Get Reworked episode 37 guest, Dr. Marie Harper, Dean, Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business, American Public University System

Get Reworked Podcast: Why HR Needs to Be a Change Agent

June 07, 2022 Leadership
Siobhan Fagan
By Siobhan Fagan, Mike Prokopeak

Get Reworked, Episode 37 with Dr. Marie Harper, Dean of Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business, APUS
Human resources has come a long way since its days as the personnel department. Yet tensions remain between organizations that view HR as a strategic partner and those that still see HR people as paper pushers and party planners.

In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Dr. Marie Harper, Dean, Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business, American Public University System. Marie's professional path started in a personnel department, but hasn't stopped evolving since then. She believes HR professionals who don't view themselves as change agents will "be destroyed."

Listen: Get Reworked Full Episode List

"Every time there's a problem, you can't say, we will train people," said Marie. "Rather, you should look at what is going on in the system, do I need to change employees do I need to change policies, procedures, the systems that we use, and that's how you make change in the organization. I truly believe in that, you have to look at the big picture before you try to assist and help individuals."

Highlights of the conversation include:

  • How Human Resources moved beyond administrative work.
  • The risk of burnout among HR professionals and why some organizations still aren't addressing it.
  • Why people should think in terms of personal growth and not careers.
  • What gives Marie hope about the next generation of HR leaders.

Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk with Marie about important skills for HR professionals, why she hates the word 'career,' how a Philadelphia mayor's election loss spurred her into HR and if Mickey Mouse can cure burnout. Listen in for more.

Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Dr. Marie Harper: You may be excited about being an HR professional, but you need to check out the organization that you're going to do HR in. Not all companies are accepting of HR being a partner, let alone a strategic partner.

Mike Prokopeak: That was Dr. Marie Harper talking about the perceptions that organizations have about their HR function. She's going to be our guest today on the Get Reworked podcast. Siobhan, tell us a little bit about Dr. Marie Harper.

Siobhan Fagan: Dr. Marie Harper is the dean of Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business at the American Public University System (APUS). And she's got a really rich background as a coach, as a facilitator, as a writer.

She also worked in corporations in human resources, and she's just got a lot of opinions, and if you are the Philadelphia mayor, you might want to watch out for her, so I think we should just bring her on. What do you think, Mike?

Mike: I think we should, let's Get Reworked.

The Evolution of Personnel Departments to Human Resources

Siobhan: Welcome to the podcast, Marie.

Marie: Thank you. It's a pleasure being here with you.

Siobhan: We are so happy to have you here to talk about human resources in this day and age. And part of the reason I'm so excited to be talking to you is that you've had a long career in human resources from many different areas.

So I just want to ask a little bit about your career, when you were working in corporations in human resources before you entered your current role in the academic world. How have you seen the profession evolve over the years?

Marie: I don't want to date myself. But when I first started out in human resources, there were still organizations that call themselves personnel. A couple of times, I was actually hired to go into those organizations to shift it from a personnel department to a human resources.

And when I talked to the people at these organizations, I was sharing how personnel referred to pushing the paper, whereas Human Resources wanted to take a more strategic and partnership role with the different department heads throughout the company.

So I've seen people start to accept the term more. And I think we've gotten to where we are today, which in my opinion, is human resources, adjusting to the new norm. And by that I mean the pandemic.

Siobhan: So if it's any consolation, I have actually been counted among the personnel, back in the day.

So with the adjustments that you're you're saying that human resources has done and this evolution from personnel to human resources, has the fundamental work of HR professionals changed over that time?

Marie: Oh, yes, I think it's much more complex than it was when I first started out.

I don't want to say I'm an outsider now, I still go to some of the largest conferences, because I want a pulse on what's going on in that particular field.

But I think it is functional now. When I started out, it was easy to be a generalist and learn all of the areas and still be sane.

Today, I think people are going to have to select to be a specialist, because each of the functions are so complex now, there's so much to understand, that I think it's almost impossible to be a generalist, unless you're at the upper levels like VP, or the Chief Human Resource Officer of an organization.

