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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Street Level Influencer – Meet Shenise Cook

Shenise Cook is a DYNAMIC person, professional, and an all around badass! Get to know her, and then go connect with her!

The Street Level Influencer continues into 2021. Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from seemingly all over. These things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

This next individual I spoke with is incredibly awesome. I had followed Shenise on social media for a while, but I was inspired to reach out to her after seeing a Tweet from Claire Petrie:

My face after a Zoom call with @HrShenise because I was laughing the entire time! She is a breath of fresh air 😊 so nice to see your face Shenise! Special mentions during the call included @HRSocialHour @HRJazzy @KyraMatkovichHR @Mofota @HRPaul49 💜 #HRCommunity — Claire Petrie, PHR, SHRM-CP (She/Her) (@_strclaire) February 23, 2021

I was in a little rut, and Claire’s Tweet came at the perfect time. COVID was starting to finally take its toll on me. Continued work pressures, family turmoil, and societal problems – all that came ahead one year into the pandemic, social injustice, and societal instability. I was feeling it, like so many others.

After seeing Claire’s tweet, however, I thought, I need to talk to Shenise – that smile from Claire is too awesome, meaning Providence is telling me that Shenise is someone I need to chat with.

So, I reached out to her, and she graciously said “let’s do it!” We set up a Zoom chat, and after a few reschedules, we connected. It was such an amazing conversation. Shenise’s energy is infectious. I felt such a vibe from her, that I wanted to spread it to the HR Community and beyond!

I just had the BEST Zoom chat with @HrShenise!!! @_strclaire was so right. I’m gonna be smiling all night. What an amazing human being!!! Chatted about our troubles in Joliet and our Catholic school days! Stay clear of Binny’s, Shenise!!! 😁#HRCommunity #ChicagoPeople — Paul LaLonde (@HRPaul49) March 6, 2021

I cannot thank Shenise enough. She likely doesn’t know what that conversation meant to me. To connect with someone so real, uninhibited, positive – it reenergized me. She is a sweet person, who deserves all the great things that come her way!

So, without further ado, here is Shenise’s story!

1. So, you’re a well experienced HR pro! Why do you do HR?

Despite sometimes thankless roles and efforts, HR combines some things that I innately enjoy – people, business, efficiency, and evolution.  As a teenager, I did not know exactly what I would do, but I knew it would be business. And before it was common phrasing, I knew nothing worked without people.  And yet most important for me is that I enjoy supporting people in being their best selves. In HR, it allows me to work in that space. Whether I am helping leaders figure out their workforce and succession plans for better strategic alignment, assisting an employee with a career development path, discussing sometimes overlooked/forgotten benefits options, or providing system updates/integrations to make work easier, I like to see people succeed.

2. Currently, you are in career transition. What are you looking for in your next role? How will you know the next role is right for you?

First, let me highlight that I am blessed to have worked in a variety of areas within HR. I point that out because there are a few directions that I would enjoy taking, so I won’t narrow it to a title. What’s important to me regardless of the role is the ability to use a variety of my skills (talent management, organizational development, etc.), as well as working in partnership. How will I know? Do we ever really know? What I hope is that there will be good communication, a team-orientation, alignment and partnership between HR and leadership across the organization, and an aim towards work-life balance. All of this must be accompanied by a culture that believes in and invests in its people as a measure of success.

3. A lot of what you just discuss hit home. Along those lines, how would you define being a “good HR leader?”

In my humble opinion, a good HR leader understands the need to function in multiple roles. Sometimes you direct, other times you mediate, and sometimes you coach. There are others, but this is a short interview [smile]. Good HR leaders also attempt to learn their business. We often follow best practices, but the applicability, implementation, impact can be so varied. What is done at a software company may not be a good fit in banking. And what is done in a global product company may not work for a service company serving a small city. Then there’s agility.  Anyone that has worked in HR knows that no two days are exactly the same. So the ability to somehow pivot and maintain focus in sometimes a matter of hours is critical.  None of this is really important, unless its someone with integrity, that communicates, values people, supports opportunity, and allows some grace, so that people want to follow.

4. Agility and applicability are such overlooked words at times, or people use them and don’t apply (pun intended). So glad you brought that up! HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular story that you’re comfortable sharing to describe how you overcame a challenging situation?

I’ve done payroll, change management and been responsible for various approvals…I have tons of stories (laugh). My experience in general is that most reasonable people are less upset when they are informed. “Ma’am, I understand you’re upset, unfortunately, you did not get paid because we have not received any paperwork to know you’re working.” “Sir, we do not think you are racist. We are committed to creating equal opportunities for employment so we will need to advertise in some additional places, which may take more time.” “Yes, this is an additional item on your already full plate. I know that your success is important and this is a way to make sure we gather your input on behalf of your department. I’d be happy to provide some suggestions or act a sounding board so that you can work through it most efficiently.” When people are upset, I always remember its not really about me, I am transparent as the opportunity allows, and I offer what I can to make sure they know they are not alone.

5. Great point about not taking things personal. People’s behaviors are more often than not about them and not about you or me. As a Black woman in the HR profession, what do you feel HR professionals can do better to promote BIPOC professionals in the workplace?

