Connect with ConnectedHR: Director of Talent – Melissa Henson

ConnectedHR provides Human Resources services shaped by the high caliber and collective experience of our experienced consultants. Today we profile ConnectedHR’s Melissa Henson, an established professional with over 20 years’ experience leading and executing Human Resources. Melissa’s strengths are in employee relations, employment law, talent management & acquisition, training and development, change management, compensation, safety, and data analysis. She is business savvy, flexible, and quickly adapts to meet the challenges facing organizations as they grow. Melissa’s work experience ranges from non-profit organizations to Fortune 500 companies.

     1. How did you first get interested in working in Human Resources?

As a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to work for the county public defender’s office. Within a year, I was promoted to office manager. I believe it was the combination of our function as public defenders in helping those who couldn’t afford to do so on their own and the human factors of managing and supporting people that first sparked my interest in Human Resources. As office manager, I worked closely with some amazing attorneys that willingly sacrificed much higher paying salaries in the private sector to make a difference helping others and protecting their constitutional rights. I recall times when they would use their own money to pay for the due diligence in representing their defendants, providing bus money, and even donating their own suits for court appearances. Their passion for the law and helping others engaged me and fueled my passion for human resources. I knew then; I wanted to protect people, help them mitigate risk, and achieve personal and professional success.

     2. What has surprised you most about working with Cleveland businesses?

Having come from a Fortune 500 background, I had not had the opportunity to directly interact and support entrepreneurs in small and mid-sized markets. I quickly realized, though, the incredible responsibility and burdens that entrepreneurs bear. The decisions you make do not only influence the success and profitability of the company, but in many instances, directly impact the livelihood of family members, neighbors, and community.

     3.What do you find most challenging about the HR field?

I believe the most challenging aspect of Human Resources is navigating and executing downsizing and reductions in force. One of the most difficult experiences in my professional career was supporting and executing a reduction in force, closing multiple distribution centers, which impacted over 1,000 employees. Many of those affected had worked for the company for over 20 years. From an HR perspective, you never know how people are going to handle that sort of news, so delivery, compassion, and support are key. Hopefully, the company provides appropriate severance packages, and in my case, they did.

     4. What’s the best thing to happen since you started working with CHR?

I really enjoy having the opportunity to support so many diverse businesses and industries. I have had the privilege of working with many talented business owners, who are the local leaders making differences in their communities. People often think that the smartest and brightest professionals work in larger corporations. Well, I know from experience, that is not true.

     5. What do you wish other people knew about their HR department?

The Human Resource function is often misunderstood for the services we provide. We need to better educate business owners and leaders to achieve our full partnership potential. We are advisors here to help mitigate risk. There are misconceptions that HR is only there to protect the owner/company, and conversely, that HR is only there to protect the employees. I believe it is a true balance: HR serves to protect the interests of the entire organization, management, and employees.

I have also found that many small companies don’t understand how to effectively utilize HR. Many of our consultants are business savvy and possess master’s degrees in business. We can be a sounding board and can consult on business decisions. Our consultants have proven capabilities in understanding the reasons for making decisions and leveraging our services to support and execute the process or actions.

     6. What would you say are some of your strongest beliefs about how HR supports a business?

Again, it’s that perception about HR. We are here to help you mitigate risk.

     7. Tell me about what influenced your decision to work in HR.

It was my experience working in the public defender’s office. HR was a natural extension of my love and respect for the law and people.

     8. What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I love Detroit Pistons basketball! I am originally from Toledo and then relocated to the Cleveland area for business. My family and I are very loyal, passionate Detroit fans. We follow all of the Detroit teams (Pistons, Lions, Tigers, and Red Wings). I will always cherish watching the Detroit Tigers with my number one fan and inspiration, my grandpa.

     9. What would you tell someone who is thinking about hiring CHR?

I would tell them to do it! CHR is such a wonderful resource because we have an unbiased approach. As a small business owner, internal HR staff may find it hard to be completely transparent with you, particularly in difficult situations. As an unbiased third party, we are very effective in navigating people, culture, and decision tendencies. This ability provides a more effective, streamlined approach to policy and procedure development, conducting incident investigations, coaching development opportunities, talent acquisition, etc. The level of expertise our team offers is something not usually afforded to small businesses. We have the capability to work as little as one day a week based on the company’s needs. CHR has the bench strength to leverage our collective knowledge and expertise to provide the highest level of service to our clients. So, you don’t just get me working for you; rather, you get the knowledge of our entire team.

    10. As a consultant, what sorts of HR trends do you see?

Of course, everyone in HR will tell you right now that it’s the labor shortage. We have more positions available than people to fill them. Heading into the holidays (as we are now), this is one of the most difficult times for employers to fill positions.

As history has shown, the upcoming election will definitely have an impact on the economy no matter who is in office.

HR analytics and data-driven processes have been on the minds of most HR professionals. Trends are moving toward data-driven decision making and Artificial Intelligence (AI). I love data and using it to support decisions, but you don’t want to take the human element out of it completely.

You’ll also continue to hear a lot about diversity, inclusion, unconscious bias, and the “me too” movement. Effective education and training in all of these areas are key.

We also have so many generations currently in the workforce. Millennials are pushing the employee value proposition, demanding flexibility and transparency. Gen Z is entering the workforce and are so digitally savvy. The baby boomers are still vital to overall success, too. The key is for HR is to be able to effectively navigate the generational needs, beliefs, and values.

I’m excited to see how performance management will trend and transform. It’s about providing timely feedback and coaching. I tell the managers I support to think of themselves as coaches to their employees.

    11. What do you do when you aren’t working?

My husband and I have two daughters, ages 8 and 6. My life revolves around them when I’m not working. My girls love horseback riding and have been riding since they were 5 and 3. We also enjoy swimming lessons, Girl Scouts, and other family activities.

    12. What prompted you to want to work at ConnectedHR 4 years ago?

ConnectedHR has given me the opportunity to do what I love with the benefit of flexible family balance. Balance is so important and has enabled me to spend the time I needed when we were managing our daughter’s life-threatening peanut allergy. Thanks to Dr. Eli Silver and oral immunotherapy, her risk of an anaphylactic reaction has been greatly reduced. She can now eat at the regular lunch table, attend school field trips, go to a baseball game, and even fly in an airplane. This has dramatically changed our lives. I love what I do, and am incredibly thankful to be where I am. It’s a win-win-win across the board for me and my family, ConnectedHR and our clients.


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