HR balancing act: Manager pursues best interests of employer and employees

Darla Fortner

Darla Fortner, the latest winner of an annual award for human resource professionals, strives to strike a balance between the interests of the staff and the company at Enstrom Candies in Grand Junction. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Darla Fortner strives to strike a balance between the best interests of the staff and company in her role as a human resources manager. That’s because she believes the success of one depends on the success of the other.

“If the employees aren’t successful, the company isn’t successful. But if the company isn’t successful, there are no jobs,” said Fortner, HR manager at Enstrom Candies.

The effort apparently has worked as both the staff and sales have grown considerable over the 10 years for which Fortner has worked for the Grand Junction confectioner.

Fortner was recognized for those efforts as the latest winner of the Professional of the Year Award presented by the Western Colorado Human Resource Association. A Grand Junction-based chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, the WCHRA hosts monthly  meeting and educational event as well as offers a network for HR professionals in the region.

Fortner was among five people nominated for the 2010 award. The others were: Kara Fossett, human resources executive of Marillac Clinic, Jennifer Gagliardi, human resource program liaison at Hilltop Community Resources,  Gail Pahler, director of human resources at Western Pump & Dredge; and Linda Spencer, human resources manager at CoorsTek.

A panel of judges evaluated the nominees based on their performances in the HR field, their efforts at promoting the HR profession and their contributions to the community.

Fortner has worked as HR manager for Enstrom Candies for more than 10 years. She was the first — and remains so far the only — person to serve in that role with the company.

Jamee Simons, co-owner of Enstrom Candies, said Fortner works as well with members of the management team as she does with frontline workers. “She has a very good knack with all the people.”

Simons said Fortner is something of a “camp counselor” at the company because of her ability to work out problems in diplomatic ways and encourage employees. While Fortner knows when a professional demeanor is required, she’s also known for her sense of humor, Simons added.

Before joining Enstrom Candies, Fortner worked as HR manager at the Haitt Ashbury Free Clinics, a San Francisco-based organization that provides a range of medical, psychiatric and substance abuse treatment services. Fortner also worked with her mother to operate a Grand Junction staffing service for medical offices.

Fortner holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology.

While Fortner said she initially studied psychology as a way to get into social work, she became interested in the aspects of the field that apply to industrial and business settings, including organizational behavior, teamwork and training. She said she still draws on that scientific and statistical approach to HR management.

Fortner said she serves as a generalist in her role with Enstrom Candies in dealing with such varied responsibilities as employee benefits, labor law, training and workers’ compensation insurance. During her tenure with the company, she has computerized various functions, revised job descriptions and performance review processes and established a safety committee that has helped to reduce costs. She’s also trained supervisors to play a greater role in hiring employees and assessing their performance.

Just as her own job has evolved over the years, Fortner said the role of HR professionals has changed substantially. Rather than focus mostly on payrolls and benefits, HR managers serve in advisory capacities to management. “It’s more of a strategic partner, not just a record keeper.”

Nonetheless, Fortner said the ultimate role of an HR manager remains unchanged, and that is to help employees and employers succeed. “Everyone in the organization should feel success however they define it.”

It’s something of a balancing act, she added. “You really have to balance to keep the company’s interests in sight, but also employee interests.”

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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