Lisa Macabu: The HR Interview

Human Resources is a funny profession. Many people “fall into” HR, meaning that they didn’t actively choose to practice this. Either they assumed greater responsibilities and then earned the title, or they were in another role and wanted to switch gears.

My pathway was like that. I was a Department Manager for a fashion retailer. I noticed that there was a direct connection between hiring the right person and a store’s profitability. I began to request and earn recruitment assignments, thus beginning my career in Human Resources.

Today’s HR Interview walked a similar path. While Lisa Macabu didn’t set out to be a Human Resources practitioner, she’s fully embraced it and has become a top-notch professional. Having met her in person I can also say that she’s pretty cool, in my opinion. Check out the interview and see for yourself!

State your name. rank, and serial number (aka who you are and what you do).

Lisa Macabu, Director of HR for Consilient Restaurants. We are an independent restaurant group based in Dallas, TX. I have been in HR for 15 years and love it. I was previously the Associate Director of HR at Grey Healthcare Group and before that I was a Senior Benefits Analyst with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MLSO).

How do you help your organization reach its strategic objectives?

By understanding the business–its challenges, the goals, the mission and the vision. This is paramount.

You used to be a Sales and Marketing professional. Why did you make the leap into Human Resources?

It was completely by accident. I was temping as an Executive Assistant at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and the President asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I flippantly replied, “A philanthropist.” The company was preparing its aggressive growth strategy and realized that the HR department of two wasn’t going to help it achieve its goals. They created a Benefits Administrator role and the President and CFO hand-picked me for the job. It took about 6 months to have the “Where have you been all my life?” moment where I realized this was the career that was meant for me. I am so thankful that MSLO gave me a shot and the opportunity to learn HR on the job.

You’ve managed to successfully move between industries (Publishing, Healthcare Advertising, and now Hospitality) as a Human Resources professional. How did you accomplish this?

It’s all about learning the business and providing value. It’s important to get out of your office and meet folks in the field, in their departments, in the restaurant, the studio, wherever. I loved going over to the Style and Craft departments at MSLO. I always got the chance to learn new things (like how to tie the perfect bow on a gift!) as well as gain an understanding of how to clearly and easily communicate benefit plan complexities and options to creative folks. We speak HR everyday and it makes perfect sense to us, but we’ve got to understand our audience and their perspective in order to affect change or provide value.

What is the #1 misconception people have about your role or Human Resources in general? How do you overcome that?

There are so many misconceptions about HR but it’s our job to show the value we can bring to an organization. We can be seen as the police, the paper-pushers, the nay-sayers, the Debbie downers, etc. I once proposed to a CFO that HR should not be seen as a cost center because we are the folks that are responsible for bringing in the talent that drives revenue! If we understand the business and align HR with the business strategy, we are able to better demonstrate the value we bring. We are far more than polices, paperwork and rules. That stuff is important but it’s not our core deliverable.

Broadly speaking, where is the HR profession headed? How do you feel about that?

I love that the HR community on Twitter grows each day. With more collaboration and information sharing, we can continue the movement wherein we are a true, strategic business partner. It’s not just about wanting it though. We need to roll up our sleeves, and get in there and ask the hard questions to really understand the business in order to help achieve its goals. The biggest failure I’ve had as an HR person was early in my generalist career, and it is the one I learned the most from. I started implementing a policy without understanding its impact and one of the SVP’s said “you’re killing my business.” This was a wake-up call for me. They don’t call us “trench HR” for nothing. Get out there in the trenches to learn where you can leverage your HR expertise and know-how to provide value to your organization. It’s fun!

How did we meet?

We met through Twitter in 2008 (I think) and met in person for coffee at a Starbucks in Manhattan in 2009. I had iced coffee!

You’re active in social media. What made you decide to get involved in this medium?

Back in January 2008, I attended a Digital Bootcamp facilitated by Erin Byrne, who was the Managing Director of Digital Media at Burson Marsteller. She introduced us to Twitter in the session and I jumped in. It took me awhile to figure out the power of Twitter but once I did, I discovered an amazing Human Resources community that has helped me become a better HR person.

What are some of the ways in which you keep up with current business or HR related news and info?

I read, I listen and connect. I am so thankful for the immediacy with Twitter and social media because it has helped me keep up with regulations from folks like Daniel Schwartz and Heather Bussing, tech advancements from Mashable; Joel Cheesman, and best practices from HR thought leaders like yourself, Jennifer Benz, and the Fistful of Talent (FOT) and TLNT crews.

What’s the next challenge for you, professionally speaking?

I’ve been the number two for ten years and I’m now ready to take the reigns and leverage my knowledge, skills and abilities as the number one.

When are you coming back to New York City?

Hopefully the day my Jersey house sells and I sign the closing paperwork! Hope you don’t mind if I make a pitch–If you are in the market for a beautiful two bedroom colonial style house ten minutes from the Jersey shore, on one of the best streets in Red Bank with original, hardwood floors, hit me up. We’ve got a great home that is move-in ready!

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