dranthonysblog

May 24, 2011

Lessons learned from a career spent working in Human Resources

My career started with a job as a Personnel Administration Specialist years ago and I have since spent the majority of it in Human Resources Management.  I have managed personnel in very large to small organizations, on four continents and across such diverse industries as medical, engineering, government, training, military, contracting, and consulting.  These have included for profit, nonprofit, privately held and publicly traded organizations.

It has been an interesting experience though like many careers it has included more than its share of challenges resulting in numerous successes and a few set-backs.  Overall I have enjoyed it and I have been fortunate to work with some terrific people and have assisted my employers in creating numerous positive outcomes in their organizations.

You would probably not be surprised to learn that I definitely did not grow up thinking that I someday wanted to be a Vice President of Human Resources or even a Personnel Administrator.  Rather, as often happens, I stumbled into the career by chance more than anything else.  At 16, I started college and was focused on a career in the hard sciences, but along the way, probably because of my age, I changed my mind several times.  After a couple of years, I realized that I needed to take a break from university life and see the world. This is when I decided to join the Army, which I probably selected after watching way too many MASH episodes on TV when growing up!

I took the Army’s career aptitude test and my scores were such that I was told that I could choose any field that “was open at the time” (the quotations are because I was told that not all careers were open at any given time). Even though I had the education, I decided against officer candidate school, as I wanted the enlisted experience like my parents.  I also knew, even at that time, that the military would not be a career for me but rather just a start to my professional life, whatever that would be.

I spent several hours with the recruiter discussing all of the “available” career options, and about half way through it was obvious to both of us that it was clearly a process of elimination.  Another couple of hours after that and I was discouraged because none of the careers that “were open” at the time appealed to me.  Finally, one of the last options that the then completely exasperated recruiter mentioned was Personnel Administration Specialist.  I was skeptical and asked the recruiter what the job entailed, to which he replied that it was an office job that involved the usual filing, typing, answering the phones, ad etc.  He also added that it included extensive interaction with people and that I would be involved in sometimes complex problem solving that goes along with it.  The last part of his response was the hook that interested me and so I signed on the dotted line, which in the case of the military is literally what I did that afternoon!

When I think back, I realize that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into! Since then, I have counseled many, broken up fights, mediated (literally), negotiated, convinced, listened, advocated, and endured (at times) just about every situation that you can think of that could occur in the workplace and some that you would not!  These include but are not limited to; promotions, bullying, interviewing, demotions, awards, deaths, restructurings, layoffs, job offers, collective bargaining, accommodations, workplace romances, and more.  I have had to help long term employees pack up their belongings, due to a bad decision or two that they made, and have tendered job offers for very large compensation packages and have sometimes been told that it was not enough!  Job candidates have also occasionally falsified their applications and one even had associates lie to cover it up!  Unfortunately, I also had to tell family members that their loved ones would not be coming home again.  On the positive side, I have developed employees and watched as they were promoted, mentored workers, and rebuilt and built Human Resource departments from scratch that supported significant organizational growth!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Human Resources is about managing people at work, and all of the good, bad, and indifferent aspects that are associated with it.  It is also about equity and perceptions about what is fair and, more often, what is not.  As an organizational function it is not a glamorous job, nor is it still completely understood or fully appreciated.  It is nonetheless important, especially when you are the employee who has an issue and needs assistance or when you are a supervisor trying to get the job done.

Since you are still reading this, I am sure your question is, that is all great but what lessons have you learned from all of this Anthony and can you really distill it in a few lines, because this is a blog and not a book after all?  My answer is, and you would expect no other, that yes, I absolutely can summarize the most important lessons learned and here they are:

  1. Three or more sides are common – This is why situations must be understood based on facts.
  2. The workplace is not a democracy – This is primarily because Employers are organizations that are focused on either providing services or making goods, ideally, as efficiently as possible.
  3. Laws are not just for others to follow – This also applies to policies and work rules as well and if they are not followed the result is disorganization, which is the opposite of organization!
  4. Some people actually enjoy their work – I have met many who do, so I know they are out there!
  5. Some bosses really do care – They usually do not advertise this and are often modest about it!
  6. Indecision is a choice and it is often the wrong one to make at work – Avoiding problems on the job frequently makes things worse!
  7. People are important – I could not have spent so many years in the field without believing this!

We all have lessons learned at work, whatever field you are in, but when your career involves people, as Human Resources does, the lessons learned are relevant for everyone!

May 7, 2011

My Mom…

I could not write about my father without also writing about my mother, Dorothy Jean Smith.  Her experiences are less expansive than my father’s, but that does not mean that her journey is no less unique or important than his.  Also, with Mother’s day coming up, and the world still digesting the recent news about what bin Laden’s demise means, a story about a mother is just what this doctor decided is needed.

My mother was the third born child of Ivan “Jim” Smith and Adelie “Addie” Kent.  She was born in the middle of the depression in Boise, Idaho.  Her father was earlier in life a farmer and park ranger but, by the time she was born, he was a beer distributor and her mother took care of the 5 children (4 girls and 1 boy).  Addie could trace her family tree back to the Mayflower, while Jim’s included a Dutch grandfather born in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and also likely a confederate soldier from Louisiana.  Addie was raised on a horse farm and though short (a couple of inches shy of 5 feet tall), she was said to be a great rider.  At nearly 6 feet, Jim was tall for a man of his day (he was born in 1899), and had traveled the rails for a time when he was young.  When Dorothy was a girl, her father told her stories of a place where they eat flat, round bread with vegetables so hot they would burn your mouth.  She would later retell this story acknowledging the irony of her later life with my father and that fact that she was a great cook, especially of Mexican food dishes!

