HR Storytellers

Heidi Hartman: A “Yes, and” Approach to HR Leadership

Episode Summary

Heidi Hartman, SHRM-SCP, shares her experience of falling into HR after many years of working in retail, and how an introduction to the profession proved to be a perfect fit that has also led to several local volunteer leadership roles. Hartman, a certified executive coach and past president of her local SHRM chapter, joins host Tony Lee to share her HR story.

Episode Notes

In this episode of HR Storytellers, Heidi Hartman, SHRM-SCP, shares her experience of falling into HR after many years of working in retail, and how an introduction to the profession proved to be a perfect fit that has also led to several local volunteer leadership roles.

Hartman, a certified executive coach and past president of her local SHRM chapter, joins host Tony Lee to share her HR story.

HR Storytellers is sponsored by BambooHR.

Episode transcript

Episode Transcription

Heidi Hartman: Well, I think HR gets the label of the no police quite a bit. And I really tried to lead from a place of yes. And then it might be, "Yes, and well, that might lend us in jail so let's think about another way we can skin this cat."

Speaker 2: HR Storytellers is sponsored by BambooHR. BambooHR is easy to use HR software that helps your employees know they can count on you, whether it's through on time, every time payroll, or asking for unflinchingly authentic feedback.

Tony Lee: Welcome to the HR Storyteller podcast series from the Society for Human Resource Management. I'm your host, Tony Lee, head of content here at SHRM. Thank you for joining us.

Our HR Storyteller podcast feature practitioners and thought leaders and human resources sharing stories about why they love HR, what motivates them, and what's moved them in their careers. Today we're joined by Heidi Hartman. Heidi has more than 20 years of experience working in HR in the energy sector, in architecture, and she is an active volunteer with SHRM in Oklahoma. Welcome, we're really happy to have you here, Heidi.

Heidi Hartman: Thanks, Tony. I am excited to visit with you today.

Tony Lee: Well, thank you. So let's start off, you've got a little story to share about how you got into HR?

Heidi Hartman: I do. So I just kind of fell into HR. I had finished my bachelor's degree, political science and history. I had worked in DC and the political climate had changed, and so my party affiliation, my person was no longer there, and I thought, "Well, crap, what am I going to do?" So I worked retail, what I call retail hill for about 10 years, and managed a staff of 30 and had a great time, but burned out pretty fast. It was a lot of hours.

Ended up in Tyler, Texas of all places. And then decided to head back home to Tulsa area and thought, "What am I going to do?" and decided, went to a career counselor and they said, "You know, I think looking at social work might be something that you would be interested in." And I got into a great master's program that was organizational dynamics, and you could do one of two tracks. One was around the social work aspect, the other one was more around organizational development and organizational dynamics. And I just fell in love and had a blast.

And as part of this, we had to do an internship, and I thought, "Oh, shish kebab, what am I going to do?" What I ended up doing was getting an internship through Citgo Petroleum, which was one of the big energy companies in Tulsa that moved to Houston not too long ago, and started as an intern there. And y'all, I just fell in love. It was a hand in glove fit. The more I found out about HR, it was like, "Wait, this is a job? It is so much fun," and had a variety of stuff that I did.

And I think that is one of the reasons why I love HR so much, is that every single day is different and you could have a plan of what you're going to do, and it is totally shot by five minutes into the day. There's an investigation that you need to do or new benefits plan that you need to roll out. And so it was just the variety and the connection in working with employees and really focusing on what works for the organization as well as what works for employees. And just that liaison role was amazing.

I have had the great fortune while I was in the corporate arena to really just be a huge sponge and try out some different roles and then also focus on just learning as much as I could and going to great sessions that they would send us to or bring in folks that we got to learn from. And I just got this love of learning.

And as part of my HR journey, I also got involved with my local chapter and started as a volunteer just on some committees. Ended up coming on the board, was board president of our mega chapter in Tulsa, TAHRA, the Tulsa Area Human Resources Association. And then as part of that, onto the state board, went into a district director role and served four of our 12 chapters and then got into director elect and now director, and then will be handing the baton off for our incoming director next year. It has been such an amazing ride and not one that I planned at all and has just been an incredible journey.

