Human Resources 360o: The Person, Profession, and Perspective. Focused, determined, intellectually curious, and hard-working are just a few terms to describe the gentleman I had the pleasure of interviewing. Mr. Ray Harrell is a seasoned HR/HRD professional with a plethora of work experience and knowledge in the arenas of human resource management and human resource development. A combination of education and practical skill has allowed Ray to climb the HR ladder and view the profession in his unique way.
When I asked him where he was from, he jokingly started his response with “From a land far, far away,” as if he was going to share a fairytale. Early in our conversation, I could see that Ray possessed a high degree of professionalism; it but now I realized that he also had a great sense of humor. In this paper, I will first give details on how Mr. Harrell entered the HR/HRD profession. I will then describe, through his eyes, a day in the life of an HR/HRD professional. Finally, I will reveal Mr. Harrell’s take on the future of HR/HRD and discuss the advice he has given me to help me prepare for such a dynamic profession.
The content from this interview served as my primary source of reference. I interviewed Mr. Harrell on March 17, 2011. Coming from humble beginnings, Ray Harrell surprised and impressed many with his career achievements. Often overlooked as the middle child of three, Ray has gotten used to finding ways to make himself stand out from the rest of the bunch. His exemplary educational background in both information science, as an undergraduate and HR as a graduate, has allowed him to differentiate himself from most of his competition. When asked how he found his way in the HR career field, Ray was candid with his response.
He explained how he was chosen from three hundred applicants for the position he currently holds. Prior to this position, he acquired work experience with companies both in and out of the HR profession. “My first job in HR was at Harley-Davidson as a benefits intern,” said Ray. When I asked how he attained an internship with America’s most popular motorcycle manufacturer, he shared how he had received it through his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. “Although the internship paid very little, I am forever grateful for the experience and to the University for providing me with such an opportunity,” said Mr.
Harrell. Several years after his internship with Harley Davidson and with a desire to engulf himself fully in HR, Ray relocated to North Carolina and procured a six-month position as a benefits administrator. He was then promoted to an HR specialist position, where he took on most of the responsibilities of an HR manager within the facility. “My duties, however, included basic HR as well as global management…my regional manager had the years of experience but no degree at all, and the U. S. HR manager had a degree (not in HR), but no HR experience at all,” said Mr. Harrell.
These conditions required Ray to serve as a liaison by pulling together the knowledge and abilities of the two managers into effective HR practices. When asked what kind of skills or knowledge he found most helpful for getting started in the HR/HRD field, he spoke of how he had taken classes in staffing, statistics, diversity, and other various HR/HRD courses. However, he also expressed that class work alone is not enough to prepare an individual. “Getting hands-on experience was by FAR the best teacher of HR principles and practices. Theory is great, but practice is a whole other tool for learning,” Ray said.
He added that courses in industrial relations and employment law also helped clarify certain principles. Mr. Harrell’s view on the skills and knowledge needed to break into HR/HRD is interesting, but it is not uncommon. Indeed, many professionals within the industry and the world of academia share his perspective. Most managers and academic professors stress that graduates should bring as much practical work experience to the table when pursuing employment. Along with offering practical experience, Ray cautions that those pursuing careers in HR should be prepared to face certain barriers. It is very hard getting into your first HR position. It is definitely an experience-based field and the less you know, the less likely you will be to find a good job at a decent wage,” said Mr. Harrell.
He warns those seeking employment to be prepared to start as an HR assistant and learn their way through the ranks. He purports that what one learns in class has very little to do with what one encounters day-to-day in HR. Ray says, “Chances are you won’t be doing job analyses or writing job descriptions, because most companies will be mature and will have undertaken this task already. The above comment prompted me to ask Mr. Harrell for his insight on what a “typical day” in the life of an HR/HRD professional is like. According to Ray, his specific duties range from reviewing resumes, disciplining the plant manager, and investigating safety incidents to assuring compliance with federal and state posting regulations, reviewing and creating discipline policies, and working with payroll benefits to resolve employee issues. Mr. Harrell is also responsible for employee training, employee relations, interviewing, and a host of other daily tasks.
