Sometimes it’s helpful to see how the steps of an early career HR professional develop. My name is Chris Smith, and I’d like to share my story to help paint a picture of what is possible for the graduates that come after me. My story starts when I came to LER following a few years of working for the State of Illinois. In December 2017, I graduated from LER and started a new career in HR.
I was recruited by CenturyLink, who had just closed a ~$30B acquisition of Level 3 Technologies. The company was on the trajectory of transforming from a historically telecommunications company into a technology company that would help facilitate the fourth industrial revolution we find ourselves in today. In 2020 this transformation was solidified with the rebranding of the company to become Lumen Technologies. This massive merger led to significant opportunity and plenty of work needed from human resources in integrating the two companies. Entire organizations were redesigned with new teams being formed. This necessitated a large amount of job evaluations, compensation harmonization, culture integration, and change management, just to name a few.
I completed their HR Leadership Development Program, which required three rotations in different areas before “graduating” to become a “regular” HR professional. The rotation assignments are a partnership between you and the company based on your interests as well as needs at the time. At Lumen, the length is not rigid, but is typically 12-18 months.
My first assignment was a hefty one: I was entrusted to be an HR Business Partner supporting Finance. My boss supported the CFO directly and I was assigned to support 5 Vice-Presidents that reported to him and their respective organizations (~2,200 employees in all). I moved to the corporate headquarters in Monroe, LA but since the headquarters of Level 3 had been in Broomfield, CO, a Denver suburb, a large percentage of the population that I supported sat there. I flew Denver on the corporate jet quarterly to meet with leaders face-to-face. Besides the additional comfort of the flight, being able to walk right up to the plane at Monroe’s small airport and bypass security was a real treat!
Being thrust into this role right out of the gate was a significant boon to my development. Six months prior, I had been sitting in a classroom at LER; now I was sitting across from VPs and Directors who were looking to me for counsel. It could be intimidating but, having confidence in myself, I had to ‘figure it out,’ while remaining humble and knowing I was learning at the same time.
As an HRBP I attended the weekly staff meetings of the VPs so that I could: become knowledgeable about their business and the challenges they were facing, keep them in-the-know about HR initiatives coming down the pipeline, and assert my presence as a resource to utilize in strategy and getting the most out of their human capital.
This kept me very busy. Long hours were not uncommon but also not the consistent norm. I not only had plenty of work to do that was an HRBP’s responsibility, but also had to redirect numerous requests for help with work that wasn’t. HR is such a rapidly evolving field that many (particularly those who have been around a long time) do not understand and think that for any and every personnel need, I was their go-to for help. Training them on where to seek answers was also part of the job.
For my second rotation I requested a Compensation assignment. In grad school I always said I never wanted to go into compensation, but my experience as an HRBP changed my mind. I had often butted heads with Comp when we were trying to get a significant pay increase for an employee, or push a promotion through that they questioned. Because I was so close to the business leaders that I supported I was sometimes frustrated at the pushback. At the same time I knew that this was due to the limited perspective I had from my role and decided it would be prudent to see things from the ‘other side of the fence’ in Compensation.
As a Compensation Analyst, I evaluated new jobs with respect to the market, made recommendations of compensation based on the employee’s performance, history and number of increases (or lack thereof), and position in the compensation range relative to their peers. Special ad hoc projects were also common in Compensation. Finally, I was the owner of the company’s global recognition platform, strategizing ways to boost leader recognition of employees and, in turn, their engagement.
For my final rotation I was offered a unique position: manager of a large project the CHRO identified to transform the HR function and how it completes work. This assignment was intended to last up to a year due to its scale. I was charged with working with the leaders of all of the HR Centers of Excellence in order to identify work that was standardized and repeatable, and transition that work to HR Delivery Services in order to save the company tremendous costs.
At the end of my three years in the HRLDP I requested to stay on longer as the project was only halfway complete. To my surprise, the company decided to graduate me from the program anyway and offer a promotion as I saw the project through. I am currently in this role and will be wrapping up this project in the near future.
Joining a company in the midst of such change was hardly all sugar and rainbows. With so much in the flux the answers were not always evident, the resources scattered, and it made finding them and sorting it out a challenge. But with discomfort comes growth and being able to make an impact is highly rewarding.