Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Morgan Williams on Boundaries, Partnership, and Self-Worth

For this week’s edition of Faces of HR, we give flowers to Morgan Williams, co-founder of PeakHR. Before Williams got her start in human resources (HR), she aspired to be a psychiatrist, however, after experiencing burnout during college, she knew medical school wasn’t for her. Still, she sought a career path that would allow her to apply what she had learned. After an “enlightening conversation” with her mentor, HR was introduced as a way that she could apply her psychology to the working world.

Morgan Williams

Williams found that getting into the field wasn’t easy, so she decided to pursue a master’s degree in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. Her degree enabled her to not only apply psychology to HR but mediation and conflict resolution strategies as well. Not long after, she began her career in Talent Acquisition at HP. After years of working in HR roles for companies like Casper, EY, Macy’s, and USPS, she started her own business MW HR Consulting then PeakHR, which she co-founded with Kim Rohrer and Catalina Colman.

MW HR Consulting focuses on consulting and fractional work, while PeakHR is a cohort-based training program for the next generation of progressive HR practitioners.

“When I think about PeakHR I am extremely proud of what we have created and feel that it truly services the modern HR professional,” Williams recently shared with HR Daily Advisor. “I wish something like PeakHR existed as I was trying to grow my career. My co-founder Kim always says when working in HR you only get about two great Chief People Officers (if that) to work and learn from, and we offer over 25-plus from our first cohort. Find the people, systems, programming, and training that work for you. We created what we thought was missing and retired the old “HR isn’t strategic” narrative to create a company in seven weeks from ideation to existing that’s profitable.

“Furthermore, there is no HR for HR, unfortunately,” she continued. “HR training isn’t always accessible, and it’s often too expensive or not done by active professionals so the content can be dated. We wanted to be the solution for this as three female active practitioners, who believe in creating community through our HR networks while removing dated HR philosophy. We also believe that mentoring those who come behind us is important because one day they will be heading departments—and if there’s no one to teach and or mentor them, what does the future of HR look like?”

In our latest Faces, meet Morgan Williams.

How did you get your start in the field?

I entered HR through Talent Acquisition (TA). I tried to enter as a generalist, but my mentor steered me towards TA as a great entry point. She told me that I would get the opportunity to meet the hiring managers and build a rapport and learn the other side of the business. I am grateful for this as people enter HR through many different means, but recruiters and traditional HR are vastly different positions, so I appreciate and understand both sides due to my own experience in that environment.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

This has changed quite a few times over my career because I initially started through Enterprise and have now worked primarily with and for startups. Currently, it’s Jennifer Kim and Katelin Holloway as they’re working in the VC sphere with startups every day and come from HR backgrounds.

What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

Taking on more than I can handle, in a sense “boiling the ocean.” In HR it’s so easy to say yes and be people-pleasing, however, we also have things we need to do, and we have to prioritize our work and wellbeing as well. This left me always on and burning the candle at both ends. The lesson I learned from this is to establish boundaries and frameworks, sometimes “no” is the right and best answer, and “yes” is only enabling them to avoid accountability or responsibility. This also led me on a path of more self-respect and self-worth. I am also worthy of having a positive employee experience even if I am in HR, I am still an employee.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

There’s so much to do, the possibilities are endless. I don’t know too many fields that you can switch to any industry and still work with that job and it’s still very similar. If you want fast-paced exhilarating work there are industries you can go to, if you want a slower more predictable environment there are places like that as well, if you want to own it all you can, if you want to own a piece of the work that’s also an option. I think that’s exciting.

My least favorite part of the work is that it often feels like a heavy boulder you’re trying to roll uphill for change. Moving the needle and getting appreciation can be challenging. We are one of the only roles that has a significant budget impact (due to headcount) but often aren’t invited to the table. Our work affects the whole company, but we are still trying to be seen and recognized for our values and insights. It’s also a field where others often think anyone can do your job without looking at the legalities and truly understanding the function.

It sounds like through your experience you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.

As someone who is Black in America, making people feel safe and comfortable is a privilege I have and don’t take lightly. As someone with chronic illnesses, I always want to ensure people are informed and understand that I care. Most employees do not know employment law, nor do I expect them to, therefore I take it on as my responsibility to educate them on things like their legal rights such as accommodations, instead of creating impossible performance improvement plans, I look to methods that aid the employee in growing and being successful. I am the HR representative that’s fighting for pay equity and ensuring performance reviews are done thoughtfully and full of intention and actionable feedback. When we know what and how we can do better we usually do improve.

How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?

HR is an incredible value add when the representative can articulate and understand the business effectively by speaking about the people impacts in a company as decisions are pending and/or being made. HR is not always understood among our counterparts, or it’s seen as hiring and firing. We are so much more than that if given the opportunity. We can be true thought partners if we can link our business cases to the business/department strategy and call out potential risks that could create a people disruption through systemic systems, processes, or business decisions.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

I hate to be dark, but I think we are heading for a rocky next five years. I see this through CEOs and leaders removing the HR positions, reducing HR departments, not listening to HR, and/or leading with ego instead of empathy. The last few years have been rough, and people do not want someone to dictate their lives. We are moving toward more flexibility; however, some CEOs aren’t willing to let go yet and are leading with mandates. We still have major inequality for women who are also leaving the workforce at higher rates than we have seen in a while due to non-existent federal maternity leave, higher childcare costs, and limited flexibility.

These things do not particularly give me hope, but HR burnout is real and HR leaders are also seeking flexibility through fractional and consulting work. I will caveat this by saying I think this will all cause a reckoning. With the advancement of AI and tools and people leaving and reframing what work means for them, I also think we will experience technological advancements, more innovative work, and people choosing cultures they want to contribute to. Seeing jobs as a partnership instead of just an employer-employee dynamic.

What are you most proud of?

My voice. If anyone has worked alongside me, they know I call things out. I use my voice to elevate others, bringing concerns to the table that people either don’t want to face or don’t think is important. I’ve always used it, but I think in working for myself I feel much more comfortable (and likely louder) to uplift and elevate as they aren’t consequences from an employer. And if it is from a client or student perspective, we probably weren’t a good fit anyway and I am okay with that.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Everyone has advice on what to do but you also have life experiences and a voice as well, use that. Don’t dim your light, it can guide you and help lead you and leadership to better decisions. I would also say, have as many conversations with people in jobs you want to be in and understand what they like about the role and what they don’t, look in different industries and understand you will hear no. Understand what you’re in it for, if it’s for the cheers and applauding, you should find another field, but if it’s to impact and make change, which we know it isn’t easy, welcome and put on your armor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *