They Can’t Take What You Know: An Unintimidated Talk with HR Consultant Kimberly Prescott

Kimberly Prescott was born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, home to the lauded Masters golf tournament.

Only she didn’t know that. Not initially.

“To be honest, I didn’t realize that everyone knew about the Masters until I left Augusta. I thought it was just something people did there. I didn’t know what a big deal it was. I was about 22 when I found out. I’ve also never picked up a golf club and I have no appreciation for golf, so that makes it even better, right?”

Maybe not better, but somewhat ironic.

After all, thanks to Prescott HR, a client-focused, outsourced Human Resources consulting firm, Prescott has hit a career-best hole-in-one. And yet, by telling her clients what they need to know, not what they want to hear, the company is simultaneously anything but par for the course.

First Flight

After studying at Augusta University, Prescott enrolled in the Air Force, where she served as a Spanish linguist for a short time.

“I didn’t get to do that long for medical reasons, though,” she said.

Upon leaving the military, she relocated to Atlanta, GA.

“No one is actually from Atlanta, you just move to Atlanta,” she laughs. There, she found administrative work at a temp agency “while I tried to figure out my life.”

Her life was supposed to be a stint in the Air Force, paid tuition for law school, and a law degree. “That did not happen,” she says.

She would need to chart a new course.

The agency Prescott was working for encouraged her to review some resumes. With no current irons in the fire, she acquiesced.

“I started working for the temp agency as a recruiter,” she says. “And the rest is history.”

But history was about to change.

The First Three Years

In early September 2001, Prescott transferred with the temp agency. To Arlington, VA.

“A week later, the world changed as we know it,” she says.

“I remember I was at work, talking to my friends in Atlanta, and they were like, ‘Turn on CNN! Planes are flying into buildings!’”

An hour later, Prescott and her coworkers felt the office shake. The power went out.

“We walked outside, and all we could see was the smoke from the Pentagon and emergency vehicles flying past us,” she continues. “And that was my first week here.”

Of course, she adds, the beltway would soon go on to experience anthrax, snipers, and cicadas.

“Those first three years were pretty eventful,” she says.

Learning the Human Resources Ropes

After a brief stint recruiting for the HR department of Giant Food Corporation, Prescott found a job with Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti’s Allegis Group, a global talent acquisition and workforce solutions firm.

“My responsibilities there were to run HR employee relations for internal employees and contractors,” she says. “Almost 100,000 individuals.”

“So, yeah, I learned a little about HR there,” she laughs.

“I cut my teeth at Allegis,” she continues. “I learned a lot about strategy, how to make decisions, how organizations look at things, and what decision-makers need from HR from a strategic perspective.”

Then, in 2009 – Prescott became a mother.

“After I had my daughter, I thought, ‘Yeeahhhh, I don’t really want to travel, and I don’t really want to do this thing anymore.’”

Fortunately, a small venture capital software company was on a tight timeline.

“They were like, ‘We have two years to build an HR department so we can be attractive to sell.’ So, I did that.”

Shortly after, she did the same thing for a third-party property management company.

Prescott had found her niche.

“I realized, ‘I think I just want to fix things.’”

Building a Better HR Team

“During the first few years, I was a solopreneur,” Prescott recalls. “It was just me doing the work. I was eating what I killed. And that was awesome and not awesome at the same time.”

A business coach who saw promise in her efforts prompted her to make a significant change.

“He said, ‘You need to hire some people and actually turn this into a company, so that when you’re not working – you’re still making money.’”

Not only did Prescott eventually assemble a team – but her current crew of experts has helped her double revenue each year for the last four years.

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without them,” she says. “My VP of operations, Valerie Dzbynski, is amazing. She keeps the trains running on time. She makes sure the clients are connected with the right consultant. That they’re getting what we promised them.”

Additionally, Prescott’s stellar team of generalists understand and have touched every aspect of HR; a must for an outsourced firm which, in most cases, serves as the de facto HR department for its clients.

“Our consultants deliver a level of service that encompasses the entire life cycle and needs of an employee… That’s why it’s so important for everyone on our team to be strong HR generalists. We’re all that most of our clients have.”

Defining HR

Too many people think that HR is just hiring and firing, Prescott says.

“That’s maybe 10 percent, if that, of what Human Resources is and should be.”

Others see HR as the principal’s office – a place you send employees when they’re in trouble. That’s also incorrect, she notes.

“Managers should be having those conversations,” she explains. “Managers should be executing on any of those decisions.”

At its core, HR is “advice and counsel and risk management,” Prescott says. “And that’s all it should be.”

“If your HR personnel are planning parties and sending out birthday cards and all that other stuff – they are being underutilized.”

Prescott adds that many organizations don’t see the value of HR as a strategic partner.

“They’re no different than your COO and your CFO,” she says. “When you’re doing strategic planning, your HR person should be in the room. You need to understand what the workforce is going to look like, what the legislative landscape is going to look like, and how is that going to impact you.”

New employment legislation passes every session, she continues. Compliance is critical. “And if you don’t know it – you’re going to get slapped in the face with it next year. HR can help you make important decisions with business planning. When you don’t have your HR person in the room, you just get caught off guard.”

Another major misconception regarding HR – particularly for smaller businesses – is the belief that it’s simply not needed.

“I hear, ‘We don’t have that many people,’ or ‘We’ve never gotten in trouble.’ And I’m like, ‘So, you’re going to wait until you do?!’ Basically, the goal is: get in trouble and then get HR? Because that doesn’t sound like a good strategy to me. That sounds like ‘get in a car accident and then get insurance.’ I just don’t understand that philosophy.”

Prescott has a passion for small businesses and feels a responsibility to help them get their voices heard in the state of Maryland, particularly when every piece of legislation defines “small employer” differently.

Prescott chairs the Labor and Employment subcommittee for the Howard County Chamber, is on the Labor and Employment Legislative Committee for the Maryland Chamber, and is on the board of the Maryland Free Enterprise Foundation, which is focused on the business climate and growing jobs in Maryland.

Small Business and Legislation is a big category, she says, but labor and employment laws are frequently the components that people can’t get their heads around.

“So, for me, it’s really important to make sure that I’m helping small businesses A) get their voices out there, and B) try to get in front of the general assembly. We need to help them see – understand is on a whole different level – but help them see the burden that, while well-intended, some of this legislation has from an administrative perspective.”

Unintimidated HR

Prominently displayed on the Prescott HR website – and throughout its offices – is a simple mantra.

One word: “unintimidated.”

“Unintimidated HR means telling our clients what they need to know and not what they want to hear,” Prescott explains.

“Our clients are paying a premium for our services. They could go through a payroll company and get HR as an add-on for $50. But they’re not going to get what we bring to the table. And, so, it’s important to me that my company allows clients to make business decisions using good information. Whether they make good decisions or bad decisions, I don’t get to choose that. But I want them to have the information they need.”

Prescott recalls a former manager, early in her career.

“He’d say, ‘Every time I ask you what time it is, you tell me how to build a watch,’” she laughs. “But that’s because I like for people to have context. I don’t want anyone to think I pulled something out of thin air. I’m going to give you facts, and you do whatever you want to do with them. That’s what ‘unintimidated’ means for us.”

Lessons Learned

Prescott’s daughter was 6 years old when her mom launched a promising HR business.

“I waited until a little bit later in life to have a child, because I wanted her to have a certain quality of life. And then I kind of changed the plan midstream.”

With no guarantee of a steady paycheck, Prescott felt a lot of pressure. But she also felt it was important that her daughter understood having a job was not the only thing to aspire to in life.

“I wanted her to know that there are a lot of ways that you can be successful,” she says. “And that success can be measured in different ways.”

She continues: “I’m from Georgia. My parents went to segregated schools. I went to private school, and I was the only black person in my class for several years. And, so, I didn’t see people who looked like me who did things. I didn’t know what that looked like. So, it was also important to me that my daughter could see there were no limitations. Being a woman, being a black woman – there were no limitations for her.”

As a child, Prescott’s own mother had helped her see the world in a new light.

“When I was in challenging situations in school, I would always tell my mom, ‘I just want to leave. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to do it.’”

It was the early 80s, in the south, and crazy things were happening, she says.

“My mom would always tell me, ‘You can’t run from things. You have to work through it because it helps to build character.’”

Prescott’s mother offered some advice she continues to draw from to this day.

“She said, ‘They can take a lot of things from you, but they can never take what you know.’”

Prescott didn’t quite understand the gravity of that statement until she grew older.

“Eventually I realized that no matter what happens, no matter what challenges I had in corporate – and there were many – at the end of the day, I was able to start my own business. Even when I felt like there were opportunities that I didn’t get for various reasons – they couldn’t take what I knew. I knew how to do the work. I knew how to get it done. That’s something that has always stuck with me.”

Throughout everything – an Augusta childhood, an Air Force layover, early days recruiting, a rise to successful entrepreneurship, and even Prescott’s podcast, “HR and Cocktails,” that blends the best of both Human Resources and just plain, old human nature – those words continue to ring true.

“Today, I go into every situation knowing there’s an opportunity for me to learn and take away something from it that I can then use – for me – no matter what the outcome of that situation might be.”