Mike: Marie, has the development of HR professionals kept pace with that evolution, from your point of view?

Marie: From my point of view, the opportunity to stay paced, has occurred, again, from organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which I believe is the largest human resource organization in the world.

They have different opportunities for people to stay on top of the field, from a non credit bearing perspective, and they work with a lot of universities so that we get it in our curriculum, the standards that are required for human resource professionals.

And then there's their certification. Again, a test that individuals in the field are required to take to make sure they're keeping pace with the changes.

Mike: Yeah. You said something interesting in the beginning of your answer, you said the opportunity is there. So there are opportunities for HR professionals to advance their career to increase their skills and competencies.

Are they taking it, I mean, what's your pulse of the professionals doing the job? Do you feel like they're below the bar that's being set? Are they at the bar? Are they above it? Are they somewhere else?

Marie: I find that interesting that you picked up the word that I was very careful about selecting. And the reason why I say, opportunity is, also throughout the years, going to these conferences, I meet different people, I can tell people who are taking advantage of the opportunities that SHRM and academic institutions are supplying for them.

However, I can also tell the ones who are just showing up, getting the information, may or may not be using it. It's all in the conversation with the HR professional.

Mike: They're still doing the job of personnel.

Marie: Yes, yes.

HR as Strategic Partner

Mike: What about the perceptions of HR? Because that's always a big debate, right? You know, HR will talk about, yes, we're strategic, we can be strategic, we want to be your partners in carrying out what your goals are for the organization.

But the belief in those partners isn't necessarily always matching with that opportunity as well. Do you see that happening still? Or is that gap between HR's perception of what they can do, and what others think they can do, shrinking or expanding?

Marie: That's an interesting question. It's also a topic that I always addressed anytime I was teaching. And that is, you may be excited about being an HR professional, but you need to check out the organization that you're going to do HR in. Not all companies are accepting of HR being the partner, let alone a strategic partner.

Most of the times I can tell without going into organization, looking at the work that has been done in the area of the people. And also when communication comes out to the public, who's making that announcement, especially as it applies to the workforce. Those are some signs you can tell if the HR is a strategic partner, or if they're just there still doing the administrative work, and basically listening to what other departments tell them to do.

Siobhan: Marie, in cases like that, where perhaps your students walk into an organization, and they find themselves not respected as a partner, do they get the resources? Do they get the kind of support that they need from the organization to do their work? Or are they basically they're just sort of check boxes?

Marie: They get the support to do the work that the organization sees the human resource function as serving.

Siobhan: And so if they were seen as a strategic partner, how would that look different?

Marie: Usually, in my experience, and I play this role, because I was very adamant of being a partner, the HR person, or the team will be allowed into meetings with the senior management team, that Chief HR person, they will play a role in whatever the organization wants to do next, their responsibility will be to get the workforce in line with the mission of the organization or the initiatives of the organization.

In turn, people that report under that Chief Human Resource Management person, they will be involved in their different areas. Like if we're talking about training, or if we're talking about recruiting, you will notice you very seldom see recruiter or recruiting anymore, you see talent acquisition and talent retention.

So for me, those are buzzwords to say that they're a part of the strategic thinking for each of the HR functions.

Burnout in the HR Department

Siobhan: So you mentioned earlier about how HR has evolved, most recently, to step up to the most recent challenge that we've all been facing in the last few years, namely, the pandemic. And one of the topics that we were hoping to talk to you about today is this rising problem with burnout, not only in the population in general, but specifically in the human resources department.

So, what happens when these people who are leading so many different strategic areas in the company, when those people who are tackling burnout for the other employees in the company to a certain extent, what happens when they're burned out themselves?

Marie: Exactly. I'm seeing a lot of that. And it's not just the HR professionals, it's the workforce in general.

And what I'm about to say, I think it's applying to a number of employees, but you, you can tell in the HR profession, because they're the ones responsible for getting employees what they need.

