business environment, a women’s restroom wasn’t present and no one seemed to find this unacceptable.
Tales like this remind me of how insidious discrimination remains– and how what underrepresented groups ask for is often something others would see as nothing more than a basic right.
He described his three categories of co-workers: strugglers (who don’t value D&I), neutral observers (people who are not active proponents, but will “go with the flow”), and diversity champions. Each category requires a different leadership approach to yield the change that’s sought.
The most fascinating part of his discussion came when he described how millennials helped spark a lot of his success. At the time he began his role at A&F, Facebook was in its infancy and Twitter didn’t even exist. So, the millennial generation was ready to take advantage of social media– and to use the media as a platform for sharing progressive views about diversity. For as much as millennials are criticized, he stressed the value they brought (and still bring) to the proverbial table when it comes to speaking up. I was impressed by his humility– and thought it was refreshing to hear a positive opinion of millennials.
During the entire time, Todd was candid, kind, and helpful. He went out of his way to ensure that everyone’s questions were answered– and stayed after class to continue the conversations. His presentation is one rewarding benefit of having the MHRM program inside a college of business. We’re introduced to (and sometimes, build relationships with) people who are at the forefront of change– at leading employers facing large-scale challenges (like Abercrombie & Fitch). We are helped to understand how our HR duties help resolve (or prevent) these challenges. And we are inspired to do the right thing.
Wow. Did that just happen? It’s time to catch up on a whirlwind summer. Last time, we “spoke,” I was preparing to join PepsiCo as a human resources intern at its Frankfort, Indiana, site. I went into this experience very excited, but cautiously aware of its telling importance: what would this reveal about my decision to change careers (in my late 30s!)? Could I see myself doing this for years to come? Would this internship affirm my choice to enter HR or serve as a foreboding reality?
When I entered the plant on my first day, I felt out of place. I’d never stepped foot into a factory that makes food! But I was immediately welcomed by people whose kindness and support were unlike anything I had experienced in the professional world. They were good people who believed in treating others the right way. I’d find out later– through their actions and through the actions of others in the company– that this way of doing business is an expectation of PepsiCo. There is an ethical mindset that guides the decision-making process.
Not to say decisions were ever easy. I was given free rein to take part in almost every project on tap for the HR team, including staffing and interviewing; investigations; succession planning; performance management; and more (it all kind of blends together in the HR world). I found that Professor Inks really is right when he says that– so often– the answer to problems HR challenges is, “it depends.” Making the right decisions requires a focused analysis of all the facts, alignment with colleagues on desired outcomes, and careful consideration of the decisions’ ramifications– good and bad.
In addition to the daily HR generalist functions, I worked on two projects (most internships include one or a handful of “side projects” in addition to daily duties). The first and most all-encompassing was the migration of printed employee handbooks to digital platforms. I worked closely with my mentor and with others in the company to research the payoff of putting handbooks online, the pitfalls, and– of course– the cost. The scope of the project was huge and entailed many facets: legality, technicality, and culture, to name just some. But I was happy to take on the challenge and think it speaks volumes of PepsiCo that I was allowed to work on it.
The second project focused on outreach optimization. Specifically, figuring out how to do more than a standard outreach event where local organizations are invited onsite to learn about open positions– how to make sure the right people attend and how to turn attendance into relationships that will yield applicants.
Both projects were discussed during an end-of-summer “report-out” in Las Vegas. A “report-out” is generally a standard feature of internships; most often, people at fairly high levels (decision-makers) will watch the interns’ presentations and their input will help decide which interns are invited to return in a full-time capacity. It was three days of presentations, mixing and mingling, and fun, of course.
I also was encouraged to take part in many other activities and events to get a better understanding of the business operations and the organizational values. PepsiCo expects its HR people to get out of their offices and truly know what its employees face every day. I even wore steel-toed shoes so that I could go out on the plant floor! (On a related note, the attire at a plant is nice and easy: khaki pants, a shirt with no buttons, and steel-toed shoes; I loved not having to wear a dressy outfit every day.) As a side note, the scale of the site was amazing. The size of the machines and the amount of product was quite impressive.
