Meet: Debbie P. Smith
Position Title: Director of Human Resources
Agency: Georgia Technology Authority
Agency Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Number of Employees in Agency: 165
Hire Date:June 28, 2008
Educational Background: BS,Georgia State University
What drew you to a career in HR?
I began working in a clerical position with the Dekalb County Board of Education Human Resources while in high school. I continued working in HR while in college pursuing a Marketing degree. However, the HR field seemed to align with my interests and strengths, which were those of helping people make better choices. Upon graduation, I decided to make human resources my career choice.
What skills are critical to having a successful HR career?
Some of the more important skills that I have found to be helpful are: People skills, Communication skills, Integrity, Reasoning, Intuition, Listening, Thinking, and the art of balancing the ‘right thing to do’ with consistency from a policy perspective. Of course, as I continued to develop and the industry began to shift to requiring strategic business skills, communication skills become even more critical, coaching vs. doing (e.g. developing the leader as you are working with him or her to solve an issue), influence, self-confidence, leadership, and visionary skills. So I would propose these skills for one to be successful in HR.
What attracted you to the opportunities at the State?
I grew up in the private sector and elected to retire early when it was required of me to relocate to Charlotte, NC. I began to think on what elements I wanted to have in the next half of my career, those that I would find to be gratifying. There were two things: I wanted to get back to being closer or more involved in problem resolution (resolving people issues). And I wanted to continue to implement strategic solutions at the leader level. I knew from research that the public sector would allow for working closer with the employee and I hoped to find that I could offer and use of my strategic background. The opportunity presented to me at GTA allowed both and I am having a blast doing it.
What career path did you take to get to your current position?
I began professionally as a HR Generalist (Business Partner) and also spent some time as a professional recruiter. I realized early that being a Business Partner was my passion. So I began focusing on developing my expertise in this area. This meant that I had to be very careful about which opportunities would allow for progressive growth as a Business Partner. Critical to being recognized as a valuable HR Business Partner, it is imperative to have a certification in HR, business skills and experience of varying degrees within the full spectrum of the HR discipline. So, I obtained my certification and I attended an executive development program offered by my past employer to obtain the business skills. I also accepted operational and corporate HR assignments that would provide domestic and global experiences with developing business plans, compensation and incentive plans, recruiting and retention plans, transformation plans, and organizational development. I found that these experiences gave me the experience to acquire the role I currently hold.
What do you enjoy most about your job as a human resource professional?
Being able to develop and implement strategy that aligns to the needs of my client and recognizing the confidence placed in me to accomplish this important work.
You have both a public and private sector HR background. What are some of the similarities between the two?
Admittedly, coming from private sector, it took some real work to understand and get past the differences so that I could truly see the similarities. So from my perspective as GTA HR, the leaders I deal with have the same view as private sector leaders. They are focused on the business needs of the state and providing the best and most right solution to meet those needs. When I look across at the agencies that GTA supports, I see the same or a very similar business focus. The corresponding HR Directors I interact with have a very similar mindset to HR Business Partners and Directors in the private sector. While they skillfully balance the work of day-to-day transactions, they are very much focused on business strategy for the agency they support.
From your perspective, what do you consider the top three human resources trends?
• (All aspects of) Social Networking
• Talent Management, particularly attracting, retaining and developing talent
What are some of the challenges you face?
Compensation is the top challenge. It is difficult to recruit senior level leaders and professionals within the constraints of our budget.
As you know, GTA has transitioned to an outsourced environment. The amount of training necessary to align new skills to our new way of doing business is also a challenge, given budget constraints. I work tirelessly to meet these challenges and I am fortunate to have great leaders supporting and working with me to meet these challenges.
Describe your most professionally satisfying project or experience at the State.
There are several, but I will describe the one that we are currently undertaking. We are working on developing a training curriculum for all of GTA. My working team and I are responsible for researching, identifying, evaluating and proposing experiences that meet the needs of our people and also figuring out the structure necessary to support the process once the curriculum is in place. This is professionally satisfying in that I recognize the importance of equipping employees with the right skills to perform, which is a critical component in ensuring GTA’s success.
How do you feel you are making a difference at the State?
When called upon to participate in HR focus groups to share ideas, experiences or brainstorm, I do not hesitate to participate. As a member, and past board member, of the Council for State Personnel Administration, I am able to learn and share experiences with other colleagues, so I feel that I am making a difference in this way, as well. I also believe providing development opportunities for GTA employees who support state government and providing leadership opportunities to help them understand and know how much we value their contributions to the work of GTA definitely translates to making a difference for our state customers and constituents.
How do the State values contribute to your work experience?
The state values making the constituent’s experience with government friendlier and easier. I want the employee experience with HR tools and processes to be friendlier and easier and I constantly lobby for changes in processes and procedures that would allow for this experience. The state values the input of the constituent, incorporating their input as appropriate as it works to ensure the needs of the state are met. This also aligns to the way I do business. I value input from our employees on what is needed to make GTA a great place to work and I try to ensure that their input is line of sight when I recommend and/or make HR decisions for GTA.
What are some personal and/or professional goals you have set for yourself?
How does the State support your career aspirations?
My aspiration is to continue developing as a senior HR leader and to be seen as a person who can positively impact the needs of state employees. I have been afforded a great deal of support to continue my growth and development through a business plan that includes strategic initiatives that will be great for GTA and provide practical growth and development for me.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone in the early stages of their career or thinking about transitioning to a career in human resources?
Human Resources can be a rewarding career for someone who truly cares about helping people become their best. The HR profession is basic in this principle, I believe. But also important to realize is that HR must evolve as the needs of their clients evolve. To add to what I am certain is very valuable advice coming from any one of my colleagues profiled before me, I would simply add or echo the following:
• Stay abreast of HR trends, particularly the ones that are the most important to your client.
• Stay true to the HR discipline.
• Acquire competencies in change management, development and strategic thinking.
• Be timely and proactive with solutions.
• Know your client’s business, as this is invaluable to being seen as a knowledgeable partner.
• Know your leadership style and the style of your client(s). When in a working engagement it is important to be aware of your abilities, values and beliefs as well as to understand the same of your client. And at a personal level, knowing where you are consistent or inconsistent in style can determine your success and personal happiness.