Debra Schwartz is director of human resources for Honest Tea, a beverage company based in Bethesda, Md. Miri McDonald, an expert on organizational development, recently spoke with Debra about her role in cultivating the company’s progressive culture. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.
In 2009, Honest Tea was named a “Best Place to Work” by Bethesda Magazine, and this year, it was picked as a Winning Workplace by Inc. magazine. What factors do you feel have contributed to winning these important awards?
Culture, which starts with hiring. The only way to maintain a culture is to hire the right people. Anyone we interview, no matter what position, is asked: “Why do you want this position and why do you want to work for Honest Tea?” The answer has to be creative, passionate and real for them to make it to the next round.
You are a member of Honest Tea’s executive team. Some companies don’t include the director of HR as part of their leadership. How do you think this decision has benefited Honest Tea? What do you say to companies that don’t include HR as part of the executive team?
HR belongs at the table for many reasons. HR brings an internal perspective and represents the employee’s view. If you leave us out we cannot be the business’ advocate to the employees, we cannot explain all points of view.
What do you think are the top five trends for human resources over the next few years?
- Use creative models to add value. That means being creative with salaries, bonuses, and benefits without taking anything away from the employee. At the end of the day if we are not making money, then HR doesn’t exist.
- Position HR as customer service and internal marketing. HR is here to make the lives of employees easier and better.
- Make smart use of fringe benefits. This term has long been associated with company cars, lavish expense accounts and the like. The new trend is wellness-related benefits.
- Be limber. Don’t box yourself. As long as you’re not doing anything illegal or unethical, it’s OK to break the rules and bend with the business to make employees happy. Happy employees lead to even more loyal customers.
- Remember the personal followup. Employees like to know that their company cares about them. Whether someone is new or has been there a long time, a personal touch such as a call, e-mail, or short interaction to ask how they are, and what is going on in their lives goes a long way in building relationships.
I am proud to say that Honest Tea is ahead of the pack and already making strides in these areas.
What other advice do you have for human resource professionals that strive to make their companies a better place to work?
It is HR’s job to take care of the employees, their needs and their families’ needs so that the employee can take care of the business and customer. Listen, really listen to their needs and wants, and adjust accordingly.