An Interview with Andrew Wise, Vice President, Talent Management & Organizational Development
Interviewer: Darwin Ferreiras, Vice President, SHRM Lehman College Student Chapter
Andrew Wise has worked at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) for 17 years. Mr. Wise has over 20 years of experience in the Human Resources field. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York is the largest non-profit home health care agency in New York, providing many different healthcare services to many diverse communities for nearly 125 years.
What do you do at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York(VNSNY)?
“I oversee Recruitment and Staffing for the organization, Organizational Development (OD) which is change management, learning & development, talent management and college relations. I have worked at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York for 17 years.”
In what capacities have you worked at VNSNY?
“I started out as a Recruitment Specialist, and then was promoted to Manager of Recruitment where I oversaw the recruitment for the Therapist groups, Business Development, and Corporate employees. I moved into OD around 2008; I wanted to do something different. I then moved up the ranks and became the head of the OD department and then we combined some things here in HR which is why I am now the VP of both Talent Management and OD. “
Do you have a SHRM certification? If so, why did you decide to get one?
“Yes, I did receive a SHRM certification (Senior Professional in Human Resources) in 2008. I just decided to become certified because I had just moved to the world of Organizational Development after I had been in Recruitment and Staffing for about twelve years. I wanted to increase my general knowledge about Human Resources so I thought it would be a good structured way for me to learn a little bit about each different part. “
What brought you to the Human Resources field?
“I don’t know if SHRM is going to like this one. It is interesting because it was a couple of things. It was a coincidence because I am also a classically trained musician, so I was free-lancing after graduate school for about two years. As you can imagine, being a freelancer, it’s very hard to make ends meet, so I needed something a little bit more steady. I actually got a job at an organization called ILX Systems, which was part of Thomson-Reuters when it existed as a receptionist. At this organization, I met a woman named Alyson B., who said ‘you know, you would make a really good recruitment assistant’ and I said ‘what’s that?’ (chuckles), so I started acting as a recruitment assistant and then eventually started recruiting people and then the supervision of their technical recruitment. It is interesting because, in music school, my work study was in the career office for the University of Michigan. There is a correlation there that I just didn’t expect. I’ve been in the HR field for a total of 22 years. “
In your opinion, what is the most difficult challenge you face when dealing with change in the organization?
“I think the hardest thing is getting everybody on the same page, and that includes leadership down to employees because everyone has a different perspective and people have different driving priorities. I think it can be very difficult to sometimes connect the two. It is sometimes hard for people who are in positions as employees who may not be as connected to leadership to understand sometimes the ‘why?’ of the change and I think it can be hard for leadership to sometimes understand the day to day impacts on employees because neither group are always connected to each other in that way. I think it can be very hard to bridge that understanding”
What are the essential skills and competencies needed for a career in HR?
“There are probably quite a few. I think one is the ability to learn very quickly. There are not only things in HR, there are things in any business, that are changing at a rapid pace and you must keep up with it. You have to be able to think on your toes, you should be very agile and flexible because you never know what you’re going to be doing one day to the next. I think you need to have very strong interpersonal skills. First, you must be very self-aware, you should understand how you interact in different circumstances with different types of people and different styles. You must understand how you are when you’re full of energy and how you are when you’re exhausted and what that might mean for your self-awareness and sort of your buttons that get pushed, as we all have, and how you deal with that internally. You also need to be able to connect with people, and that doesn’t mean you have to be an extrovert, it doesn’t mean an introvert can’t do it either, it just means that you should know how to connect with people in a variety of different levels. You have to communicate well, written communication and oral communication. Communication is very important because a lot of time HR is seen as the mouthpiece of the organization. You have to be very organized, because there is usually a lot of balls in the air, but I think you can say that in any career these days. You also need presentation skills because a lot of times you have to present, and it is not a stand-up presentation for a workshop or in front of a large group of people, it can be a presentation to a board of directors or a presentation at a team meeting. There are different levels and different styles, and you have to know how to facilitate and negotiate well. Those are some skills needed”
What would you say is one way someone can transfer previous experiences, knowledge, and abilities to break into the field?