Dorothy, according to my grandmother, was a headstrong little girl, who when she was 3 would make neighborhood kids walk around, not on, her father’s sidewalk.  She loved to play with her younger sisters and sometimes had crushes on her older brother’s friends.  At 15, she took a job as a soda jerk (mom’s term for it) at a local ice cream shop, where she earned money to buy clothes and have fun, like most young girls in those early post war times.  While in high school, she was a cheerleader and among her classmates at Boise High, was a young man with the last name Albertson, whose father owned a local grocery store.

After graduating high school, a first in her family, she wanted to see the world. She found her ticket when a girlfriend suggested that they join the newly created United States Air Force (prior to 1947 it was part of the Army) together. Unfortunately, her father would not allow it and refused to sign off on her enlistment paperwork, a requirement in those days.  She eventually convinced him to sign and a few weeks later she found herself in San Antonio, Texas attending basic training, which is something that few young women did in 1951.  Her friend, unfortunately, was not found to be fit for service and so Dorothy entered the Air Force alone.

Immediately after completing basic training she attended a service school where Dorothy learned administrative skills.  Upon completion of the program she was stationed at Eglin, Air Force Base, in Pensacola, Florida.  Dorothy would later say, as her husband did as well, that this was one of the happiest times of her life!  The base was staffed with thousands of airmen, including pilots and support staff of all types, however, only a couple of hundred were women.  Mom said finding a date to catch a movie or go to a dance was never a problem.  Playing on the then undeveloped beaches, snorkeling and enjoying a game of ping-pong were the favorite pastimes that mom said she enjoyed while stationed in Florida.  One evening she met a Latino airman from California, who played piano in local clubs after hours.  The pair were soon dating and eventually became a couple, not unlike the popular one portrayed by Lucille and Desi on prime time television at the time. They soon married and spent most of their last year in the service living off base in a small house, where mom said that they constantly entertained their friends who liked escaping barracks life as often as they could.

After both were honorably discharged, the couple moved to southern California where they decided to settle down.  Over the next 10 years they had 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys.  Early on they opened a restaurant which did not last, and my father worked a number of jobs, while mom stayed home and taught the children how to make beds so tight you could bounce a quarter off of them, and at bedtime lined them up and marched off to bed.  These practices were amusing remnants of the fact that Dorothy really wore combat boots and had all the training that came with them!

Mom was always there to make sure we were up in the morning, did chores after school, cleaned our rooms on weekends, had fun, and along the way taught us those skills that would be needed as adults.  Like most mothers during those days, her job was to manage the household.  She did this very well and cooked, cleaned, and coordinated all the daily details for her family while still making the time to befriend many and enjoy life.

She had a great sense of humor, even if it was at her own expense such as the time one of my sisters, who was 3, locked her out of the house when she really needed to use the restroom.  The result was predictable and mom loved to retell the story anyway never failing to mention the devilish grin her daughter had as she repeatedly refused to let her in the house.  There was also the time when mom needed to dry her hair while simultaneously trying out her eldest son’s mini-bike in the backyard.  She drove round and round until her hair was dry and had fun while entertaining us.  During our last trip together as a family, we drove 200 miles through the Sonoran desert (that is a tale for another time) and have super 8 film of her being chased by a bull while answering natures call and of her literally kissing the pavement when we eventually reached it!  The road did not look that clean either, but mom did not mind as she was just happy to be on pavement again!

When the children were a little older, she worked as a waitress part-time at a restaurant to earn to extra money and told us kids to help ourselves to her tips, which we (the bigger ones anyway) apparently did perhaps a bit too often.  Later on, she worked part-time as a hotel maid, but did not share those tips with us!  After her kids moved out, she worked full-time for a state social services agency helping field client calls and completing paperwork.

She supported my father’s career fully and even helped to found a halfway house and assist with professional association membership drives. She made sure our holidays were filled with cheer and laughter and that we took vacations back to Idaho, down to Mexico, up the coast, to the desert, or in the mountains whenever possible.  In later years she even made sure that Dad and her visited Alaska, Hawaii, Central America, the Deep South, the East coast, and Europe.

She loved to shop and enjoyed buying her friends and family presents, which she did often.  Dorothy believed in helping people and many times while growing up we had family or friends staying with us to assist them in getting through some transition in their lives.  She told me that it was important to always celebrate marriages, births, graduations, and other significant life events and to remember those who are no longer with us.

At the age of 60, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer and I was present when the doctor gave her 4 months to live. This was one of the very few times that I saw the twinkle leave my mother’s eyes. She quickly rebounded, obtained another medical opinion, and fought with everything she had to live.  Five years later she was cancer free and went on to live another 10 years after that! Mom was quite the fighter!

She saw the birth of 7 grandchildren, 4 girls and 3 boys, and made it a point to be present when both of my sons were born.  She told us children that she loved us very much, but that grandchildren were very special in a different way in terms of the joy that they bring during that stage of a person’s life.  She and my father were together over 50 years and, though they were quite different, they loved and supported each other as much as any couple I have thus far known.

Summarizing a life in a few hundred words provides an incomplete glimpse at best, regardless of who they were or what they have done.  Still, hopefully enough was written so that you have an idea of the kind of person my mother was and what she meant to her many friends and family members.  As this mother’s day approaches, the third since she has left us, I am very much reminded of her wise words about celebrating life and about how fleeting it really is.  If yours is still with you, spend time with her, and listen to her unique stories, even if you have heard them many times before…

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