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Author and HR thought leader Paul Falcone supports employees with care and compassion.
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“It’s the best function in corporate America. You really can touch people’s lives,” says Falcone, who recently became vice president of human resources for “It’s the best function in corporate America. You really can touch people’s lives,” says Falcone, who recently became vice president of human resources for Cox Communications in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. “You’re helping people when they’re down and when they need help most in their careers. There’s really a calling to it.” In his position at Cox, which he started earlier this year, he supports 2,000 employees and manages enterprisewide responsibilities.
Over a career spanning more than two decades, Falcone has become a role model in the profession and is known for his dedication to helping others, his depth of knowledge and his engaging personality, says friend Larry Comp, president of LTC Performance Strategies, a Los Angeles-area consulting firm that specializes in total compensation and performance management solutions.
“I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have positive things to say about him, and that’s unusual,” says Comp, who has known Falcone since the early 1980s when he first became interested in human resources.
Hometown: Falcone grew up in Brooklyn, lived most of his adult life in Los Angeles and now resides in San Diego.
Passionate pursuits: Writing books and spending time with his family, including his wife, Janet, and two grown children, Nina and Sam.
Blast from the past: As part of the UCLA marching band, he played trumpet at the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan.
Rock-star moment: Arriving at a conference just as his first book was published. He convinced a security guard to let him past the velvet ropes of the bookstore after-hours so he could hold the volume in his hands.
Connections: PaulFalconeHR.com, @PaulFalconeHR, linkedin.com/in/paulfalcone1, facebook.com/PaulFalconeHR
In addition to being a respected leader in the field, Falcone is a best-selling author. He has written a wide range of books on hiring, performance management and leadership development.
His tenth book, 75 Ways for Managers to Hire, Develop and Keep Great Employees (Amacom), will be released in June of 2016. Intended for HR leaders who want to educate their line managers, it’s a good example of Falcone’s power to impart critical messages about engagement and retention across organizational siloes.
Perhaps his penchant for the pen and capacity to understand multiple viewpoints have something to do with his educational background, which includes bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA in German literature. Or perhaps they have something to do with his humble beginnings: A Brooklyn native, he was the first person in his family to graduate from college. His father was a sanitation worker; his mother, who was from an Italian immigrant family, married at 17 and never finished high school.
Falcone’s introduction to HR came by way of a sales training position at a recruiting firm. It was there that he was inspired to write his first book, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire (Amacom, 2009). He soon gained the experience he needed to land his first “real” HR job with a mortgage company. Following that, as well as a stint as an HR executive at a cancer research hospital, Falcone shifted his career focus to the entertainment industry. It was a good fit for a young man in suburban Los Angeles with connections in the business, including his father-in-law, who worked for Warner Bros. Records in Burbank, Calif., and many of his neighbors.
In his position as vice president of HR at Viacom, Falcone was responsible for supporting employees at Nickelodeon’s Animation Studios and at Paramount Pictures. He hoped that entertainment would be a more stable market than health care, but his work at Viacom and in other HR leadership roles was marked by massive layoffs resulting from industry upheaval.
Paragon of Productivity
Falcone’s friends say he learns best by immersion, throwing himself into the topics in which he’s interested and becoming an expert along the way. He has taught courses at UCLA Extension’s School of Business, where he also found a mentor in Dick Kaumeyer, who taught the first of nine classes Falcone took to earn an HR management designation. Kaumeyer also helped Falcone develop his first book.
Many of those who know Falcone are in awe of his work ethic and dedication to the profession. “Every time I turn around, he’s writing another book,” Comp says. “To write nine books while raising a family and traveling and being on the hot seat as an HR leader in a complex, global company—that’s a feat.”
Falcone’s books reflect a pragmatic approach, according to Kim Congdon, his former boss at Time Warner Cable, and they always include real-world examples and solutions. Congdon is now the managing director at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The books also provide a good window into Falcone’s guiding principles, which include erring on the side of compassion, cultivating an inclusive approach to talent management and doing for others what he would want them to do for him. Some of his best-selling titles include 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems (Amacom, 2010), 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees (Amacom, 2009), 2600 Phrases for Setting Effective Performance Goals (Amacom, 2005) and The Performance Appraisal Tool Kit (Amacom, 2013). Four of his books have earned spots on the SHRMStore’s “Great 8” annual list of best-selling selections.
Having been in the HR trenches, Falcone has acquired wisdom to share with his peers about tough tasks, such as initiating separation discussions. He firmly believes that those talks can be handled respectfully. In fact, when done well, they can even make people who are being let go feel good about themselves, he says. HR professionals play a critical role in making that happen, starting by helping soon-to-be-former employees understand that their work was appreciated even if the fit between their skills and the company’s needs wasn’t right.
Another tricky topic that Falcone handles with aplomb—and empathy—is how to talk to employees about performance issues. His books help managers frame important conversations constructively rather than punitively.
“He told me something that still shapes how I manage people today,” says Christina Parisi, Falcone’s editor for 15 years at the American Management Association, where she is director of digital content management. “He said you can treat people like children who need to be disciplined and badgered into doing what you want, or you can treat them like adults.”
Integral to his philosophy is the belief that people want to do good work. “Often, if you sit down with them to have an open conversation, you can find out what’s holding them back and deal with it. This approach inspires mutual respect, loyalty and better work,” Parisi says.
While many HR practitioners know what to do, they don’t always know how to do it, and that’s where Falcone’s experience is invaluable. His work pinpoints what HR needs to do in a way that is accessible to practitioners at all levels, Comp says.
Thriving Amid Change
The field of HR has changed significantly since Falcone launched his career. As the profession has moved from a largely supportive function to a more strategic one, Falcone has grown with it.
“There’s a lot more expected of HR these days,” he says. “You have to understand your company, the business you are in and the broader overview of what the human capital movement is all about.”
Falcone sees that as his challenge at Cox, too. He envisions his role as “finding new and interesting ways to benchmark people performance, project talent shortages, and apply metrics and analytics to forecast areas where we can strengthen the muscle of front-line leadership to ensure greater employee productivity and satisfaction.” At the end of the day, engagement is the name of the game.
As an HR professional, Falcone has an optimal combination of assets, not the least of which is his integrity. Congdon says she was grateful to have Falcone on her team during a tumultuous time in the entertainment industry, as Falcone brought to the organization a gregarious personality, rock-solid reliability and an ability to keep doing good work while others were busy worrying about internal politics. “He’s got up-to-date grounding in HR theories, he understands the levers of the business he is working in and he develops good relationships with people,” Congdon says. For those reasons, everybody in the profession seems to know his name. “He is an HR rock star.”
Despite weathering many upheavals in the communications and entertainment industries, Falcone feels blessed to have chosen an HR career and to have imparted knowledge that has touched so many.
“People want to know that you can still do good things and be a good person and be successful,” says Falcone, who worried as a young man that corporate America might change him for the worse. Instead, “I think I changed it more than it changed me,” he says.
And the business world is all the better for it.
Tamara Lytle is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.
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