Coworking with Michael Willis

Senior manager of corporate HR at Goodwill Southeast Georgia
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· 5 min read

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Michael Willis is Goodwill Southeast Georgia’s senior manager of corporate HR. The 15-year HR vet, who joined the company just over a year ago, is excited about HR’s continued transformation into a critical business unit and sees people teams as a “conduit” for top leadership to understand the employee experience. Willis recently spoke to HR Brew about how he puts his HR skills to work for Goodwill and the greater Savannah, Georgia, community.

How would you describe your specific job to someone who doesn’t work in HR?

I act as a business partner to influence our organization’s culture through people practices. My team leads all the traditional HR department functions and people operations. In addition, because my company is a social enterprise, my team collaborates with workforce development teams to support initiatives with external community partners [from] the standpoint of fostering career development and associate advocacy for the purpose of barrier removal, so our associates can reach their version of success here at Goodwill Southeast Georgia.

How does your organizational HR function overlap with Goodwill’s social enterprise and workforce development programs?

Our Opportunity Center networks…help to actually work with other employers within the area, as well as individuals. We collaborate to really provide cohesion between individuals that may go through soft-skills trainings, or they may take advantage of grants that we’re able to offer…and then once we know that that individual has the skill set, we can either employ them within one of our business units or provide employment within our community partnerships.

What’s the best change you’ve made at a place you've worked?

Establish[ing] HR as a partner and not an administrative function. When HR is viewed as a partner, we are involved in the decision practices as a forethought and not an afterthought. We can leverage our expertise and join the conversation on matters that affect people, teams, and ultimately impact the organization.

What’s the biggest misconception people might have about your job?

People do not realize how diverse my role is and the many touchpoints it has, both within the organization and externally. My role at any given time is working in collaboration with every department within the organization on operational, people, training, marketing, technology, legal, and community matters in parallel with monitoring workforce trends for both opportunities and disruptions. It’s a heavy lift, and the very thing that I love about my job is the diversity and constant shifting, 20 times a day, to focus on a different aspect that requires my attention in that very moment.

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What’s the most fulfilling aspect of your job?

It’s seeing associates and teams grow. Seeing people continue to rise to higher positions, either within our organization or externally within our community, means that we are truly succeeding at our mission.

[Goodwill is] a social enterprise, which means that outside of the revenue we generate to support our employees, most of the revenue goes back into the community through the programs and partnerships that we have, and so for me seeing individuals grow, seeing individuals be able to overcome barriers, and knowing that I have a hand in that is really rewarding for me.

What trend in HR are you most optimistic about? Why?

Unlike any time before, we are seeing more chief HR officers move into COO and CEO roles. Why is this important? It’s a sign that HR teams are establishing business value and [HR] has a ”seat” at the executive table by knowing the business first and then making people recommendations from the standpoint of a business owner, while maintaining compliance and monitoring risk.

For many other organizations coming out of [the] pandemic, they really put a focus on HR to really lead and to be from a place of both compassion and policy-making. It was helping leaders navigate something that was very new. And I think that organizations that were smart, were able to elevate their HR departments to really be at the forefront of driving any type of people processes and change.

What trend in HR are you least optimistic about? Why?

Fast quitting. It impacts organization innovation because teams are adjourning before they hit the performing stage.

Tell us one new or old HR tech product or platform that’s made your life easier, and why.

The continual adoption of AI into the candidate experience touch-points is making talent acquisition faster. There are smart interactions happening to assess candidates, schedule candidates, and interact digitally that reduces TA teams’ workload to focus on higher level activities.

Want to be featured in an upcoming edition of Coworking? Click here to introduce yourself.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.