Among many epiphanies this summer, here are some of the most impactful:
HR is awash in change. Before the internship, I knew on some level that change is constant (thanks, in part, to the MHRM classes, including Organizational Development and Change. But this experience reminded me that HR leads the conversation about change and how the change affects employees, individually and in teams. HR must be an overt change agent– supporting the change and explaining its effects.
HR professionals are always on-call and must respond immediately to unanticipated events; planning can sometimes (and often does) go out the window. They must have the ability to stay cool, calm, and collected– and to keep emotion out of the equation. I was amazed at the poise of the HR team in Frankfort, particularly the HR Director. Anything could come her way– any employee could come to her door with any kind of concern– yet she was able to calm the employee and work together to address the concern.
Most importantly, what is tolerated is taught. During our orientation in Dallas, the company clearly explained how it sees HR and what it expects from its HR professionals. Woven throughout the discussion was that ethical mindset I referred to above, but also other impressive values, including transparency and candor. I saw throughout the summer that good behavior is modeled– and emulated by those who witness it.
I’m truly grateful for my time with PepsiCo over the summer. It was exactly what I needed to see that I’d made the right decision about changing careers to HR; to demonstrate the profound impact HR can have on both organizations and people as individuals; and– on a more personal note– to demonstrate that one doesn’t have to abandon his moral compass to succeed in business. I was able to walk into the plant every day and truly feel good about what I was doing and how I was doing it. That’s something I’ve struggled with in other professional environments.
It still impresses me that– as a student in the MHRM program– I’ve been able to take part in this amazing journey. I’ve learned so much. I’ve met fantastic people: peers, faculty, staff– and of course, professional colleagues. And I’ve been valued. Seen as someone whose talents, skills, and education are desired. It’s been a fun ride– and it’s not over yet.
In two weeks, I’ll move temporarily to Indiana for a 12-week internship with PepsiCo. Not only will I learn the practice of many things I learned in the classroom, but I’ll be tasked with specific, deliverable tasks and share what I create with leaders at PepsiCo in Dallas at the end of the summer. Classmates will move to places all over the country and work for various employers, including Boeing, Owens Corning, Ford, Texas Instruments, Exxon, Honeywell, Huntington Bank, Honda, and several others I can’t remember– and do similar things. We have an exciting summer ahead!
To that end.. and without further adieu… here are my Top 10 jewels of wisdom for 1st-year MHRM students:
Be engaged. This may sound obvious, but the students who succeed are the ones who, as Professor Inks says, make the commitment to “bethere” in class. When he means “there,” he means paying full attention and intently thinking about concepts, questions, and problems. I take it one step further: be engaged. Ask questions. Disagree. Faculty are more than willing to help you grow your knowledge and comfort with content if you ask for such help. Talk to them after class. E-mail them. Visit them during office hours. Soak in their knowledge!
Don’t overextend yourself. This is really easy to do on this campus. Fisher and OSU have many, many things that can take away from study time– including things that are otherwise good uses of time, i.e. student organizations, philanthropic causes, speakers, etc. But every minute of the day counts and you want to be “firing on all cylinders” in your coursework. I recommend involvement in one or two organizations at most and a clear understanding of what the involvement entails.
Partner early with Jill Westerfeld in the Office of Career Management. Jill knows what she is doing and loves to give students’ personalized insight and suggestions about anything career-related. Start by showing her your resume and LinkedIn page– and telling her where you want to be professionally.
Be prepared for the first semester. It is overwhelming– no way around it. Classmates and I had been warned about this in orientation, but it is no joke. In addition to acclimating to so many new things, autumn is “recruiting season.” That means you’ll see recruiters early and often throughout the semester (mostly before the holidays, with heavy presence in September and October) and you’ll be able to attend many informational sessions, mixers, speakers, and… of course… interviews. So, in addition to getting the lay of the land in grad school and living in a new city, you’ll be competing for a summer internship with your classmates (and others across the country)! Prepare by managing your time well and understanding your personal goal of every recruiting event you attend.
When it comes to internship and job offers, don’t compare yourself to others. Now, this is not a very realistic suggestion, I realize. Perhaps a better way to express this is: compare yourself to others in a fair way and don’t take things personally. You will hear stories throughout the first year of classmates getting internship offers– and classmates who don’t. Some classmates get offers from very respected employers. Some get impressive compensation– allegedly. The truth is… you will never know the truth about other internships or about why you were or were not picked for an interview. There are many factors, some of which are out of your control. Control the things you can and don’t worry about the rest.