By that, I truly believe, when we went on lockdown from the pandemic, a lot of people were forced to stay in the house, no communication with the outside world, and tired of communication with their family and friends. And I think we have underestimated the effect, especially mentally, that people have suffered, even people that we would have thought were pretty much well put together, they have suffered in some ways.

And what we're seeing now is employees acting out, getting angry, frustrated at the littlest things. Unfortunately, usually, when there's conflict, the expectation is that the human resource team will come in and resolve it. But if you have your whole organization, all of a sudden there's a change in behavior, it just becomes too much.

And I think that's why we see it more in the human resource professionals. And why we talk about that particular function of the company more often, is because those were the gatekeepers. Well, it's scary when you find out that the gatekeepers are suffering, the things that you're having, it makes you want to say, so what's next? How are we going to come out of this?

Mike: So how do you counsel HR professionals who are feeling the effects of this, what should they do to counter some of these pressures when they feel it all themselves, and in fact, probably more so because they're they've got it kind of focused on them from many different directions?

Marie: I'm going to be very frank and honest with what I usually advise them, it depends on the person's situation, and what role they play in the human resource function. But I really have advised some people to take a break from the profession, get themselves together, and then re-enter, even if it's to re-enter in a different function than they did before, because their time may be up in a particular area.

An example is a lot of people start off in the recruiting function or talent acquisition, that's extremely heavy on people interaction, you have to deal with the personalities of different people. Also, the benefits side of the house, very complex, again, because of the rising costs of things like healthcare, and people requesting different types of perks for the benefits package, like the cafeteria plan has extended, but you don't have to deal with people as much or directly. So that may be an area that you could re-enter and then find out some information about that particular area of human resources.

If the person chooses to stay within the organization, I usually encourage job enlargement, where they will partner with a line function and get a full understanding of what that particular department does, so that they are learning about something outside of HR, getting to collaborate and being a part of the team of a department, and seeing things from the perspective of the employees who are working on the line.

Mike: I really liked that, what you just said there, because I think what it does is it really reiterates what you know, folks shouldn't be doing an HR anyway, if they want to be business partners as they should be investing in knowing the job and actually living the job, rotating through the job, in some cases, like you're suggesting, of the people they're trying to serve. So that way they can be better should they choose to rotate back in.

It both serves the purpose of maybe refreshing their fire for the work, but also developing them as leaders within your company.

Marie: Yes, and I'm glad that you said that, because that's the path that I actually took, and how I got out of being called the HR professional.

Is like, I knew what I had to do an HR, my first opportunity was in a hospital, and there were about 11 divisions, and I had eight of those divisions. And what I did was get to learn those functions, and how they utilized me was, whenever they had problems, or if they wanted to strategic plan, how to train their employees, I was the HR rep, but I looked at the situation from their eyes, and then said, how can I use what I know to help them out?

Instead of like trying to say, we can do this or I will lead that, but how do I work with them so that they understand what the HR professional thinks. And as a result of learning so many different line functions, I was able to transition into being a line person versus an HR person.

An Unusual Path to Human Resources Professional  

Mike: I'm glad you brought that up because I want to go back into the origin story because I think everybody has a career origin story. What, how do they got into what they chose to do?

What originally drew you into the work of HR? Why did you make this choice to be an HR professional?

Marie: Um, it's a funny story. When I was ready to go to college, I live in the Philadelphia area, they had a mayor that I despised, and I originally wanted to be a lawyer, so that I could get him out of office.

By my sophomore year, the city did it for me. So I started to think so what's next? And I loved helping people, I still liked the law aspect of it, but I didn't want to be a lawyer. So I was attracted to employment law. And from that, I started to hear how employment law was very important to the HR function.

And then when I started to research and see the other functions, I was like I could do that I that will keep me busy about another 20 years, just learning all the functions. That's my story to HR.

Mike: How did you make the jump to academia, then, I mean, what was, tell us, because that sounds like an interesting story.

Marie: When I first started out, I think, I have a natural ability to teach people, to get them from point A to point B, it's just the gift, I won't even call it a talent. And so I did one of two things. If I was working in corporate, I taught as an adjunct faculty member at a number of different schools. Then mid career, I jumped to the academic institutions on the administrative side as an HR professional.

