Michele Kenney has all of the makings of a soccer mom. She spends her time carting around 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter to soccer practice, baseball practice, cheerleading practice, and Girl Scouts meetings. You can imagine her talking to the other parents, asking about their time management techniques, what snacks they pack, how to get grass stains out of clothes.
Kenney’s meetings as president of the Greater Princeton Human Resources Association function in much the same way. How are you dealing with the new New Jersey Gender Equity Laws? What are your techniques for dealing with out of state employees? She meets with like-minded professionals in human resources departments around the area and discusses hot topics and trends in the industry to gain tips and ideas for how best to do her job and maintain order at her place of work, Educational Testing Services.
The Greater Princeton Human Resources Association meets once a month from September through June to have lunch and listen to a speaker address topics ranging from how to improve employee retention to how to recruit new employees (except in December, when the speaker is replaced by massage therapists for every member).
At the February meeting of GPHRA — Thursday, February 13, at noon at the Salt Creek Grill — leadership coach Delores DeGiacomo will discuss employee engagement, understanding the difference between quality leaders and good managers, and how leadership effects engagement and employee morale. Membership to GPHRA costs $300 and members gain access to monthly membership and various events. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kenney has an untraditional sort of human resources “engagement” — she rarely interacts one-on-one with the readers and raters she works with. Because she works with a group of remote employees, she deals with standardized test readers and raters who live, oftentimes, thousands of miles away.
But though the issues Kenney has to deal with are similar to any regular HR job — difficulties with management, questions about policies, consistently coming to work late — the way in which she must deal with these issues is considerably different.
“The difference is how we interact with these individuals. I can’t read their body language because they’re not in my office telling me about their issue,” Kenney says. She doesn’t know many of them on a personal level because there are so many across the country. “What makes it challenging and more exciting is that we have to interpret what they are saying and get a sense for their tone of voice. If they’re upset, we have to be able to hear that in their voice and decipher the conversation.”
Kenney grew up in Hamilton Square — her mother worked as an administrative professional in the medical field; her father was in banking; her sister is now a teacher in Hamilton and her brother is a Hamilton police officer.
As an undergraduate and student government president at Rider University, Kenney saw a photo of her future husband, Doug (who now works for Bloomberg), featured in the school newspaper. A mutual friend set the two up on a blind date. She accepted. The two met on the stairs of the student center on September 15, 1995, and got married six years later on September 15, 2001.
Kenney began her career as a technical recruiter with an IT company. She then joined the Chauncey Group International and served through its various transitions to Capstar LLC, Thomson Prometric, and finally Prometric. She joined the ETS Human Resources department in 2008.
Her undergraduate classes in psychology at Rider, coupled with her masters in business administration, taught her the importance of listening. In HR, she says, “focus on the other person. Let them speak first and then chime in with your response. Be patient and let the other person voice their opinion.” This lesson, she says, comes with time.
Through her experience in human resources, Kenney has earned her PHR (professional in human resources) and then her SPHR (senior professional in human resources) due to her numerous years in the profession. So what has she learned? To keep up with the times.
Kenney checks SHRM.com frequently to keep up with legal updates to find out what’s happening with the HR community. Laws change frequently, and Kenney needs to be able to easily identify what changes are being demanded and how she plans to deal with them.
“I live in Nevada, why do I have to follow New Jersey laws?” some of her readers/raters ask. Kenney has to deal with this, as well as the task of sending out forms to all of her readers/raters across the country, a form to accept the signatures, and a forum to answer questions like the reader/rater from Nevada who wants to know why he/she has to follow New Jersey laws.
Kenney is there to explain the rules, as well as to expand the reach of the Greater Princeton Human Resources Association. The biggest challenge, she says, is to expand the population of the club. “I don’t think HR people know we exist,” she says. “Our biggest challenge is to let local business people know that we exist.” GPHRA recently launched a media campaign to let local HR leaders know that the group is active and seeking to expand.
The reality is that the HR landscape is changing as fast as the sports and social schedules of some active school kids. What is the best way to enforce the NJ Gender Equity law? How do you deal with the never-ending laws that the government throws at human resources professionals? Like parents sharing tips and techniques on the sidelines of a soccer game, the HR pros can also benefit from a network of professionals going through the same experience.