On one occasion, after days of combing through documents aiming to make sure the payroll department was following proper procedures, Ray found a huge payroll error. As a result, Mr. Harrell was eventually given the task to head training to correct the reoccurring error. “One MUST be personable to be able to deal with the diverse personalities that he will encounter on a daily basis. He must be able to operate outside of his own prejudices and opinions,” said Mr. Harrell. With this in mind, he explains how it is essential to have a good poker face.
When I asked him to explain more about this, he gave a specific example. Ray spoke of how he had an employee who requested benefits for his daughter. Ray said that he explained to the employee how he should go about making the change and told him that if he didn’t hear anything within a couple of days, Mr. Harrell would assist him in finding a solution. Unfortunately, the gentleman was not aware that Ray had been assigned weeks before to terminate him. Ray sternly said, “An HR person must have a strong personality and not be timid AT ALL! Ray continued to explain how the day-to-day practices of HR/HRD require someone to both be assertive and not to allow any emotions to get in the way of his or her work.
“It’s important that I show sympathy without actually being sympathetic,” Mr. Harrell said. From this statement, it is clear that he views the contamination of personal relationships with business relationships as taboo, especially within an HR setting. He suggests that HR professionals be cordial with employees, but should not create friendships outside of the workplace with them. To gain more insight on his daily experiences, I asked Mr. Harrell to share some of the things he dreads or dislikes about his work. “I have always dreaded the mundane aspects of the job, such as reviewing resumes and employee discipline,” said Ray. He spoke of how he had learned over time that he was not much of the people-person. “I don’t do well working with employees one-on-one,” he said. This was to some extent a surprise because throughout the interview, Mr. Harrell was quite approachable and light-hearted. He went on to explain how he was more suited for the strategic aspects of HR, which in fact is what he earned his degree in.
I expressed to Mr. Harrell that I found it particularly interesting that a person who considers himself a non-people-person would work in a profession that requires him to interact frequently with people daily. He jokingly shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it”. To bring us back to a brighter note, I asked Mr. Harrell to tell me about the things that motivate him to do his work. He explained that he felt inspired whenever someone would approach him about employment or labor issues.
He said, “I’m surprised by the fact that people can come to me with questions about HR and I can give them solid answers. ” According to Ray, the HR department within his current place of employment is the engine behind the company. He proudly views himself as a significant part of that engine. “I play a big role in how the company operates,” he exclaimed. Despite the slightly arrogant tone of his voice as he boasted about the HR department, when I asked him for his opinion on how the employees felt about the overall efforts of the HR department, he hesitated before he answered. Nobody likes HR. HR is like getting bad PR. Nobody recognizes all the good we do for the company, but as soon as someone is disciplined or there is a policy change, we suddenly become the big, bad monster in the room.
” Ray went on to explain how he felt that HR departments are summoned to do all the “dirty work”. Announcing policy changes and communicating wage changes are clear examples to why Mr. Harrell feels like HR professionals are labeled bearers of bad news. As a final attempt to gather a better understanding of what HR professionals encounter on a daily basis, I decided to ask Mr. Harrell about two very controversial issues which often appear in the workplace and are addressed primarily by HR. The first question pertained to the “glass ceiling effect” and the second question was linked to diversity within the workplace. When asked how the HR department addresses the unfortunate truth of the “glass ceiling effect” within the workplace, Ray answered with candor. “Well, the sad thing is, HR is primarily responsible for the glass ceiling effect. It is the HR’s job to police the managers to make sure employees are treated right.
When there is a glass ceiling, it’s generally HR who has constructed it. ” To explain this in further detail, Ray took this opportunity to address how management in most departments is still male dominated and he expounded that because of this there is still an imbalance in male-to-female salaries and pay grades. He also mentioned that from his experience, women in managerial positions seemed to distribute promotions and calculate salaries in a fairer manner. As for dealing with diversity issues within the workplace, Ray’s reply was, “A good employer won’t have any diversity ‘issues. They will simply hire the best qualified people from the pool of applicants without regard to ethnicity or gender. ” Ray firmly stated, “Every place I’ve ever worked in an HR capacity had diverse workforces. ” I asked him to give me an example and with no reservations, he referred to an encounter that he had recently experienced.