First, let me say that I am not a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) expert.  What I can say is that no component of the trifecta has true long-term positive impact without the other.  As HR professionals, we have to look at our organizations and identify where the experience and opportunities are different and ask why.  And after digging into the causes ask the questions that find the solutions.  Why aren’t our applicant pools diverse? Why do we only have one minority or veteran or person with a disability in last quarter’s hires?  What do the social activities for onboarding look like?  Are they really professional or do they demonstrate some cultural or socioeconomic preference?  Might they be contrary to someone’s religious beliefs? What assumptions, conversations, resources are there that may impact performance for better or for worse?  When are professionally beneficial collaborations really happening? Who’s there? Who is interacting just before and after meetings? Why? Who is listening? Ultimately, we have to become comfortable with initiating uncomfortable conversations and really delving into why leaders are making decisions that may cause disparate impact.  We have to be proactive in learning about experiences that may be different from ours. Those from underrepresented groups need allies that challenge people to consider them and the value of what they contribute when decision makers are simply relying on what worked last time. And allies in less than diverse populations should seek these opportunities out.  If an organization is genuinely aiming to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive work place, people have to feel comfortable discussing their challenges with us as HR professionals and we have to be courageous enough to highlight things even if the person impeding this progress is a “really a good person.”  This is by no means an all-inclusive list.  It’s the cliff’s notes of the short list. But let’s at least get started and ask for support along the way. 

6. You ask A LOT of great hard hitting questions all HR professionals must be mindful of. Have you seen progress towards more meaningful inclusion efforts over your career, last several years, last several months? How much further is left to go in your mind for HR professionals to be true advocates for workplace equality?

Collectively, I do not sense much progress has been made, but I don’t know the numbers. I do know that I’ve talked with HR people that see the challenges, but don’t have leadership that support corrective action. I also know HR people in organizations that are so understaffed that they probably miss things that are not blatantly overt or highlighted by collective complaint. While there are many HR professionals that are proactively making change, there are still so many not empowered.  With that said, I am encouraged when I interact with people such as yourself, that care and push for progress through voice, decision and action.

7. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and society in America has A LONG way to go. Thank you for being so open and honest. We need that more than ever, and we need to normalize it. On a more lighter note, who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

I have a variety of people in my network with all types of talents and wisdom. I would say that who readers should know is all about where they are on their professional evolution. So they’re all valuable.

8. All the more reason to connect with you and see who is in your network! What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

Oh the challenges will be many. Organizations are navigating (or choosing by inaction) differently, so I think within the near future it will generally be addressing the long-term impacts of the pandemic. The ability to be agile, will definitely determine how quickly organizations can move beyond survival mode. For those in industries that require on-site workers, the next phase of challenge will likely be the implementation and enforcement of safety protocols. In the United States, there were generally some mass restrictions and requirements. But as states remove mandates and vaccinations become available to more individuals, organizations will have to create legally enforceable policies that both protect workers’ safety and freedoms.  Given the varied opinions on the pandemic, vaccinations and liberties, I imagine this will be an arduous task for many. 

What I will be most interested to see is the how the employment market plays out. Traditionally, we would say, unemployment is high – it’s an employers’ market. But is it really the traditional landscape? Pre-pandemic, it was highlighted that there were jobs that could not be filled by the unemployed because the jobs didn’t match their skillsets. Now, we have both employees and employers that have performed better using remote or hybrid working models. And you have some of those groups that have no intention of returning to the previous model. Then you have those out of necessity, preference, or lack of agility that will be eagerly returning to organizational sites. What happens when the employer path and employee path don’t match? How hard will it be to keep or hire employees to come to site when your employment competitors allow remote work? Or, the reverse if they prefer on-site? One could suggest that employees will make changes based on preference and it will appear as a swap. But that assumes that the jobs and skill set are a similar match. If not, we could potentially see the pre-pandemic challenge exacerbated.  In addition to policy changes, new vacancies, larger candidate pools, and increased competition for top talent, HR should likely prepare for changes to onboarding and training. This is not just for individual contributors, but also for managers who may need more development in managing remote and/or hybrid teams.

9.  Your answers are so insightful and thoughtful. I appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective. This has been wonderful! How can people connect with you?

The quickest way to reach me is via Twitter @HRShenise.

10.  Last question, but, much like Captain America, I could do this all day! What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I am dynamic. I really think that all people are, but there are some of us that are more comfortable not fitting into the box. I understand that initially people mentally create “boxes” to classify, to understand what we perceive. But we should never really presume that what we see is all there is or even that our perception is accurate. I can’t tell you how many times people said, “I thought you…”, “Well, I know you…”, or “You’re probably thinking…” and were wrong about me. I question and politely correct, but how often are the assumptions unvoiced? When we engage with people from a space that doesn’t put any of our restrictions on who they should/could be, (of course in my realm they have to be respectful) it allows them to engage authentically. Some of my best friends and most beneficial connections have evolved from this space. A space that allows both of us and our realities to evolve.  And we see that no one really fits the little boxes…and I have no desire to squeeze in.

That is so incredibly Stoic of you, Shenise! Dear reads, please go and connect with her now! You won’t regret it!

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