John Serpa: Hey, welcome back! We’re doing Section 7 [Editor’s Note: this section was changed to Section 6]. We’re going to talk about Communication, and the Work/Life Balance. So now I’ve got a job, I’m, I’m in the mix, and we’re going to talk about that today. John Serpa, retired United States Marine. I did about 21 years in the Marine Corps, and retired right into HR. I’m still joined by Alicia and Steve, and they’re going to introduce themselves and we’ll get started.
Alicia Long: So I’m Alicia Long, I’m the Director of Human Resources for a manufacturing plant in Winnsboro, South Carolina, and this is my 22nd year of being in HR.
Steve Dufort: And Steve Dufort, with General Electric. I’ve been with them for 15 years; I’m the HR Partner.
JS: So thanks again for joining us. Again, Section 7 [Editor’s Note: this section was changed to Section 6]; a little bit different. I’ve got the job now, right? I did all the things I needed to do. I accepted that offer, and now here I am walking around with my “high and tight,” and I’ve got my shirt-stays on my shirt, right? And I’m wearing a tie every day, when everyone else is wearing a polo shirt and sneakers, right? We need to “relax” me a little bit. Because every email that I signed-off on, regardless of whether I was talking to a lance corporal, or a colonel, respectfully sent, right? Every single one of those was as strict and rigid as I could possibly make it, and it read as if I, you know, I’m getting some sort of test on my English, right? And it was just as proper as it could be. I don’t do that in HR, I don’t do that in the private sector. I don’t receive anything that starts-off with anything other than, “Hey John!” or “Hello!” right? “Happy Friday!” Totally different world, so, let’s talk about, like, communication in the workplace, what kind of methods are being used, what’s pretty common, and how do I navigate that, now that I’m in the role?
AL: So, communication styles that we use at my current job, which I don’t necessarily like, please let me put that in there first; we use apps on our phone. So it’s a, it’s like a, instant messenger type thing. I’m not the biggest fan of it, especially being in HR, because it’s a social media site.
JS: Is it proprietary to your company?
AL: It is not.
JS: OK, so you’re using a third party?
AL: We are.
JS: OK, we’re doing a lot of that as well. Okay.
AL: And I don’t necessarily like it, but it works for what we’re using it for, at the moment. Except when they ask me to send certain payroll reports or, you know, some confidential information. Then I won’t use that. Then I’ll switch over to email. And if it’s of a high confidential nature, then I’ll secure that email with a password. So we use electronic forms of communication, is what we use.
SD: Yeah, pretty similar; we mostly use email. We use the Microsoft package – Outlook for email, and Teams. And if you haven’t used Microsoft Teams, it’s a, you can instant message, you can video chat similar to Zoom. I think all these platforms – Skype, Zoom, Teams – pretty similar to use.
JS: I was the one that was still dotting my “t’s,” crossing my “i’s,” and putting a period on Microsoft Teams messages, and that went out the window pretty quick.
SD: Smiley faces now?
JS: Apparently everyone’s using an emoji, and that’s OK, but, I think the thing that I always thought about was, especially coming from the federal government, that at any moment, someone could come along and say, my things have been subpoenaed. And so I never wanted to have anything I have typed, wind up in any sort of court of law, being talked about. I’m not sure if that’s the same in the private sector. I mean, although things could be subpoenaed. I think that sometimes, just from a communications standpoint, I’m trying to make the people understand, like, “Hey, I’m not trying to make you as rigid as I was, but at the same time, what – would you want this to be communicated in a court of law?” Do you think that that that has any tie-in or carryover?
AL: I’m still rigid. I look at it as everything is discoverable.
JS: OK. It is.
AL: So I’m still very rigid.
JS: So maybe that’s a trait that we have, that we’ve come out with from the military, that maybe we shouldn’t give that one up. And if anything, maybe we could use that to influence our civilian counterparts, right?
AL: Well I think it’s important to maybe know your audience. You know, if I’m if I’m communicating with my team, you know, I may use an emoji or something like that. But if I’m communicating with my VP, you know, or the owner of the company, I’m not going to send him a smiley face emoji, you know, it just depends on who I’m talking to.