Take no more than one elective at a time. I made the bold decision of taking two electives during my three core courses in the second session of last semester and did the same thing this semester. Not smart. These are graduate courses, so you need to devote a good chunk of time and brainpower to them. Taking a high course load and adding that to other obligations, i.e. work, is a risky proposition.
Invest in a good laptop. Simple suggestion, but important. I started with a cheap, refurbished mini-laptop that was slow and is now in disrepair. You need a workhorse. By the way, some timed exams are taken online during class, so you don’t want to mess around with poor technology!
Build relationships with classmates. Not only will you benefit from having strong connections with great people, but you’ll find their ways of looking at things to be a great benefit. I cannot tell you how many conversations I had in the past year where I was able to clarify a concept or better understand something because I went to a formal study group, talked to someone in the hall, or took part in a GroupMe discussion. Side note: 2nd-year MHRMs are also great assets. They’ve been through what you’re going through. Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself.
Remember that Rohr Cafe closes at 7pm. So, don’t count on getting any food or drink during class breaks (there is typically a 10-minute break sometime around 7:30-8:30pm in every class). Pack your food and keep it in the Gerlach Lounge fridge. Also, don’t be shy about eating in class. At first, it felt strange; but you’ll get used to it. No fish, garlic, or similarly strong-smelling food, please!
Get comfortable with international students. Meeting and socializing with international students might seem uncomfortable at first, but I’ve built some good friendships with international students. It just takes a little effort to get out of one’s comfort zone. I also very much admire what they’ve done– imagine moving halfway across the world to Columbus, Ohio, for grad school! Their life stories are impressive and they share enlightening details about their countries and how HR works for them.
Before I started as a grad student at OSU, I knew on some level that my life would change forever. But truly, nothing can prepare you for this experience– this wonderful, deeply enriching, challenging experience that cannot be replicated. Take advantage of this time and make the most of it!
I’ll be honest– I have a hard time knowing what to write for my blog. This year has been full of change I never would have anticipated. If there’s one overaching epiphany I’ve had in 2016, it’s that only I can create my own destiny. I tell my friends and family– probably to their annoyance– that they’re similarly charged with creating their own paths in life.
The precursor to this crazy year came in December 2015. I’d just informed my supervisor that I was not going to renew an employment agreement expiring in April 2016. At the time, my goal was to stay in the industry which I’d given my all to for almost 20 years. I’d worked my way up, making many sacrifices along the way, and wanted to continue reaping the financial rewards. I was desperately hoping to move to a larger, more progressive city and finally live “the dream.” However, I’d also become ready to be challenged in new ways; I was emotionally and mentally burnt out. It had been sort of a… slow burn. For years, I just wasn’t enjoying work anymore. I knew deep down inside that something needed to change.
Despite this gnawing awareness, I continued the search for the “perfect” job into the spring, but– because my profession was extremely specialized and there were literally only three or four people doing what I was doing in each major city– I had no luck. Each day became more discouraging until I finally realized I had to make some uncomfortable decisions. New job field? New city? Or… new degree?
After much soul-searching, I decided it was time for a fresh start in grad school. I didn’t like the idea of going into debt and “putting my life on hold for two years.” But I also loved the idea of being intellectully stimulated and pursuing a field that would better align with my personal and professional values.
I pondered. A lot. MBA? Social work? JD? (I had taken the LSAT years ago…) Online courses? In-person? Should I study where I want to live or focus only on the quality of the program? Decisions, decisions.
Then, I stumbled upon this link on OSU’s website. Human resources management? At first, I thought… mmm… maybe… kinda sorta. But I admit that my perception of HR was the common one– the paper-pushing, bureaucratic person removed from strategic decision-making. No, thanks. Then, however, I started investigating. Turns out… more and more companies see HR as leaders as key players in the strategic process– and they really like HR professionals with graduate degrees. I kept doing my research and kept finding myself more and more attracted to the field– and to OSU.
I applied for the MHRM program in June-ish and was accepted in July. I believe I was one of the last — if not the last– students admitted to the cohort.
