Tag Archives: hannahhager

Purcellville resident turns 100

This is an article I wrote for my grandmother’s 100th birthday. It appeared in the March 27 edition of the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

In 1913, during the relatively quiet year after the Titanic sank and before the escalation of the First World War in Europe, Geraldine Jane Potts James was born to Linda Kidwell and Walter Potts at their home in Hillsboro, three days before Easter on March 20. Their kitchen counter meat scale read that she weighed 4 lbs., give or take a few ounces.

One century later and several towns over, Geraldine celebrated her 100th birthday March 24 at the Loudoun Golf and Country Club in Purcellville amongst more than 120 close family and friends. The celebration of her birthday and life was hosted by her three children; Roberta East of Purcellville, Linda James of Round Hill, and Gerald James of Herndon.

As children of the Great Depression, Geraldine and her brothers Raymond and Lloyd Potts – who lived to see 93 and 94, respectively –were expected to pitch in on the farm, especially after their father died when she was three years-old. Her tasks included feeding the chickens and milking the cows. To earn extra cash, her family would dress and prepare their chickens and eggs and load them on the train at the Purcellville station to be sold to city dwellers in Washington, D.C.

“You couldn’t buy gasoline for the car, so we had to be very careful anywhere we went. We bought very little at the store; mainly coffee, sugar and flour with a ration book,” Geraldine said. Back then, “You survived by growing things you had on the farm.”

She credits her long life to her faith in God, being a teetotaler – with an undisputed and never satiated sweet tooth – and “walking for her education.”

While in primary school, she would walk – or hitch a ride on the horse-drawn school bus – to Hillsboro. When she reached high school age, she walked two miles to then catch a ride in her neighbor’s Model – T Ford that was headed to Lincoln High School (now Lincoln Elementary School).

It shouldn’t be a surprise that she later became one of the few women of her time to attend college, graduating in 1935 from Madison College, now James Madison University. Her mother, “who believed in two things; the Lord and education,” died a few months after Geraldine graduated.

On July 3, 1936, she had the pleasure of shaking the hand of one of the most beloved presidents in history, Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he dedicated Shenandoah National Park. She was 23. She spent her roaring twenties as a home economics teacher at Lincoln High School, taking respites to swim in “the Big Eddy” in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and vacationing with a girlfriend to Atlantic City, N.J., where they were reprimanded by a police officer for showing their legs on the boardwalk.

Geraldine wore a navy suit when she married Robert “Bob” James on February 21, 1942, with only the pastor and his wife serving as witnesses. She was 28 years-old. Their long and happy union lead to the proudest moments of her life when she became “a mother of three good children.” She is now a grandmother to five and the great-grandmother of seven children.

During her days as a homemaker she kept a garden and canned, froze or cooked the yield for her family and the workers who helped butcher the meat, harvest the grain and tend to their dairy farm operation. Dairy farms were once the economic mainstay in Loudoun, but today only one remains and is operated by Geraldine’s cousins in Purcellville.

Geraldine considers her greatest achievement to be “becoming a Christian and loving the Lord.” She and Bob, before he died in 1983, were lifelong members of Purcellville Baptist Church where she has taught numerous Sunday school and vocational classes. In 1996, she was recognized by the church as one of the first recipients of their Oaks of Righteousness program for her dedication to God and the church.

“Life has been good. I’ve enjoyed living on the farm; raising my children, feeding all my neighbors,” she said. “We had simple things, but we had fun, a lot of homemade fun.”

Lean Is Not an Initiative, But a Lifestyle

As a Lean leader, Mitch Sparber, the Head of HR Service Center Operations at Farmers Insurance, understands Lean isn’t an initiative, but a company-wide lifestyle. In this interview he shows how Farmers Insurance leverages lean concepts to streamline its operations to better serve the internal customer.

Building a lean culture takes time – what are your suggestions on managing expectations and setting realistic metrics along the way?
You are correct, Lean is a journey. It is important that leadership continually reinforces this with team members. While highlighting our Lean efforts during team meetings, I try to make an effort to remind everyone that Lean is not an initiative but an approach that we are trying to embed into our day-to-day activities.

Since success is highly dependent on engagement and commitment from everyone, it is also important to establish the ‘right’ pace of introducing Lean concepts and tools. Lean introduces new terminology, such as customer value-add and tools like time analysis. It is easy for employees to become frustrated in the application of these new concepts. As a Lean leader, I wanted to make sure I was personally involved in our initial Lean events. For example, during our first Kaizen (a four-day event to identify process improvements), I made it very clear to the team that while the outcome is important, it was even more important to me that participating team members obtain a solid understanding of how to use the various Lean tools to identify process improvements.

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate Lean achievements. Recognize the commitment being made by your team members. Leverage food days to celebrate the completion of a process improvement event. Provide special recognition to employees who achieve Lean certification.

Could you share with us how you use lean concepts to support your True North vision by providing all employees with a world-class HR experience?
One of the best examples of supporting our True North vision is by introducing the concept of communication cells. The communication cell is a 15-minute meeting during which a team meets to review and discuss the previous period’s performance, the work plan for the current day, KPIs and continuous improvement opportunities.

