Wednesday, 25 July 2018 17:22

A Conversation with Trasee Whitaker, SPHR Winner of the 2017 Lyle Hanna Spirit Award

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trasee whitaker

At the KYSHRM Conference, Trasee Whitaker, CHRO for Masonic Communities Kentucky, was named the winner of the 2017 Lyle Hanna Spirit Award for Volunteer Service. In this conversation, Trasee discusses her role as an HR leader and active volunteer, and what it means to be at the pinnacle.

HR leaders are playing a significant role in every level of decision making within an organization and influencing innovation and growth. You have a close working relationship with your executive team at Masonic Communities Kentucky. Tell us about how you developed those relationships.

We work collaboratively at Masonic Communities Kentucky. Our current HR initiatives blend marketing, IT and finance with HR. We’re not afraid to go out and seek additional input. We accept ideas and know that not all of the answers to our HR challenges will come from within my department. We do very few things alone, it gives us much greater perspective and that makes HR more effective.

You obviously have “a seat at the table” at Masonic Homes. How did this happen? Tell us about your role versus the mindset of the executive team.

Masonic Communities Kentucky President and CEO Gary Marsh and other members of the leadership team took a big chance on me when I joined because I did not have healthcare experience. To overcome that, I focused on learning the business and paying attention to trends in the industry so that I was able to bring ideas to the table that were broad and not just HR. Gary is a natural mentor and role model to everyone on our leadership team and inspires us to innovate and find a better way.

How can other HR professionals who don’t yet have a seat at the table achieve that?

Find just one person on the senior leadership team that you are able to talk their talk and who can see the vision of what HR has to offer. Get a partner in what human resources can bring to the table. Have an idea and solve a problem. Bring solutions to common problems that are continuously talked about but not solved.

Trust is always an important element in building and sustaining relationships at all levels of the organization. What do you do to build and sustain trust with your executive team and with your employees?

Trust begins with your regular interaction. If you throw a colleague or employee under the bus, they aren’t going to trust you anymore. It’s more effective to be authentic and honest. If you don’t like something or agree with something, you should say so. We count on each other to know that we are going to be honest with each other. Sometimes it’s not always easy, but it should always be productive. When it comes to employees, it’s very important to be accountable. We show our trust in them by empowering them. If it’s a more serious issue, then we treat it confidentially, act swiftly and are accountable to them to find a solution.

Masonic Communities Kentucky has been a leader in innovation. First, tell us about some of the innovations you’ve helped implement during your tenure.

It has been a very busy and exciting few years. At least eight HR processes have been automated. Orientation was redesigned into flexible segments that are mobile compatible and can be pushed out virtually or used in a classroom setting. We implemented a payroll software that gives our employees access to their pay before payday. We implemented an online Certified Nursing Assistant course that upon completion awards three college credit hours toward their next degree. In the past two months, we improved our new hire onboarding process by updating four technologies that streamline the new hire experience.

How does HR help the organization create a culture of innovation? What’s been the most important thing you’ve done to create or sustain this culture?

I am committed to and embrace the culture of innovation. Since 2010, Masonic Communities Kentucky has implemented, piloted and modified more than 30 technology innovations and 100 operational innovations company-wide. This created opportunities and challenges for me personally and for human resource initiatives at Masonic Homes.

First, I had to rethink what innovation means to the practice of HR. I challenge myself and my HR team to find ways to innovate HR delivery and move away from labor-intensive transactional work to free up more time for our employees to focus on delivering remarkable service to our residents.

HR Innovation Chats that include a variety of Masonic Homes’ employees and represent different product lines and experience levels are held several times a year. The goal is to spark creative thinking, find solutions to nagging problems, and dream big. This group takes on those tough challenges such as performance management and innovative benefit practices.

You are not only an HR leader with your employer, but you have also served in external leadership roles. Tell us about these roles.

My volunteer leadership roles have given me confidence and opportunities to practice leading. My employers have been extremely supportive of volunteer work and encouraged it. I was the Chair of Kentucky SHRM and served Louisville SHRM in the roles of President, President-Elect, Membership Director and Workforce Development Co-Chair. Today, I represent Region 3 on the Advocacy Committee at the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) and the Advocacy Sub-Committee Chair for the Health Careers Collaborative of Greater Louisville.

