My Wandering Got Me Wondering – Meet Chris Ponder

William Tincup Conferences, HR, Trench HR, William Tincup

I met Chris Ponder at the HRSouthwest Conference earlier this year. Chris is like most HR professionals who are working in the trenches ("trench HR" – hat tip to Charlie Judy) every single day.  He’s a regional HR manager, so he has a ton of stories about how HR is done locally, state by state and nationally – which is an interesting perspective. So, he's one of you. Get to know Chris.

JWT: What's the one thing people need to know about you?  Chris Ponder

CP:  I strive to always achieve 150% and to get to that point requires breaking the saying many professionals tend to live by – if it is not broken, don’t fix it or that is the way we have always done it. There are always opportunities to make something more impactful, even if you just change the interaction or delivery of the service provided. My mind tends to always think of how we can do it better.

That means I also push others to work just as hard and break through the continued challenges of people being okay with giving the minimal. Everyone always has some capability to perform better – and I try to get that out of them.

JWT Editorial: This got me to think about testing for “ambition” or “innovation” in HR roles.  I wonder how many HR professionals are truly ambitious. Hmmmm.

JWT: Name three people in our industry who have influenced you, and why?

CP:  Dr. Lisa Burke – she was my first HR professor that I had when I was working on my Bachelor’s at LSU. She introduced me to the HR profession and the impact HR can have on the workforce. Additionally, she was a professor who had real-world work experience so when she taught her courses, she was able to integrate real-world examples and projects that pushed the learning to the next level, which is one reason why I also challenge myself to continually learn in our profession versus being content with what I learned yesterday. Each day provides new opportunities for learning.

Andrea Hough – she was the first manager that I have had while working in HR who identified your strengths and played to them in order to challenge you in your position. She also worked with you to develop your areas for improvement so that you were a well-rounded person. She has been most influential for me in that she is an executive who balances herself to stay ahead in the industry to remain cutting edge with our practices.

The last person I am not going to name their name, but it was a previous manager that I had initially starting my career in HR. This person was a nightmare who tended to operate on the old personnel ideologies. Seriously, when you saw her you completely got the picture of an old personnel manager waiting by the phone. Furthermore, she clock-watched you to make sure you put in a full ten (10 – yes) hours and micro-managed to the “t.” This manager actually did me a favor because she allowed me to realize that corporate America is not where I want to go with my career and that I want to follow my passion and eventually teach college.

JWT Editorial:  It’s funny how much we learn from the negative experiences in our life.  How it builds or reinforces our character, etc.  I almost want to write a book of stories “Please Don’t Do It This Way” – stories from the trenches of real world HR bad apples.  If nothing else, that would be a fun project. 

JWT: Name two social media personalities within our industry that you follow, and why?

CP:  Two social personalities within our industry that I follow are:

Ben Eubanks – Ben was one of the handful of people that I began following on Twitter when I began with Twitter. What intrigued me to follow him is that he offers a different opinion to HR from the young professional point-of-view. In addition, he continues to make strides in the profession (e.g., HRevolution, Project:Social). It is fantastic that you have a young professional in the industry who demonstrates that although you are young in this experience-driven field, you can still make a huge impact. HRevolution

Kimberly Roden – Kimberly started blogging earlier this year and I enjoy the perspective she provides to the field having been in the industry for 23 years. An added plus is that she is an HR pro on Twitter, too.

JWT Editorial: You know I’ve noticed over the last 6 months or so a theme… HR practitioners are tired of exclusively being defined by outside forces.  I’ve noticed this in the conferences I attend… practitioners want to hear/learn from other practitioners.  I’ve also noticed this in the HR blogging/social media world… practitioners want to hear/learn from other practitioners.  I hope this is indeed a theme and I hope I see more of it in 2011.  Trust me, I love the vendor/consulting perspective but, IMO that “perspective” should only make up about 20% of the noise.  

JWT: What do you think holds back your profession?

CP:  So many people continue to think HR is a cost center, but a lot of times we give them the right to think that with being policy police all the time and creating projects that do not align with the business. However, given the ample opportunity to guide the business, HR can move into a role that assists in impacting the bottom line through employee engagement, decreased turnover, and strategic initiatives that drive increased productivity.

