November 20, 2008 | Written by Cathleen Graham
As the head of HR for Ruder Finn, you wouldn't think I'd be integrally involved in helping shape our overall business. But I feel, as I know so many of you do, really lucky to be part of an organization that looks at every individual as just that, and really embraces the contributions each individual can make. My day-to-day responsibilities include recruiting, talent management plans employee relations and training, but I have been fortunate that many of our senior leaders work with me more in partnership to help them shape teams that can drive superb performance.
In my personal life, I and my family ride horses competitively, and in a funny way, the way my extended horse community works, the way we all work together in a synergistic way and depend on each other, there's a similar feeling for me at Ruder Finn. I have learned some great lessons working with horses which I think have amazing relevance to what we do: each person needs a great support network, but also needs to be empowered to hone skills, harness energies, and win! In order to even better enable this here at RF, we offer mentorship opportunities to help people learn and grow, and we're also rolling out a new training program to help people learn more about themselves and help them grow professionally, this is slated to roll out later in January.
RF typically attracts people who sit on the edge of their chairs (and I mean this in a good way!). We need to continually make their careers appealing so they can keep finding ways to grow and be challenged. I know in my own career there have been mentors and opportunities that have been critical to helping me grow and be successful, for instance when I started my career at Bank of Boston, the head of HR for the bank was someone who was a great mentor for me. She went on to be the head of the society of HR globally. She taught me to have the power of my convictions and to listen before I speak. Another mentor has helped me understand not only what I intend to say but also what my audiences hear from me so I can tailor my messages for receptivity. We at Ruder Finn have a terrific Mentor Program that allows everyone to have a mentor within two levels of their own level, who can serve as coach and guide in a non supervisory, non asessment way.
When I think about what keeps me going, it's gratifying to ultimately see a plan you've put together go in place, to see people achieving things from what you've done, that's when I feel I've earned my martini!
The moment in my career that is most memorable to me right now is when we hired Nick Leonard to head RF London and when we had turned around the London office and put Nick - the right man - in place. And when I sat back and looked during that process at how I was able to help so many people grow professionally in London, help open up the doors to London to help increase transparency across the agency and help everyone see what they were doing in that office, and help improve synergies across the agency with London - that was a "wow" moment for me.
I attribute my success to being really fortunate in that I've always being around inspiring thought-leaders. For instance here at RF, Michael Schubert recruited me - how bizarre is it for a creative guy to recruit the HR person! - he helps me keep my game up. So many people I work with inspire me. I've been really luck y to work with some of the best of the best to help me learn and grow and help me align myself and learn to excel at what I do. Another example, one of the people who I find really inspires me is Shirley Fitzsimmons, RF's CFO. She's someone similar to me in that she's in a block and tackle role but she thinks about the business and commits herself to the business not just in a financial way but in a way that has a vision for our people and for what we as an agency have the potential to be.
There are so many challenges in my day-to-day. There certainly are daily challenges with how you balance the life cycle of an employee with what their path and progress is. For example, there are people who continue to be promoted, people who voluntarily leave and who you want to keep in touch with for future, and there are people you recruit and then ultimately have to say goodbye to. Another of my biggest challenges is being a business partner within the agency, while still providing the perspective of the needs of the business. The typical HR role is to help the company grow, help individuals with their careers, help them have productive conversations with managers, help instill policies to help guide how we do business... but I always need to think outside that also, to remain a flexible partner to RF's managers and to stay aware not only of the policies we have, but to marry this with the pulse and trends of what's going on in the business and the environment, and to help craft individual solutions for employee's and manager's everyday problems.
I am most proud of the people who I've hired - and there are so many here at RF - the people who I've hired as junior people 8-10 yrs ago, who I see are doing such great things now. I'm really proud of the people I've been able to bring along in the business and in some cases introduce to PR.
Particularly at RF, I think the reason I have an expanded role beyond traditional HR, and what keeps me going, is that I really feel I'm a vital part of the business. I feel if I can be a part of driving our company forward and not just a cog in the machine, this is what keeps me going. The feeling of being needed in this capacity is something special. For instance, when Kathy sends me a note complimenting something I've done... I save all those emails, this opportunity to meaningfully contribute to RF's business is what drives me.
Do I have advice for young people starting out in PR? The advice I have is to read every newspaper either online or not, to be aware of current affairs, the news, global issues. If you're not aware beyond your daily work life when you get that job, you'll never succeed without that perspective. Point of advice #2: always ask questions. Do not fear asking questions, it's better to ask than to suffer without knowing. Finally always seek out mentors, who model what you wish to become!