SD: Yeah, I had interesting…I tend to probably be a little less formal, in my communication, and had a, a couple of years ago, was in a previous role…I had written-up an email, which, in retrospect, was at least well-written, grammatically-correct, and I sent it to my manager. And within three hours it actually went all the way up to our CEO, and back to me. And it was, it was a positive note, so again, it was fortunate that it was professionally-written, but I think, I love the way Alicia said, “Know your audience.” Because who you’re sending that note to is, that context, incredibly important, and…And in addition to that, know that anything we put out there – email, all this electronic media – it’s, it’s out there forever. So, the only additional point I would make is, you know, it’s making sure all the communications are professional; varying levels of formality, certainly, but having it be something that’s professional, and you’d be proud of, if it was posted on the Internet.
JS: So let’s take the email, and all of these apps and things out of it. I’m walking around, I’m interacting with you. I mean I know that even on this, you know, Section 7 [Editor’s Note: this section was changed to Section 6], I’m already sounding kind of rigid, because I’m fired-up thinking about, you know, this type of thing. Because, I knew that I wanted to come out of the military, maybe do a little bit less of that…jargon. But I know I still kind of sound a little bit like it. I just can’t get it out of me, right? That might come across, to somebody that’s never had exposure to military as, I’m abrasive, or I’m angry, or I’m yelling. I mean, I know that I can fill a room with, with volume, and any one of us can, but know your audience! Right? Have you ever experienced any of that, or what kind of tips and tricks would you give me, as a, as a transitioning veteran, to just kind of tone it down, or do I ramp it up? Which one do I do?
AL: Again, I think you have to know your audience and know the situation that you’re in. So I’ve been out of the military for a while, so that’s out of me, per se, per se. But, when I’m out on the floor interacting with my employees, I’m still Alicia, the Director of HR, but I’ll jump in and do double-dutch with the best of them, right? You know so, I want them to know that, I’m not this stuffy person who just sits in the office and fires people because, you know, we don’t want that reputation anyway. But I also want them to know that I’m approachable, and that I’m a “people person,” and that I’m there for them. So I really will, get out there and double-dutch with them, but if you say something crazy, I’m going to, I’m going to…
JS: Put them in check.
JS: You’re not going to stay…
JS: Just because you’re having a good time.
JS: Sure, makes sense.
SD: Yeah. The only thing I would add is, you can ask for feedback. So, John, you made an awesome point of, are you coming across too loud, or are you coming across not loud or not confident enough? And I think the way to, to, to “pulse” that, is you ask your team for feedback. You know, you’re preserving who you are, and you’re preserving your genuine style. But, I find, that if you don’t ask for feedback, people may not give it. But when you give them the opportunity to give you feedback, and it’s someone you have that trust built with, they’re more than willing to give you feedback, both positive, and then certainly if you ask for it, some constructive feedback too.
JS: One thing that we had probably the last 15 years of my career, at least in a much more structured way, was the mentor process. You know, maybe the first few years it was, “You’re assigned this person; this is your mentor. Doesn’t matter if you “jive,” and understand each other or not. Get some, get some mentoring done.” OK, but we had to pivot. Maybe it was, you know the, OIF/OEF type of thing, but, you really started to be able to pick your mentor, right? I could actually figure out, you know, hey Steve, you know hey Alicia, we align on things. You know, I just, maybe I’m not even saying you’re my mentor. You know, I’m your mentee, but, you know, I just started going to you. I feel like we connect and I can get some things, you know, maybe I have fifteen of these folks, right? Does that carry over, into the, into the private sector job market? And if so, like how would you, how would you approach that, as a veteran, walking into a company, brand new, don’t know anyone?
AL: So, I’m not sure if I would pick my mentor in my workplace. I’m not sure if I would do that. Just me. I have a mentor now. My mentor has been with me throughout my entire HR career, because somebody told me that it was important to get a mentor. If you want to grow in this HR career, you need to have somebody that you can go to. So I chose my mentor, somebody that was in HR and I just went up to him and said, “Hey Tim, would you consider taking me on as your mentee?” And he said, “Yes, I would do it.” And here it is, 22 years later, and I still hit him up. So I would encourage anybody, civilian, military, to find somebody who you can bounce things off of, that you can pick up the phone and call, in, in your career field, you know, so, so that you’re aligned; your goals and things are aligned. So if you, if it happens to be somebody in your workplace, great. I just personally chose to choose somebody outside.
