Hometown: Bridport, Addison County, Vermont
Current Occupation: Human Resource Director, City of Plattsburgh Family: Four children, a significant other, and eight siblings
Education: Master’s of Science in Administration with a concentration in Human Resources and IT, Saint Michael’s College; Professional in Human Resources (PHR) Certification; undergraduate degrees from the University of Vermont and St. Michael’s College
Community Involvement: Humane Society, Green Mountain Animal Defenders, Animal Rescue and Welfare Services
Ann Giard-Chase is a Renaissance woman. If ever there was anyone who demonstrated that career is a continuum, it’s Giard-Chase who celebrated her fifth year as the Human Resource Director of the City of Plattsburgh on April 24. She grew up across Lake Champlain on a 600-acre dairy farm in Addison County, Vermont, with eight brothers and sisters. “My father was of Canadian decent, and my mother was Irish. We were a traditional Irish Catholic family with numerous children and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins,” she said.
On her way to becoming a certified Professional in Human Resources, she earned undergraduate degrees at UVM and St. Michael’s College, built two successful companies, and earned her master’s degree while raising four children.
Giard-Chase explained that because a NYS municipality’s employment practices are governed by NYS Civil Service, recruitment doesn’t play as large a role in her job as HR
Director at the City as it would with other organizations. “In the classified service, you must take and pass a Civil Service exam for a title in your area of interest in order to qualify for employment,” she said. “We do recruit, but we primarily promote internally within the five City unions—Police, Fire, AFSCME, AFSCME Library, and IBEW.”
SB: What brought you to this point in your career?
I’ve worked in many different sectors. I worked in medicine as an EEG Tech in the Neurology Department at UVM. I’ve built two successful companies—a gourmet brownie business and a construction company. My sister and I started Joan & Annie’s Brownies in Vermont when we were both raising small children and wanted to find a balance between careers and being at home with our children. We were one of the first companies involved in online retail sales, and our company was featured in an article in a 1995 special issue of Time magazine, entitled “Welcome to Cyberspace.” This was back in the days when Internet retail sales were really in the infant stage. The article really helped build our business—online sales meant we were no longer tied to just our local Vermont market.
Instead, were able to reach a national market for our product. I also ran a construction business and renovated and built houses taking advantage of my background in civil engineering. When my children became a little older, I went back to school to earn my master’s degree in business administration.
After I earned my master’s, I was living in South Burlington, but had purchased a condo on the lake at Willow Beach as an investment. I’d rented it out for 10 years and had just completed renovating it when the flood of 2011 struck and I had to start the renovation project all over again because the flood damaged the entire first floor, including the new kitchen. I rented my house in Burlington to a St. Michael’s College professor and moved over here to live while completing the flood repairs. The HR position with the City opened up, and here I am!
SB: What do you like most about your job?
Human resources started out years ago primarily focused on compensation and record-keeping activities. Now HR is focused more on the human side of the equation, including workforce planning, employee training and development, strategic planning, and risk management as well as business decision making. I like to work with numbers, budgets, statistics, charts and graphs—my analytical side, but also enjoy engaging with people, advising managers on different management styles, developing training programs, participating in union negotiations. I don’t just manage benefits; I work with our managers on building an atmosphere of appreciation and learning, one that’s focused on helping both the City and its employees achieve their goals. My work gives me a nice balance between numbers and people.
SB: Describe your approach to managing human resources.
I have a definite approach, and it relates to workplace culture. Culture determines success in an organization. Your employees spend half their waking hours on the job, so it’s important to “get the culture right.” If employees aren’t engaged in their work, they’re not going to be happy. And unhappy employees are not productive employees. Collaboration with managers and employees is very important, and so is understanding your workforce and their career goals. For me, celebrating your employees’ success in the workplace is primary. You constantly have to be taking the temperature of your organization to see how it’s doing, and how you as a manager of people are doing. You have to say ‘thank you’ to your workforce; you must celebrate success, and it’s important to make employees feel like they are part of a successful community.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
I would say earning my Master’s Degree. When I went back to school, I was newly divorced, had four school-aged children at home who were all moving in different directions with school and after-school activities. My mother, who was in her eighties at the time, came to live with us as well. After my father passed away, my mother didn’t want to live alone in the big farmhouse, so she divided her time between all of her daughters’ homes ranging from Alaska to Vermont. I saw it as a real achievement to juggle all those activities and also success- fully achieve my professional goal. After I earned the degree, I took the PHR (Professional in Human Resource) exam, and passed.
SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
I would add a degree in Employment Law to my credentials primarily because HR has evolved so much over the years. Today, in the HR profession, you are confronted with a myriad of legal issues, laws, and regulations that you need to be aware of. The list of laws is lengthy and many of the decisions we make are often governed by laws—civil service law, state insurance laws including workers’ compensation law, labor law, healthcare law, municipal law, tax law, and federal and state employment laws and regulations.
SB: As a human resources professional, what advice do you have for someone seeking a job?
Explore and understand your personality type. There are many tests online that can help you assess your personality. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of these. You can use these personality assessments to figure out what your strengths are, and then look for a career that celebrates your strengths and fits your personality type. For example, if you are more introverted than extroverted, you might find that you are not completely happy as a salesperson meet- ing with customers all day long; conversely, if you have more of an extroverted personality, you might not enjoy sitting at a desk all day and would prefer interacting and engaging with people.
I would also advise job seekers to explore the culture of the organization they would like to work for. For example, if you like a more ‘conventional’ culture with strict guidelines, consider a military or police career. If you prefer a more ‘progressive’ culture with a lot of teamwork and many voices around the table consider Zappos or Google, or a company with more flexibility.
SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
I had two: my mother and my father. My parents owned a 600-acre dairy farm, and my father also was a Rural Letter Carrier. He worked two jobs: managing the farm business and also working for the federal government because he wanted to be sure the family had access to benefits, including healthcare. He was very successful at what he did, and demonstrated to all of us the value of hard work. It’s interesting that some parents pick up their briefcases and leave for work in the morning, and their children never really learn what they do for work or what constitutes ‘work,’ whereas we could see our parents at work every day on the dairy farm. This was essential in helping shape my siblings and my fairly strong work ethic.
While he was the business mentor, my mother provided more of the social skills, the ‘soft skills,’ as we say in HR, meaning how to interact with people, manners, communication, etc. My mother was focused on raising children, and wanted her daughters to be able to support themselves and pursue careers. She was born in 1921 when many women didn’t have careers, but worked in the home. I think she was an early feminist in her own right. She was determined that her daughters would develop their potential and have successful careers, and all my sisters have. I learned valuable life lessons from both of my parents. They both taught us how to be successful in life, but they were looking at two different parts of the success equation.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
I learned you have to distribute work load and set priorities. I learned that trying to do everything yourself is exhausting and stressful, and that priority needs to drive everything.
SB: What inspires you?
The people who I work with at the City inspire me. Our managers and union employees, and the mayor and city councilors are dedicated and committed people who work very hard for the taxpayers and citizens. I am proud to be part of the City of Plattsburgh community. I am also impressed by my children who are pursuing interesting careers and are involved in their communities.
SB: What other things do you do in your free time?
I enjoy visiting my children and my sisters and brothers. I have a large, extended family and they live all over the country. I’ve also done a lot of work with the Humane Society and the Green Mountain Animal Defenders and I’m currently working with Lillian Cassidy on the feral cat issue in Plattsburgh. Lil works collaboratively with PetSmart to find homes for those cats who are adoptable and trap, neuter, and release back to their colonies those cats who are not socialized to live with humans. And I love gardening. Flowers are like a huge equation. You have to figure out color, texture, light needs, height, soil, bloom time. There’s such a science to it. When I had a perennial garden, I was always moving plants around to the garden location where they were happiest!
SB: What is one thing no one would guess about you?
I write poetry. I like to arrange words on a page. I’ve been published, and have won poetry awards.
[Editor’s note: Giard-Chase was 2015 runner-up in the Paumanok Poetry Award competition, an international award given by Farmingdale State College, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Montreal International Poetry Prize. She was also the 2015 and 2016 Artist’s Choice winner of the Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, and her poetry was published in the 2015 Global Poetry Anthology as well as many other poetry journals and publications.]