“Let me answer that in two different ways. I think you have to sit down and look at what you have done and think about what are the skills that you built there, and then think about what are the skills you need in HR. You have to compare and say well ‘I was a musician so obviously, I performed a lot, that directly correlates to presentation skills,' so that’s very easy for me because I have years of performance which for me is much more nerve-wracking. I think you have to compare the two and think about what competencies you have already learned either in school or in your jobs. You have to ask yourself what they are and what are examples of experience, and how does that correlate to a career in HR because when you are interviewing for jobs you sometimes need to help the recruiter to bridge that difference. The other thing is just getting experience, doing internships, starting out at roles that may be considered more entry-level so that you can get your foot in the door.”
What strategies do you find work best in improving employee engagement?
“It seems obvious but one is definitely getting the employees involved. It is really critical to hear what employees have to say and also involve them in the action planning so that they have input into what are the tactics that are going to be put in place. The other really important thing is for the organization to communicate that we are doing this because you asked for it. You have to communicate this time and time again throughout the year and into the following year, because obviously if you lose the thread that we are putting these things in place because you asked for it, people won’t be able to necessarily make that correlation when the next employee engagement survey comes around, and then your data is just not as good as it could be.”
What do you think are the most important roles of the HR department in relation to employees?
“I think some have more obvious impacts on employees such as Learning and Development, Employee Relations and Benefits because they are day to day functions. Compensation also does to a point, but it may be more of an overarching function, as it is not as day to day. Recruitment for the employees is more of an indirect implication because if you do not have enough people doing the work in the department and positions don’t get filled then it affects other people obviously, but employees don’t see that as much as hiring managers do.“
What are some of the obstacles you are currently facing in retaining talent within your industry?
“I think the obstacles we are facing right now is that the organization has gone through a lot of transition. For any organization, that can create some challenges. Specifically in the healthcare realm, I think retention of clinicians is extremely challenging right now. I was just speaking about this with the New York State Assembly this morning. We spoke about the fact that recruitment and retention issues are the same for clinicians. Homecare, Hospice and managed care work is very challenging and in a very challenging environment. In Homecare, there can be demand for high productivity, longer unpredictable hours, high demands for paperwork for compliance, sometimes working in communities that can be challenging. Sometimes walking into someone’s home where there could be an emergent issue and there are all kinds of things that can happen. It is hard to find people who are passionate or willing to do that and sometimes it’s hard for people to continue to do that because it can be challenging. At the same time trying to make sure that they have the right support in education and training to have the tools to do that. I think that becomes increasingly difficult as healthcare evolves and the reimbursement in healthcare is being reduced. We have to be very creative in how we use our funds”
How would President Trump’s immigration ban impact HR practices if it were to happen?
“I think it is going to make it much more challenging. For us, especially in the world of some of our niche jobs like analyst jobs, IT jobs and therapists, because a lot of times, because there is a shortage of people with specific technical skills or clinical skills, we have sponsored people from other countries to come here and work as employees, and many have gone on to green cards and some of them have probably become citizens too. I think if we suddenly reduced in the number of H1B (work visas) that we are allowed to sponsor that would diminish the pool and make it all that much harder to fill therapist roles and IT roles, etc.”
What advice do you have for HR students?
“I think definitely what you guys are doing, by being involved in a chapter of SHRM, or another school association, that can connect you with people in the industry. I think it is important to continuously grow your network via LinkedIn and other ways, because it is a way to get yourself known to people in other organizations. Also, it is a network of people you can go to and find out information about an organization and/or position, just to get additional data as you are looking at building your career. I think internship opportunities are always great, as I mentioned before. I think it’s also just being willing to getting jobs that are entry level and working your way up; sometimes it can happen very rapidly. You have to think about getting the skills that you have already built in school and how those apply. You are doing project management; you are probably negotiating with people all the time, you’re leading project teams, you probably always work with your interpersonal and communication skills on project teams. Think about those types of examples as ways to help show how you built those HR skills.”
What about advice for an entry-level employee trying to “breakthrough” and obtain more of a managerial or leadership position?
“In HR, one thing to do is try to get yourself involved in projects that may not necessarily be in the realm of your job or even your department. I think that is really important because then people start seeing you and when positions become available you can naturally come to people’s attention, but you’re also building up experience too. In an organization, just getting involved in cross-organizational projects, things that may be outside of your day to day work, and also helps you expand your network within the organization. “