I started my HR career in 1968 with Genesco in Nashville, TN. (They called it Personnel back then!) After a year-long training program and a couple short, temporary assignments, I was given my first regular HR assignment. (It was there I started making some career-changing mistakes.) I reported directly to the Division Personnel Manager with a dotted line to the Plant Manager where I worked.
A few months later, Charlie G. came along. He was the new Plant Manager. Even though I was a young and inexperienced HR Manager, Charlie called me into his office a few days later and told me to bring something to write on. He started out by saying, “Here is what you’re going to be working on for the next year … and these are the priorities.” I was blown away! Not only was I given some real work, he ended our meeting by saying, “Use your best judgment and let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”
I had a great time working with Charlie. He gave me great advice, listened to my ideas, and between the two of us, we really made things happen. My mistake, however, was in not paying enough attention to the “way we do it here.” A quick example: the company (every plant of every division) tracked attendance on a 4×6 card – with 2 years (yes, every day of each year) to a side. Well, needless to say, there were errors in tracking and reporting absenteeism. So, I came up with my own card, Charlie approved it, and we moved on. The Division Personnel Manager, however, didn’t like the fact that a wet-behind-the-ears kid was straying from the “way we do it here.” After all, there were lots of the attendance forms available and it would be wasteful to replace them.
Thanks to Charlie, I never worried about “how we do it here” when that method is obviously not working. I left Genesco a short time later and began looking for turnaround situations … you know, the kind of job that really demands some creative problem-solving skills. I found lots of them and eventually realized that consulting is really where I needed to be … where clients really value what works.
Thanks to Charlie, I realized early in my career that HR’s role is to solve business problems. And, being “good with people” is only a very, very small part of what it takes to be successful in today’s HR role.
Thanks, Charlie, wherever you may be.