Similar to a team huddle, this daily meeting has been the catalyst for getting the team to begin to understand lean concepts. The daily meetings are centered around a Comm Cell board. These boards make information about people, performance, and process improvement easily available to all team members. This activity, coupled with a goal to improve communication between team members, supports our True North vision by leading to better customer service.

What are the top tools you use to engage HR employees in Lean?
We’ve implemented several tools around visual management to engage our employees in Lean. These tools make our progress and results visible. For example, we have our HR Lean News You Can Use bulletin board, which is located in a high-traffic employee area. HR Lean news and success stories including certification requirements and training dates are displayed in quick, easy-to-read formats.

In the true spirit of Lean, our team is constantly checking on its progress. We’ve posted our objectives, targets, and metrics. Making our results visible and linking them to strategic drivers of the organization has been a key focus. When people walk by and see it posted on the wall, they’ll start thinking about metrics in their own areas. By making them visual, people will learn to think about metrics as part of their daily work.

Is there a new or emerging technology you can point to that you think will transform Lean within HR Shared Services?
While I don’t see any special ‘technology’ to transform Lean within a team, I see an organization’s commitment to provide ongoing Lean education to all team members as a key driver of success. For us, all new hires are required to complete a one-hour e-Learning course on Lean. Within the first six months, we ask our newly hired employees to attend a Problem is a Buried Treasure course where employees learn about the 7 Wastes and problem solving techniques.

With this basic knowledge, we now encourage employees to complete their first process improvement exercise, called a “Just Do It” submission. Embracing a Lean learning environment during an employee’s introductory time with the organization allows us to develop a culture in which Lean is the way we do our work, not just something extra to do.

Tie HR Metrics to Business Performance Measures

The value of the dashboard or metric varies by the person using the information – for instance, a CEO will want different information than a line manager. Kym Burke, Vice President of HRConnect, suggests HR Shared Services Centers look for ways to tie HR metrics to business and company performance measures.

1. It is one thing for data analysts to discover and digest best practices related to talent through the use of data analytics, but how can this knowledge be imparted to personnel managers?

Personnel – or people – managers must know how to do talent management, which is more than dealing with day-to-day performance issues. If they understand and advocate resource planning and talent reviews, they will be interested in the data available to them through Human Capital Management (HCM) systems. At the same time, they are not analysts and have limited time to dig into the data, so the HR organization should understand their information needs and design reports or dashboards to give them the data they need. Moreover, the role of the HR Business Partner becomes even more critical in this model to help the people manager interpret and apply the data to their work situation and business environment. Lastly, offering this information just-in-time makes it relevant and designing it in bite-size formats makes it digestible and easy-to-read/-use.

2. For large companies in particular, as human resources processes become more automated, HR professionals are starting to drown in large volumes of data related to job performance and satisfaction. Could you recommend any dashboards or metrics that you think work particularly well?

Always look for ways to tie HR metrics to business and company performance measures. And, remember that the value of the dashboard or metric varies by the person using the information: a CEO will want different information than a line manager. Having said that, the cost of talent really seems to resonate with most stakeholders: retention and turnover data, including acquisition costs, time-to-hire or time-to-productivity, turnover percentages, high volatility areas/jobs and other relevant metrics. Managers also request dashboards that give them daily insight into their workforce; they are interested in headcount, roles, compensation, leaves and performance as well as a way to view history to look for trends. Leaders often ask for some of the “big data” metrics that we are just beginning to explore, where we mix HR, sales, finance and external benchmark data to create a glimpse into the highest potential employees that are significant contributors to an organization’s value.

3. What metrics do you depend on to tell you about your organization’s employee retention and whether an organization is meeting its leadership and recruiting targets?

We use much of the turnover data mentioned earlier, including cost of acquisition, turnover percentages, reasons for hire and termination, sheer volume as a whole and by role, demographics and more. We also use an all-employee survey to measure engagement – this data is cut by team and manager and provided to the business to support specific business unit and local team action planning and individual development plans. We also look at continuing education costs: tuition reimbursement usage, learning utilization, training costs and contingent labor metrics.

4. Do you have any suggestions for creating effective employee surveys?

Keep it simple and consistent to check progress. Make it available – we do our survey online, which can be accessed anywhere, anytime and encourage employees to do it at work access points if they haven’t completed it. Offer incentives to encourage participation – limited data makes the instrument invalid. Consider “cuts” of data and who will want to know what. Mostly, consider it as one data point in a much bigger picture.

5. What has changed in the HR Shared Services industry and what excites you for the future?

The availability and reliability of software-as-a-service applications in the HR arena has changed what we can do and how we do it. There is less reliance on often scarce and expensive internal and external technology resources; it has been replaced by HR user communities and common practices and processes. Access and availability is expanding, which keeps people top of mind for business leaders. The systems also force clarity, transparency, performance and simplicity in a variety of ways: roles, process, performance, communication and management. 

I’m excited that HR professionals – who have always been the “people” people – can now speak the language that business leaders and Wall Street understand, that we can tie employee engagement and talent management to productivity, revenue generation and financial success. We’re at our infancy in this space, so it will be exciting to see what the future brings. I’m also excited about the evolving ease and simplicity of the systems to drive customer satisfaction – this makes adoption and usage a no-brainer. I’m also excited to see how the workforce will use this information to revive their passion and engagement in what their companies are trying to achieve and how to build their brands – this will have universal impact.