HR Passion Series #12: Featuring Ben Kummer, Director of Organizational Development at Direct Benefits, Inc.

HR Passion Series #12: Featuring Ben Kummer, Director of Organizational Development at Direct Benefits, Inc.

September 17, 2018 | Rob Catalano

Subscribe to Stay Up to Date on Company News

Welcome to the HR Passion Series. This is the place where we get to interact with HR Professionals, hear their stories, advice, and recommendations.  Find out where these HR Leaders came from and how they progressed throughout their careers.

This week we’re delighted to feature Ben Kummer, Director of Organizational Development at Direct Benefits, Inc. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.



The Interview


1. What was your journey coming up to your current HR role? Any milestone moments in your career?

I spent the first 16 years of my career post-college with one company. That company spent a few years in the Fortune 1000 and I had some great moments there. 3 years into my career, I was promoted into a role that had P&L responsibility for 300 business units throughout North America and a field team running operations. I can’t say I was perfect, but I’m proud of the track record I built in that position. In 2012, after 7 years in that role, I took advantage of a company reorganization to take a step into the world of Human Resources. I had no formal training or education and learned a ton while I helped build out a field HR team at a company that hadn’t previously had that presence.

Finally, in 2014 I moved into a role solely focused on Talent Acquisition where I was able to leverage my significant industry experience to help attract talent. I was proud of a long career with one company for so long, but in September of 2017 I made the decision to radically change course, accepting my current role of Director of Organizational Development at a managing general agency specializing in providing ancillary benefits for individuals and small-to-mid size employer groups.

2. As an HR leader, what keeps you up at night, rounding out 2018 and looking forward to the next year?

Being part of a small company, we certainly face some different challenges than do my colleagues at larger companies. My entire role focuses around making our talent pool better. We have outstanding employees with lots of opportunities to improve. It’s hard to keep us focused on that end goal instead of chasing squirrels and getting distracted. Handling the small stuff quickly and in the moment is what will keep us focused on the larger goal of making our talent better, but in many cases it’s so, so, so hard to do.


3. What are some elements of focus for your HR strategy in the coming 12 months?

A continued training and development focus for our front-line employees. Developing and refining our performance measurement so we can effectively train to points of emphasis. Improving our benefits package for employees, which is already rather impressive. We’re investing in additional benefits such as Accident and Critical Illness to better round out what we provide our employees. And of course, planful and effective talent acquisition. We are growing quickly and I quite literally NEVER stop recruiting. Finding the right talent that fits in our culture is always front – of – mind.


4. What advice would you give someone going into an HR leadership position for the first time?

There is absolutely no way you can be an effective HR leader and partner without developing a thorough understanding of the industry in which you work and how your company fits and your company’s financial performance. This may be a bias from my operations days, but you have to understand how the day-to-day business operates. Take the easy wins early but for the most part, dig in and tap into your curiosity to learn comprehensively and quickly.


5. Is there anything in your career you’re incredibly proud of?

I’m incredibly proud of helping to create the HR department and being part of its growth at my previous employer. It was literally born in 2012 and by the time I moved on in 2017, it was a high-functioning team serving as a strong partner to the business. I continue to have many strong relationships from that team.


6. Is there anything you failed at? Any lessons learned?

Totally. I’ve failed many, many, many times. I was a young leader and learned leadership on the fly; I didn’t always make the best decisions for my team or with my team. I tried things that didn’t work. In moving to HR and eventually TA, at times I wasn’t bold enough. I didn’t leverage my leader(s) well enough to accomplish big things. The main lesson I learned from this is that I learned! I was self-critical and I examined why things worked or they didn’t and focused on what I could do to do better next time. And I’m proud to report that I continue to fail today and continue to learn from those failures.


7. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as an HR leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you?

There have been so many. It would be hard, however, not to mention Russ Testa here. Russ was on contract with my former employer when he sponsored my move from Operations to HR, and we got the chance to work side-by-side for years. He showed me what it was like to bring your whole self to a role in HR. He was always kind, charismatic and funny, but at the same time also fair, firm, professional and consistent. There are so many generalizations and caricatures about what you’re supposed to be like as an HR leader; he showed me what it looked like to simply be yourself.


8. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as an HR leader? Any resources you’d recommend to HR colleagues?

Yes. Any HR leader should at the very least have a SHRM membership. And beyond that, figure out what works for you. Self-learning, formal classes, certifications….there are lots of options. I recently re-joined an organization locally that connects likeminded HR leaders for small group discussions.


9. When you win HR Executive of the year soon, what song do you want playing when you walk up to the stage?

Ha! Great question. I guess I can see some HR meaning in Lauv’s “I Like Me Better” so I’ll go with that. And it’s a great song.


10. What books or podcasts would you recommend to your HR peers?

I have to be honest, the podcasts I listen to are super nerdy baseball podcasts. So I’ll stick to books. The two that I find myself regularly referring back to are “Strengths Finder 2.0” and “Six Thinking Hats”. Neither is necessarily an HR book, but both help us understand ourselves better and critically think about how to work better with our peers, leaders and teams.


11. Finally, give us three words that you would use to describe the HR profession.

People. Candor. Love.


We’d like to thank Ben for participating in the HR Passion Series.


Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano is WorkTango’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer. Rob has spent the last 17 years building HR Technology companies.