JWT: Assuming you attend industry events, what is your favorite event, and why?

CP: Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to attend many events in our industry due to cost, but one of the more beneficial conferences that I have attended is a student conference – River Cities I/O Psychology Conference –  at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The conference is heavily centered around undergraduate and graduate research where students have the opportunity to present their research, but still provides sessions for students to listen to professors present their research. 

My favorite event this year was HRSouthwest. I attended last year, but this year was great because I had the opportunity to meet many of the great people I have met on Twitter to include:  Laurie Ruettimann, Mark Stelzner, Jason Seiden, Trish McFarlane, Steve Boese, China Gorman, Franny Oxford, Lois Melbourne, and William Tincup.  It was refreshing to be around a group of people that assisted me to get re-inspired and motivated in my current role.

JWT Editorial: You bring up a great point.  HR, unlike most silos, has a relationship with the academic world.  Students, professors, researchers, etc. – if we were talking about branding, most marketers would not mention anything from the academic world.  Right or wrong, good or bad… they just wouldn’t mention that world.  Something to think about and explore…

JWT: What excites you the most about our industry?

CP: HR is being taken more seriously from operators today. And that excitement is generated from people who are pushing the envelope, many of whom are involved in the social media realm. They are challenging the status quo through discussions not necessarily in the mainstream, but know how to impart these great discussions/ideas into the business where operators are excited to work with HR. 

JWT Editorial: I think a potential reason for this is HR professionals are thinking more and more about the business and thus business leaders are thinking (and respecting) more and more about HR.  IMO, has to be some sort of relationship between these two.

JWT: What are your three favorite online sources for industry information?

CP: My three favorite online sources for industry information:

Twitter and blogs because these sources provide information that is typically not covered in the mainstream.

Academic journals:  great resources that incorporate academic research to real-world.

Fast Company – although this is typically a marketing source, it still represents many great Fast-Company-Logo ideas/articles that are applicable to HR, as HR/PR/Comm/Marketing these days can be integrated through similar efforts.

JWT Editorial: I wonder why folks don’t list analysts as a source of information.  Are HR / HCM analysts just for large organizations?  Btw, I love Fast Company as well… I still own the inaugural first 12 issues.  Hello eBay… 

JWT: 50 years from now, what's the most significant change that has taken place in our industry, and why?

CP: Most significant change that has taken place in our industry 50 years from now:

Technology – as we evolve with technology, not only does it impact the way we operate in HR, but it also changes the way that HR will have to address employee issues involving technology.

Legislation – we are already seeing new legislation that is making an impact in the our industry and it will only continue to make significant changes in our industry and how we operate.

And I hope that the profession/industry continues to make large strides to build our role in the business through automated processes and social media. We are so focused on eliminating social media from employees at work. Maybe we will begin to trust employees and realize they are not all there to do harm.

Biggest change I would like to see is that career pathing would be put to rest since so many organizations do it terribly today. A lot of organizations feel that they have to develop a career path to show there are opportunities for advancement, but when employees ask how to get to the next step no one can tell them how. If organizations do the right thing and truthfully develop employees to the next level, career paths do not have to be created.

JWT Editorial: Nice.  I wonder if career pathing should be done at the individual level… meaning portability with one’s career.  I create a career path and when I am with your firm it can be molded to fit, etc. but as I move on… my career path moves with me, not stuck in your organization, etc. From a technology perspective – anyone doing that already? 

Chris Ponder, Regional HR Manager, Merry Maids/ServiceMaster.  Connect with Chris: 

Blog || Facebook || Twitter || LinkedIn 

Editor's Note – This is the fifth in a series of interviews with HR & recruiting folks by William Tincup. By the way… have you ever had the opportunity to meet this man? William? Fascinating guy. The Q&A we'll have to turn around onto him at some point actually. A bit about his story here, on He's also guest starred on an episode of FOTv in the past - probably one of the finest performances we've ever seen on the show. Yep, we're Tincup fanboys and fangirls over here at FOT. No problem admitting that whatsoever.