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How HR is key to business success amid pandemic, worker shortage, diversity awareness

Inside the C-suite

The Business Journal regularly talks in depth with North Bay business leaders to find out how they manage their companies and adapt to changing conditions. Read more interviews here.

This year will mark 35 years in business for The Personnel Perspective, a Santa Rosa-based HR consulting firm where human resources veteran Karen Alary serves as managing partner.

Alary has worked in the HR industry for more than 20 years, and she ran her own business, HR Strategies Group, for over eight. In September 2014, the owners of The Personnel Perspective retired, and Alary bought into the firm, bringing her own clients with her.

Alary, who has two business partners, is the majority owner of The Personnel Perspective and the only partner involved in the day-to-day operations.

In its early days, The Personnel Perspective was focused on recruitment and HR-related services, mainly within the wine sector. The firm’s scope of services and industries expanded over the years, as well as its locations. Over the last seven years, The Personnel Perspective has added offices in Napa and Bend, Oregon.

Alary holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Mary’s College of California. She is a native Californian who grew up in Sonoma County, the oldest of three children whose father was an entrepreneur working in the wine industry.

Alary lives in Healdsburg with her son, who is in high school. She is a self-described animals advocate and has long been involved with the Humane Society.

The Business Journal recently spoke with Alary to get her insight on the role HR plays in helping businesses thrive, especially during the pandemic, and how diversity and inclusion matters have become an important piece of running a successful business.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tell us about your background and why you decided to pursue a career in HR?

Karen Alary: I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment with my father being a local business owner.

Because of that, I always wanted to be in the world of business, so I got my degree in business administration. Then I worked at a large labor and employment law firm, where I was first exposed to the world of human resources.

Watching employment lawyers counsel their clients — business owners and leaders of organizations — and help them solve organizational problems inspired me to go into the HR profession.

How has the role of HR changed over the last several years?

Alary: The traditional role of the HR department still exists.

However, I believe HR has evolved and expanded dramatically in recent years due to a number of factors, such as the ever-expanding amount of employment laws businesses have to comply with in California, the new challenges COVID-19 brings to the workplace, including the ways in which we now work, and the dire labor shortage. There is an increasing amount to do just to stay on top of the basics.

What would be an example of COVID-19’s impact on employers?

Alary: It’s such a painful place for companies right now. There’s such a shortage of labor and there's so much work to be done.

I just happened to be talking to a candidate by email about a director-level position and the candidate asked if the position was on-site, work from home or a combination.

And I said this particular position is on-site. The candidate bowed out and said she’s not interested. There’s a fair amount of people that just don't want to come back into the office.

What can employers do, or do differently, to attract qualified workers during the pandemic?

Alary: One of the ways is to look internally.

Let’s see who you have inside the company. For example, if you need a manager and (an employee) only has a couple years of experience but is showing promise, we can look at investing in them, training them, developing them, and understanding that it's going to be a longer-term process to get them to that manager level.

But in that time, ideally, you're engaging the employee, you're creating loyalty, a long-term relationship and adding value for the employee in that company.

So that's just one way we might have a conversation. It’s all about problem solving.

From what you’re seeing, how are employers planning to operate once the pandemic ends?

Alary: It’s hard to predict.

A lot of companies have gotten used to a hybrid (model) of working from the office and working from home. I’ve had (employers) that never would have considered allowing any employee to work from home, but since COVID, they've gotten rid of their office and said, ‘We're 100% working remotely now.’

Working in an office will never go away, but I think that there will be more acceptance of finding ways to allow certain positions to work from home, either part time or 100% of the time.

I understand The Personnel Perspective has seen an uptick in businesses choosing to invest in diversity and inclusion training.

Alary: We have experienced increased engagement requests for diversity, equity and inclusion over the last two years. It’s great seeing that awareness and businesses wanting to make the shift, embrace it and bring it into their companies.

Some companies want to touch on the topic to raise awareness, other companies want a multiyear program to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion is instilled in the culture.

All efforts in this regard help, and our DEI trainer and certified coach develops customized DEI solutions that will get business leaders to their goals.

How would you describe your outlook on life and what is important to you?

Alary: I am a firm believer — and this is one of the reasons I am in HR, as well — that by making businesses stronger from our area of expertise, we're making our communities stronger.

Being able to help and give back to our community means a lot to me, and one of the ways I do this is through my board and committee involvement. I currently serve on the Santa Rosa Junior College Advisory Board, Charles M. Schulz Personnel Committee, and Leadership Council of the Humane Society of Sonoma County.

Inside the C-suite

The Business Journal regularly talks in depth with North Bay business leaders to find out how they manage their companies and adapt to changing conditions. Read more interviews here.

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