To Succeed in HR, Think Less Like an HR Person

Jill Yarberry-Laybourn Human Resources, Issue 11 - May/June 2014 Leave a Comment

Transplace CHRO Adrianne Court didn’t become “Human Resources Executive of the Year” by acting like an HR executive. She got there by acting like a businessperson.

By Jill Yarberry- Laybourn

Today’s graduates in human resources (HR) learn much about the fundamentals of HR practices and philosophies through formal education. But 20 years ago, most individuals working in the field had few opportunities for formal learning—it was learn as you go, or sink.

This may seem to be a huge disadvantage, but for Adrianne Court, Chief HR Officer (CHRO) for Transplace and 2013 DallasHR Human Resources Executive of the Year Award recipient, learning as you go and trial-by-fire experience is what taught her early in her career that when it comes to solving human capital challenges and problems to never let one shut door to a solution stop you. Instead, find another door, and another, or a window, or squeeze through a keyhole to find an answer.

Figuring It Out

After Court graduated from college, she took a position with a small startup consulting firm. She was asked by the founders of the firm to recruit staff, set up payroll and develop benefits plans and policies. “I would say, ‘How do you do that, or what is that?’” she recalled. In response, they would say, ‘You’re a smart girl, you can figure out.’”

Today, most people would jump on the Internet and within a few keystrokes find any number of resources that tell precisely how one could go about recruiting or creating a benefits program. Court, on the other hand, did not have that luxury when she started; the Internet was not available to her.

“… I would call friends, do research and interrogate vendors to learn of ideas and concepts to support the rapid growth of the company,” she said. Even then she learned that HR activities and programs were foundational to the success of a business, in that the department must support the bottom line, either through prudent and cost-effective programs or providing HR solutions to assist the business with creating a competitive talent differentiator.


Gaining Credibility

The learn-by-doing approach afforded Court the opportunity not only to learn the HR side of a company, but also to become a businesswoman first and an HR professional second. When she first started out, she worked directly for a Founder and Chief Executive Officer of a small startup consulting firm.

“Everything I desired to do or implement required that it begin with the business perspective, and then balancing with the people (human capital) perspective,” Court said. Learning to think like a businessperson first and an HR professional second helped her to “speak the same language” with the business leaders of Transplace. When hiring Court, the company leaders had a number of ideas they wanted to implement from a human capital perspective, but she knew that in order to gain credibility, taking on a project that positively impacted the bottom line while improving employee engagement would be first on her list of accomplishments

“From a board perspective and a business prospective, I knew that if I could tackle something that materially and financially supported achievement of the EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] results out of the gate, [that] would earn credibility for selling other HR programs to the business leaders in the future, and this is exactly what I did. Within 60 days of joining, we took a fresh perspective on our incentive and bonus programs, demonstrating how I understand the impact of incentive plans on the motivation of employees with the business and how we operate. I could gain some credibility.”

And, credibility is exactly what she achieved, along with creating effective incentive programs that rewarded performance and recognized behavior. “It turned out,” Court said, “to be a win for everyone.”

Investing in Leadership

The credibility and the hands-on education have helped Transplace’s HR overseer to build effective and innovative leadership programs. The programs are centered on the company’s four core leadership principles:

1. To lead by example;

2. To communicate effectively;

3. To build a great team; and

4. To deliver results.

All of the leaders of Transplace, who are accountable for managing at least one person, “from new senior executive hires to front-line managers,” must complete a 90-day new manager learning path. “Leaders know what their accountabilities are at Transplace,” Court said.

She, along with the Transplace HR team driving and the executive team championing, has developed and implemented multiple leadership programs and activities to reinforce the principles and accountability to the company’s core values. Some examples are an annual Leadership Summit with the top 40 company leaders, a monthly board-driven all-hands Transplace Leadership Forum, a new grad leadership development program building future leadership talent, a talent review program (bench/succession program) and developmental reviews and 360-degree feedback.

This focus on leadership earned Transplace the recognition of being named one of the top five private companies for leadership in 2013 by Chief Executive Magazine. The icing on the cake? Court and her team have initiated and maintained all these programs without significant financial investment by the company.

“When you think about all of the leadership elements we have incorporated within the business with great results, including reduced employee attrition and external recognitions by industry leaders and customers,” Court said, “this is what it means to create a competitive talent differentiator while also being a strategic business partner.”


Branding Talent & Programs

Along with the leadership programs, Court—with critical support from Transplace—is branding the company’s talent and its HR initiatives as a competitive differentiator. In partnership with Sales and Marketing, she is distinguishing Transplace from its competitors by focusing on their greatest assets, people, while leveraging complementary others, including technology, proven processes and scale.

By branding the talent and HR programs, the company is outwardly demonstrating to its customers and prospective customers that this is who they want to do business with. Those companies, according to Court, are responding to Transplace: “I am getting more than just a 3PL [third-party logistics] company, but a partner that has outstanding talent that is working to make a great customer experience that drives real value.”

Transplace also makes an annual commitment of a minimum of 24 hours of professional development for all employees. These hours help team members work toward the company’s mission statement “to achieve supply chain excellence for our customers” and “to exceed customer expectations.”

Employees can leverage an online university called the F.U.E.L. [facilitate, understanding, education and learning] Station for custom courses that set them up for company success, as well as a variety of technical and management courses. The professional development can take many forms because of the large amounts of “resident knowledge within our organization,” Court said. “Employees can take a class on transportation law or could teach a class,” depending on one’s expertise. These hours of professional development promote the core values of the company—respect the individual, thrill the customer, process and technology excellence, and growth and profitability—and have helped Transplace’s employee attrition rate decline, respectively, during Court’s two-year reign.

Proud Moments

One of the initiatives that Court is most proud of is the Talent Review Process (TRP) and how the leadership team of Transplace now owns it and has incorporated it into their operating cadence. “The managers get together and talk about their teams,” Court said. “Today, you cannot just have an automatic promotion. We look at all of our talent across teams before we approve a promotion or a lateral move.” Part of the TRP helps Court and her team identify the highest-potential folks and where they should invest time in mentoring, developing and training talent.

Court may not have had the advantage, like many recent HR graduates, of being exposed to the fundamentals of the profession early on, but clearly her path of learning and growing along the way to creating competitive differentiation through talent by thinking as a businessperson has enabled her to achieve exceptional results and recognition for her employers.

Jill Yarberry-Laybourn is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

Adrianne's Key Partners:
 Stephens Insurance (Benefit Advisory Services) | Lockton (Retirement Plan Consulting) | SkillSoft (Training Library) | eHealthScreenings (Biometric screening services)

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