#SHRM19 Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with Tracie Sponenberg


 How to Transform Your HR Department Through Technology, even if Your HR Department is Just You


HR community, meet Tracie Sponenberg! I’m excited to see Tracie speak at the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition this year in Las Vegas. I interviewed Tracie because she and I share an appreciation for helping small businesses meet their strategic HR goals. In my current role, I’ve implemented HR technology, something that was new to me in my career. When I saw Tracie’s topic for #SHRM19, I just knew that I wanted to interview her. Because her insights are so valuable! Heading into #SHRM19, there are so many amazing speakers, and they are just one of the many reasons why you should attend #SHRM19. Check out Tracie’s session on Monday, June 24, 2019 at 3 p.m.

Tracie Sponenberg, SHRM-SCP, SPHR is the SVP, HR for The Granite Group, a wholesale distributor based in NH. Responsible for leading all HR functions for nearly 40 locations and over 500 employees, she has gained a broad HR background across several industries in more than 20 years in HR, focusing on working with CEOs to develop strategic people strategies to foster growth. Tracie has a BA in Psychology from Holy Cross, and a MA in Human Resources from FSU. She is co-founder of DisruptHR-NH and HR Rebooted; a member of SHRM’s Special Expertise Panel; and teaches a SHRM Certification course.

Michelle: As a member of the Special Expertise Panel for HR Disciplines, how can SHRM members who want to do more with volunteering, get more involved with SHRM? How has being on the Special Expertise Panel helped you in your career?

Tracie: I was a SHRM member for just a few years before getting involved in the local level early in my career. That’s a great place to start for SHRM members wanting to get involved in volunteering. Most local chapters are searching for volunteers regularly, and it’s a terrific way to network in your local community. When I joined SHRM, I was new to the community and in my first HR leadership role, and met so many terrific friends and mentors. I eventually became President of that chapter, and that gave me some great foundational SHRM leadership experience. Life got in the way for many years, and I’ve only found my way back to volunteering in recent years, this time at the national level.

I’ve written a bit about my re-evaluation of my life and career, and at that time, I started doing things that stretched me out of my comfort zone. After realizing that my years of experience and my time mentoring others meant I had something to share, I decided to apply to the SHRM Special Expertise Panel and I was very excited to be asked to join! Panel members serve an important role within SHRM, including advising on emerging trends, reviewing SHRM materials and giving expert advice and guidance, including to the media.

I’ve done a number of media interviews during my first year on the panel. My first interview was actually with NPR! Though it was scary at first, I got the hang of it pretty quickly (spending a number of years at newspaper helped), and learned to enjoy serving as an “expert.” It’s helped my career immensely. When speaking to the media, I always do research first, and that helps me stay on top of current business issues. It also helps to get my company’s name out there - we had not been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, on NPR or in US News and World Report before!

Michelle: Technology can be intimidating, even for the largest of HR departments, why do you think some HR professionals are reluctant to taking on HR technology for their departments – especially for the smaller departments (when they are already stretched thin)?

Tracie: This is a really broad generalization, but most of us get into HR for the people - not the technology. Many of us, including me, don’t have an educational or work experience background in STEM. And, things that are unfamiliar can be scary and humans - and despite our bad rep sometimes, HR professionals are humans - don’t like change in general. Plus, a technology change can be really daunting and extremely time consuming.

With most HR professionals overloaded with their day to day work, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel - but necessary because ironically, spending the time on the new tech implementation can help significantly with the work overload.

Michelle: What advice do you have for those who are implementing technology, specifically to keeping the HUMAN part in the equation?

Tracie: Always have a business reason to solve the problem, and don’t fall victim to the “bright shiny object” syndrome. I love new tech, and love to look at new solutions. So I have to always pause and ask “why?” New technology should solve a business problem, always. And it should be used to alleviate the problem of day to day tactical work, so we can focus on the human part - talking to our team members, working on strategy, solving business problems.

Michelle: Finally, what do you hope HR professionals will take away from your session that will have them go from running away from technology to embracing it?

Tracie: This session is going to be a really practical approach to embracing technology. It’s not for people from a large company with a huge amount of resources. It’s for those of us working in small to medium sized companies, who wear a lot of hats and are in the trenches every day and think that they will never get out of the weeds.  I am not a tech expert - but I’ve learned a lot and I’m excited to share the experience at SHRM. I hope that those attending will learn that a tech overhaul is possible, even with a small or nonexistent team, and even with limited resources.

I’ll share our story at The Granite Group, and share how to dig into existing contracts to redirect resources; how to leverage a broker relationship; how to source and select potential vendors and how to convince the C-suite that new technology is necessary. This isn’t a typical sourcing and selecting tech session. Contrary to a lot of popular advice, we did not use RFPs, and did not follow a technical process roadmap. This is truly an in-the-trenches, not much time or money approach to a technical transformation of your HR department.


Connect with Tracie before the #SHRM19 conference and beyond the conference:




I hope to see you at #SHRM19!


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