How One Man Used Upskilling to Own His Career

Grainger Editorial Staff

Learning new skills to further your career—also known as upskilling­­—may sound simple on paper. Yet, actualizing work goals into personal achievement or promotion can be much more challenging in reality.

Randstad Sourceright’s 2021 Talent Trends research shows that 92 percent of surveyed workers think companies should help employees reskill, but the coronavirus pandemic has shifted how careers are evolving—or stalling. Between new regulations, changing hybrid environments and disrupted supply chains, some employers have pushed targeted career development to the back burner.

Below, Hall shares how he developed his career and the skills and relationships he focused on along the way.

Hall: What allowed me to be successful and prepared for the next role was trying to become the subject matter expert on what we did—to have a large command of what it takes to run the operations and get past obstacles. Because then, when there are issues, and people stumble or they don’t know exactly what to do, you feel very confident in your decision to say, ‘Do it this way.’ And then everybody goes forward. Plus, leadership sees that confidence.

What was the journey like from location manager to director of operations?

Hall: When I first came to Netflix, I was 40 years old, so I already felt a little experienced. I started out in one city, responsible for certain customers. About 11 months after that, I was promoted to a regional manager, and—for the first time—I relocated for a company … down to Atlanta, Georgia. I was in charge of the Southwest region and multiple locations.

I realized very quickly that I needed to redevelop. I ended up going back to school to re-engage with the terms of the time and different management styles. I had obviously gone to school in my 20s, and I had been successful for a couple of different companies, but I really felt like it was time to redevelop who I was to understand the newer management leadership terminologies.

Netflix was such a young company at the time, and I thought that I couldn’t just come in with my grandfather’s advice about always being 15 minutes early. Today, it’s a little bit different. There’s a lot more empathy around. It wasn’t that I didn’t have empathy in the past, but it’s a different type of empathy today. Going back to school let me experience different types of professors and the questions that people are asking—from the younger generation that’s getting into the workforce and wanting to be leaders. I know a lot of people will look at books to help them do that, but I really thought the classroom setting was right for me.

Upskilling in Operations

What other approaches have been key to upskilling during your career journey?

Hall: From a reskilling standpoint, it was understanding and breaking prior negatives that were part of my leadership management style. You can start your career as a manager under the wrong leadership and learn the wrong types of traits. Once you understand what type of leader you want to be, re-evaluate what is negative or positive. Then, you can start working on that part of it.

I was in the military for a period of time. When you’re a leader in the military, it’s very direct, very forceful. Other industries I’ve been in, leadership was harsh. For me, I had to redevelop myself to where it didn’t come across as harsh. So, it wasn’t ‘Hey, if you don’t do it my way, there’s the door over there’ type of thing. That was something that was said quite often 30 years ago, unfortunately. That’s why I think people who continue to be successful learn how to redevelop themselves to match the current environment.

How is upskilling unique in operations—and how do you encourage coworkers or employees to upskill, too?

It’s a little bit different because you do have a lot of the same types of things happening day in and day out from an operational standpoint, like pick and pull or warehousing. For me, the upskilling part of it is trying to get workers engaged in different opportunities or giving everyone a ‘different view’ once in a while. Someone can sit and pick and pull all day, but if that’s all they do for months and months and you never try to upskill them—if you don’t give them a different view—they get to a point where they get disengaged. They get these blinders on; they don’t see the other things that could be occurring within the operations. Taking the blinders off, being that leader, being that different view for them, helps them start to understand a little bit more.

What advice do you have for those considering relocating for their career?

Hall: Someone might have asked me and my family at 40 years old, ‘Why would you relocate? Why would you take a chance?’ But you have to make sacrifices sometimes to go forward. For us, it was a life-changing event to relocate at that point.

Every person that’s with me has relocated at least two or three times because of needs. It’s not without its rewards. You get more responsibility and more experience, even though it is scary. But, to relocate is to go out of your comfort zone. People fail when they don’t do their research. I know from experience. People who have relocated from, say, the Midwest or the South to California, for example, might not really understand the nuances of the tax structure or the cost of living.

Career Mentors and How to Find Them

Thinking about leaders who helped you during your journey, can you describe an instance where you felt like management was encouraging your growth?

I’ve had a couple of mentors in my life—and I encourage you to get one if you don’t have one. The first opportunity I had was right when I got out of the military, just doing school stuff. I didn’t have a car. I would take the bus and then walk about a mile to the location. And one of my very first mentors saw me doing that, and he goes, ‘Well, can I give you a ride?’ And I said, ‘You can, but it’s OK if I ride the bus.’ He goes, ‘I’m trying to give you an opportunity to make it easier for yourself.’ What he was trying to say was, ‘I’m offering assistance to help you have more time.’ Mentors in life are going to give you opportunities. You just have to be able to see that opportunity and understand it.

Where can a worker find a mentor?

Hall: For a lot of folks, they don’t always have the opportunity to interact with other leaders within the organization. They usually just have their supervisor. So, your first mentor is probably going to be someone outside of work. It could be someone at church, it could be a family member, but that’s where it starts. My mother was definitely my first mentor. 

Find more resources for operations management and leadership here.


The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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