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HR's Rising Stars

With help from a panel of experts, Human Resource Executive® selects seven HR practitioners considered to be the brightest up-and-coming leaders in the profession.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006
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Few would argue that human resources attracts and produces talented professionals who shoulder an awesome and steadily increasing amount of responsibility. For years, this magazine has recognized HR executives who stand out as exceptional leaders at the tops of their organizations through its HR Executive of the Year contest.

This year, we added a second competition to recognize and honor HR professionals who are near the top but not quite there yet, who have governed specific HR functions well and have exhibited outstanding leadership and determination in seeing their initiatives to completion.

Choosing from a wide array of nominations representing a variety of industries and organizations, our specially selected panel of judges had its work cut out. Panelists -- including Michele Darling, president of Michele Darling & Associates Inc.; Gregory Hessel, senior client partner and global director of the human resource practice at Korn/Ferry International; Karen Jennings, senior executive vice president of human resources and communications at AT&T; and Charles Tharp, executive vice president of human resources at Saks Inc. -- devoted a great deal of time and attention to this difficult task.

In the end, seven individuals were selected who, panelists agreed, exhibited the qualities that deserved recognition and, in essence, could not be ignored: a commitment to excellence, a commitment to innovation and an ongoing commitment to their companies' human capital. HRE is proud to introduce this year's winners in the profiles that follow.

Jane Shlaes Dowd, Trainer Extraordinaire

The old African proverb asks: "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer: "One bite at a time." In terms of tackling HR challenges, that's Jane Shlaes Dowd's motto too.

Taking projects one step at a time has been her approach ever since she joined Evanston Northwestern Healthcare as director of employee development eight years ago, she says. Besides a corporate orientation, a few Microsoft workshops and a freelance trainer who rarely showed up due to illness, there were no learning resources for the health-care system's 3,500 employees.

"I was hired to build this up from scratch," recalls Shlaes Dowd, now chief learning officer for the organization in Evanston, Ill., which supports three hospitals, a large medical group, a home-health agency and a research institute. "I started where there was the most pain."

That happened to be in the computers sitting on employees' desks. Many workers didn't even know how to operate them, so she introduced a series of Microsoft training programs. Then came customer service. She identified the organization's service values, created a training curriculum around them, developed an awards-and-recognition program, and then built those same values into a performance-management system.

As the number of employees began to climb, so did the amount of training programs. By 2002, she says, the organization's 7,000 employees could take advantage of dozens of different educational opportunities that were offered either online or via a traditional workshop.

That same year, she was promoted to chief learning officer. But her biggest challenge lay just around the corner.

Within the next 18 months, 10,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health-care providers at ENH had to be trained to use the organization's new electronic health record and pass a competency exam. Approximately 55 courses were developed for various clinicians, she says, explaining that this organizational priority received tremendous executive support.

"If you're going to make doctors attend training, you'd better be sure it's good quality and they have a good experience," she says. But it turned out to be better than good, earning her the 2004 Bronze Award for Leading Business Change from Chief Learning Officer magazine.

Since then, she has co-founded HospitalU, an e-learning collaborative of roughly a dozen hospital systems that share learning content, has added a mentoring program and has also developed physician-selection and performance-management tools that help the organization hire physicians who are most likely to succeed as leaders.

"This was a road of building credibility, not only for myself personally, but for the value that learning could bring," Shlaes Dowd says. "We call it, 'The Journey' -- the slow convincing with every step forward that we were bringing value to the business [and] high quality, and making good use of people's time."

Jeanne Wardlaw Makes Work/Life Work

There's no telling what else Jeanne Wardlaw could have accomplished had she worked full time.

For most of her 22-year career at Arlington County in Arlington, Va., Wardlaw worked between 20 and 32 hours each week so she could raise her two daughters. She was hired in 1984 as an HR analyst. Three years later, she switched to part time after giving birth to her first daughter. From 1998 to 2005, she held two other part-time jobs -- benefits analyst and HR team leader. Then, in April 2006, she returned to work full-time as the compensation division chief in HR.