Now that I’ve finished my first semester (yay!), I can truly say that going back to school and choosing this program is THE best decision I have ever made in my life. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. I’ve met some of the coolest, smartest, nicest people. I’ve been challenged to think in new ways. I’ve been forced to think about my strengths and weaknesses as a leader. And most importantly, I’ve given myself the chance to start over and to– in the process– become a better person.
2017 should be just as great. I’ve accepted an internship with PepsiCo which I’m so grateful to have received– and am supposed to find out where it’ll be any day now.
So, let’s say you want to make a change in your life– in any aspect. You want to change your job, your spouse (yikes), your relationship with your next-door neighbor, your health. Big changes. Small changes. We all want to change and grow in new ways… especially in the upcoming New Year.
But how do you actually make the change happen? Introducing BUSMHR 7308 Organizational Development and Change. This class really makes me think and has real-world application. Therefore, it’s my absolute favorite so far! It’s taught by Professor Emeritus Jeff Ford. Professor Ford is extraordinarily accomplished and well-respected in the area of organizational behavior, specifically change management (a hot topic, particularly in HR). He’s written a book which we use in class, The Four Conversations: Daily Communication That Gets Results. And he has a very specific framework about which teaches. I won’t get too into it, but… in short order…
You have to know what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to do it. And you have to make agreements regarding what you’re going to get from who and by when. It’s something you need to map out–using lines and nodes. This is the extremely high-altitude summary; there are obviously much more nuanced and granular details to the process that require a lot of deep thinking during class. It sounds logical– and it is. He’s able to take the abstract complaint of “miscommunication” and dissect specifically why it occurs and how to avoid it.
Best of all, he’s… intense in class. Quite a bit of the discussions focus on case studies that are rife with detail about an organizaton’s woes: lack of communication, unrealistic goals, blame, politics and game-playing, sexism– you name it. And our job as students is to come up with solutions to fix the organizations and get them on the right path. Professor Ford analyzes every word we utter and firmly asks for clarity, disagrees, or otherwise challenges our assertions. This is not a class for the thin-skinned (I’ve made a few observations about which he’s disagreed; it hasn’t felt good, but his willigness to question students is what forces impactful thinking). And his approach is a gift; those without any or much work experience haven’t learned the sometimes harsh realities of the professional world– and his candor is a good primer.
Now… let’s talk about that decision to apply for the MHRM program at Fisher. What’s your “from” state? And how will you know when you’ve arrived at your “to”? Is your “to” admission to Fisher or is your “to” a certain GPA or certain thing you want to learn? What agreements do you need to secure from others? How will you know you have the agreements? And what outputs will you need to generate? And what inputs must you secure? Decisions, decisions…
I’ve been just awful about updating this blog, but I have an excuse: I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been before in my life. It probably was not wise to start my return to college (16 years after earning my undergrad degree) by enrolling in five graduate-level courses, working as a graduate administrative assistant, and interviewing with recruiters for internships (I do have one offer so far!). In the last seven weeks, I’ve spent large chunks of every day (including weekends) studying, writing, and going to class– along with my other duties. It’s just been cray-cray. I am SO relieved to be down to three classes starting next week.
BUT one of my mother’s many sayings that she ingrained into my mind as a child is, “Count your blessings.” And I am. Since beginning my time at THE Ohio State University, I’ve met so many kind-hearted, smart, open-minded people; fellow students, staff, and faculty who are good people happy to be here– and intent on bettering the world in some way. It’s an intangible spirit that you can feel on campus and it’s very inspiring. The sky is truly the limit.
I also am really enjoying the relationships that are developing in my MHRM cohort. It’s a small group of 48 (I believe), so we already kind of feel like brothers and sisters! For me, getting to know them has rejuvenated my outlook; most of them radiate with the same energy I had in my early 20s.
And they’ve been very kind to me– making sure I don’t feel completely out of place! (although I admit that I sometimes do) Most recently, we went to a … corn maze/haunted house thing (I don’t know what to call it!) and I took part in the fun!
Next up: the continuation of our Business Excellence class, Talent Management (this is taught by a very well-respected professor and is obviously a critical course) and Organizational Development & Change (also critical and very topical, given the importance of change management today). And registration for spring semester starts on October 28th! I can’t wait!
