When an HR function has become dysfunctional, Power-One’s Rick Merritt is the expert businesses turn to in order to implement effective change.
By Stephanie Harris
Although he is the Vice President of Global Human Resources (HR) for Power-One, a leading power conversion and power management solutions provider with more than $1 billion in annual revenue, Rick Merritt’s educational background is not in HR or business, but rather Exercise Physiology and Organizational Behavior.
“I originally worked in physical therapy—strength and conditioning programs, weight management and performance conditioning all the way up to professional athletes,” he said.
Merritt was hired early on by a company called Pacific Bell, which was looking to open wellness facilities at all of their office locations. “I was brought in to begin that process, as well as serve as a personal trainer to the executive staff.”
Merritt led a number of activities to ensure executives were physically fit for the long hours they were putting in at the office, and while doing so, gained unique exposure to senior staff.
About two years into his wellness-centered corporate career, Merritt decided to take a different path and utilize his organizational behavior background. He took a job as a performance consultant, a role in which he trained organizations on how to maximize their performance.
“I helped guide them on organizational performance, how to manage and supervise, how to get the most out of employees, as well as how employees can get the most out of themselves,” he said.
From there, an opportunity came up to take over as a Director of Learning and Development for a startup business at Pacific Bell, and Merritt accepted the position.
“From then on,” he said, “everything I did was geared toward learning other aspects of the HR function.”
Merritt quickly discovered his love for creating and developing a team of individuals and getting them to perform at a high level, and has been doing that to some degree ever since.
“I like the opportunity to go into an organization and make an impact,” he said. “If you’re looking to just maintain the function the way it is, then I’m not the kind of person to bring into your organization. If you’re looking for someone to bring a different perspective, or develop your organization or team because it’s not functioning the way it should, then I’m the person you want to bring on board.”
In his current role as Global Vice President of HR, Merritt is responsible for all HR functions within the organization. In addition, he is devoted to the company’s several ongoing initiatives, such as expanding globally into new countries.
“Growing the company internationally requires a coordinated effort to put the new entity in place,” he said. “We [HR] partner with legal and the strategic business units to establish the legal entity, hire key people to grow a region, and make sure we have a benefit and compensation scheme in place.”
One of Merritt’s more critical projects moving forward will be facilitating Power-One’s integration plan with ABB, which recently purchased the company.
“We will be working on an integration plan with ABB so we can successfully integrate our key aspects of business into a much larger organization,” he said. “That will be my challenge for the next several months—ensuring business as usual in Power-One, yet making sure we can successfully complete the transaction with ABB within a reasonable time frame and make sure any employment-related issues that come up, tied to the integration, will get managed effectively.”
Facilitator of Change
As a leader in HR, Merritt understands the role of the HR function in an organization: it is to be a facilitator of change.
“The change of the business may require a change in the culture or key business policies or procedures to meet customer needs,” he said. “It may have to change the way the business is structured, and HR helps facilitate that discussion.”
From understanding whether a business has the right organizational model in place or a clearly defined mission statement that may need to be revisited, HR is the group that can facilitate the discussion or provide a thought process so that the business can come up with the best decisions.
“HR should contribute to those discussions regarding change, but they are not the sole owner of change,” Merritt said. “The business is the owner of that, but where we play our role is being able to contribute a different perspective and facilitate discussion so that business leaders, including HR, end up making the right decisions for the business.”
He noted that once an initiative becomes an “HR project,” it is generally doomed or only gets implemented halfway. “Business leaders just don’t see it as important because oftentimes they don’t see how it impacts them,” Merritt said. “If I can point out where I think there are some disconnects between the mission and the company strategy, then I can start facilitating that conversation.”
Rebuilding an HR Function
Merritt has built his professional career around making impacts within organizations. “My [specialty] generally tends to be in rebuilding the HR function,” he said. “Hopefully I do a good job and end up having a greater impact on the business.”
When taking on the challenge of turning around an organization that is not operating to its fullest potential, Merritt believes there are key areas that are critical to achieving an effective business plan.
“Most importantly, you have to be authentic,” he said. “I believe what people see is what people get, and I’m not going to deviate from who I am.”
Merritt says he is very open about personal aspects of his life because he wants others to understand why he makes the decisions he does and what influences him.
“I try to come in with a strong level of authenticity, and I often do that by first holding a meeting and telling people about who I am and where I came from,” he explained. “Not so much about my accomplishments, but where I came from—that I grew up in a military family, I’m used to moving around every three years, and that I’m used to seeing things from a different perspective because of the places I’ve lived.”
It is the latter aspect that has taught Merritt to apply the basic principle of himself to the success of an organization. “It also influences the way I build an organization,” he said. “I often hire people who are ‘different’ or may not follow the same mold.”
A team of mismatched personalities, according to Merritt, provides an opportunity for the staff to learn from each other, and ultimately makes the team stronger.
The second thing Merritt does in a turnaround situation is eliminates clutter. “I tend to look at all the business processes and figure out ways to simplify everything, whether it is get rid of old paperwork that’s just been sitting around, to making our processes more employee friendly.”
Third, he makes sure he understands how the business makes money. “Whichever way it makes money, I make sure the HR processes and personnel are either in position to help the business make money or they’re out of the way,” Merritt said. “In some cases, the best thing HR can do is just get out of the way.”
Merritt noted that he focuses on those three principles, and will generally develop the staff he has inherited or bring in people he has worked with in previous organizations rather than hire new talent.
Although he does not work in the physiology field like he once wanted, in the end, the work he does today is not so different.
“I go into an organization [that is not operating effectively], make a diagnosis and come up with processes to solve the problem,” Merritt said. “I developed that skill set early, and it’s applicable to the type of work that I like to do, not the job I wanted.”
Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Ill.
Rick's Key HR Partners:Wells Fargo Insurance (Benefits Broker) | Altair (Relocations Services) | Executive Conference Board (Management Best Practices) | iCIMs (Application Tracking) | Kronos (Workforce Management) | Linkedin (Staffing) | PDI Ninth House (Management Development) | Radford (Compensation & Benefits Survey Data) | Right Managment (Outplacement & Management Services) | Valvo & Associates (Legal)
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