As a part-timer, Wardlaw was able to usher in key changes partly because of her strong organizational and team-building skills, according to her boss, Marcy Foster, the county's HR director.

"Jeanne has shown a special talent for unifying HR specialists from silo functional units into integrated service teams, broadening team members' skill sets and focusing them on business solutions rather than HR processes," says Foster.

A good example is the county's Variable Pay for Staff Jobs program. Two years ago, Wardlaw led a management committee that designed a compensation program for hard-to-measure staff jobs -- financial analysts, HR analysts and organizational development specialists -- in 12 different departments. Wardlaw says the program financially rewards employees who have enhanced or expanded their job skills. They no longer have to change jobs for more pay. Even if there isn't a job opening, they can still be promoted to the next level within their job classification, such as to a senior-level analyst.

During the same time, she also began working with the county's chief information- technology officer to change the way the county leveraged its technology resources. She says each IT job required employees to possess a "mish mash" of skills. But now, all IT jobs are divided into two well-defined categories -- information-systems analyst and business-systems analyst. She and her team also created a career ladder and training opportunities for the IS analyst position and enabled supervisors to promote those employees to the next career step if there were no vacancies.

The impact has been felt countywide. The department's backlog of employee requests for computer support dropped from 67 to zero. For the first time, computer support is being offered in real time.

Although Wardlaw credits her bosses for placing trust in a part-timer to accomplish such tasks, she says her co-workers were never inconvenienced by her work schedule.

"I really focused on customer service," she says, explaining that she would return calls or e-mails during off-hours. "From day one, I considered myself a problem-solver, trying to understand what customers are trying to accomplish. I look for innovative solutions, finding a way to get what they need."

Lynette Chappell-Williams, Diversity Champion

Before 2000, Cornell University was like many other schools in that it supported an office of equal opportunity that responded to discrimination complaints filed by students or employees.

But that was the problem. The office was reactive as opposed to proactive. Because the school was so decentralized, it also lacked university-wide programs that promoted diversity among its students and estimated 11,000 staff. All that changed when Lynette Chappell-Williams came on board in 1999 as the office's director.

Within five months, she restructured the office, expanded its focus and gave it a new name: Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality. That same year, passionate about diversity on campus in general, she went outside her HR function by introducing a homegrown program called Bias Response, which provided students with a mechanism to report any type of discriminatory behavior, no matter how small and regardless of whether they even knew who committed the offensive act.

For example, students can report racial slurs shouted at them by strangers or discriminatory remarks anonymously written on classroom white boards. Once an incident occurs, they can reach out to designated program staff who are well-known on campus and dispatched throughout the school. Students are then contacted by two other university employees -- such as a counselor or police officer -- who inform them of campus services that can help them deal with their fear, anger or feelings of isolation.

The office receives approximately 50 reports a year. "We're probably one of the first to create a program along these lines," says Chappell-Williams, who also co-chairs a diversity consortium composed of local employers. "We have created our own definition of a bias incident."

Over the next four years, her office launched other programs to help minorities feel more welcomed. Up to 40 staff members now attend Sandbox Socials -- scheduled monthly social activities sometimes underwritten by her department -- ranging from Saturday night dinners to salsa dancing lessons. Free Life Cycles workshops also cover important topics but with a diversity twist, such as how to raise your children if you're from a mixed-religion family.

Likewise, the Religious Accommodation Process helps staff and students in need of special workplace accommodations for religious reasons and the Gender-Expression Initiative offers a variety of resources for employees and students with gender-identity issues, such as a Web page featuring coping tips and the locations of universal (unisex) restrooms on campus.

None of these accomplishments surprise her boss, Mary G. Opperman, vice president of HR at the university.

"Lynette is a visionary leader with an exceptional ability to lead change, forge effective partnerships and advance innovative ideas," says Opperman. "She is results-driven, never content with the status quo and always reaching for new and exciting ways to improve and promote the university as an employer of choice."

HomeBanc's Go-To Guy: Nick Mantia

Nick Mantia was the go-to guy at HomeBanc Mortgage. Between 1994 and 1998, employees at the residential mortgage company repeatedly came to him for help regarding the company's products or technology.