Well, I am hot ‘n’ heavy into my first semester! I must admit that I feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s a manageable “overwhelment,” but it’s become clear to me that time will be precious while in the MHRM program. In addition to the core courses, I’m taking two electives this session (and probably one elective next session) and serving as a graduate administrative assistant for the college. I also am going to try to re-launch the Fisher LGBT affinity group (called “Out in Business”) sometime soon if I can get the time to do it! (For a myriad of reasons, the group is currently inactive, although Fisher is absolutely inclusive and welcoming with LGBT students.
Anyway, one of my favorite courses thus far is called “Organizational Turnarounds.” The crux is: how do you turnaround failing organizations? Senior Lecturer Jeff Rodek teaches the (popular) course. We’re learning that this difficult task requires a lot of structured, but quick decision-making. In addition to a textbook, we’re gleaning insight from case studies and articles… AND Mr. Rodek himself. He’s a former CEO of Hyperion Solutions– and he was charged with doing his own turnaround of the company. You can read quite a bit online about his time there. What’s awesome about the class is that the students are required to analyze and assess HIS performance at Hyperion– the good, bad, and ugly. It’s part of our first group paper.
He’s incredibly open and honest about his experience as CEO. He doesn’t sugarcoat it. He’s reflective of things he did well and things he’d like to go back and change. And he wants us to learn from it. How cool is that? This isn’t some professor who’s been buried in research for years; he’s been in the thick of things and he’s sharing his insight and knowledge with us. He also has a great sense of humor and really tries to spark good conversation in the classroom.
One thing he said in class this week– and this was really a very small comment related to the topic at hand, but immediately hit me– is the need to “shape the game” as leaders (particularly during a turnaround), not just “play the game.” As someone who’s told friends and colleagues many times to play the game, I really appreciated his revision of this mantra. It resonated with me. Shape your experiences and relationships in the way you want them to be shaped; take change of your own destiny rather than being a willing bystander.
And it applies to what I’m doing now as a student. Despite the stress, I’ve reminded myself that I am here because I want a challenge. I’m here to grow. I’m here to be the best. So, I’m going to work hard, build relationships, and learn as much as I can to shape my professional and personal life in the way I want it to be. O-H-I-O!
I am 37 years old and back in college! It’s a new chapter of my life– maybe a new “book”– that I never would have imagined when I graduated in May of 2000 with my degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. One week after moving to Columbus and preparing for the semester to begin, I’m still having those “pinch me” moments. On rare occasions, they’re moments filled with anxiety. But the comforting reality is that most of these moments are filled with excitement, hope, and a sense of great opportunity ahead. I am truly ready for this.
Although classes haven’t begun yet, the staff at Fisher has already held a two-night orientation and a “career foundations seminar.” The latter event was amazing. There were several high-level panelists from major companies (we’re talking BIG people, i.e. the VP of HR for Frito-Lay/Pepsi, HR Manager of U.S. Global Functions for Shell, HR Operations Manager for Rolls-Royce and more) who offered great insight into the field and what we should consider as we begin (or continue) this professional path. We also were given the opportunity to mingle quite a bit with the panelists and we heard from second-year MHRM students. These companies want to talk to US about internships and entry-level positions; they want the best students from the best HR management programs. And that’s why they come to OSU. (Side note: the cohort is diverse and I particularly noted the large number of international students. Yesterday, I befriended two students from India. If many people are traveling half-way across the world to join the MHRM program, it’s a good sign!)
Today, I met with Jill Westerfeld, the Assistant Director of Career Management and the MHRM “career adviser.” She helped organize the seminar earlier this week and gives lots of feedback and guidance to students. She also develops relationships with recruiters and others from various organizations. She’s super-helpful and knowledgeable– and intense in a really good way. She has a very driven spirit about her– the kind you want in someone trying to help you get a job! If you have vague memories of a mediocre career services office during your undergrad time, Jill and her colleagues are NOT that. They offer customized attention and assistance, although Jill stresses that she does not place people; she helps. And she expects the student to do all the hard work– research, networking, academic performance– to better ensure career success.
Thinking about Jill and all of my interactions thus far at Fisher, I’m very impressed and very comforted as I get ready for class next week. I feel like I have a support network and will have everything at my disposal to make the most of my time at OSU.