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Sunday, April 11, 2021

HR leaders discuss changing profession

Event: 2019 HR Professional of the Year, presented by labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins

When: May 1

Where: Fort Worth Club

What: Panel discussion of current human resources topics


· Yohna Chambers, vice chancellor of human resources at TCU

· Fabiana Larese, director of HR at Southland Holdings

· Dionne Motal, chief HR officer of Civitas Senior Living

· Nancy Zorn, vice president of human resources at First Command Financial Services

Neetish Basnet


North Texas human resources professionals gathered to honor their own on May 1. Yohna Chambers, vice chancellor of human resources at Texas Christian University, received the inaugural Fort Worth HR Professional of the Year award at the awards breakfast.

Before the winner was announced, the finalists took part in a panel discussion on issues facing their profession.

The following are responses on some topics discussed on the panel, edited for length and clarity.

Employee retention rates for millennials

Yohna Chambers: We learned that millennials are interested in experiencing things. So we created a professional leadership rotation program that we start from today, May 1. It runs from May to October. We have 22 departments on campus who have chosen to participate. When we put the call out for applications for rotating the programs, we were surprised to get that amount of millennials who wanted to participate.

They want to experience what it’s like to be in other departments. So we have employees, beginning this month, they’ll rotate every three to five weeks in various departments on campus. They’ll write personal reflections, they’ll have workshops and learn more about what it’s like to be a member of that team.

Dionne Motal: We know there’s a challenge in health care to attract team members and retain them. With respect to the millennial, I think on-boarding them, having passion and orientation, having them involved in our culture right away is something that we do well.

When they come on, we are quick to address concerns and issues, making sure they’re on board because they’re caring for our residents. We also have an opportunity for them to be recognized through our passion program, and also through our lead program.

We also, at the department head level, have a high level of internal promotions. I think when you’re looking at engaging employees, you have to look at continuing the life cycle from the beginning recruiting process.

Fabiana Larese: I’m not looking at the technology tools, if anything. I’m looking more at the knowledge. Giving them training to understand where they’re coming from. Millennials, yes, they are completely different. Completely different. There’s nothing wrong about what they do, it’s just they’re completely different. And we have engineers on one hand, and then we have field carpenters. And we have to tackle millennials two different ways.

We have created an internship program. Our engineers, who are millennial, will have an offer letter before they actually leave, two years down the road with our company. We want to keep them engaged. Our field employees, we have to incentivize them with technical solutions. We’re trying to create our own school to train [employees].

Performance review structures

Nancy Zorn: We need more structure in our organization. And that structure helps our managers and us to make sure that we’re giving employees the feedback. So we still are with the process that has the goal-setting at the beginning of the year, we have formal mid-year reviews and we do formal year-ends, as well.

All of our employees are eligible for bonus at the end of the year. By having that structure, it allows us to be able to measure their accomplishments around goals and competencies … We’re doing different things as far as just making sure that we’re asking all managers to head development plans for the folk, make sure that they’re carrying those conversations with them. Each department is doing stand-ups, through which every day they have conversations with their employees on what they’re doing, and how they’re doing and what are the goals.

Larese: It’s a different industry to be sitting in the field and saying, “Let’s sit down and let’s go over this form together.” It does not really work that way. We are a civil engineering company that’s based out of contracts. But what I found at the EOC conference that I had recently gone to that was interesting [was] that our mid plans, or mid-year type reviews, are not functioning well anymore. They’re expecting us to do things more and cover a lot.

Dealing with workplace harassment

Zorn: We moved away from anti-harassment training and we call it “respect in the workplace.” We brought in a little bit more of the high-profile allegations that were out there because that catches people’s attention. I facilitate that with our general counsel. It also gives the message that this is not an HR program, but this is a company-wide program we’re going through. During that, we give them a quiz to find out what their knowledge level is, and we also give them real-life scenarios. You’d have a scenario where you’d all talk about and really get into, “How would you handle that?”

You have to expect that there will be an increase in questions, concerns and complaints anytime you do training. And I think that’s a good thing. I’d rather they bring it to us for us to take a take a look than for them to say that that’s not a big deal and they don’t need to worry about that.

Advice to new HR professionals

Motal: Obviously, goes without saying, learn the fundamental rules and regulations and that’s through education, certifications and on-job training. As you’re getting in, there’s also characteristics of being insightful and perceptive. And learn to build really strong partnerships and working relationships because, as an HR professional, you want to be woven into the fabric of the executive team and company, not someone sitting here and commanding rules and flapping hands, saying what you can or can’t do.

Chambers: Understand the business that you’re in. HR is HR. We need to know the laws, the rules, the regulations. We need to know humans are clearly the most unpredictable species in this existence. And no amount of planning is going to prepare you for whatever situation you will face.

Know your business. Know the folks and what keeps them awake at night. Spend time, if you can, with your CEO. Attend meetings that are open and you can participate in and just listen. I have a colleague who says, “You’re given two ears and one mouth. So you need to listen twice as much as you talk.” I do think you learn a lot from observing.

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Neetish Basnet
Neetish is a writer and digital content producer for Fort Worth Business Press. He has been covering businesses of all shapes and sizes in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex for several years. After graduating with a journalism degree from University of Texas-Arlington, Dow Jones News Fund selected him for a digital media fellowship. He still likes the smell of a freshly printed newspaper.

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