Written by Holly Giesbrecht, FI Manager at TNT Management Resources Inc and George Fox University graduate student
Ushered into Alishia Young’s office, I noticed a few paintings sitting on the floor, resting against the wall. One painting was hung. Young, Director of HR Services at Xenium HR, a payroll outsourcing and HR consulting firm, smiled and mentioned that she hadn’t had time yet to decorate. Xenium’s office space had recently been through a renovation, and she had been relocated. As I sat down to begin our interview she apologized for being a few minutes late for our meeting; she had been on the phone in a heated conversation regarding a particularly “sticky” situation having to do with one of their HR clients. I immediately got the sense that her HR role was anything but the tucked-away, box checking, rule enforcing image that some people might envision. Instead I was given the impression of a fast-paced, dynamic work environment where people live and breathe HR. This impression held true and gained depth throughout the course of our hour together.
Journey of an HR Professional
Young’s career journey began at Intel, where she worked for several years in an administrative role. She and her husband then moved to Chicago where she attended Loyola University and obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management. Once they returned to the Portland area, she worked briefly as an HR Generalist for a small business. She began working at Xenium 10 years ago and worked her way through several roles up to Strategic HR Partner before moving into her current position a year ago. She has SPHR certification and is a member of the National Society for Human Resources Management. Young entered the HR field because she loves all aspects of it: data, people, compliance, and everything in-between.
Prior to being promoted to Director of HR Services, Young spent most of her time working in the field with Xenium’s clients. Xenium services involve a high degree of hands-on work directly with business leaders in areas ranging from employee handbook development to strategic workforce planning and talent management to investigations and litigation. Adjusting to her new role at Xenium has been a significant change, offering new challenges as she leads several members of the HR Service Team as they wade through intense and often litigious workloads.
Life at Xenium
As previously noted, Xenium offers payroll outsourcing and HR consulting services. They offer a significant range of services under their HR consulting umbrella ranging from benefits administration and training all the way to the strategic planning, culture development, and investigating employee claims and lawsuits, which requires a high level of professional expertise from Xenium’s HR service professionals. Some of Xenium’s HR professionals have served as expert witnesses in court cases; they also utilize several law firms for guidance and support as they work within a climate that is becoming increasingly heavy in litigation.
Xenium supports its HR services team in their professional growth by funding and facilitating professional certification opportunities and ongoing education. In order to stay up-to-date on current issues and share their knowledge with one another, they meet bi-weekly for connected learning sessions in which HR team members share with their colleagues recent thought-provoking situations with their clients. The company facilitates ongoing learning by communicating legal updates and alerts to its employees on a regular basis. Xenium HR professionals also participate in a mentorship program with their colleagues. This multifaceted approach to professional development enables Xenium HR service professionals to stay on top of recent trends and issues, remain up-to-date on compliance and regulations, and nurture relationships with their colleagues that enhance not only individual but also organizational learning.
Think Like a Business Owner
When asked, “What individual characteristics or behaviors have you found to be critical to delivering good HR,” Young answered without hesitation that “you need to think like a business owner and an HR person.” She advises HR professionals to focus on delivering service as opposed to being a “gatekeeper” or “security guard, and rather than telling business leaders what they can’t do, advise them of the possible routes they could take. Young emphasizes the critical importance of determining the value proposition for each individual business so that the HR consulting services can be tailored to each unique organization. Business leaders, she states, are “sick and tired of ‘best practice.’” Building “fast and furious” relationships with each client is a crucial step to gaining trust. It is important for HR professionals to establish credibility as they walk alongside business leaders and provide support to executive teams and presidents. Someone once said that in HR consulting, every day is a performance review.
I asked her for an example of tailoring HR services to a business situation. She described an organization she had worked with that was going through the process of restructuring its executive team. The culture of this organization, she explained, was characterized by low communication but high emotional intelligence. In order to help facilitate the restructuring process, which was fraught with the potential for high emotional involvement, Young had to step into the critical communication role. Working with the executives and communicating effectively throughout the process was a key aspect of making this restructuring successful.
The Future of HR
Young believes that over the next few years the HR world will become increasingly barraged with investigations and litigation. Society’s current litigious trends, along with employees being more knowledgeable about their rights as technology makes it easier to access such information, will continue to drive HR’s need to mitigate these issues. HR professionals will need to remain extremely current with and knowledgeable about regulations and, within Xenium’s world at least, keep their lawyers on speed dial.
The increasing presence of different generations in the workplace also creates a new dynamic for businesses. Young believes that achieving congruence between the different generations will continue to be a key focus for HR because different generations bring their own insights, experiences and technological expertise. Respect, understanding and cooperation between the generations will be critical to a healthy, productive work force.
Young also predicts that the younger workforce will continue to have an impact on how business is done in terms of what “work” looks like. Flexibility and autonomy will continue to increase in importance to the workforce. An increased focus on wellness and stress management will also be seen. Leaders will need to find ways to, simply put, “do business differently.” Within the changing face of business, scalability will be incredibly important to HR leaders, who will need to continue to demonstrate their value and effectiveness over time.
Personal Reflection and Conclusion
Throughout our interview, I was astonished at how closely Young’s viewpoints and predictions aligned with the readings and in-class discussions in my program at George Fox University. I think that their strategic focus has very much to do with the environment at Xenium and its purpose. If Xenium wants to be competitive and remain a strong HR partner for businesses, it follows that staying current with trends and continuous learning and application must be core elements of its philosophy and operations. I appreciated Young’s approach to HR because it is not only people-focused but also business-focused. Through her experience as an HR student, a generalist, and then through her increasingly challenging roles at Xenium, I feel that Alishia Young embodies many of the characteristics that are critical to being an expert practitioner of strategic HR management.