At the time, Mantia was a loan officer and had little, if any, experience in training. But his innate ability quickly caught the attention of the company's chief executive officer, who called him into his office soon after taking notice.

"He had heard I was doing a lot of training and that I was good at it and wanted to see if this was something I was interested in doing," says Mantia, senior vice president and director of training at HomeBanc in Atlanta, which supports more than 1,300 employees in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

Mantia opted to make the switch at the start of 1998. For the next six months, he still originated loans but also assisted the company's fledgling training department. His new title was sales trainer.

Much has changed since then. Under his guidance, the company created HomeBanc University, which consists of HomeBanc Academy and HomeBanc University Online Learning Management System. The academy offers about 15 different boot camps or certification classes that range from four days to nine weeks while the management system provides approximately 30 different developmental, self-paced courses that train, test and track staff.

"Most of these courses we created in-house," he says, adding that the company trains roughly 250 people each year. "Most of my trainers come from the field. They were spectacular at the job they did. I brought in the best sales, operations people and underwriters. They're now teaching it the way they've done it."

And it shows. In 2004, 13 of the top 45 rookie loan officers in the country named by Mortgage Originator magazine were from HomeBanc. Further, the company ranked 14 in 2005 in Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list.

Mantia also has a knack for forming close bonds with employees. Consider the time he mentioned to employees in his first sales training class that one of his life goals was to skydive. On the weekend before their final exam, 10 members of the class surprised him with a skydiving trip.

Out of the office, he volunteers for a variety of organizations, such as the Buckhead Business Association's Leadership Institute, which offers a nine-month skills-based leadership program to members of Atlanta's business community (Mantia was a 2002 graduate of the program), and Study Hall, an after-school program for low-income students.

"I have a passion for helping people grow and am working in an environment where people are allowing me to share my gifts," he says. "It makes coming to work every day a lot of fun."

The Road Upward for Paula G. Reid

Last year, Paula G. Reid, the assistant director of HR at Henrico County in Richmond, Va., sat on a stage next to her chief executive officer, asking him a variety of questions about the joys and frustrations of his job. While they weren't exactly Regis and Kelly, they still attracted a crowd of roughly 80 county employees.

Reid introduced this talk-show format as an effective way for the county manager to transfer critical knowledge about his job to any of the county's 4,500 employees with serious ambitions of becoming his successor. It proved so valuable that it may be expanded to other county positions.

With a strong passion for professional development, Reid has earned a reputation at work as an innovative leader. After joining the county in 1998 as an HR specialist, she has received four promotions and now oversees four different divisions: benefits, employee development and training, classification and compensation, and employee health services.

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"My boss said that I always had been considered a leader even when I wasn't in a leadership position," she says. "One of my biggest challenges is that I'm very competitive. I have very high standards for myself."

Not to mention her high hopes for others. To prevent employees from growing and learning in silos, she developed a variety of programs during the last several years that encourage people to achieve their career goals. For example, supervisors and managers at all levels of the organization are trained to help their staff develop individualized learning plans and are held accountable for the professional growth of those employees. Indeed, they're rated on employee development and coaching as part of their performance appraisal.

That program ties into another one Reid created called Motivating Generation X, aimed at county employees between the ages of 32 and 42, whose turnover rate was 72 percent. In addition to training supervisors and managers to better understand this age group's work values and needs, she introduced other professional-development activities such as mentoring. The payback was huge. The group's turnover rate has since dropped to 12 percent.

What's more, nearly 90 percent of upper-management vacancies are now filled internally since her programs have been implemented. Still, Reid wants and expects to do more. So, she sits on the county's critical issues team, which develops strategies and action plans to overcome the organization's biggest challenges.

"This [job] is a great fit for me," Reid says. "The things I value are valued by this organization and I've been surrounded by great people. Here's an organization that appreciates and values you and gives you opportunities so that anybody can soar."

Ted Yamasaki, A True Professional

Consider working for a government organization in which the mayor, board of supervisors and civil-service commission hand down policies to HR that sometimes clash or compete with one another. To make matters worse, HR policies are updated in a piecemeal fashion with few people ever looking at the big picture.