But I always said, I'm interested in the academic instruction part, but I knew I had to get my doctorate. So a few years later, I made the switch from academic administration, to academic instruction, to today where I am now the Dean of the School of Business.

And it's been exciting. But that's, I've always had my hands in both corporate and academic my whole entire career.

Siobhan: Did any mayors lose their job in your transition here?

Mike: I know, this is like a reminder to all of us, not moving to a town where Marie lives.

Siobhan: The power.

Marie: That's something about me, I have a need to make things right and level the playing field. So, no one's safe.

When Leadership Is Out of Touch

Siobhan: So, I was hoping to go back to the burnout point, because I want to actually look at it from the perspective of the business rather than the HR professional.

So in the cases where you have this person who's burnt out, and who potentially is thinking about the advice that you gave them to take a break, etc. Is there anything that that organization can or should do to help that person stay on? Should they give them a leave of absence, which we see some companies starting to offer, and keep their job for them? Or what do you think?

Marie: I think there are a number of organizations where they're not comfortable addressing that topic yet. And it's more than the HR professionals, and as I've mentioned before, HR professionals stand out more because they are supposed to be the gatekeepers.

So I think why the type of strategies I was using, you don't see every day, because the people who are leading and responsible for making that call, they don't understand it themselves.

What I've found countless times, when you're dealing with a very difficult topic, believe it or not, most of your leaders do not know how to address it. And I think that's going to be a hinderance for many organizations coming out of the pandemic, because everyone is used to looking at people and basing their knowledge on their past successes. Going through the pandemic, the game has changed.

And so I really feel that some people who were leaders, pre-pandemic, will not be able to sustain unless they start educating themselves short-term or long-term on what are the obstacles? And what are the opportunities post pandemic for the workforce? And I personally think one of those skill sets that is needed is seeing beyond the veil, and beyond the veil, what I mean by that, you have to be able to lead and facilitate, chart the course, without seeing what you're going towards. Not many people have developed that particular skill set.

Siobhan: It's interesting, because listening to you, I'm thinking about all the organizations that are currently sort of rushing pell-mell back to the office and are kind of trying to pretend that the last few years didn't happen, you know, they're they're like oh, back to 2019 everything, we're going to do everything, the way that we did, and that seems like such a lost opportunity. What do you think about that?

Marie: OK, you hit one of my points. I totally agree.

I think human nature, when you feel as though that your back is up against the wall, you want to go back to what is comfortable. So I believe that's why you're seeing a number of people trying to get everyone back to the office, even though they're surveying their employees and their employees are telling them something different, I think that's very sad.

And now we're starting to see companies laying off, despite the fact that other organizations are having a hard time to get employees, because employees are like, I am free. And you know, they're exercising their right to look at the different employers to say, what's the fit for me, they spent that time during a pandemic locked up thinking about, what type of life do I want to have when this is over. And some of them are exploring that.

But I think as you have leadership teams who are out of touch, want things back to the way they were, and then some of them are tied up in real estate, that the only thing they can think of is that they get their employees back into the different businesses.

Signs an Organization Is the Right Culture for You

Mike: You know, we're talking, we're talking about a couple different levels, we're talking about sort of the broad level of burnout, but also the HR level.

Looking at the HR level of things, what can they do to be that whisper between, you know, the leadership who might have their head in the sand, and you know, the employee base that has a different point of view from them?

And we see that time after time, when you look at surveys, you know, leaders think that we're doing a great job, employees say, you're okay. But you know, there's a pretty significant gap there.

So how do you help, how do you counsel HR people, what do they do in that situation? How do they approach that?

Marie: I think it goes back to my response about, how does the organization view HR? Those that see HR as a strategic partner, they will fare better than organizations who are like, you're just here to help me.

