Skip to main content

Faces of HR: Kim Rohrer on Centering the Human Experience in HR

Analysis  |  By HR Daily Advisor  
   September 01, 2023

'Demonstrating the business impact of the human experience is critical to demonstrating value to other leaders who may not see the intrinsic value of your work.'

This article was first published on August 31, 2023, by HR Daily Advisor, a sibling publication to HealthLeaders, and has been adapted for HealthLeaders.

Human resources (HR) leaders in healthcare can learn and take valuable information from HR leaders in other sectors. In this article, read how one leader is championing scaling the employee experience; well-being/mental health; applying a global lens to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); and providing support for working caregivers for their organization.

Before Kim Rohrer got her start in the HR industry, she focused on literary management and dramaturgy at Geffen Playhouse and then Berkeley Repertory Theater. She would go on to serve at Google and Pixar Animation Studios before a stint as a writer and blogger. It wasn’t until 2009, when she joined software development company Disqus, that Rohrer finally found a clear path to HR.

Kim Rohrer

“After running on the hamster wheel of ‘you have to have HR experience to get an entry level HR role,’ I found a company who was looking for someone with strong office administration experience, which I had, and an interest in doing HR, which I also had,” Rohrer shared with HR Daily Advisor. “They were willing to let me learn on the job, and I spent eight years going from Office Manager to Vice President of People & Culture.”

Rohrer would go on to run the people operations at Stride and cofound Organization Organizers, a resource group for people operations practitioners at start-ups. Currently, she serves as principal people partner at Oyster, an automated people platform, where she’s focused on scaling the employee experience; well-being/mental health; applying a global lens to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); and providing support for working caregivers.

In our latest Faces, meet Kim Rohrer.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

My two earliest friends and mentors were Katelin Holloway and Cara Brennan Allemano. Katelin and I had similarly unconventional backgrounds before getting into this work, and she was always just 1 to 2 years ahead of me in terms of the size/stage of companies she worked at. Cara gave me the permission I needed not to pursue a formal HR certification (I really didn’t want to) and was an amazing partner in building communities for our underserved peers. Both women taught me how to be scrappy and resourceful, to trust my intuition, and to find the humor in this work.

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

The first time I was working on a group layoff, I didn’t listen to my instincts. Instead, I just agreed to execute what the more experienced executives suggested we do. The result was a process that stretched on way longer than it should have and didn’t optimize for neither the employee nor the company experience. I learned that even if I don’t have the answers, it’s OK to push back and really interrogate assumptions to make sure that the path we’re on is the right one.

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

I love how inventive people and companies are willing to be. If you’re a person who likes trying new things and doesn’t assume the old way is the right way, you’ll be right at home in tech start-ups. I don’t love the instability; the rollercoaster can be exhausting, and it can be tough to constantly fight fires.

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.

I do care about people, and I’ve found that I do my best work when I’m working to dismantle the systems that aren’t centering the human experience. When larger structural problems exist, such as a toxic leadership culture, a lack of accountability, or unclear expectation-setting, it’s not usually possible to solve for everyone’s personal comfort one person at a time. It doesn’t scale, and it’s just not an appropriate use of an HR team’s skills and training. You must look at the larger picture and find the root of the problem within the organization, explore it with openness and curiosity, and then unpack a variety of solutions with your executive team.

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

A common mistake HR folks make is focusing too much on representing the voice of the employee and not enough on the impact on the business. While HR usually has the most skill in understanding and interpreting what employees need, without the business acumen, your recommendations are likely to be undervalued. Demonstrating the business impact of the human experience is critical to demonstrating value to other leaders who may not see the intrinsic value of your work.

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

I think we’ll get smarter about automation, integrations, and technical solutions to the more mechanical parts of our work, opening more space for people to think critically and creatively about how we solve problems. Freeing up time and brainpower by removing tasks that can be automated provides practitioners with the capacity they need to do truly human-centric work.

What are you most proud of?

I trust my intuition and, over many years, have cultivated the ability and courage to speak up, ask questions, and push back on things that don’t feel right. I am proud to use the platform that I have to share honest, authentic stories with those in my community. And I’m proud to be showing my kids that you don’t have to be perfect to make an impact on the world.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Be brave and bold, and keep pushing for things you know in your gut are right. Create opportunities for yourself when the ones you want aren’t available—take on those small projects, learn a new skill, and build yourself into the person you want to be. Don’t wait for someone to hand you your dream job or offer to teach you something you need to learn. Ask questions, be curious, and always document your work.

Anything else you’d like to add? We can talk about anything you’d like to discuss here.

It’s important to remember to take care of yourself, even as you are tasked with taking care of others all day long. I often fail to do this, but whenever I do something that’s just for me—whether that’s dipping out for a pedicure after a meeting, reading a book with my coffee, or choosing to work on a project that lights me up—I notice the difference in my well-being.

HR Daily Advisor is BLR’s FREE daily source of HR tips, news, and advice. HR Daily Advisor offers free webcasts, articles, and reports on topics important to HR and compensation professionals.

Tagged Under:

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.