“Even in Mooresville, NC, the heart of ‘redneck country,’ our facility had blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Filipinos, Hmong, males, females, and from what I understand, even one lesbian that people knew about. In spite of the company’s efforts to be unbiased concerning gender, race, and ethnicity, according to an example given by Mr. Harrell, the company has dealt with issues surrounding diversity in other capacities. In this one particular example, an applicant who was visibly obese applied for a manufacturing position and was hired by Ray. Ray claims that when he hired the man, he was new to the company and was not fully aware of the company’s culture or routine of doing things. “The plant manager saw the person and came to my office and told me he didn’t want him working there because of his size,” said Ray.
Even though Ray tried to stand up for what he thought was right by adamantly insisting that the corpulent man remain, the plant manager strong-armed him into finding a loophole via BFOQ to get rid of the newly hired employee. “So from that point, as part of my HR position, I made it my responsibility to know all of the positions, what they entailed, and the type of physical requirements they would have to endure,” Ray said with a matter-of-fact type of tone in his voice. After receiving a better grasp on what occurs on a regular basis for an HR/HRD professional through the eyes of Mr. Harrell, I thought it would be best to pick Mr. Harrell’s brain on how he views the future for the HR/HRD industry. Nevertheless, before the “and they lived happily ever after,” ending came about, I wanted to know his answer to a particular question that would segue us into a more prophetic aspect of the interview. I asked him if he thought that an HRD department should define the company’s culture or if the company’s culture should define its HRD department. His response was, “Good question! It depends on the company.
When I worked at Harley-Davidson, the company’s culture was laid back, cordial, and informal, so the HR department made hiring decisions and employee relations efforts geared toward that culture. ” With this in mind, I asked him what would happen if the company’s culture were problematic and replied by saying, “Is it HR’s responsibility to change the culture? I would say yes because the culture is made up of personalities, and HR is responsible for shaping corporate personalities. ” It was his most recent comment, which encapsulated the word “change” that led me to ask Mr. Harrell about his take on the future of HR.
I wanted to know if he foresaw any major game changers ahead. “Most companies are doing self-serve HR these days. While there will always be a need for someone to represent HR, the days of an HR department having multiple levels are gone. ” My initial reaction to Mr. Harrell’s comment was one of slight melancholy. I asked myself, “Am I going down the right career path? ” Ray continued to state his concerns about the future of HR. “Employees will do their own benefits online with a third-party benefits administrator, and payroll is often being shifted to the accounting department,” said Mr. Harrell.
He then went on to suggest, for those like me who are soon to enter the HR profession, to seek first an HR assistant position. He highly recommends that new HR professionals quickly grasp the duties of the position and prove themselves worthy of promotion. Ray said, “In fact, as an assistant, try to take on responsibilities of a generalist. Ask your manager to allow you to do the work. ” Mr. Harrell believes that through this, an individual can have the experience he or she needs to move to other companies. “Ultimately, even if you’re not receiving pay, the experience is worth more than the salary,” said Ray.
I found his outlook on the future and his advice to be both valuable and straightforward. After briefly scanning over my list of questions to make sure I had covered all the things I wanted to discuss with Mr. Harrell, I realized that my time with him was soon ending. His voice began to break at points, which was clearly a sign that the interview was lengthy yet thought provoking. I thanked Mr. Harrell for his time, his insight, and his advice; he wished me good luck with my assignment and the best with my future endeavors. Days after my interview with Ray, I began to reflect on our conversation.
In my reflection, I tried to put myself in his shoes. I imagined myself playing the several roles he has played over his years within the HR profession. I asked myself, how I would handle the situation regarding the overweight employee. Would I go another route? Would I put my job on the line to affirm the employment of a new employee? Would I be able to deal with the numerous complaints from employees? Would I welcome the, “bearer of bad news” title? Surprisingly, I did not have the answer to these questions. However, I did think about the things that inspired Mr. Harrell to do his work. I would like to find the same enjoyment that Mr. Harrell finds in knowing that he can effectively assist employees with an abundance of issues concerning HR. Having such confidence in my skills and competence as Ray is one of my aspirations. In this paper, I have given details on how Mr. Harrell entered the HR/HRD profession. I then described, through his eyes, a day in the life of an HR/HRD professional. Last, I revealed Mr. Harrell’s take on the future of HR/HRD and discussed the advice he has given me to help me prepare for such a dynamic profession. My interaction with Mr. Harrell has both encouraged me and aided me in confirming my interest in the HR profession.