And I would probably guess, that those type of organizations have a higher level of burnout among their HR professionals, because those individuals will feel as though that their hands are tied, that they may have some ideas on how to change the situation, but their leadership teams are not listening to them. That's a sad position to be in. I still know that it goes on today, because I hear the stories from different HR professionals. And then when I go to different conferences, that is a common question that is asked from HR professionals at those type of organizations, they see their counterparts have more freedom than them. And the question is, how do I get to be where you are? What changed in your organization where your leadership and direct line managers started to listen to you? How do I make that happen in my organization?

Mike: Can you, make it happen at your organization, if it's not happening, if it seems like the cards are stacked against you? Or would your counsel be find another job?

Marie: Well, that gets into what type of HR person are you.

And I know when I've talked to individuals, first, I've been one of those people that have managed to get a seat at the table, in all of the roles. I personally, when I'm looking for another job, I will not take a position less, because I know it's going to be painful, if they're not going to listen to me. And that's the first thing that I advise whether I'm teaching coaching, or you know, mentoring, is that you can't just go for an HR position.

And I say that about every position, it's very important to research the company, find out it's culture, and then whether or not you will be able to fit into that. That's the number one challenge that I give to anybody, is you need to know that you're going to be respected in that organization, because if you are, they will listen to you. If you're not, they're not going to listen to you.

So you have the choice, whether you're gonna go in there and try to make a difference, when you have no power, or you're going to go somewhere where you are respected, and people will listen to you.

Mike: Do you have a question or a litmus test that you put out in that situation to find that answer?

Marie: Well, one of the things that I do is I advise them to do what I used to do. I did not accept a position unless the interviewing team would let me go out on the floor, to see the organization operate without me being an employee there, and not telling people why I was there. Because I'm very observant, and I can tell how people interact with one another, whether it's peer-to-peer, or whether it's the employee and the supervisor, and I can pretty much pick up is this the type of environment that I want to work in.

And again, I use that for any position. You may be a great administrative assistant in one company, or even one department, but you may go up for a position, same type of position, but it's in another department, is the subculture going to be the same? And if it's not, you need to think about whether that's the right move for you.

A promotion is not always the right thing to do if you're not in the right culture to grow.

Human Resources as a Change Agent

Mike: All right, I got one last question, and I promise I'll pause for a second. You know, as you're in the in a virtual organization or a mode in distributed or hybrid organization, how do you get that same sense of what the culture is and what the word on the street is amongst employees? Can you get the same level of insight?

Marie: I can. And I really try to tell people how to pick it up, believe it or not, before the pandemic and you know, remote working from home, I was involved in the movement from on-ground classes to online classes. And there's still a number of people in academia, who believe that online classes are not the same level as an on-ground class. I've proved that wrong.

And one of the ways that I did that was to talk about, let's discuss the important principles of teaching. Can you do the same thing in both modes? They're just called different things. But you have to do the same thing. For example, if you're having class participation, online, that's class discussion. And like a lot of people are saying, you can't get the same level of collaboration online or working from home that you would be at the watercooler? Yes, you can.

People have to become comfortable with things such as Zoom, any type of conversation method that they use, and some people and my sister just went through this, sometimes people get their bright ideas from just interacting with the people in their community. Last week, my sister's electricity went off, she had to go to Panera Bread, she spent the whole day with someone she had just met, in a different company, different field. And they shared with each other, that's a form of collaboration, she was able to take some of the things back, that she had in that conversation, to her own employer, and then grow with the team in her organization.

So I always come up with arguments for everyone that has a reason for why it can't work in the other setting, because it can be, you just have to look at it from a different perspective, whether you're using technology, or just your people and your traditional conversation and communication pieces.

Siobhan: It's really interesting, because a lot of times people see the HR function as being sort of the gatekeeper or the one who upholds the rule of the land in the organization. And you're taking more of a HR as potential change agent...

Marie: Yes.

Siobhan: ... perspective. Do you think that more HR people today are seeing themselves in that role? Or is that sort of an ongoing evolution?

Marie: I think they have to, or they will be destroyed.

People may be in the HR field for a while, and then career growth for people who want to stay into it is that automatically transition to change management or organizational development.

