UT L&D Manager Spotlight - Karen Chawner

Karen Chawner

Director, Human Resources

headshot of Karen Chawner

1. Describe your role for UT.

Director of Strategic Workforce Solutions- which oversees performance management, compensation & classification, staffing, employee relations and non-academic student employment for staff. I also oversee UTemps which provides temporary staffing solutions and recruiting services for a fee.

2. What was the most important lesson you learned as a new manager?

Spend time developing and communicating expectations for your employees. It helps you think through what you really need. It saves time with every other aspect of managing and developing your employees. I really appreciate transparency with what is expected of me. Managers have different expectations regarding even the basics- being on time, email response time, etc. When having conversations with employees, all of you start from the same foundation of expectations. If you need to have a difficult conversation, you can approach it more confidently. Defining expectations seemed daunting for me as a new manager, but it’s worth it.

Giving employees space to develop is important to their career growth and can help build (or keep) trust, which is important to retention.

3. What advice do you have for managers to help develop their team?

Have frequent conversations with employees, both individually and as a group. Career development is not a once a year conversation. There should be frequent discussions about what you need them to develop, where the team would like to develop and what the person would like to develop. Be flexible with development goals. There are some areas where development may be required- customer service, business writing, etc. But, individuals may want to develop additional competencies that you don’t see as a priority. Giving employees space to develop is important to their career growth and can help build (or keep) trust, which is important to retention.

4. Why is learning in the workplace important?

Learning sparks curiosity. Employees who are curious are continuously learning and developing. They take on different projects and are willing to try new things or new approaches. When I read a book or an article, I often get curious about another topic and wanting to learn more about something else. The insights you can make from learning different perspectives or facts is invaluable. Walking to a meeting pre-pandemic, I was listening to a book on Foundations of Western Civilization. So, not work related. But, the author was discussing the difference between two different societies and how they approached issues. It was timely because I was on the way to a meeting with another group who approached issues differently than my group did and we were often in conflict and frustrated with each other. I used the examples from ancient Greece to understand how our groups were approaching things and how we could work together better.   

5. What is your favorite way to learn (feel free to mention any tool, subscriptions, or services here as well)?  

Audio—Audible and The Great Courses. Pre-pandemic, I would listen to audio books while walking to meetings, which I did A LOT. Now, I listen while I garden, walk around the block or on the rare occasion (fingers crossed) I commute to the office. I pick different topics—sometimes it’s something educational, but personal, The Seven Ages of Paris, before we traveled to Paris so I could learn about the history. Or, for personal development, like Brené Brown. Currently, I’m listening to a book on compensation models, and it’s turning out to be more interesting than I anticipated.