Professional Profile: Interview with Andréa Ehlers, HR IT Manager/Project Manager

GoCo is beginning a series in our HR blog where we profile HR professionals making a difference in their organizations and the HR community. We believe that collecting these stories can provide both budding and seasoned professionals fresh perspectives and ideas to carry with them into their careers. We hope sharing these Professional Profiles can inspire others and bring change to the status quo in the HR.

Seasoned HR professional Andréa Ehlers has gained valuable experience in the industry at Tokio Marine HCC, and the educational sphere in Houston ISD. In this interview, we get the chance to discuss her career, HR technology innovation, day-to-day challenges, and how to bring forth valuable change to a company.

What inspired you to pursue a career in HR?

People are the driving force behind the success of any organization and I like putting processes and technology in place that allow people to perform at their highest capacity.  

How does your role contribute to larger company goals? 

Generally, my role is to ensure the right human resource is in the right place quickly. For the managers, I would focus on ensuring that it’s easy for them to screen available candidates, interview them and select the suitable ones. For the employees, I would provide the mechanism for the easiest application & onboarding processes, as well any post hire processes such as enrolling in benefits. I directly affect the organization’s ability to achieve sales goals by making it easy for them to procure the needed resources. I typically break down barriers that get in the way of getting something done.

I’ve been working at TMHCC for a year, and I am motivated by its mission to be a good company, and the fact that our CEO is an outstanding female leader in the rather traditional business of insurance. Prior to that, I worked for Houston ISD for 5 years, and the mission to educate children was definitely the driving force.

What are some ways you have made your company’s HR more innovative?  

At both companies, I have been able to increase innovation, mainly through technology.  However, at Houston ISD, I have to say that I was able to help totally transform the entire organization through a complete replacement of its HR system. HR managers and employees were able to do things online that had previously been done via paper. Before, during the teacher hiring season, there were literally hundreds of banker boxes containing the onboarding paperwork (approximately 40 pages per person) for the approximately 4,000 new hires. After the project, there were no boxes and no filing. All the paperwork was done online, then it was meta-tagged and automatically filed in electronic employee files – all completely automated. One of the best days ever was seeing those filing cabinets physically removed from the Records room. That’s just one of the great outcomes from this transformation.

What are common mistakes HR professionals generally tend to make in day-to-day operations?  

I think people tend to focus on the things they can control. For example, fulfilling multiple approvals for routine requests, rather than thinking about transforming processes for higher level goals. These mistakes lie in trying to treat a problem versus fostering innovation like in providing dashboard data and indicators to management and utilizing data lakes to ensure the entire organization can have access to it when needed for good business decisions.

How do you handle difficult situations amongst employees? Would you use that same tactic to resolve situations between employee and manager?  

Difficult conversations among employees require honesty and careful consideration of everyone’s concerns. Between the manager and the employee, this same approach should work as well. The most important thing in both cases is to be respectful of each person’s point of view and feelings. At the end of the conversation, everyone should be able to walk away feeling good about the outcome.

What is the biggest challenge you and your team has had to overcome?  

Usually, fear of the unknown. This often keeps people doing the same things in the same way. To overcome this, I find it best to be able to demonstrate whatever it is I am trying to get moved forward and relate it to practices already in place.  

On a perfect day, what does the team dynamic in your company look like? Are they more collaborative than not? 

A perfect day is a discussion of what needs to be done, participative input from others offering different ideas and approaches, with a final result being a solution that everyone has a part in developing. When everyone has ownership, it is much easier to move forward and the outcomes are better.

What trends do you believe will become the most important in HR practices post COVID-19 & the on-going protests around the world?  

Definitely working from home and all the affected HR processes that impacts. Normal activities, such as team building, will become more challenging the longer this goes on.  Automatic acceptance of new technology will also become increasingly important. At my current company, the ability to switch seamlessly to WFH was made possible by universal acceptance of teams. The change management plan for this in early March involved setting up multiple training classes, beginner to advanced, and creating outstanding learning aids.  

What are a couple words of advice you would give to the next aspiring HR professional? Or what are some essential qualities that they need to have?  

Be open to change and new ideas. Be ready to take on substantial projects early in your career. Successful HR professionals will be technology-savvy as well as versed in HR principles and practices. They will need to be able to pivot quickly to manage the relentless effects of constant change.

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