HR Leads Business

Aug 8, 2019 | Mary Ellen Slayter

Put Your People First: How One HR Director Maintains a Connection with Employees

Lisa Elder has devoted her entire career to the business of people. Elder is director of human resources at Acadia Healthcare, a national healthcare organization with an emphasis on behavioral health and addiction recovery. She manages two HR teams at the organization.

It’s a complex job even for an experienced people leader, with a lot of challenges -- and a lot of deeply satisfying moments.

We spoke with Elder to discuss her take on the importance of continuous knowledge, changes in the industry and the future of HR.

What did you get out of your HRCI certifications?

Reviewing the full HR Body of Knowledge was really helpful in grounding my own role in the industry. As I prepared, I was able to brush up on the more technical aspects of HR, such as when employees can enroll in a 401(k) program. Another incredibly useful aspect was learning about HR for union organizations and their influence in the workplace. The group certification process spurred a lot of great conversations about our in-house HR processes.

What was the certification process like at your organization?

We reached out to our corporate HR team and invited them to study for the exam together. We let them know upfront that registering meant making a real commitment to studying. We found that it worked best by utilizing group work.

We also found it really helpful to bring in speakers from other parts of the organization. Out of 11 applicants, nine tested and seven passed. I found that our group really liked the challenging material and enjoyed motivating each other to study. We learned a lot about the team by going through the process together.

What changes have you seen in HR over the years?

Today’s market is an employee market, and employees definitely want to be more invested in  . New priorities are wanting developmental opportunities for personal growth, to be more involved and to work for organizations that make a difference in the community. If these needs aren’t met, employees are more likely to move on from an organization.

How has this changed the way you practice HR?

It really all comes down to the relationships between employees and organization leaders. This has put a burden on employers to actively take part in employee growth with career plans and other developmental opportunities. It’s important for HR teams to spend more time learning what their employees value. To be successful, HR teams really have to be more involved with the people they serve.

What do you see for the future of HR?

Technology is definitely continuing to revolutionize the HR space. Our onboarding, for example, is now done completely digitally at Acadia. Our communications, in particular, are affected by technology. Information is so much easier to disseminate and access now, and self-service functions allow for easy access to HR systems.

Retention and training are also adapting as tech changes the industry, but it can be easy to lose sight of the human connection. To maintain that, it’s essential to follow up online training modules with face-to-face interactions. Over the years , we’ve learned that online modules can’t impart wisdom in the same way an individual can. It’s critical to take on the responsibility for your employees’ success; you can’t place the burden of it on a training module. There has to be follow-through and connection with your people.