Frankly, without the exposure to SHRM early on, I really don’t know that my career would have been so successful and fulfilling. I am forever grateful to these people who gave me the encouragement and resources to learn to be an effective leader – Gary Marsh, J Scott Judy, Donna King Perry, and Mike Brodfuehrer.

How important is it to be a role model/ mentor to others in the profession and outside the profession? What have you done?

After college, I joined the managerin- training program at Lazarus. Upon graduation from the program, trainees were promoted to a salaried department manager on the floor or to an assistant buyer. My path was different. I was the only participant who wanted to go into the operations side of the business. I was placed in the business office as an assistant supervisor to a very seasoned manager who was willing to show me the ropes. It was frustrating to watch my peers get promoted to positions with important titles. Thinking I was really talented and deserving of a better title, I foolishly complained to the store manager, Larry Pezor. Fortunately, instead of being humiliated, demoted or fired, Mr. Pezor simply said, “Trasee, you can’t take a title to the bank. Focus on learning how to be a good leader and not a title collector. Genuine leaders are not defined by a title.” Mr. Pezor was my first mentor. I learned a lot that day and that message has stayed with me throughout my career.

I would not have been successful without a multitude of mentors and trusted advisors like Mr. Pezor. It is important to pay it forward and I believe that each of us is obligated to do that in some way. HR professionals are always asked to participate in mock interviews, volunteer mentoring programs, panel discussions or just meeting someone for coffee or a meal. I try to make myself available for these opportunities because they give me the opportunity to give back in a small way.

The Lyle Hanna Volunteer Spirit Award also provides the recipient and those nominated a platform to give back by sharing our stories. Lyle is an incredible visionary who sets the standard for mentoring. I am truly honored to be this year’s recipient and know that there are many HR professionals who are out there doing exceptional work and hope that the nominations for the 2018 Lyle Hanna Volunteer Spirit Award start pouring in.

What advice would you give to other HR professionals? How do other professionals arrive at the pinnacle?

Leave your comfort zone. Embrace the opportunity to meet new people and hear new ideas. Get involved with your local SHRM chapter or other associations that have a mission that you believe in and volunteer. Spend time with your company leadership and other influential leaders to learn your business and fundamentals of other industries. Find a core group of diverse business colleagues and friends that you trust, admire and who you can count on to give brutally honest feedback. Then, give back in a genuine way so that your journey of learning and legacy continues.

Do you feel like you’re at the pinnacle of your career?

Every day, there is something new to learn. New innovation. New way of thinking of things. When you look at HR as a profession, we’ve achieved great things, but I have not reached that peak yet because there are still lots of ways to learn and grow and move HR forward.

Just as Kentucky SHRM has received the Pinnacle Award this year for their project to bridge the gap in workforce development, I think we all recognize that we’ve made great progress but that our efforts there are not complete. The work is not done for Kentucky SHRM or for me.

What kind of things has Kentucky SHRM done to help build up to this pinnacle?

Kentucky SHRM has taken a lead in helping businesses in Kentucky strategically examine the workforce pipeline. This group of innovative volunteer leaders moved Kentucky forward by positively and proactively addressing a national crisis -- the lack of workers in healthcare, manufacturing, technology and other key areas. Gaining national attention for this progress and efforts will benefit the state, our communities and our companies as it grows new talent and draws existing talent to these areas.

How has this benefited Masonic Communities Kentucky?

Within Healthcare there is a huge talent gap. Masonic Communities Kentucky was one of thousands of businesses that participated in the survey to bring data forward and we’re already doing things at the local level with this data. We are looking at that data to see how we can apply it to the healthcare field and find ways to reach candidates and educate them about job opportunities and lifestyle options available with a healthcare career. Based on this data, Masonic Communities Kentucky is reaching out to high schools to increase awareness of the opportunities available in healthcare and the education and training needed to get there.

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