Heroes of HR: Melanie Marfoglio

Heroes-Of-Human-ResourceAt DeepTalent we believe that the real unsung heroes of the workplace are the leaders of HR. After all, it’s they who provide and nurture the talent of the company. It’s they who work to keep people from leaving. With our new series Heroes of HR we will be showcasing an experienced HR leader and learn from their experience. In this opening series we talk with Melanie Marfologio who has spent nearly two decades in the HR field running HRIS systems, founding startups, consulting and being the HR director of several corporations.

Since you started working in HR a lot has changed with technology, what change do you think is most beneficial? HRIS database evolution. In my experience, most general managers view HR as the fly in the room. It’s a nuisance.  And most HR people find this very frustrating, because everyone wants to believe that their job or responsibility is the most important. HR people don’t understand that managers do not view their HR responsibilities as important or understandable as we do because they have so many other things to do, and HR is our only job. The advances in HRIS systems have made it easier and more user friendly for managers to be active participants. This includes electronic approvals, performance reviews, time off etc. Having access to databases allows them to actively use the information to manage employees without having to actually stop their day and sit in our offices.

Do you find today that its easier to find qualified job applicants or harder? Both. Social media outlets (facebook, linkedin, etc) allow recruiters to target potential candidates that are currently working in less time. Recruiting this way allows us to find people that may not be actively looking at job postings. But after being in this field for the past 15 years, I find less candidates knocking on my door or lower qualified candidates answering job postings and I am spending more time actively “recruiting” instead of sifting through resumes that are submitted. I think this has some what  to do with the generational shift from generation X to Y. Generation X were more aggressive and looked for opportunities, where generation Y prefer to be wooed so to speak.   

What tools have you been using to find new applicants? Good recruiters know how to adjust their techniques according to their audience. Recruiting is not one size fits all. For example, in the Marine Transportation Industry we have the goal of either bringing the very best known commodity or cultivating someone with raw talent. So if I was hiring for the shipyard I would establish relationships with the local trade schools directors, keeping contact to find line level workers that have the potential to grow into more. If I was looking for known commodities such as Captains or Engineers I would start with referrals and then move into more aggressive head hunting techniques. These techniques may include searching online profiles of people that work in companies that utilize similar skills sets or creating social media ads that might be seen by someone already working but open to moving.  

What do you find the most challenging part of your job? Currently the most challenging part of my job is trying to bridge the gap between the generation X and Y. Most managers are of a completely different mindset then the people they are managing. If you look at your company’s issues as a tree where the branches and leaves are the “problems” then it is safe to assume that it is stemming from one root cause.  If you don’t address the root cause then the branches and leaves will keep growing.  If you remove one branch another will grow in its place until the root is removed.  For me, I have found that management is the key to everything. The bigger the gap in understanding between management and employees the bigger the problems. When I create a structure to set generation X expectations in an environment that caters to generation Y’s needs, I find that many of the issues go away. Management is more engaged in communicating and participating in HR programs and employees are happier and more productive

What’s the most rewarding part of going into the HR field?

When I see a shift in an employee. Most companies hire me to create a cost effective customized HR structure. If I am successful, and the HR structure that I design addresses the company’s weakness then I have impacted many lives in a positive way.  It doesn’t matter if what I create makes sense on paper, for it to work the employees of that company have to change their mindsets, attitudes and behaviors, which as we all know is no small feat.  I have a unique ability to read people with extreme accuracy, and this has served me very well when having to navigate around someone’s ego to get them to change. Egos exist to protect us, for good or bad. But in order for someone to grow or change they have to acknowledge that they are part of the problem. I have seen my colleagues and managers fail at this when dealing with employees because they don’t respect the ego. They either try to shame employees into changing or they sugar coat what they are saying so much that they only end up pacifying the person or destroying any chance for trust because people can smell BS from a mile away. There are usually two sides to a story, so I give my managers and aspiring managers a couple pieces of advice when dealing with employees.

Always invite the other person to the conversation before you assume or draw conclusions, its human nature to hear one side of a story and assume you know what the other person was thinking or what their intentions were and react accordingly.  Never tell a person how they are feeling or who they are. When you do that the ego immediately gets activated and the person will shift from listening to defending themselves.  Ask clarifying questions and be honest without being attached or judgmental. Speak as matter of fact as possible.  If you find yourself trying to put someone in their place you have already lost. I ask people I am training to recall a time when someone tried to put them in their place and they sat there and thought “you know what I am a real idiot, thank you I realize my mistake and will change immediately”.  To date, no one has yet to recall such a time. Always admit when you are wrong and speak openly about your faults.  When you do this, it makes it easier for an employee to admit theirs. We are ALL a work in progress. This helps to remove the shame, thus deactivating the ego.

The best compliment I have ever received came from a CEO of a global publicly traded company, he said “Melanie, I like her she doesn’t take any BS and she doesn’t BS anyone either, she understands what being a professional is all about.” People do not like feeling like they are being lied to and they tend to know when you are sugar coating something. When this happens, you lose trust. When you lose trust, you have lost everything because you have lost their respect. People respect non-judgmental truth. Remember it’s not the truth or a statement of fact that someone reacts badly to, it’s the judgement. So it’s not usually what you say it’s how you say it.

The reason most people sugar coat something is because they do not want to feel uncomfortable, but the truth is hat we get paid more to be uncomfortable. The increase in money that management receives isn’t necessarily because we know more, it’s because of the responsibility we carry. Being responsible means having to be above pettiness or passive aggressive behavior or even have hard conversations. My proudest moments are when the people I am training master the above, come to terms with their own ego and defeat it. They become open, patient and actually feel the joy in bringing people up instead of always trying to “show them who is boss”.

How do you approach motivating employees? The answer to this one is simple, give them honest feedback and show them how to move from one place to another. Acknowledge them when they succeed and sit with them and have a “lesson learned” discussion when they don’t. I believe the best employees thrive all on their own when they are given a culture that is based in development. By focusing on development, their growth is in their own hands. Laying out expectations, giving feedback and providing a roadmap for career development (how they get bonuses or raises) in my opinion is all the motivation most people need no matter what generation they come from.

How often have you found performance reviews should be conducted to be most effective? I have never been a fan of performance reviews, I do not think traditional ones are useful. In a developmental culture feedback should be ongoing and there should be less emphasis on labeling something as positive or negative. When we do this, any feedback is perceived as negative instead of a growth area. I don’t like “grading” an employee. I created a performance review form that has 3 sections:

Salary Adjustment (when applicable)

Growth Areas

Milestones for next review (which should include their next career step)

I keep it simple. I verbally tell the employee how they are succeeding and then treat the “review” more like a career development session. I like to do this kind of evaluation with employees at least twice a year and quarterly for new managers or people moving from nonexempt to exempt positions. I find people moving from Nonexempt to Exempt need a little extra help changing mindsets from being paid for their time to being paid for their function.  

When interviewing an employee, what are the most important questions you ask? Honestly, it depends on the position I am recruiting for and what the culture of the company is. An answer that would be considered a weakness for one position can be considered a strength in another position or company. But for more professional positions or management/sales positions I like to ask how they leave their hotel rooms when they travel, and there are 3 answers:

A mess, that’s what they pay maids for (this is a positive answer for a sales position, good sales people are usually arrogant, bad for managers or other professionals, means they may not be team players or think of others)

I straighten up (good for managers, shows that they are not afraid to be part of the team and chip in)

I leave it the way I found it (good for line level, red flag for managers, may over compensate or bad for sales people, may not be aggressive.