A conversation with a HR person and a...not HR person

When I wrote a couple blog posts on performance reviews a couple months ago, I had no idea that Kevin Brozovich from HRM Innovations (who we’re partnering with at the end of this month – sign up now!) was writing about reviews as well - read it here, it's a great read! While I enjoyed what I wrote, his read like the experience of a guy who had been in HR for 20+ years. No matter how or how much I write, I don’t have that kind of knowledge. So I thought it’d be fun to sit down with him and pick his brain a little bit on the current state of HR. Kevin graciously agreed and we sat down after he gave a great presentation at this year’s MISHRM conference.

I’ll spare you the 5,000+ word transcript and just highlight a few interesting ideas/comments that came up during our conversation. As I’m looking through everything we talked about, I have a feeling this is going to be a two or three-parter.

Paul Petroskey (PP): Thanks for sitting down with me today Kevin. Just to start off, I’d love to hear a little bit of your backstory. Where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you’re currently doing.

Kevin Brozovich (KB): Hey Paul. Here's the quick version. I began working at Zenith while I was going to college, worked there at night building computers on the assembly line. At that time it was a unionized plant, so that was an interesting experience. Told Zenith I'm leaving to go get my bachelor's degree in Human Resources. Low and behold when I graduated, we connected again and they hired me and I did my first Human Resources job at Zenith. I did labor relations for a thousand steel workers…at the company I used to be an employee of.
PP: That sounds like a great place to start!
KB: Oh yeah, that was really neat to have that come full circle. A little awkward on second shift because it took a little bit to tell people what I did as a college student or what I saw you do as a college student, doesn't matter now.
It was actually very helpful to know the people and have those personal friendships going into it. It made everything just a little bit easier having relationships already set up. I worked there for about six years, spent five in operations and the last year I lead HR for an engineering organization and had locations everywhere.
Working in that part of the organization was a completely different animal. All engineering, all career people, around 500 engineers, all research and development – I did HR for all of them. This position was very influential for me because you could not have more diverse groups in an organization than what I dealt with.

At the end of that position, a company in Kalamazoo reached out and offered their HR Manager position to me. I took it and when I started, they had been unionized for about six weeks. You could imagine how contentious that would be – coming aboard a company that had just gone through a campaign and a vote to unionize. The company said, we want a labor relations program so when I started, that was my mission. We did a bunch of employee engagement activities and on my first anniversary with the company, the employees decertified the union.

I stayed with that company for three years and a recruiter reached out about a company in Battle Creek who had had three union drives in five years, and was in the middle of the one with UAW and they wanted help with that.

I know this sounds like union work but it’s really cultural development. We did a whole lot of cultural assessments, figured out what the workplace needed to make it a great place to work. This company was a Toyota-Denso joint venture and they did company assessments on employee relations. When I started, my group was at the bottom of the barrel and four years into it, when they reassessed, we ranked in the top 10% of Denso companies out of 38 manufacturing plants.

PP: Would I be accurate in saying that laid the groundwork for HRM?

KB: It definitely did. That’s actually how it got going. I stayed with that organization for seven years and one of the consultants that worked with them during the union campaigns came to me. They were ready to retire and wanted me to buy their business. I tried to but Denso came back and said it would be a conflict of interest if I bought that company because Denso was their customer and I was an employee of Denso. So I passed on that opportunity, but it planted the seed of what I wanted to do. HRM was started shortly after and it’s been just about 6 years.

Later in the conversation I asked Kevin what the most critical aspects of HR are today.

KB: You know what I’m going to say is, the most critical aspect of HR is being a great gatekeeper. The people that you bring in impact the organization forever and once you realize that, you’re on the way to building a great workforce. If I hire somebody today and they’re not a great fit, that has long term consequences for the organization. Having the backbone to be a gatekeeper is very important. I really advocate that HR should always have veto power over any hire at any time and that’s not always the case at most organizations.

PP: I think there’s still this mindset that even though people think HR is in some sort of a renaissance right now, a lot of the time HR is still not getting its due.

KB: Yeah yeah, that’s true. And once they’re there, it’s getting – and it’s a fine line – but getting that recognition and goal achievement in place. Right? What’s also important is holding people accountable and having recognition. Having that balance is crucial because it needs to be positive and it needs to be challenging. If you have either one without the other, it’s off balance and it doesn’t go well.

Look for part 2 of our conversation next week where we really dive into performance reviews. And don’t forget to register for our webinar with Kevin on October 28th. We’ll be covering the history and current state of performance reviews.