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Article by: John Bernatovicz — View more articles by John Bernatovicz

Posted on: November 19, 2020

HR Like a Boss: Viola Lazzer

We're continuing our theme of unsuspecting HR professionals with retired HR professional and our first international guest, Viola Lazzer. Viola's made a career in understanding mergers and acquisitions in the oil and gas industry. Listen to the complete podcast to learn all about how she moved from Canada to Tulsa to Pennsylvania and back to Canada.


JOHN BERNATOVICZ: Welcome to the HR Like a Boss video series; if it resonates with you, please consider liking commenting, subscribing, and sharing with a friendYou'll find social media links in the description and where to listen to the complete podcast interview. I've embarked on a journey to get to know amazingly awesome HR and business professionals. These conversations are the foundation for my book on what it takes to do her like a boss. On today's episode, I'm joined by my friend George Sample. So, George, how would you describe the purpose of Human Resources?

VIOLA LAZZER: It is understanding the business. HR is the conscience of an organization. It has really stuck with me because the role is using your expertise to help the organization do what is right for people, the community, and the business. And finding out appropriately balanced.

JOHN: What do you enjoy the most about working in HR?

VIOLA: Growth. For myself because there is always something new I could do. And also the growth of those around me and the opportunity. So when you’re saying you don’t have to be in a formal position, for a long time I never had a title on my business card because it was irrelevant. It was more about the relationship and the partnership that I developed. So staying in my office was of no value. But getting out there and having that relationship, then I was able to impact and have an influence. And my title never mattered.

Example from my most recent role. The first month she was working they just completed their performance system. She literally had taken a number at her door. There were people lined up from morning to night. She even had someone hire a lawyer to have her reviews edited. It was something she never heard of. Absolutely insane. I had been brought in to try and come up with a new performance process and something that worked. I was able to make that influence, through research, support data, connect with them. Make it easy for them. We had 95% participation and zero complaints a week later. 

That to me was the kind of growth you can do through research and really thinking about how you can make an influence. But of course you have to do that to the senior executive as well. There is a lot of risk to it, a lot of investment. They want to make sure that it is worth it from a business perspective.

JOHN: What characteristics make for a stand-out HR professional? 

VIOLA: Integrity. That is critical. I think credibility. As you’ve said, I’m a business person. My expertise is people. In order to have that I am going to need to be credible in that part of my expertise. I have to be really good at what I’m going and I need to be credible. I think the third part is the ability to do partnerships. Otherwise, people don;t like HR. Why? Because the only time people see HR is when they are in trouble. Or they feel like HR gives them work to do when they are already busy and they don’t see any value in it. So if you’ve got those two different things you need to see the value in it. They need the partnership in order to make that kind of a change. So, my expertise has to be credible and a lot of integrity and good partnerships. .

JOHN: Have you worked with professionals who worked in HR but struggled with their role or the profession? If so, why?

VIOLA: I’ve worked with two. One wasn’t really a good fit. I think they took on the problems instead of having the other person solve the problems. So the ownership transferred and so that person was really good. They no longer had the monkey on their back. I saw that too where HR has almost been like a cocoon or protector of the senior leadership in the business. Just trying to change because they are so busy. They almost say I’ll take on that whole aspect by myself and then it doesn't work either. The other hand is that people get into HR because they really like people, and they really want to make a difference and think about that stuff first. But they don’t step back and think about what’s the vision, what’s the strategy, priorities. They tend to jump to conclusions in problem solving. If you are trying to really hit a business objective, then some ways are going to be better than others. That to me is where you start. I had a partner who was coming at it from a different direction and she was getting a new very experienced HR business partner and she came to me and said I need to look at this differently. I took her back and said, what do you know about this person? Why was he hired? What issue or problem was he brought in hoping to address. Understand those types of things and then you’ll be able to work with him a lot better. It is something that is going to be truly what you need and he needs. Now she is just sailing. She is getting opportunities that she never thought she’d have. She was a manager of HR for a long time. 

JOHN: How would you describe someone that does “HR Like a Boss?” 

VIOLA: Like any boss, balances management and leadership. Management being the processes, vision, direction, metrics. Leadership being the bringing out and helping people develop that unique talent that they have.

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