My favorite course so far this semester (and arguably the MHRM program so far—although I’m finding it remarkably difficult to choose between it and my former favorite Organizational Development & Change) is Strategic Management of Human Assets taught by Professor Steffanie Wilk. The course is required in the MHRM core curriculum, but what makes it different than most MHRM core classes in structure is that many MBAs choose to take it as an elective. We have the option to take it during the day (Tuesday & Thursday 1:00-2:30 PM) and Thursday evenings (Thursdays 6:15-9:30 PM). I personally chose to take the daytime option because I was excited to learn from and interact with some MBA students I don’t as often get to interface with.
In short, the class is about strategically aligning human resources policy, practice, and decision-making with the strategy of the organization. During the first week of class, we defined the three primary strategies by which businesses compete: cost, quality, and innovation. We took some time the first week to define what each of these strategies can look like (and not look like) based on industry, sector, and product, and then we dove right into debate about competitive advantage. Some insider thoughts from Jen’s notebook:
Business seeks to find efficiencies to ultimately provide a lower cost product or service than competitors (example: Costco)
Business focuses on quality of product or service and precise “moves” hinge upon how customers define quality (example: Wendy’s)
Business focuses on differentiating products or creating new product lines to leverage new markets (examples: Amazon & Apple)
a condition that, when present, makes magic
In other words, your competitive advantage differentiates you from competitors, makes money, and is sustainable over time. In other, other words, it’s the secret sauce of the organization.
We are currently in the midst of what Professor Wilk likes to call “Airplane Week.” We are discussing the commercial airline industry and how two distinct airlines—Southwest and JetBlue—compete using their respective strategies and competitive advantages. Today we debated what, precisely, differentiates Southwest from competitors and how the strategy impacts culture, recruiting, hiring, training, rewards and performance management processes.
I was genuinely fascinated by the discussion, and impressed with the effort it takes for organizations like Southwest to appear like they function effortlessly in day-to-day operations. And, I’m already looking forward to Thursday when we’ll talk about JetBlue and how they approached the competitive landscape as a start-up airline in the late 90s.
Every year, around mid-October, the anxiety starts growing among my MHRM comrades. I get it—the Midwest can be an intimidating place during the winter, especially if you’re from more temperate environments like some of my more southern classmates. After all, we are just a 6-hour drive from Chicago, or as we fondly refer to it here in the Midwest, “Chiberia.”
All joking aside, winter in Columbus is really not that bad. From December to February, typical lows are in the high teens and highs are in the mid-40s (Fahrenheit). It does get windy, and we experience a fair amount of precipitation in the form of snow. It actually can be quite beautiful on sunny days.
I’m personally grateful to experience all four seasons. When I lived in Oregon, we had a long summer and a long winter, and almost no shoulder seasons on either end. And I really didn’t realize how much I loved fall and spring.
Believe it or not, though, people do live in Columbus year round. And they do so successfully with a curated wardrobe of very warm and sensible items. Here are my winter non-negotiables:
Long, down parka. This is the coat I wear all winter long. It even functions as a blanket in my house when I’m trying to warm up quickly. Down is one of the best natural insulators, and it cuts wind like no other. Wool is also a good option.
2. This hat. It covers your ears and is as soft as fake fur on the inside. It is also filled with down so you don’t have to worry about your noggin getting cold–all of your knowledge will be warm and protected.
3. You’ll see a lot of these around campus. They’re waterproof, and if you want the upgraded version, you can get them with faux fur on the inside (pictured above, highly recommend). I wear boots like these walking across campus, and change into my work shoes when I get to Gerlach Hall. There’s really no substitute for a sensible winter boot.
Investing in high-quality, durable outdoor clothing is completely worth it. The last thing I want to worry about in the midst of school and work is my comfort. And I promise–it is possible to stay warm all winter with a little time and preparation on the front end.
This year, in the spirit of involvement, I decided to join the Master of Human Resource Management (MHRM) student council. Every graduate program here at the Fisher College of Business (including MBA, MHRM, MAcc, SMF) has its own council representation that is responsible for being the collective “voice” for the students in the program.
