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Sandi Knight Of HealthMarkets Shares Her Top HR Strategies with Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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I would encourage more people to mentor their employees — both professionally and personally — and to be committed to their growth. And do not be afraid to prepare them to replace you.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field about their five ways to identify and retain fantastic talent. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Sandi Knight.

Sandi Knight is the Senior Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer of HealthMarkets. With nearly thirty years of experience, Ms. Knight joined the company in 2011 as Vice President, Human Resources. Prior to joining HealthMarkets, Ms. Knight was Vice President, Human Resources of EF Johnson Technologies and Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Zale Corporation. She received her B.S. in Sociology and M.S. Educational Psychology from Cal State. Most recently, she received her Executive Coaching Certification (ACC) from the University of Texas at Dallas. Ms. Knight is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, Dallas Human Resource Management Association, Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Women’s Roundtable, and the International Coach Federation.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was completing my master’s program in educational psychology — specifically mental health and consulting — and a friend of mine who was doing some HR consulting reached out to tell me about an opportunity. At the time, I knew I wanted to use my knowledge and degree in some way in the workplace — I didn’t want to be a mental health counselor, but I wanted to apply my degree to some different type of role. My friend said the HR manager of a local company was leaving and he thought I would be a good fit for the role. My response was, “What is HR?”

As it turned out, the role was primarily involving labor relations and I really didn’t know much about that, but I said, “Sure, I’ll interview.”

I interviewed for six weeks and got the job working as the HR/Labor Relations Manager for the steelworker’s union. They were definitely a tough group to work with. As a result of no prior experience, I had to learn a lot immediately — it was like drinking from a fire hose. But I learned to take a chance and go for it — even if it didn’t think I was qualified, I didn’t want to be afraid of taking a chance — and that has worked out well for me.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career?

When I was working the labor relations job at the steelworker union, the president of the union came into my office one day — uninvited — and told me the “do’s and don’ts” of the union and the workers, along with a list of complaints and fixes he wanted made.

I listened, but when he got up to leave, I shut my door and said, “Do not ever come into my office with a list like that again. That is not how you start a working relationship with me.”

I was a twenty-six-year-old woman and I knew I had to set the stage. My response completely shocked him, but it worked — he never came back to me with a list of orders again.

Sounds like you made a big impression fast. Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

HealthMarkets was recently a part of an acquisition, so the process of integrating a relatively smaller company into a much larger one was definitely interesting. Change can worry people, so the process we established to communicate and help employees have their questions answered and their angst resolved was important. We held meetings with employees and walked around the building and talked to people as quickly as we could as information was given so that they knew we were there to help them.

I’ve never professionally dealt with something so big, so it was both rewarding and educational in terms of being open and understanding to the emotions of change.

The learning never ends! Let’s jump to the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

1 — Talk to someone who knows the job you are trying to fill. Understand the details of the job so that you can really try to understand what kind of candidate it requires.

2 — Research and understand the skills required of the role. These may be specific technical skills, communication skills, administrative skills — different roles require different skills. Having a solid understanding of what is required at the forefront will help the entire talent acquisition process.

3 — Ensure you understand the type of personality it takes for the job you are trying to fill. Different roles require different traits and having a clearer understanding of what you really need to look for can save time and energy.

4 — As a recruiter, be able to scan resumes quickly. You receive a ton of them and having the ability to “speed-read” through them and identify keywords in terms of skills, experience, managerial levels and more will help the process.

5 — Know how to search different places for talent effectively. It may be online (LinkedIn, Indeed, etc.) or through business networking events but being able to leverage those resources efficiently and effectively is important.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are the top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

1 — Build relationships with others and be prepared to network with those individuals in the industry so you know who is out there.

2 — Utilize LinkedIn to share information about yourself, your company and your roles available so you can get noticed by other LinkedIn users, establish communication and create a pipeline. Also, look at the connections your own employees have from their previous jobs because you may find similar skillsets.

3 — Talk to executives who have been at other companies and see if they know of talented individuals who might be interested in what you or your company have to offer.

What are your most effective strategies for retaining employees?

You have to continue to make the work challenging yet rewarding. You also have to have good conversations with your employees and spend time listening to them and understanding what their goals are, where they want to go and be ready to help them get there.

Additionally, having strong leadership that knows how to engage employees and have important coaching conversations, so they know someone has their back — that’s also very important to retain employees.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends?

It is absolutely important. You have to know the business and understand the trends of the industry you are in. By networking, reading articles on the industry and the HR discipline and gaining a better understanding of what others are doing and how they are handling different things — it is not only important but critical.

Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

I always look at what other companies are doing. Whenever Fortune Magazine comes out with their top 100 companies, I look at what they are doing well and what may be low cost and determine how it might work in our organization. What fun things can you do for your employees that are low cost? In my career, companies I have worked for have offered access to a credit union, hosted events at work and have brought in vendors that can make various fun and useful things available to employees.

From a morale management and employee engagement standpoint, I recently implemented an inexpensive survey system that sends out a question to employees once or twice a month to poll them while remaining anonymous. I then get access to their anonymous questions and can answer their questions directly. It was much more effective than a large-scale engagement survey, much more cost-efficient, and employees cared that we were reaching out to them more frequently and were interested in their feedback.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would encourage more people to mentor their employees — both professionally and personally — and to be committed to their growth. And do not be afraid to prepare them to replace you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Worry looks around, sorry looks back and faith looks up.”

This quote has always reminded me to strive to be the best I can be, to produce the best work I can and not settling for less.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

I would love to have lunch with Brené Brown. I thoroughly enjoyed her Ted Talk — she inspires me, she teaches people how to be authentic and to take chances in your life that you may be fearful of taking because you don’t want to look foolish or get rejected. I find her incredibly motivating.

Thank you so much for sharing these valuable insights!

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