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UCSD program gives HR execs tools to enhance company profits, growth

Long gone are the days when human resources departments were solely responsible for administrative and record-keeping duties. In today's business environment where enhanced skill sets, extensive job requirements and a restless regulatory environment are embedded in the corporate culture, companies large and small are making huge investments in human resources.

Schwartz

Some of America's top corporations have tapped into their HR departments to develop out-of-the-box models that create more value for employees, shareholders and the company's financials. In San Diego, leading companies have implemented these strategies, and are now sharing them through UC San Diego Extension's HR LearnAbout and Leadership programs, which draw resources from companies such as Qualcomm, Mitchell International, Petco and H.G. Fenton.

Four times a year, HR LearnAbout takes executives on a "tour" of three San Diego companies to see firsthand some of the most innovative best practices in the field. A recent LearnAbout focused on leveraging technology where one stop was San Diego-based biotech company Santarus.

"We focused on strategies that small companies can do that don't have the resources of a Qualcomm," said Julie DeMeules, Santarus senior vice president of human resources. "I developed a presentation that started with our CEO talking about our company and culture and then introduced three different technology solutions we have used."

When DeMeules joined Santarus in 2004, the company had grown from 50 to 350 employees. The company didn't have systems in place to handle the rapid growth, so DeMeules and her HR staff incorporated Smart Search, a recruiting software that helps the company track and manage resumes; BeneTrack, which allows employees to sign up for benefits online; and an employee survey tool that shows how the company is doing on its cultural metrics.

"In HR if you have systems to do some of the administrative work, then you free up your staff to do the higher level work," DeMeules said. "It leverages the HR talent you have."

Jeff Lindeman, former HR director of west coast operations for Pier 1 Imports, said such programs are critical for HR executives. On a recent LearnAbout, Lindeman and his colleagues learned about Santarus leveraging technology for recruiting; Solar Turbines using technology for improving processes; and Qualcomm implementing e learning.

"What stood out for me is how Qualcomm leverages technology to develop its staff," he said. "They considered learning 10 years ago but the market was undeveloped, so they started their own program. Qualcomm is already thinking of ways that learning can be brought down to the mobile device level. That forward-thinking really challenged me to think about what tools we can put on PDAs."

UCSD Extension created its HR programs to meet the growing demand within local companies. Cláudia Schwartz, director of UCSD Extension's HR Leadership Program, said it helps companies remain competitive by aligning employees' mindset, competencies and behaviors with business strategy.

"In a global economy, cost of product alone does not differentiate a company," said Schwartz, a 20-year HR industry vet and founding principal of HR Results, which consults with companies on all areas of HR. "What differentiates companies is the talent of its people. The people create the technology and provide the services. Why wouldn't companies want to invest in developing their HR leaders?"

Nancy Ely, vice president of human resources for San Diego-based WD-40, said real world problem solving, and not just book knowledge, is what sets HR professionals apart.

Adding that while HR was at one time mainly responsible for taking care of benefits and performance reviews, now HR is a key business partner.

Ely, who provided a performance management presentation and tour for the LearnAbout, shared the HR strategies that have worked for WD-40, including having employees write their own reviews every quarter.

"Every employee sets their own goals and guidelines," she said. "If they haven't met their goals it's the job of the manager to help them meet those goals. If an employee fails we don't look at the employee; we look at the manager. It provides more effective accountability for managers."

The one common goal among all companies, Ely said, is ensuring the continued success of their employees.

"In business today it's not the machines creating innovation, it's the people behind them," she said. "Do your employees have the tools they need to be successful? And if not, how can HR partner with that division of the company to help them with those tools?"

HR executives interested in UCSD Extension's leadership programs may contact (858) 882-8033 or visit extension.ucsd.edu.


Siedsma is a freelance writer in San Diego.

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