Each council is comprised of students who are elected by their classmates. For 2-year programs like MHRM and MBA, the council is primarily 2nd-year students. For 1-year programs like MAcc and SMF, obviously all council members are in their first year. Each council decides how to delegate responsibilities amongst members and establishes the scope of what they hope to accomplish as a team over the course of the year.
Meet the MHRM Council
“Chief of Everything”
“Queen of Funds”
Obviously, we have a good time. But we also take our jobs very seriously. I view the role of MHRM Council as the heartbeat of the MHRM program. We are the eyes and the ears of the students, and it’s our responsibility to keep the pulse of what Fisher students are experiencing, saying, and feeling about the MHRM program. Then, the most important part: what we do with that information.
I think our most noble duty is to represent the interests of the students by passing along feedback to faculty and staff with regard to possible additions or revisions to the program. In a field where technology advancements are affecting nearly every aspect of what HR professionals do—recruiting, talent planning, compensation, training, you name it—it is critical that our curriculum is agile enough to keep up with current best practices. And I feel fortunate to belong to a school that respects its students and actively listens to our suggestions.
Beyond being a bridge between students and faculty, the MHRM council also puts on additional events to engage outside of class and keep the Fisher MHRM community alive. This year, we’ve had football tailgates, pumpkin picking, bar crawls– and this week, we went to a comedy show.
For professional development, we just had our first event of the year. It was a TED Talk-inspired event (no surprise for those of you who know my obsession). The idea was inspired by some feedback we had heard from last year—students want more opportunities to engage with smaller companies that may not have a presence on campus, and they want to do it in ways other than traditional networking. So we brought in HR Professionals from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Marathon Petroleum, CoverMyMeds, and Cardinal Health to talk about innovative things they are doing in the HR space. It was really exciting to be able to interact with some folks we don’t normally get exposure to and the event was a great success.
On the whole, it is really rewarding to be able to give back to a program that has served me well in my time here. It also gives me a chance to stretch my leadership muscles in preparation for future roles I may have.
Several weeks ago, I launched a multi-part educational series titled Business Jargon. Well, here it is: the next installment that you’ve all been waiting for:
I just learned this gem this week. This is another way of saying you are “out of office” or otherwise “unavailable.” I’m not sure why this expression exists, but it’s probably because it sounds cool and implies that eventually, you will be back “in pocket” which conjours up a silly image of pocket-sized businesspeople. But maybe that’s just me.
Parking Lot (n.)
Let’s expand upon our previous lesson in Business Lingo 101 where we discussed how to “table” something you don’t want to talk about right now. Taking it one step further, you can now put that thing you really don’t want to talk in the “parking lot,” where it will never be seen or heard from again.
“The Ask” and “The Solve” (both n.)
It would appear the business world has made swift work out of turning verbs into nouns. I can “ask” you to “solve” a problem, but I can also give you “an ask” or ask for “a solve” to a problem, and it means basically the same thing, but it’s more complicated and therefore more trendy.
“Let’s Talk That”
Sometimes you’re short on time and need to eliminate words from your commonly-used phrases, even if it violates widely accepted grammar rules. At some point, “let’s talk about that” felt far too cumbersome and was shortened to “let’s talk that.” I completely support this, because come on, who has time for that?
One of my favorite memories from last fall and my first semester as an MHRM student was the Fisher Follies Fall Auction. It was an opportunity to get fancy, socialize with classmates, spend time with professors outside of Gerlach Hall, and raise money for a cause I deeply care about.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Fisher Follies—a graduate student organization with a mission to raise money in support of Fisher graduate students experiencing unexpected financial hardship. Well, this year, I had an opportunity to be on the steering committee, and I’m still riding high from our first official event of the season this past Friday.
The event kicked off with a photo op on the “FCOB Red Carpet.” CELEB STATUS.
Guests were then whisked into the Blackwell Inn Ballroom to bid on silent auction items containing a few serious and many, many silly items. For a few examples of Fisher students leveraging their many talents and connections for a righteous cause, check out of my favorite items and their descriptions below:
The Most Amazing Portrait You Will Ever Have – Donated by 2nd-Year MHRMs Chris Schoo and Billy Dunn
DESCRIPTION (written by the sellers)
“WARNING: This is an essay, because Grad School. Billy and Chris, the most dynamic duo of the MHRM program, will combine their skillsets to offer you one of the most amazing opportunities of your lifetime: a portrait with your favorite pet. Yes, you will have to choose favorites, and no, it will not be a popular decision in a multi-pet household. With over 20 years of combined experience in design and higher education (and three months of practical HR), Billy and Chris will help you produce the ultimate portrait. You pick your pet, outfit and location and we’ll bring the gear, talent and charisma (some might even say it radiates).
