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Kūlia I Ka Nu‘u: Janis Kane at Kamehameha Schools – Reflecting Back and Looking Forward

Posted Tuesday, December 31, 2019 6:28 am

Janis Kane, Sr. Director of Human Resources at Kamehameha Schools, sat down for an interview to reflect on her 38 years in Human Resources and to discuss the future of HR and her “graduation” on December 31.

How did you first get into HR and why?

I always thought being an HR recruiter would be a fun job because you get to meet people and help them out.  So when a position for a personnel secretary opened, I said, “I think I’ll try that,” and that’s how I started my HR career.

So you worked your way up from personnel secretary to Senior HR Director – that’s impressive.

I have very humble beginnings.

How would you describe your current role at Kamehameha Schools?

I like to say I’m graduating rather than retiring at the end of the year.  I would describe my role as transitional because as of April, I turned over all my operational functions to my replacement, Tessie Massa, and we have spent a lot of time on knowledge transfer.  I’ve spent a lot of time getting everybody prepared to make sure not only the clients have what they need to keep moving forward successfully, but also that Tessie and the rest of the team can move forward.

Looking back on your career, what, if anything, would you do differently?

I wouldn’t change anything.  I think all the lessons, the failures, and the opportunities to get back up again were so important.  Lao Tzu said “Failure is the foundation of success and the means by which it is achieved.”  For me, success is having the courage and the strength to get back up after you’ve been knocked down.

What has been the most rewarding part of your job?

Helping others.  Whether it’s serving as a thought partner to bounce ideas off of, or being a confidant, or serving as information central, or just to be there to lend a listening ear.  Sometimes people will have a question and you listen and ask questions, because you really want them to figure it out themselves.  They can do it, they just need to think out loud with somebody.

What has been the most challenging part of your job?

I would say it’s the filters that we all have about how we see the world.  We grow up with our world view, which is created by our experiences, but there’s too much judging going on.  Everybody is different and society now allows people to be freer in their expression of who they are, which is great.  People should feel confident in who they are without fear of being judged.

Here’s an example.  I proctor tests where students are asked to identify their gender, male or female; there are no other choices.  But what if a student is non-binary?  How do we make it a safe place for someone to not be afraid to be judged for saying “There’s no box for me.”  We’re still learning as an organization on how to respond and how to create an environment that is safe.  The challenge then becomes keeping abreast with world changes, and figuring out the best way to create a safe environment for our students and our employees.

What does Kamehameha Schools do in terms of HR that sets it apart from other employers?

What differentiates us as an organization is our mission because it’s about who we serve and why we exist.  Where else in the world would you find an organization with such, in my opinion, an incredible mission, which is around the purpose of preserving a culture and its well-being, so we can be here into perpetuity?  And the primary strategy is education.  So that definitely differentiates us as an organization.

From an HR perspective, one of the ways we bring our cultural values to life is through our LEAD2020 leadership program where our trainings are intertwined with a Hawaiian worldview.  From an organizational perspective, we have spent the last 5 years normalizing our Hawaiian culture though required monthly ‘olelo Hawai’i classes for all employees.

What are your thoughts on managing top performers and preventing burnout?

It’s important to remind people to pace themselves; remind them about harmony and balance.  Try to find harmony between your fiscal wellbeing, social wellbeing, spiritual wellbeing, and all the different components of wellbeing.  It’s great you have a strong desire to be the next great whatever, and your organization supports your work goals, but as you journey towards that, try not to forget your wellbeing.

Having poor self-discipline myself—which ended up affecting me in a medical way—it’s important not to forget your own wellbeing and balance.  My husband gave me a book called Lessons in Balance:  A Dog’s Reflections on Life.  And the book offers, from an American Pit Bull Terrier’s perspective, thoughts on mindfulness and balance.  Some of my favorite sayings from the book are:  “Amid the chaos, create distractions.”  “Falling is a part of balance.”  That’s one of my favorite ones.  “You derive strengths from your softness.”  I keep this book on my desk.

What’s the secret to successfully managing a multi-generational workforce?

Being open minded and always thinking about the realm of possibilities.  You have to meet people where they’re at, regardless of age and regardless of how they show up.  As part of a team, how do you create a culture of diversity?  Forget the judging and focus on the solution.

If you had to give a presentation to a group of HR practitioners next week, what are you going to talk about and why?

A call to action around the HR voice at the executive table.  It’s not just about a seat at the table.  A lot of people have a seat, but their HR voices are not heard.  I would want to have a discussion about what people are doing to give the HR voice influence and clout.

People say “Our workforce is our greatest resource,” but I’d like to have a discussion on how do you actually give power to the HR voice to translate that thought into HR programs and a focus on employee wellbeing?  It’s not just about doing an engagement survey, you have to have the wellbeing of your people at heart.  It doesn’t matter if you’re first to market or if you’re the richest company in the world, I don’t think there’s been enough emphasis on the fact that you have to invest in the well-being of your human resources to get your company to keep delivering on its goods and services.

If you had to pick an HR issue or emerging trend to delve into and learn more about, what would it be?

Maybe this is front of mind because I’m going to be in this group soon, but what are people doing to tap into the talent pool of retirees?  In a life cycle with an employer, we begin with onboarding and then when you off-board, that’s it, aloha!  Unfortunately, oftentimes it’s “out of sight, out of mind.”  And I can see that with terminated employees, but when you are a retiree that has spent an inordinate amount of time with a company, what can we do?  They have a lot of historical knowledge.  And they are a wonderful pool of substitute workers – teachers, clerical, and professionals.

They have so much to offer, and engaging them could help them too.  For example, our open enrollment is entirely online, and we feel badly for retirees, some of whom don’t even have a computer or are not computer literate.  We let them hand in their forms in person, be we are just enabling them.  We are not teaching them how to “fish.”  Because in today’s world, you’ve gotta know about technology.  There are also some tech savvy retirees that could offer to help less savvy retirees get comfortable with technology.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I think many people know, but I am a breast cancer survivor.  So my platform is that you have to do your own self-exam.  Don’t wait for a mammogram, because mine was not discovered in a mammogram, it was discovered because I felt the lump.  So I tell people—even guys; guys can have breast cancer too and they can share the message with their loved ones—do a self-exam as well as going in for your mammogram.

What do you see in the future of HR?

What is HR really?  It’s human being resource.  That human being—that human resource—is not the same human being that organizations had back in the ‘30s.  It’s a different model – Human Being version 2020.  The resource has definitely changed.  What will Human Being version 2060 be and look like?

Recently, more behavioral health specialists have been needed in the school setting.  Support for mental and behavioral health, social and emotional wellbeing—these things never existed when we were growing up.  Those kids are our future employees, our future human resources.  We’re creating these support mechanisms for them in the classroom, and that’s what they’re used to coming through the education system, but we’re not prepared to receive them as employees with these expectations and support systems.

So the future of HR is not only to understand that different kind of human resource better, but how to tap into the resource better.

Do you have any final thoughts you want to share with our readers?

Find your peace, whatever that means to you.  I tell myself that too.  Some days are way more peaceful than others.  But when I reflect back on all that has occurred and all that has been given to me, I have a lot to be thankful for.

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