In terms of the corporate part of me, when I left corporate I was what you would probably call the human performance technologist. And that's basically an HR person, but I found out about this particular movement when I was working on my master's degree, I became a part of a professional organization. And what they look at is you can't throw training and everything. Every time there's a problem, you can't say, we will train people.

Rather, you should look at what is going on in the system, do I need to change employees do I need to change policies, procedures, the systems that we use, and that's how you make change in the organization. I truly believe in that, you have to look at the big picture before you try to assist and help individuals.

And I think that applies to the questions you have been asking me about. In terms of what can we do to help human resource professionals, you have to look at what is going on in the whole organization, and what makes the best sense. There usually is more than one way to deal with the situation, but you have to be able to identify it.

Underrated/Overrated with Dr. Marie Harper

Siobhan: So Marie, we want to hear more about what you think for the next generation of HR professionals. But before we do that, we like to play a game on the podcast that we call underrated or overrated. And the way that it works is we will throw out an idea or a topic, you can tell us if it is underrated, if it's overrated, you can say pass, you can say square, whatever, you can make up the rules as you go along. Are you playing with us?

Marie: Yes, I'm up. I find this exciting, I like games.

Siobhan: And if you have any explanation for why you say it's underrated or overrated, and you can say if not, we could just move along, so I am going over the first one at you, 2022 as the year of the employee is that underrated or overrated?

Marie: Underrated.

Siobhan: You did not pause.

Marie: I think some companies are still in denial, and I think they're not giving it the right amount of time and value that they should be on how are they going to address employees seeing how they have been empowered, post pandemic.

Mike: All right, next one for you, internal talent marketplaces.

So there's been a lot of investment in technology that companies can use to create what they're calling internal talent marketplaces, matching job opportunities, career pathways, and current employee skills, and sort of being a matchmaker, using technology as a matchmaker.

Do you feel like that technology approach there is underrated or overrated?

Marie: Overrated. Why? Because the first thing I thought of was using technology and the talent acquisition part. I do know I've heard of it. And I see why we're having some problems in getting employees, is because the technology is weeding out certain people who should be considered qualified for the job.

And then the other thing, the reason why I have a problem with the concept, is that they're using that the key word you said was internally, I personally believe that the world is global. Everyone has a place in it, and we should make sure that they are operating in their gifts and talents. And that people have a place they're in the right place, Jim Collins, right place, right time, right season, and companies, if they're focusing on internally, they're looking at what they can do for their company, where they should be looking at what's best for the person, and be able to be happy and excited with an employee that they have trained up feel that there's time for them to go to a different organization to continue to grow.

Siobhan: I don't think that I've ever expected the underrated / overrated to get so thoughtful. So thank you for bringing us to that level Marie.

Mike: That's a compliment, by the way.

Siobhan: It is, it absolutely is. Like, OK, we're playing a game and I'm like, whoa, all right.

Marie: You can see I look at a lot of different people, and have an opinion on everything.

Siobhan: Oh, no, I love it. I love it.

Mike: We'll get to what you think about the current Philadelphia Mayor soon.

Siobhan: So we're gonna try one more with this underrated / overrated, actually, we're going to try two more, so I'm gonna throw one more at you right now, though. And that is, perks as a way to combat burnout. So hey, here's a pizza party. Hey, why don't you go to Disney World on us, etc. as a way to combat burnout. Is this underrated or overrated?

Marie: Overrated. And I was thinking about myself, because I was like, yes, I was getting excited about that trip. But I still have to come back. And if I have not dealt with the root cause I'm going to be burned out again.

Siobhan: Mickey Mouse isn't going to give you the energy you need to go back to the work.

Marie: Mickey Mouse to give me energy for a week.

Siobhan: OK.

Mike: Yeah, the gift cards can only last so long.

Marie: So long, yeah.

Mike: We all have a little drawer full of them.

Marie: Yes, and that's when I always say you know, when people tell me things, don't patch it up. And I've always told organizations, don't patch it up, let us confront it, let's not go over or under it, let's go through it and deal with the root cause.