NON-DISCRETIONARY NOTES (mostly): *You do not need a pet to bid. We are happy to take an awesome portrait of just you with our even more awesome dogs, Kobe (a French Bulldog) and Bear (a cute something-or-other). Also, you can choose to just remove yourself completely and we’ll provide a portrait of Bear and a portrait of Kobe – which your family, potential employers and Bumble prospects will like way more than a picture of you. *If you want a picture with your cat (for some reason Fisher admits a TON of crazy cat peeps), we recommend a low dose of Benadryl to keep the kitty cat peace. Trust us, we are NOT (not?) experts. *If you bring more than 2 cats (or dogs) into this mix, we reserve the right to choose which one will be the newest member of the alley cat gang. (Dogs will be forced to join a cat gang. Super embarrassing for all involved.) *Most of all, we WILL have fun. I mean, Billy and Chris will. But, hopefully you and your pet will, too!”
Beginner Personal Finance Lesson – Donated by 1st-Year MHRM Alex Broshious
“Have you lost control of your financial life? Do you have no idea what a 401K is? Did you put all your money in Bitcoin and hope for the best? Do you have so many student loans that they loom over you like the sky monster in Stranger Things 2? Well, never fear (well, unless you’re afraid of demogorgon), I am able to help you work on and prepare your personal finances for the years ahead. I can also bring my dog along if you’d like.”
Columbus Zoo Behind-the-Scenes VIP Experience – Donated by 2nd -Year MBA Dan Lamone
“Behind the scenes tour of the zoo: meeting cute baby animals, speaking with nutritionists to see how the zoo animals are cared for, talking with keepers & personnel to see how the zoo operates day to day, etc. and zoo passes for the day.”
One Can of Mystery – Donated by 2nd-Year MBA Trent Smith
“One unlabeled metal can – what magic does it contain? It could be your favorite soup or it could be a soup you’ve never had before waiting to be discovered. It could be full of precious metals or maybe just air. What if it contains the ingredients essential for your favorite Midwest casserole? What if the contents are actually not edible but instead they are valuable beyond belief? What if buying this one can could spark a future deep inside of you that you never knew you had? Beauty is in the eye on the beholder. This one mysterious can will go to the highest bidder with the most curiosity.”
Following the silent auction was a live auction facilitated by the one and only Joe Boreman (2nd-Year MBA). Truly a sight to see–I don’t think he took a breath for over 1.5 hours of live auction magic.
While we’re making shoutouts, our fearless leader, President of Fisher Follies Auggie Heschmeyer (2nd-Year MBA), is the mad scientist behind the organization. Coming from a film production background and just generally having a heart of gold, I couldn’t imagine a better person for the job.
And last, but not least, our fifth team member Tyler Maddox: unfortunately, Tyler wasn’t able to be with us for the event because he also coaches a high school football team (yes, he has a heart of gold, as well). Here’s a picture of Tyler in his own high school football uniform:
Overall, the event was a a smashing success (British accent), raising nearly $16,000 dollars for the Fisher Follies Fund. Each year, the Auction gives us a chance to come together as a Fisher community with our friends and family, and show our support for one another and future Fisher students. And there ain’t nothing better than that.
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.
Life as a first-year grad student is no easy task. As a first year MHRM student, the statement “it comes at you fast” is an understatement.
The first six to eight weeks of school has been busy, to say the least. Getting to know my peers, adjusting to the course load, frequent networking events and workshops, Fisher’s Career Fair, student organization activities, and work (if you work also) all have made time management a priority.
I also have been adjusting to life in Columbus. As a New Yorker, I’ve come to appreciate the Columbus. I do miss the more convenient public transportation. However, it’s pretty easy to travel with the COTA Bus. And if you live within 20 minutes of campus, all kinds of shopping and eating establishments are easily accessible. My experience thus far has been a pleasant one and I look forward to experiencing what more Columbus has to offer.