Tony Lee: Yeah. Gosh, that is wonderful. All right, so I've got to start. How many people do you know make this kind of transition? They don't know that HR is really for them and then they kind of discover it. It seems like a common story, right?

Heidi Hartman: Yes. Tony, I think it is a very common story. We had this conversation at our board meeting. A couple times ago that we had it, and it was really funny. It was more than half of us didn't realize HR was a career and thinking about how many facets of HR there are that you can go into. I mean, if you are super analytical, you can go into the compensation side, or looking at analytics and the data that HR can bring for decision making, benefits, employer relations. Just the gamut.

I really was drawn to the more generalist role because it was a little bit of all of that, and I could tap into those subject matter experts and just really soak in and have them help the clients that I supported and was able to just be that conduit in between the two.

Tony Lee: Yeah. So you said you spent some time in retail before you came into... What skills did you pick up there that transferred into HR?

Heidi Hartman: That is a great question, Tony. I think leading the... I was head of a store for both The Gap and The Limited through that 10 years. It was really those leadership qualities that I admired in others that I tried to emulate and taking care of the staff and thinking about the culture that you wanted to build within the store and helping those employees grow and develop them. When you see something in somebody that then you can cultivate and then they grow and go on to bigger and better things, that to me was just a huge gift that I was able to translate not only in the retail space, but really focusing in on the HR roles that I've had as well.

Tony Lee: Yeah. So the energy sector is a lot different than retail.

Heidi Hartman: It is. It is. But there's a lot of commonalities.

Tony Lee: Really?

Heidi Hartman: When you think about, you're trying to help the organization be successful and you're in charge of managing the employees to make that happen. Bring in the right ones in, finding the right fit, helping build an amazing culture, one that is fair in compensation, that is fair in benefits, and that people really understand what the values are of that organization. And I always like to say I think that every single organization has different values, and I believe that there's a job out there and an organization out there for everybody where your values match. I think that that is so important not only as an employee working there, but in who you bring in to that organization and thinking about do they have a fit for the values.

Tony Lee: Mm-hmm. And culture is a big part of that, right?

Heidi Hartman: Yes.

Tony Lee: I mean, developing culture. Tell us about how you do that. How do you develop a culture? How do you communicate that to your employees, to prospective employees?

Heidi Hartman: I think that that is something that needs to be lived and worked through at the very top, and then it needs to have a thread through the entire organization. It can't stop at middle management. It has to be a piece of every part of your life cycle as an employee and every part of what you do every day. So I believe that culture and your values need to be woven into the tapestry of the organization and for every single area that you're into.

Tony Lee: Yeah. So HR has really kind of elevated the last couple of years with all that's going on. There was the old seat at the table, and now HR is right there in the middle, getting midnight calls from the CEO, right?

Heidi Hartman: Yeah.

Tony Lee: But it wasn't always that way. And I imagine the energy sector was kind of a tough one for HR to get heard. Any stories you can share there about breakthroughs or moments in your career that you'll never forget?

Heidi Hartman: I think for the energy sector and being in such a male-dominated field, I would say 99% of our leadership we're men at the top level. And so thinking about how you can influence in building the relationships and bringing the value to their business unit and really understanding and learning it and asking questions and making sure that you understand, "How does the organization make money? What are the key factors that are really important to driving the business?"

I think in HR, sometimes we get so muck and mired in the details we miss the big piece of really understanding what drives the business and how can we make that work better through the employees that we have there.

I was very fortunate in one of the groups that I worked with, energy company in Tulsa called Williams. I had several client groups. My favorite was the IT group, and we were going through some massive changes within the organization, and IT was a big part of that. I was very fortunate in the professional relationship that I had with their senior leadership team and working with them and the value that I was able to bring in. We had some of the best retention in the organization as we were going through a significant change and had really focused on the culture in that department.

That was some of the things that I could bring and leverage the subject matter experts that were in HR, to bring in the right folks at the right time that really helped elevate their people and the whole human capital piece of it. Most all those folks have gone on to other roles, and we still keep connected and in contact.

