Seven Years a HR Mom

Today is August 1st and marks the one year anniversary of my change in careers.  It does not feel like a year.  Time keeps flying by, filled to the brim with controlled chaos, I blink and it is a year later. Before my move to full-time mom, wife, business owner, and writer, I spent seven and a half years running a one woman Human Resources department for a Kenworth dealer group. (I also did the mom, wife, business owner thing at the same time. Chaos is my life!)I am not afraid of career moves.  My past jobs include Pre-K Teacher and Bank Teller, before my move to HR. My seven and half years at Kenworth hold a very special place in my heart and I would like to tell you why.

My position at Kenworth found me. It was divine intervention of sorts. I was one month from graduation, all my coursework completed, so I decided to post my resume on the Walsh careers website. I was not looking for a job yet.  It was December and my plan was to start looking after the New Year. I posted my resume as step one in the process; make things easier when I really started looking in January.  Forty-Eight hours later, I get an e-mail asking if I would like to interview for an open position at Eastern Michigan Kenworth. What?!?!?!?!? People really ask you to interview for positions for which you have not applied. This is just Nuts! For anyone who knows me, I do not believe in coincidence and if opportunities arise you need to follow where they lead. I went to the interview expecting nothing and received a job offer the same day. So in one week’s time, I received the e-mail, went on the interview, accepted the job and put in my two weeks’ notice at the bank. Controlled chaos at its best and I just rolled with it. (And cried. Lots of tears. Tons! Crying is how I relieve tension and everyone must deal with it.)

You work so hard to earn that super expensive piece of paper that says you know something important. Then you enter the workforce, leaving academia behind, and find out school only teaches you 1/8 of what you need in the real world. Add to that realization that you accepted a job at a company with no previous HR department and you need to build it from the ground up. Trial by fire ladies and gentlemen, cue the overwhelm. I met the owner of the company about 5 minutes into my first day, not knowing he was the owner.  I must have looked terrified. They were beginning the process of building mine and several other offices, so my desk was set up in the corner of the conference room.  No problem, I can make it work. I am FLEXIBLE! They had just opened their fifth location on my first day and that same day let someone go and promoted an intern to full time. No problem, I can roll with the punches. By the end of my first week, exhausted did not even come close to explaining the state of my brain. I did not have a whole lot of direction at this point in the game, but I was keeping myself engaged trying to figure it all out.

Figuring things out at Eastern Michigan Kenworth, later Berger Dealer Group, turned out to be one of my greatest personal accomplishments. One baby step after another, I developed policies and procedures, wrote handbooks, worked on benefit platforms, learned a whole mess of accounting, and formed relationships with the 100+ employees that I had the honor of serving. When presenting my 5 year plaque, the owner referred to me as the HR mom.  HR Mom is a perfect expression of the love I had for my work. I paid attention to the needs put in front of me, I tried to make things better, and I anticipated issues before they became bigger issues. I cared about “my people” as if they were my kids. I served the employees of the dealership, so they could serve the customers.

The journey was not without twist and turns. All journeys present us with the unexpected, but through the unexpected I learned the type of leader I wanted to be. A leader who cares about and supports the staff, while still serving the customer. A leader who sees the whole picture and understands the world is not black and white.  It is in the gray space that we find the real answers. A leader who walks the extra mile to help the people she is serving.  A leader who listens, even when she does not have a solution to give. A leader who helps the other leaders around her, because we are stronger together than apart. A leader who keeps people informed and communicates to the best of her ability, so that no one feels they are alone and in the dark. In everything I do moving forward, this is the leader I want to be.

The greatest part of the journey was the amazing people I met along the way. My years at Kenworth, I had the privilege to work with magnificent, talented people. I formed friendships that will last a lifetime. I worked with the finest management team I have ever encountered. I am so grateful for their friendship and mentor-ship.  They gave me a position to find my voice and genuinely listened to what I had to say. The long standing joke was that all HR does is cost the company money.  I can agree; I cost the company a lot of money.  Treating people as assets, instead of liabilities can be pricey.  But in the end, we pulled together a fantastic team and treated our customers well. I am honored to say I had a part in making our success a reality.

My final nine months as the HR Mom were some of my most challenging. We were faced with big changes. Change is not a bad thing. It is a part of life. Change is difficult and full of unanswered questions. This uneasiness is difficult for everyone.  I made it my mission to inspire confidence and positivity as we muddled our way through.  Even when you do not have all the answers, there is a way to present information that keeps people engaged, knowing that you are looking for the answers that are yet unknown. I tried to be the communicator of the group.  My weekly agenda was to spell out the tasks at hand and give as much information as possible.  No surprises! There are still always surprises, but I did my best to make it better. It is my hope that I made the ups and downs a little easier and that my overabundance of positivity and thoughtful quotes were not too over the top.  I can be a little over the top sometimes, but it comes from a place of love.

My decision to leave my position was extremely difficult. During our time together I had two babies, helped my husband start a business, bought a house and renovated all of it, and flipped a house. Through all that madness, my work family was always so supportive. My wonderful management team allowed me the flexibility and freedom to be a mom first and an HR professional second.  Although if you ask my kiddos, they will say work came first a lot; I never took my freedom and flexibility lightly. The ability to serve both my career and my family was the ultimate in job satisfaction, though chaotic.  But as I have said before, what is life without chaos.

It was a joyful walk down memory lane as I cleaned out my office in my final weeks. I found first drafts of policies, handbooks, applications, and all sorts of other random paperwork I created over the years. Looking at the evolution made me laugh out loud.  I was such a novice in the beginning! At the end of the day, I know the documentation I labored over mattered. Sometimes you just have to get something on paper, so you can change it, change it again, automate it, and create something new and even better. Tears filled my eyes as I left on my last day. (They are also filling my eyes now.) I left a part of my history and a part of my family that day. A year later my path is still twisting and turning. I am learning new things every day. I’ve started new projects and advanced others. My current role of Business Manager certainly keeps me on my toes. (Business Manager, because HR, Marketing, Accounting, and Inventory Manager is too long of a title.) My husband and I are working to make our business bigger and better with each passing year. I don’t know where we will end up or what I will do next.  I do know that my experience running my one woman HR show made me a better person and I am forever thankful for the experience and the people that were a part of that chapter in my life.

My Life in Business Cards





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