Mike: All right, we've got one last one for you.

Marie: OK.

Mike: Organizations talk about having an employee value proposition, so this thing that you know the reason why you the case you make to employees, why they should be a part of your organization, the value you bring to them. Given that a lot of careers a lot of job 10 years are shrinking, is talent development, the fact that will develop your career, still a foundation of that employee value proposition? Do you believe talent development as a foundation of employee value proposition is underrated or overrated?

Marie: Underrated. And the reason why I say underrated, first of all, I don't think everyone gets what's really going on. I think we should empower employees, whether we want to use development of them, I'm still out on that one. But I definitely hate the word career. Because look at mine. I've been different things at different times. But they have, I have done everything that I wanted to. And I have always been in the place that I thought I needed to be.

I didn't say I want to go up the ladder. Never have said that. There came a point when I graduated from high school when I decided you know Philadelphia took care of the mayor, I wanted to be a director of HR before I was 30, I was by 26. To me I met my goal, and I actually quit my job and went to school full time to figure out what I wanted to do next.

And I've been doing that ever since, so I think the career part, and I'm having something come out very soon some type of articles, is overrated, and it actually is what gets people stuck because they get caught up on, where should I be in my career versus where should I be in my life?

Mike: Well, there's a lot to unpack right there. I think that's a whole other podcast.

Siobhan: I know. I perked up as soon as you said, I hate the word career. I'm like, oh, we could go deep into this one.

Marie: I cringe every time someone says it, I do.

Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

Siobhan: So, OK, I'm gonna ask you, you are in many ways, helping shape this future generation of people who are going into a profession. So, you are dean of the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business, how do you steer them clear of that career language?

Marie: When they give me an opportunity, I love working with our Career Services Department, the leader of that area, she and I are on the same page, I've done a podcast with her, we get excited about these new trends coming out. And we think about from her role and my role, like I'm trying to help other instructors educate our students on where I believe they should go, they're developing courses and programs that adjust to that, and she's looking at students when they have finished their time with us, and they want to go out into the workforce, what should they do?

So we tackle it from the beginning and the end. And we also have an e-portfolio course in many of our programs. And the purpose of that course, is to take artifacts of different courses, and create a portfolio that you can take to an employer. They explain what you learn from an employer's perspective, because many students will graduate, but they don't know how to communicate to employers, why they should be hired. They only know it from a textbook, academic perspective.

Siobhan: So I actually want to talk about a couple of these courses that you've introduced fairly recently, you've introduced courses in crisis management, in business continuity and in sustainability. And I'm wondering, did these result from the last two years, is this something that you just saw as a need, not only for HR people, but for business leaders in general?

Marie: Yes, I was very grateful we have a leadership team that listen to me, this was around the time that our name did get switched to the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business. So it was a good time for transition, it was the pandemic.

And also we had to look at, we had an advantage over some other academic institutions, especially those ones that did not buy into online learning. We didn't have to worry about that, we were already online, so we got the thought to look at what would employers need once we came out of this pandemic.

So we try to get out the message, we know where you are, we're going to develop or revise some of our courses to address how we should be acting post pandemic, what's important in terms of skill set. So we have developed courses that we can arrange as micro-credentials, so that people can get what they need in the short-term.

And what we're hoping is that, once they obtained this knowledge to be able to assist their employers immediately, they can come back and start to work on their degrees. And that's why we built these programs to be stackable. So if they get a micro credential, or what we call nano cert, at the right time, they could utilize those credits that they earned and that certificate to go directly into our credit degree bearing programs and earn a degree.

Mike: Yeah, that idea of nano certs or micro learning, micro certifications kind of fits perfectly in line with what you were talking about with a number of aspects. One is sort of that ability to kind of come in out of the job if as needed, as you know, we were talking about in the context of burnout, but it is obviously a big piece of professional development is to rotate through and do different things and, and as you said, kind of stack those experiences in the certifications that go along with it. It really makes a lot of sense to kind of approach things that way.