Tony Lee: Well, that's great. So what's your secret to getting them to see beyond the HR label? They look at HR and say, "Well, they're the people who tell us not to do things." How do I partner with HR in that case?

Heidi Hartman: Well, I think HR gets the label of the no police quite a bit. I really try to lead from a place of yes. And then it might be "Yes, and well, that might lend us in jail, so let's think about another way we can skin this cat and what are some things that we can do that will get you what you need or close to what you need and do it in a way that's in alignment with our culture and a way that we both can be successful."

I don't know how I do this, but I have an ability to work with folks and they trust me pretty quickly. I don't have a lot of agendas and I truly am there for their success. I think HR intends that as well. Sometimes we may not come across that way. So just being open and authentic and vulnerable and saying, "Okay, well, let's figure out a way to get this done."

Tony Lee: Yeah. So let's change subjects a little bit. You're a very active volunteer, which obviously you've gotten a lot of satisfaction from, or you wouldn't still be doing it the way that you're doing it. But let me ask you a question. I mean, there are obvious reasons to volunteer. It feels good, you're helping folks, but there are an awful lot of HR professionals who frankly just they don't have the time. Their lives are busy, they're managing families, parents, whatever it might be. There's a career benefit to them from volunteering, right? I mean, can you talk a little bit about how people can leverage volunteering to advance their own networks, their own opportunities?

Heidi Hartman: You bet. I can't imagine not volunteering. It has been so incredibly rewarding for me through my path and it has helped connect me with amazing people. And the thing that I love so much about HR is that we are so open to help each other. So it's like, "Good grief and gravy. I have no idea we've got this situation. Let me tell you about it. Can you give me some advice?" We're here to help each other. "Here's a vendor that has been great. Here's a solution that we utilize. Let me share my policy with you." And the friendships and connections have been amazing.

I think from a career development standpoint, the mentors and the advisors that you get, and yes, it is some work, and I will not lie to y'all, being a director is like a second job. We are all busy. We all have a lot going on, right? Taking care of kids, elder care, all this stuff, as well as working and just trying to keep it all together. But you can volunteer really at any level, starting in at a committee and getting to know folks. And you find what fits for you and what you like, and then just see what happens and what connections you make when you put yourself out there.

And maybe it's even something that you've never done before, but you're thinking, "I probably need to develop my business acumen, or maybe I want to be a treasurer because that's something that I need development for." There is just a plethora of opportunities, but the true value comes in the connections and the relationships that you develop and the people that you get a help that then in turn help you as well.

Tony Lee: Yeah, I mean, I've been to so many chapter meetings where, "Oh my gosh, who are you? Come here. I want to know you. I want to help you." It's amazing. Although I do love your comment about the vendor piece because I actually saw an example very recently of an HR person who had the opportunity to talk about a specific vendor services with like an analyst, someone who looks at vendor services and then with another HR professional who actually used that, and that's who they wanted to talk to. They didn't want to hear it from the analyst. They wanted to hear it from the person who actually went through the experience, right?

Heidi Hartman: Yeah. It makes a huge difference when somebody who's gone through that and has had success with it and can speak to the relationship that they follow through and all the kind of good stuff.

It's funny you say that. There's a group that I've gotten a certification from, and I was going to say hello to them. I haven't seen them in a while. There were people coming up and are like, "Well, do you work here?" And I said, "No, I just believe in this product and it is amazing. Here are the things how it has helped the clients that I support. I think it's just incredible. If you're looking for this, this is a great group to visit with."

Tony Lee: Yeah. Heidi Hartman, this has been great. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. We really appreciate that. I want to say that if you want to hear all of our HR Storyteller podcast, please visit our website at Thank you so much for listening.

Speaker 2: HR Storytellers is sponsored by BambooHR. Bamboo HR is HR software that lets you hear your employees stories, how they're performing, how they're growing, and how they're working together to accomplish a shared vision. It's intuitive design helps connect everyone in your organization and build trust whether it's through on time, every time payroll, or asking employees for unflinchingly authentic feedback. Start hearing your employees stories with a free demo. Visit to learn more.