Q&A with Kathleen Neils, New Chief Human Resources Officer

Q&A with Kathleen Neils, New Chief Human Resources Officer

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What made you want to get into the HR field

I had graduated with an accounting degree and had an opportunity to work within the corporate benefits delivery business for General Electric Company. I learned a great deal and really enjoyed the work.  The corporate benefits delivery organization supported all active and inactive employees for the General Electric company. 

We consulted a great deal with Human Resources leaders across the business which allowed me to learn about human resources and eventually decided that was where I wanted to focus my career.  I have enjoyed the ability to help business to build on their success by supporting/coaching the largest and most critical resource they have  - their employees.

What do you see as the challenges of the job? 

My first opportunity/challenge is to learn about the university system and gain insight and understanding of the faculty, staff and students and how the Human Resources team can continue to support the success of these groups and the university for the future.  In addition, I need to learn all the new acronyms.

 What are your overall duties

I am responsible for leading the UNH/UNHM HR team; align the HR team to the critical work that supports the on-going success of the university and the diverse populations that the HR team supports.  These areas include; employee advocate, business partner, compensation, benefits , training and coaching

 How does working in an academic setting differ from the corporate world?   

The reality is both of these worlds/settings are made up of organizations that have employees, leaders and a university/business that they need to manage.  What is different is the process by which you create value for your customer, how some decisions are made and certain processes related to Human Resources. 

What do you like most about working in HR?

Being able to make a difference for the employee’s work experience, which is critical to the continued success of the university. I hope to be able to help shape the university for the future and provide support to all of its employees, councils, and leaders building upon the success of the university. My belief is when you have employees who are connected to the university’s mission and have a good/great work environment, those ingredients will allow the university to continue to grow and attract more students to our campus. 

What kinds of changes do you anticipate in the field during the next 20 years?

I believe that the field will change in a few ways; flexibility will continue to be a factor for new and existing employees such as the work place can be in many locations.  Also, in order to continue to be an employer of choice, it will be critical that we provide a work environment that will engage and excite our employees.  That will require the HR team to have a broad vision of what employees value, and build a positive culture for the future.

What do you think is the single most important characteristic of a good HR director?

Confidentiality, for HR professionals is critical. We have a responsibility to be an employee advocate and the business partner. Individuals have to feel comfortable coming to see us.  They need to believe what they discuss with HR is confidential.  Our role is to help/coach individuals to continue to grow and develop in their careers. 

What was your very first job?

My very first job was a lifeguard and swim team coach. I loved the job so much that  I did it for seven years.  I was in a pool all summer long and I had the opportunity to teach a great group of kids how to swim and push themselves to improve their results. I had a great time. This experience provided me some critical building blocks for my career in HR; for example, how to build a strong team, listening, flexibility, and being able to resolve issues when they arise.