Marie: Yeah, that's a good message for employees as well as employers, because they see the benefits. It's a win-win situation.

Mike: As you look at the skills landscape, and you know, so you're working, you're looking at folks who are going to be entering the HR profession, what are the top skills that they should have as they enter the business world today?

Marie: I'm still hearing communication, and I'm actually still seeing that being one of the biggest problems in organizations, communicating up and down.

The second thing is adaptability, and I think I've alluded to that a couple of times, you have to be able to change with the times, especially if the changes happen immediately. How do I respond? And that takes building up different skill sets and different areas so that you can be able to switch.

One of the stories I share with people, all of my degrees are in different areas. If one is down, I could go to one of the other ones. And I think everyone should look at life that way, especially as it applies to work, make sure you are functional in the areas that most businesses find a need for.

Siobhan: So I want to close out with a question about just sort of the future of this area, specifically HR, and you have this sort of window through the students who are coming to your school. Based on the students who you see entering your school, what makes you hopeful for the future of human resources?

Marie: Especially for human resources, I am hopeful because I am seeing students come to us going through the programs, we actually have two tracks of human resources. And that goes to the organization that I refer to, the Society for Human Resource Management. I think it was 2014, they had a split between the organization and the organization that offered the credentials. And some businesses were unsure whether they should go with one or the other, or just, both.

Our institution elected to be friends of the family, we're friends with all of you, and we created programs for employers who prefer one type of certification over the other. So we're teaching human resources, but it's to the person situation, whether they're currently an employee, and they're looking for a promotion in human resources, or whether they're transitioning into human resources.

We have that a lot with our military students. And when I believe that we have been successful, is when we hear back from graduates how they fit in. Because prior to coming to APUS, I knew of a number of situations where a lot of employers wanted to hire military, but the transition from military to corporate life was very difficult even for leaders. And especially among our students, our strongest programs are like in human resources in order organizational leadership, we're seeing that many more are being successful with our first triad fitting into another culture.

Siobhan: So Marie, I heard you pause a little bit when you said that you were going to answer the questions specifically within the framework of the future of HR. So I'm just going to ask the question again. But what makes you hopeful for the future, based on the students you see entering business school?

Marie: In my mind, the new generation is open to change. Generation Z, it was interesting, I had an interview with a relative, and her parents wanted me to discuss where she should go to college. And when I asked her what she wants to do, she didn't say a position, she says I want to be successful. And then the rest of her list, she actually sent me a three page text on the phone, I was amazed at that.

But, what I did notice were some of the things contradicted one another. And how I got her focused, was to look at, believe it or not, human resource as a field for her to explore. Or, how does she relate to a person in human resource? Because I actually use them as the center point, because I think that's important in every function of a job if you're going to be a job versus a entrepreneur.

I hope that makes sense.

Siobhan: It absolutely did. Thank you.

Marie: I had a relative and it was a challenge, so yeah.

Siobhan: But they were lucky to have you there advising them.

Marie: We're gonna see what happens.

Mike: And I'm still bowled over by the fact that she sent you a three page text, but...

Marie: I was too I was. I was speechless. It almost went to one of my younger cousins, like, I don't think I can help this generation.

Mike: Well, if it was me, I'd have to get on my glasses. OK, let me let me see if I can read this, first of all.

Siobhan: Yeah, I would print it out.

Mike: Exactly. Print it out.

Marie: But it shows how they prefer to communicate with you. So a lot of the, even the conversation, I had to get out of my value system and meet her where she was and then try to coach her to what I thought she should be able to do.

Mike: Well, this has been a great conversation. We appreciate you coming on. If folks want to find out more about Dr. Marie Harper. Where do you recommend they go to.

Marie: Come on over to the American Public University System page, which is Or check me out on my LinkedIn page. I give a lot of my opinions and you will see HR professionals tap in with their positions on different topics as well.

Mike: Thank you again for being here, Marie.

Marie: Thank you. It's been a pleasure and I've had fun with this particular session.

Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.

Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us and we'll see you next time.


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