I am a complete and utter TED Talks junkie. Seriously. Whenever a professor introduces a TED Talk in a lecture, I am transformed into someone with the excitement of 9-year old girl at a Spice Girls concert in the mid-1990s. I am qualified to say this, because I was in fact, a 9-year old girl at a Spice Girls concert in the mid-1990s.
Ted Talks (swoon). Why do I love these bite-size morsels of informational goodness? Mostly because they introduce people to extraordinary ways of thinking about ordinary things. I subscribe to the notion that in order to change the world, you have to challenge people on the assumptions they make every day that guide them to behave in the ways they do.
You have to change the way people think.
I say that very cautiously, because I believe there are effective and ineffective ways of doing so. Making more rules, telling someone they’re wrong, telling someone you’re right—typically not very effective in my experience. Understanding someone’s motivation for doing what they do (Fear? Insecurity? A need for power and control?), and guiding them to the realization that the method they’re using to fulfill that need may not be healthy or sustainable—much more effective.
But the first step in all this is truly understanding how the world has come to be this way, and how the world has shaped how people think. How has our history led us to this exact moment in time? That where my one true love, TED, comes in.
I thought I’d share a few of my favorite goosebump-worthy TED Talks below. Ultimately, I credit my commitment to changing the world—using HR as a vehicle to do so—to the four individuals below.
The first, psychologist and author Barry Schwartz talks about how work came to be seen purely as a means to an end and what we can do to change that notion.
Shawn Achor is one of the funniest storytellers of all time. And in this TED Talk, he speaks about the power of positive psychology in rewiring our brains for gratitude and happiness.
Regina Hartley posits that organizations should “hire the scrapper.” She explains why candidates get looked over every day for gaps in their resume and non-traditional work experience. She argues that these are the very people we should invest in.
5-time CEO Margaret Heffernan challenges the notion that competition is the way to get ahead. Unsuccessful teams are comprised of high achievers, while successful teams are comprised of helpers. And she does it all in a fantastic British accent.
If you have a favorite TED Talk, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
True life: the last 12 months have been my first foray into the business world.
I have a BA in Psychology and I worked in mental health for several years before returning to get my Master of Human Resource Management. Fortunately I am in good company—many students at Fisher College of Business come in with nontraditional backgrounds, creating diversity of perspective and viewpoints in and outside the classroom. It’s one of the things that makes life at Fisher so great. The unfortunate part, however, is that I am now years behind in possibly the most important aspect of my development—business jargon.
Sometime over the course of the last year, I developed an obsession for slang in general. Every industry and field has its own language. At my last job, hours were spent debating who had the greater “need for power and control” and how we could “increase our self-awareness” to better “hold ourselves accountable” to our “goals.” I’ve had a field day appropriating this lingo into my daily life because let’s be honest—when work gets heavy, you have to find a way to keeps things light.
For those of you like me whose true passion lies in art of finding the humor in the mundane, I’d like to provide a somewhat tongue-and-cheek introduction to three of my new favorite words in my first installment of Business Jargon 101.
The thing that comes from the work you did.
It could be a report, a presentation, or a shoebox diorama like you made in third grade. Simply put, it’s the tangible result of you spending many hours doing intangible things.
To put something off.
This is fun. When you don’t want to talk about something right now, you just “table it” and hope that everyone forgets about it forever. Or at least until the next meeting.
To use something you have to do something you want.
One of the most versatile words in the business world. You can leverage your assets. You can leverage your strengths. You can even leverage your synergies—whatever that means. When you want to talk about how you’re going to use something you have in order to do something you want to do—and you want to sound fancy when you say it—just throw a “leverage” in there and voila.
In all seriousness, in my time at Fisher I’ve collected experiences, knowledge, and skills that are indispensable to my career and development as a person. What’s more, I’ve learned work is more than just what we do–it’s how we do it. In addition to what I’ve learned in the classroom, I’m learning to bring my personality into everything I do. I like to have fun, work hard, and laugh at myself, and I’m lucky to attend a school that encourages me to bring my own style an authenticity to class everyday.
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.