That was the environment Ted Yamasaki found himself in when he accepted a position as personnel officer in 2000 for the city and county of San Francisco.

"Walking into an agency that was huge, complex and highly political, working with antiquated systems was an incredible challenge," says Yamasaki, now managing deputy director of HR for the same organization.

But you would never know it by his most recent string of successes. After holding several senior-management positions, he became acting HR director in 2004 when the former HR director retired. At the time, San Francisco was facing severe budget challenges. HR was charged with managing a huge layoff and creating an early retirement program for its 27,500 employees.

So Yamasaki and his "incredible HR team," as he describes it, stepped out-of-the-box and developed what he refers to as a brilliant concept. Whenever an employee was going to be laid off, his staff analyzed whether or not that individual would have enough seniority to bump someone with the same job classification in a different department.

Ultimately, through this process, someone would lose their job. To avoid this from happening, Yamasaki's staff would then contact the most senior person in that department and offer him or her early retirement. This way, a vacancy could be created and no one would be displaced. This creative strategy saved roughly 270 people from losing their jobs, he says.

Then, in 2005, an HR director was hired. Instead of quitting, Yamasaki put his ego aside and committed to working with his new boss, a former labor attorney. Yamasaki believed the department now had the right combination of expertise, energy and clout to move in a new direction.

"Ted responded to my appointment with grace, professionalism and an enthusiastic commitment to work collaboratively with me to invigorate the city's HR function," says Philip Ginsburg, HR director and Yamasaki's Rising Stars nominator.

Under Yamasaki's guidance, HR introduced an online system for department functions such as records management and reduced paper transactions by more than 60 percent. He also managed the city's disaster-service worker program, in which the unique skills of each employee, such as being licensed to drive a forklift, was captured in a centralized database that interfaces with HR's database.

"I'm able to really think through operational issues, never forgetting that there is a larger picture," Yamasaki says. "I'm one of those lucky people who have the opportunity to navigate through the trees but never forgetting that we are in a forest."

Success, Virginia Grande-Style

Employees at Merrill Lynch are excited about the opening of the company's on-site child-care center this fall at its New York offices in the World Financial Center. Its former facility in the World Trade Center was destroyed during the Sept. 11 attacks.

One person who was heavily involved in the project was Virginia A. Grande, managing director and head of corporate and enterprise client HR management at the global financial services company.

"Virginia led her team through an assessment of the cost/benefit issues associated with providing various levels of employee child care and developed a recommendation," says her boss, Peter Stingi, head of client HR management, leadership and talent management. "Virginia's persistent but patient leadership led her team through a maze of issues and obstacles to a very positive outcome for the company and employees."

Grande, a bit humble about her efforts, believes the process went smoothly because of the support her team received from senior execs.

"There were times early on in this proposal when I was pinching myself coming out of meetings because I expected to have to spend weeks and months putting volumes of numbers together," she says. "There were no challenges. We did all the correct diligence."

Grande was actually hired as a legal assistant back in 1985 while attending law school at night. Within the next two decades, she transitioned from various positions in law to business management. She says the business experience showed her that, "It's all about HR." So in 2000, she switched fields again, serving for five years as the director of HR for global investment banking before being promoted to her current job in 2005.

Since then, she has implemented several diversity programs. In November, she launched a leadership and diversity awards program that recognized 46 employees worldwide who used their sphere of influence to promote diversity in their workplace. One winner was a junior administrative assistant in Tokyo who established bi-weekly working-mother gatherings nine years ago, meetings that are still going strong.

Another program -- Diversity Talent Reviews -- was conceived by Ahmass Fakahany, the firm's vice chairman and chief administrative officer. Grande transformed his idea -- holding managers partially responsible for the career development of their minority staff -- into a process. She says managers have welcomed the responsibility and use it as a vehicle to organize their thinking around diversity.

"My story at Merrill Lynch has been all about mentoring," she says, pointing to people such as Fakahany and Rosemary Berkery, executive vice president and general counsel at the firm. "They continue to help me recognize my potential."

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