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How to Heal Human Resources Rifts

Frederick Jerant Human Resources, Issue 09 - Jan/Feb 2014 Leave a Comment

Beth Albright’s matrixed approach to human resources helps Day & Zimmermann achieve its strategic objectives.

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“There has never been a tougher time to be a plan sponsor and retirement plan fiduciary. Beth’s thoughtful approach to delivering top tier retirement benefits to a diverse workforce while managing vendors, expenses, and the fiduciary process is impressive. Partnering with Beth and her team has been a great experience.”
– Paul H. Schaffer, Vice President and Financial Advisor

By Fred Jerant

When Day & Zimmermann recruited Beth Albright as its Senior Vice President of Human Resources (HR) in 2011, she learned that its portfolio of businesses in construction and engineering, staffing, and defense intersected with most of her previous work at Tekni-Plex Inc., Rohm and Haas, FMC Corp. and Fluor Daniel.

“It’s like my whole career has been building toward working for this company,” Albright said. “It’s very eclectic and exciting. And I appreciate the fact that even though Day & Zimmermann is a 110-year-old, $2.4-billion private company with more than 23,000 employees, it’s still a family business with deeply embedded core values.”

Cultivating the Human Factor

Albright highlighted that the company’s core values—safety, diversity, integrity and success—reflect the heart and soul of the company and serve as guideposts for all employees to do their best work. For Albright, it is important to remember that there exists a great human factor inside of any company.

“I believe that, fundamentally, people want to come to work, do a good job, feel like they make a difference and be recognized for their work,” she said. “Our job is to provide them with the skills, encouragement and opportunities to have an impact.”

Maintaining a supportive culture is certainly good for the company, but a company needs to have the right infrastructure and processes in place to make that happen. “If systems prevent people from doing a good job, you must fix them,” she adds. “If people aren’t being developed and trained, they can’t make a difference in the work they do.” In her mind it is a simple concept that all fits together.

Albright spends a significant portion of her time offering guidance to her team and colleagues, helping them knock down barriers, see things differently and deal with professional issues. “As you get higher in an organization,” she said, “you tactically implement less, but influence more toward a vision—and that helps the whole organization operate better.”

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Building a Framework for Employee Success

From Albright’s perspective, “HR within any organization plays a very fundamental role. Business processes require talented people; but just as much, talented people require the right framework to keep them motivated.”
When she arrived at Day & Zimmermann, she found an HR Department that functioned more as independent cells than as an integrated organism. “Each of the business segments had various practices,” she recalled. “And those disconnects led to inefficiencies.”

One of Albright’s key steps toward mitigating the situation was planning for a cohesive HR function with more standard infrastructure and a defined strategy and goals to work toward. For example, there was a grading structure for placing positions, but not a formal compensation structure or common talent development platform. Albright and her team worked with the Hay Group to develop job descriptions, salary grades and job families that created a structure for designing career paths. Doing so, Albright said, leads to improved talent and leadership development as well as succession planning.

Albright also looked at how she could provide HR solutions to support thematic challenges within the business. To do this, she aligned her HR plan to the company’s three-year strategic business plan in order to provide HR solutions to support organizational challenges. She and her staff defined the latter and leveraged centers of expertise (CoEs), comprising compensation and benefits; talent management and organizational development; and HR operations. These efforts provided knowledge and best practices in needed areas, and were very well received by the business units.

Albright further demonstrated her passion for helping employees succeed by stressing three key principles within the HR Department:

  1. Maintain one HR. This is a non-negotiable. Albright uses a matrixed approach in which her team both in the corporate office and out in the field must work together. The CoEs cannot design something and lob it over the fence for business HR to implement. Conversely, the businesses cannot go off and do their own thing without including the CoEs. She believes both groups are needed within HR to work together for the best outcome.
  2. Know your numbers. Every job involves numbers, but those that reference profit and loss are not the only concerns. Other key figures can have substantial impact on the organization. What is the average time to fill a position? How do Day & Zimmermann’s salaries compare to the market? How many people are on disability? Albright believes that businesses run on numbers, and so should HR. Whatever the numbers are in the respective HR employees’ world, she expects her team to know them.
  3. Keep up. Stay current. Easy to say, difficult to do. This means, keep up and stay current on industry developments, your business challenges, your own skills, commitments you have made, your email, etc. Albright shared this example: “If you’re thinking about getting additional training, ask yourself this question, ‘Can I stay current without it?’ If you can’t, go for it!”

The first principle facilitates better communications between business segments and the HR Department. “Our CoEs now rely on input from the business partners when developing support programs,” Albright said. “We’ve found that the resulting programs work better and run smoother.”

Likewise, business partners also consult with the CoEs. For example, a sales-incentive plan is reviewed by the compensation group before implementation.

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Communications: A Two-Way Street

Albright believes that HR professionals should use their positions to encourage better communication, through coaching, counseling and advising on behaviors or competencies—even on matters as basic as interacting with one another.

“Any time that HR coordinators, supervisors or business partners interact with a manager, it’s an opportunity to reinforce the company culture,” Albright said. “We spend a lot of time talking with hiring managers about prospective employees—not just whether they can do the job, but how they’ll do it. Workers impact the culture and the tenor of an organization. If we find someone who fits the job description but alienates colleagues, he or she wouldn’t be good for our company culture.”

Running a Business vs. an Organization

“There’s a difference between running a business and running an organization,” Albright concluded. “Numbers are essential to business, but there’s much more to an organization and it’s important to remember that the organization creates those numbers.”

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Frederick Jerant is a freelance writer based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Beth's Key Partners:
CAPTRUST Financial Advisors | SAP (Business Software)

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