Know Your Role

Christine Morena shares the HR tips and tricks that make Saks more than just another store on the block

Christine Morena_FullChristine Morena had no idea that she would end up in human resources. Twenty years into her tenure with AT&T, she rotated into her first HR position. The work suited her, but more importantly, she had a knack for it. HR was more than just payroll and paperwork; it had the power to drive a company forward. In 2006, Morena opted to leave AT&T, taking a position with Saks Incorporated, the parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue, OFF 5TH, and Saks Direct. Today, Morena’s an experienced HR professional, and we recently caught up with Saks’ chief human resources officer to learn the philosophies that guide her every day.

1. Hire Right

Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Barney’s—Morena is well aware that there are other high-end stores where shoppers can buy their luxury goods, which is why she believes it’s vital to hire the right people at Saks. “The people in your company providing a differentiated service experience are the ultimate competitive advantage, both in stores and online,” Morena says.

2. Learn Your Market’s Language

When Morena came to Saks, she had never worked in the retail industry before. “I came into this position with a fair amount of
humility,” Morena says. “If you don’t know the job, why pretend to? I listened, learned, and asked a lot of questions. Not only was that the best way to learn about the industry, but it also helped me build credibility. Rather than walking in and saying, ‘I’m going to change everything,’ I walked in and asked  my colleagues to teach me.”

3. Know Your Role

One of Morena’s pet peeves is HR professionals who operate under the assumption that it’s their job to manage people. “It’s our job to assist managers in attracting, hiring, and retaining the best people,” Morena says. “Previously, HR might have been about hand-holding employees, but my approach is about empowering managers. I want to give them the tools they need to help our associates excel in their roles.”

4. Engage Employees

Engaged employees are another of Morena’s “critical differentiators.” Talent and passion are the ultimate combination in an employee, but these passions have to be engaged. Morena and her team are always working to figure out the best way to do just that. Along with employee-engagement surveys, Saks’ HR department creates an environment where passionate, talented people want to work. One piece of the puzzle is Saks’ aptly titled Great Place to Work Initiative, which aims to provide employees with a culture and suite of innovative practices that include work-life balance through flexible work schedules, health and wellness programs, and other endeavors.

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5. Drive Costs

HR is a complex field that influences the way a company looks at leadership. Those in HR must serve as strategic advisors to the executive team and create an ethical, diverse culture that is transparent and promotes innovation. It’s a tall order, and one that essentially requires treating HR as a business-within-a-business, which is exactly the transformation Morena made to Saks’ HR department. “As HR professionals, we have to provide value-added services while staying attentive to the cost to the business,” Morena says.

6. Harness Technology

According to Morena, HR has to be technology driven, and that means utilizing social media. Under Morena’s watch, Saks’ HR department has created a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but she’s pushing for more than that. It’s her goal to drive efficiency and effectiveness, which is why Saks is investing a great deal of money in an enterprise platform to build a system to simplify transactional work, enable employee self-service, and provide more sophisticated reporting and analytics.