Home » Karen Upton | The New Human Resources
Northern Virginia is a fast-paced area with an abundance of startup companies and growing businesses. Many begin as just a small venture, a scenario that Karen Upton knows firsthand from the time she spent helping to grow a small Reston-based technology company from a startup to an award-winning “Best Company to Work For.” That experience prompted her to start Infinity Road HR, a consulting business focused on providing cost-effective Human Resources (HR) support to growing companies that have limited HR and operational resources.
Karen is passionate about her work and enjoys collaborating with entrepreneurial people, particularly those who use their prominent position of leadership in business to do good for others. Karen is inspired by faith and family. She is one of seven children – each of them successful in very different ways. She attributes her success in HR to the diversity she experienced within her own family as well as within different positions she has held throughout her career. Kerry Wekelo had the pleasure of speaking with Karen, who explained in more depth how her business is structured to help growing companies become successful by outsourcing the HR function.
Q: How did you choose the name Infinity Road HR?
A: I wanted to choose a name for my business that meant something to me personally. From my own perspective, it is a look back and a look forward. For my clients, the name symbolizes the endless possibilities that exist for a new or growing business. The images that the name conjured for me were of a road trip – some people plan carefully for every part of it, and some just throw everything in the car and wing it. I think new companies are similar depending on the personality of the owner but, either way, it is an adventure – their adventure – and my goal is to help them navigate their way through the bumps and detours so that they can enjoy the trip.
Q: What is your vision for the firm?
A: In the short-term, my vision is to continue to grow my client base of small companies and provide them with valuable HR services so that they can create a strong baseline for business growth. One area I will explore with each of my clients is for them to utilize part-time resources as they are an excellent complement to a small business. I am also committed to having a strong philanthropic impact with my company.
Q: What are top areas you focus on when setting up HR functions for a new client?
A: The first step with any new client is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the current state of the organization by looking at procedures, processes, benefits, and culture. Once these areas have been assessed, I work with business owners to assign low, medium and high priority to each category so we can address the items that need the most attention first. The goal is always to help clients grow efficiently and effectively while maintaining an employee focus.
Q: How do you assess trends and risks for a company as a human resources executive?
A: As part of my new business, I have developed a comprehensive assessment tool that I use to understand the HR and operations of the businesses with whom I engage. The sections and questions contained in the assessment provide me with a clear picture of the current state of a business and allow me to work with leaders to help them understand where they are at risk and where they could improve their processes and programs.
Q: What are the recurring challenges you face as an HR professional and how do you handle them?
A: I believe a significant challenge for any HR professional is keeping up with the changes to laws and regulations that are constantly occurring and also staying on top of new technologies for businesses. I utilize several resources to stay up-to-date with changes, and in the future I hope to have someone on my team whose dedicated responsibility it is to keep up with these changes.
Q: What would you say is the best piece of business advice you have ever received as a human resources professional?
A: I believe the best piece of advice that I have received is one that applies in life as well as work: remain objective until you know all of the facts. It is very easy to make snap decisions and judgments before knowing a situation in its entirety. I have learned through this advice to be more patient and to try and see each situation through the eyes of the other individuals involved. Doing this enables me to be objective and fair in each situation and, in turn, builds respect between individuals.
Q: How do you see the role of an HR executive changing in the coming years?
A: As HR executives, we will need to continue to earn the respect of the businesses and leaders that we support. People are often skeptical of HR, and that can cause those of us in the profession to have a bit of a chip on the shoulder. We must, however, understand that respect in any position – be it HR or otherwise – has to be earned. The HR executive needs to continue to become well-rounded in the other aspects of the business. There is so much overlap between HR and almost every other function, and part of earning respect from peers and managers is to understand at a functional level what is involved in the other aspects of running a business. Upton’s firm assists business owners by creating processes and programs that will contribute to a strong culture, which in turn leads to employee satisfaction and retention. As Karen says, “It’s no secret – happy, engaged employees are your best recruiting tool, your best marketing tool and your best asset.”
Kerry Wekelo is the Director of Operations at Actualize Consulting where her Leadership Training program has successfully influenced a teamwork environment at some of the world’s largest companies. Check out her firm’s website at actualizeconsulting.com or email her at [email protected].