Deborah Brunson is Director of HR at Wheaton World Wide Moving, a nationally recognized company that has a relatively small workforce headquartered in Indianapolis. She joined Wheaton in September 2015 after serving in human resources roles at United Way of Central Indiana and CICOA, a local agency known for its expertise in connecting older adults, people with disabilities, and family caregivers with home and community-based services. Deborah Brunson is Director of HR at Wheaton World Wide Moving, a nationally recognized company that has a relatively small workforce headquartered in Indianapolis. She joined Wheaton in September 2015 after serving in human resources roles at United Way of Central Indiana and CICOA, a local agency known for its expertise in connecting older adults, people with disabilities, and family caregivers with home and community-based services.
BKB: Welcome, Deborah! You’re a transplant, having come from Virginia to attend IU’s Kelley School of Business. And you decided to stay in Indiana. As a young professional, and someone with an east coast orientation, what has that been like?
DB: Initially, it was a mixed bag – challenging and rewarding. Virginia is more diverse with a high cost of living. And there’s a long tradition of how things are. Indianapolis has many opportunities for an established or up and coming professionals. The landscape for job and entrepreneurial opportunities are vast and many people are not aware. I would say Indiana is a hidden jewel with a lot of potential. Staying in Fishers, Indiana was my choice because it provides an easy way of life – not much traffic, low cost of living, job opportunities for professional growth, and good schools. The lack of diversity took some adjusting; however, this has changed in the past 10 years as well. I wanted a work and living environment that values change, where things can move more quickly than traditional ways sometime allow.
BKB: And you found that at Wheaton?
DB: Yes! We are committed to providing the best all-around customer satisfaction. Honesty, growth, and quality service are the underpinnings of our mission. We expect our team to provide these things. And, we model this expectation because we treat our team as customers, too.
BKB: Tell me more about team as customers.
DB: In 2016, Wheaton we had an estimated 30% staff turnover rate. Today it’s 9%. Understanding that our team is our primary customer has made all the difference.
Culture is key. And we have done what it takes to create a culture people want, with changes to pay, flexibility, and wellness. We need to be competitive because unemployment is so low. We strive to offer opportunities for personal and professional growth. Our environment is casual – T-shirts and sneakers go a long way! And, we’re fair about pay. Lots of companies offer compensation based upon an applicant’s salary history. Our positions have a pay range based upon the skills required and experience. We offer what a role is valued regardless the applicant’s former pay.
BKB: That’s an attractive concept! What makes a good team member?
DB: Every resume tells a story. What is theirs? Once we’ve screened for transferable skills, experience, and the reason for a job change, we ask situational questions that point to decision-making. Questions like, “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your manager. How did you handle that? How did you communicate?” Most of the time people are nervous and some need more time to process. We try to make the conversation comfortable and put candidates at ease because that’s our culture. It’s important for them to experience that.
BKB: As you approach change, how do you get buy-in?
DB: I’ve learned that you have to bring all the facts. Tell the story and ask questions. Allow questions. Explore the decision with the person impacted; help them understand the why and that they have the support of leadership. If you create a conversation where you can come to the same conclusion, everyone gets on the same page.
BKB: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader?
DB: Coming into a company’s HR department, I’ve learned that I’m a change agent. I must respect the history of what was there before and take the time to understand the landscape before considering changes. If you do that, the people who have made those decisions won’t feel like “what’s wrong with what we have?” That’s insulting and puts them on the defensive.
I understand the why, ask the right questions, and build relationships. Have the discipline to sit on my notes for the first year to analyze what can be. Then, when you’re ready to make some moves you have relationships, you have a team, and a much better opportunity to engage them in the changes.
Hope you’ve enjoyed Deborah’s perspective on leadership. Next time we meet Tiffany Sauder, president of marketing powerhouse Element Three.