Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Laura Hanson’s HR Odyssey

Laura Hanson’s journey in HR began not in a classroom but at a receptionist’s desk in a manufacturing firm. While responding to calls and screening résumés, fate intervened. A triple departure from the HR team propelled her into a generalist role, throwing her into the heart of the action. This “baptism by fire” proved to be the perfect launchpad for a remarkable career.

Laura Hanson

Laura’s path continued to be one of diverse experiences. She tackled roles across HR disciplines, from compensation and benefits to employee relations and learning and development. Her preference for the tech industry led her to work with companies that valued talent development as a core business strategy.

Now, as CHRO at insightsoftware, a global leader in financial software solutions, Laura oversees a team of over 2,400 HR professionals across 20+ countries. Her unconventional yet enriching career path has equipped her with a unique understanding of the multifaceted world of HR, making her a champion for building and empowering high-performing teams.

In our latest Faces, meet Laura Hanson.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

There are so many. One person I am a fan of is Marcus Buckingham. He is an ex-Gallup leader and an author of several books. One book that resonates with me and I still use as a tenet is The One Thing You Need to Know. In essence, it is to play to people’s strengths. I believe in this idea and prefer to marry it to the vulnerability concepts from Brene Brown. I firmly agree that playing to strengths and being vulnerable are the hallmarks of great teams. Those who can leverage their strengths and lean on others end up being the people who work for you or your peer group and are incredibly successful. We are not all good at the same thing, but leveraging the collective talents of a group of people can accomplish so much. In my own life, I have found my most memorable experiences to be those in which that kind of teamwork made work fun, productive, and impactful. 

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

There are so many. I do believe we learn best from mistakes, and I have had quite a bit of learning along the way. One of the best mistakes I made was making a rash hiring decision. It was a critical role at the time because I was leading a project, and I was a bit desperate to hire quickly. Within the first few weeks, I realized the person would be unable to be successful in the role. Making that change hurt because it stalled the important project. It was a good learning experience because I realized it was better to ensure we had the best candidate, even if it meant delaying the project, as the alternative was worse. 

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

My favorite part of being in HR is watching people grow, especially when they have been challenged, maybe made a mistake, or have taken a courageous step and it helped them develop. Allowing people to grow at work can positively impact their self-confidence, their families, future development, how they model behavior to others, etc. It may seem a bit of a stretch, but I think giving people that opportunity to feel good about what they do, what they learn, and how they impact others is important to their life outside of work. My least favorite part of the job is watching HR people be disconnected from the business and doing really good work that does not go anywhere because it was done in a vacuum. We have to be careful about creating programs for the sake of the program and ensure we are aligned and stay aligned with the organization’s objectives. This can be a waste of resources and demotivating to have HR teams work on projects that don’t materialize.

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.

Not feeling good about your work environment is awful. Dreading coming to work because you are afraid, are unable to be authentic, or are insecure about your contributions or performance is a terrible feeling. Everyone wants to know how they are doing, and good managers help with that. I don’t think it is the job of the HR team to make the environment great for an employee that is not scalable. The job of the HR team is to help make great managers who make the environment great for employees. We can devise benefits, training, and compensation programs, but the managers make the day-to-day impactful for employees. Helping managers get better at sharing real feedback, good or bad, and making people feel comfortable sharing their concerns, opening the conversation for feedback, and creating a shared success environment is important, and we try to do that for our managers. 

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

HR can’t be a back-office function disconnected from the overall strategy of the organization. Building programs, objectives, and leaders who help create value in the context of the organization’s strategy is the goal. 

Where do you see the industry heading in 5 years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

Data and analytics have been at the forefront for several years now, and as that continues, more intelligence to make people’s decisions can’t be understated. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a trend and, frankly, exciting to see. There are so many ways we can use AI to help eliminate some manual tasks for HR teams to allow for more value-based activities. For example, I recall the days of reading through thousands of employee engagement comments to get themes. We now use AI for that, and while I will probably read the comments, I can do it on my own time because I have the themes quickly. I imagine the broader use of AI to allow our teams to grow, like the unpopular chore of creating job descriptions, chatbots to help employees with common questions, policy editing, and more. 

What are you most proud of?

It is a small moment, but when someone tells me I have helped them. It might be that I paid them a compliment, encouraged them to try something difficult, or made them laugh—something that made their workday better. I am proud of that. Work is hard but can be fun and interesting, as well.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Learn everything you can about the business. This makes you a better HR person. Be curious about work, others, roles, and the “why” behind the “what.” 

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