At first glance, you might think John Jorgensen is a bit gruff or curmudgeonly. At least that was my immediate impression as we had a two second stare down before we were introduced at a bar at the bottom floor bar of a hotel in Chicago. Fortunately, he is almost entirely devoid of any of those characteristics once you start to talk to him about HR, SHRM, college football and even some Civil War history. Just don’t start off by saying the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1862.
He has had a broad career in HR and his early involvement in social media has led him to be an influencing voice in our community. But let’s start at the beginning.
Getting Started in HR
Jorgensen wasn’t always in HR. In between his undergraduate and masters degree, he did all kinds of work. “I spent time in retail management, not-for-profit management (including fund raising, event management and PR), insurance investigator, various factory gigs and a stint as a miner, certified by MSHA and everything,” he said. But a chance encounter with the head of HR at the University of Iowa business school led him to learn more about the field.
After graduation he spent more than two decades working (often the lead HR person) for medium sized manufacturing firms. If you want to talk about HR in the trenches, this is it. Working with a blue collar workforce can be great and being part of a great manufactured product has some intrinsic rewards but it is also challenging HR work.
In my brief conversations with him, it is obvious how much this experience has influenced his view of HR. He’s always seeking realistic solutions to real workplace issues. Grounding people like myself who say, want to eliminate formal performance reviews, is a useful function even if I don’t think so.
Consulting, Educating and Volunteering (Not Always in That Order)
For the last couple of years, Jorgensen has been focused on independent HR consulting. “While I enjoy some aspects of it, I have discovered that I really miss the day-to-day interaction that being in an organization brings so I am planning my next career move,” he said. And it may be a good time to be on the move as I’ve seen quite a few people making that change recently.
He has also worked at both DePaul University and Northern Illinois University primarily as an instructor for HRCI certification. Now you may have a certain opinion of HR certifications but Jorgensen invests in his students and the education there. While I can’t respect that I’ve known more than a handful of people who have crammed a couple of days before their exam and passed, I can respect those who make the honest educational effort and pass certification the way he teaches.
He has also been a state leader for the Illinois State Council of SHRM. “One of the things I have tried to do in my tenure is to have the State Council begin to look at serving members and chapters in new ways,” he said. “We have expanded our state leadership conference to include new items such as strategic planning and communications.” He also points to the state conference Illinois puts on every year where he is keeping up with trends of much larger conferences in impressive fashion.
Passion and Social Media
Jorgensen has a true passion for the profession and it shows. “[HR] can be a great force in the organization by contributing to strategic planning, silo busting, inter-departmental communication, and leadership development,” he told me. “It can have direct effect on the employee through engagement, motivation, career and job development.”
That passion shows through on his blog HR Tailgate where he talked about workplace safety recently. That subject in particular was always hard to get excited about but he offers a reality check that there are real human lives at stake in the decisions we make.
He also has a fantastic Twitter account and is one of the most conversation focused folks out there. If you send him a message, he’ll typically respond back (unless you razz him about Arizona beating Iowa this year, just a word of warning).
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