SD: Totally agreed. I think, my mentors happened to be inside the same company. But it’s a large company, so I have some, some space to, to move. But I think I’m a huge believer in not just matching people randomly with mentors, but letting people find their own mentor. And, and specifically I think it’s people who, you have a connection with. So stylistically, you will go to them for advice. And I think sometimes that looks like people who are, kind of like you, personality-wise. And I think sometimes that actually means people are very different from you because you might gravitate to them because, you see in them something you know you need to work on. But I think, the, the key is for each person, finding a mentor that they feel comfortable connecting with, and know that that mentor’s got their, got their back and has, has their best interest in their career in-mind.
JS: You know I, haven’t really thought about it, you know, if you picked that inside of your company, could backfire. I mean, there is a possibility. So if you can find somebody that you can trust that way, then I think that’s a good thing. But, yeah maybe it would be somebody outside, outside the organization. Sure. Something to think about there. I guess I was thinking about it from how we did it in the military; of course everybody was in the same organization, right, because you had to put it down on paper. But this would, this gives you the opportunity to be flexible. Term in the military, you may be familiar with: Grow where you’re planted. You may be an administrator, and you wind up being in an intel job; or you may be a communicator, and you wind up a provisional rifle company. You may not be trained on that role. You may be taking on some added things, but you grow where you’re planted. And, and I’m not sure if that really does, kind of transfer over or not. I’m thinking about it from, you know, in, in Section 6, we talked about negotiating, and things like that, or did the, did the role I was negotiating for, turn out to be exactly like it was written or did it have some added things to it? What if I took a role that was less than maybe what I’m used to in the military, right? Or maybe took less experience, or something – I just, I need, I need a job. You know, how can you then move up in an organization regardless of what your title is, and, and maybe grow where you’re planted in the private sector?
AL: So I currently have in my department, I have a Department of 10 people right now. And so when I took over this role; their role, my team’s roles weren’t clearly-defined. As a matter of fact, my team was “green” in HR – absolutely no experience. Probably a different color, but they were very “green” in HR. So, one of the things that I encouraged my team members to do, was to, cross-train in other things. For example, I have a Benefits Specialist. So, she may jump over and help out in the Payroll piece of it, or my Admin may jump-in with the recruiting piece of it, right? So, but, what I think is important is that, not only do I, I encourage them, or train them in those other areas, but they also have to want it. So they may take a position, where it may not be exactly what you want, but you have to have the “umph,” on the inside to, want to do something different. You may have to ask the question, you know, “Can I help you do this?” you know, “John, can you teach me how to do this?” So you have to have that inner “fire” in you, to want to learn something else and ask those questions.
SD: Yeah, so true. I think the people, when I think about who I respect, love, or love working with the most, they’re the ones that are just boundary-less. You call on them, they help.
And I think, they’re never the ones who say, “Hey, it’s not in my job description; I’m not going to do that.” And I think for most of us, that’s probably the case, that, you know, you want someone who’s going to take on extra things. And I will tell you personally, when, when I’ve made pivotal moves in my career, it’s often come from situations where I took on more at the time, and asked for no reward, and was then rewarded. But it took a while, you know, so specifically there was a time where I took a bubble assignment that lasted an entire year; I was basically doing two jobs for that year.
JS: So what is a bubble assignment?
SD: Yep. A bubble assignment is, you kind of think of it as you’ve got your day job, your day job that you were hired into, and then this additional assignment. So you’re on this mission, you know, which is again, I’m using, the more private sector view of that, right?
SD: So you know, you’re on this mission that the business has asked you to take on in addition to your role, or sometimes, instead of your role for a period of time. So when I had an opportunity to do that in my career, I worked two different jobs because another role opened-up. And so I kept my job like that for an entire year. It was an intense experience, but that actually launched my career, my HR career.
JS: And I’m going to, go out on a limb here; you didn’t ask for more money for this other job?
SD: I didn’t.
JS: What it was doing for you, was setting you up for a, a higher job. Something – it was going to be harder, harder work…Yes, and that’s how we’re setting ourselves up.
JS: And that is a little bit different than, maybe in the military, but not so much. I mean, I think that, I think we take on a lot of things in the military and just gimme, gimme, gimme, I’m hungry, I want more, and the cream rises to the top, right? And on the opposite end of that, you know, the opposite of that is going to lay low and maybe, you know, no good deed goes unpunished, right?
JS: But at the same time, I want the worst so that way I can prove myself. So, is that how you would go about trying to get another role, another job inside of the company? Is that a good way to do it, or are there other techniques, for taking on, and you’ve done it, but how can I set myself up for other roles inside of that organization?
AL: Showing that you’re hungry. Showing, show your supervisor that you’re hungry. Let ‘em know it.