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Charlotte Jensen: HR Entrepreneur

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When Charlotte Jensen walked away from the corporate world, she ventured out, began her own HR consulting firm, and never looked back.

“After serving in HR generalist and management roles for 13 years, I decided that the small businesses that make up the backbone of our economy needed me more than corporate America did. So, I walked away from it all to establish my company,” says Jensen.

And she did. Literally.

“I resigned from my company on a Friday and was up early that Saturday morning putting my business model together,” says Jensen. She spent hours studying her competition and researching how to start a business. The risks were high, she knew, and very unlike “the overly cautious nature of many HR professionals”; however, Jensen had to do it.

“I had reached a point in my career where I had two routes I could take: 1. move higher up the corporate ladder, most likely by uprooting my family and moving to a different state, where I probably wouldn’t like the climate one bit, or 2. get back to basics and work with the smaller businesses that I believe truly support the American Dream.”

The entrepreneur received her B.A. in English and her M.A. in Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Naively, she thought she had the patience to teach English; however, a few years into college Jensen already disliked the idea. So, instead of starting over, she added electives she thought might help her in the business world, including Training and Development, Organizational Development, and Adult Education.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I felt some knowledge of these areas would give me some marketability in the business world.”

So when did HR come into play?

“My first job out of college exposed me to the staffing aspects of HR, the second one introduced me to employee relations and benefits, and it snowballed from there.”

Now, with over 15 years of experience in the HR field, Jensen is the founder and president of Cole James Associates, Inc., a small HR consulting firm, located in Virginia. She created Cole James with one purpose in mind:

“To ensure small businesses have access to the same information and resources that large companies have without the burden of excessive cost. Even companies with just one employee have legal requirements concerning that employee and can easily fall prey to today's litigious environment. At Cole James, no company is too small for us to help,” writes Jensen on her website.

Q. What do you like to do outside of work? Any odd hobbies/interests? Are you married? Do you have children? Can you explain a little about your personal life outside of your company?

A. A. I must have been a chef in a previous life! I love to cook and own about 300 cookbooks. I can pour over a cookbook the way others read a novel. I don't bake, though. Making cakes and other sweets requires too much discipline with all the precise measuring. I am married to my high school sweetheart. We've been married for 13 years, but together for 20 years. We have a six-year-old son, and I don't even remember life before him. Our chaotic household (that I wouldn't change for the world) is rounded out with two Golden Retrievers and two cats.

Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?

Jimmy Buffett-Songs You Know by Heart.

Q. What is the last magazine you read?

Southern Living.

Q. What is your favorite TV show?

If it's on Food Network or A&E, I'm all over it!

Q. Who is your role model?

My dad. He raised my sister and me on his own. He taught me: (1) the importance of personal accountability, (2) that when you think you're at the absolute end of your rope, you can squeeze out a little more, (3) that you never just assume you can't do something, and (4) that acknowledging pain and the need for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. I know some of that sounds cliché, but it is like Robert Fulghum's book All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Life really is simple...people just try to complicate it.

“What really kept me going down the HR career path was the absolute fascination of being in a position that touches every single person in the organization, from the guy in the warehouse on the forklift all the way to the CEO.”

Often, small businesses “don’t know what they need to know,” says Jensen. However, this is exactly what she thrives at-sharing her HR expertise with those businesses who don’t know what I-9 forms are or “that they have to post the new minimum wage poster, even if they don’t have any employees in that pay range.”

“They are grateful that someone is making sure they are equipped with the knowledge they need so that they can spend less time on HR and employee hassles and more time on growing their businesses,” says Jensen, who describes these situations as truly rewarding.

One example revolves around her mantra: “Hire right, hire once.” After all, if a small business hires the wrong person, it “is a huge drain on profits...if a business has five employees and has to let one go, that’s 20% of the workforce!”

Jensen also teaches her clients three important hiring techniques: “[1] Don’t fall prey to the warm body syndrome. Having somebody now is not better than having the position open longer in order to find the right person...[2] understand the position you’re trying to fill...,” and [3] interview and evaluate your potential hires’ responses well.

Regarding the latter point, Jensen adds, “Small business owners tend to be more personable in the interview process, and that increases the risk of asking an illegal question or encouraging personal conversation that could lead to the candidate divulging information that the business owner cannot legally consider in the hiring process.”

But something both small businesses and large businesses can improve upon is offering feedback to their employees. Many employees leave their jobs because of lack of recognition and feedback, says Jensen, and not necessarily because of money.

“Sure, a decent paycheck is important, but if someone is going to spend forty or more hours a week in one place, they want to enjoy their time there and know that it’s appreciated.”

Now, with her extensive background in HR, Jensen is more than capable of offering advice to up-and-coming HR workers. She advises them to know both the tactical and strategic aspects of the field, and advises them to “look at succession planning, for example.”

“The process is a strategic initiative to assess the current talent pool, and it requires an ability to develop the talent in the pipeline to be instrumental in the future goals and vision of the organization. However, it is also critical to understand the basic technical issues behind the data. For example, what if the ‘A list’ is made up of only white males under the age of 40? The strategic skills are essential for growing the organization, but the tactical skills are critical for keeping the nuts and bolts sound.”
On the net:Cole James Associates, Inc.

Virginia Commonwealth University

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 climates  patience  small businesses  on the job training  succession planning  HR  environments  benefits  studying  entrepreneurs

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