Dawn Johnson

Interview with Dawn Johnson

Date: 11/20/2012

Name: Dawn Johnson

Major, minor, and graduation year: Psychology

Job Title: Staff development specialist for Essentia Health  


How did you become interested in this job/field?

From the time I was 15 I knew I wanted to study psychology. My motivation for going into this field was to discover what motivated others and how I could help people live up to their fullest potential.

My broad background in psychology has allowed me to transfer my skills from industry to industry fairly seamlessly. During my career I have worked in a variety of industries including higher education, early childhood education, healthcare, economic development, and direct sales.

It was my experience with the organizations themselves that led me to my current position. I have a passion for developing people and helping organizations grow. Working in the organization development field I am able to help organizations set and reach goals, manage major change, and improve the skills and performance of employees.  

What are the challenges/problems you face in your work?

A major part of my job is helping individuals and teams work through challenges in the workplace. If there were no challenges or issues in an organization I would be out of a job. One of the challenges you will face when starting out in this field is getting comfortable with helping people work through complex, sensitive, or conflict ridden situations.

 Do you have any advice for a college student interested in this job?

If you are a business student make sure your education includes topics such as organizational behavior, adult learning theory, organizational structure, organizational culture, and change management. Consider a minor in psychology.

If you are a psychology major (or similar discipline) include courses in business management. In this position you will be asked to link your work back to the goals of the business. It is important to be able to articulate the impact of programming on the bottom line of the company. An understanding of business practices is extremely helpful.

Look for opportunities to practice facilitation and organization development skills in your current job or within volunteer organizations. For example, if an organization you work for recently completed a program or event offer to facilitate an After Action Review with the group. If you are facilitating a brainstorming or problem solving session use an Appreciative Inquiry approach to develop questions and lead the discussion.To gain the work experience you need to prepare you for this type of position look for entry level opportunities in learning and development. Corporate training-either technical or soft skills-is a great way to build your skills.

Seek out opportunities to hold leadership roles in the organizations you belong to now and join professional associations such as the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Both of these national organizations have local chapters-the Lake Superior Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development and the Northland Human Resources Association (NHRA) (http://northlandhra.org).

Becoming a member of a professional association allows you to connect with people in your local area that are already in the field. Membership also provides you with access to additional education, industry reports, and other resources.

What qualifications do you need for this job?

A bachelor's degree in psychology, management, organizational behavior, human resources or a similar degree is required. It is helpful to have management experience, but may not be required. You must have experience developing educational programming and facilitating groups. A strong understanding of adult learning theory is usually required.

You're a Staff Development Specialist, what does that entail?What are your responsibilities?

The job descriptions of people in positions like mine are all as different as the people themselves. My specific responsibilities include:

  • Developing and facilitating leadership development programming for new and emerging leaders.
  • Assessing and facilitating organization development interventions.
  • Developing and teaching courses on conflict management, conflict style, change management, difficult conversations, employee engagement, and employee development among other topics.
  • Leading the administration of an annual employee engagement survey for nearly 14,000 employees. The process includes assisting leaders with goal setting and action plans after the results are reported.
  • Working with our general orientation team to ensure the orientation of over 1,000 new employees annually along with integration orientations for newly acquired facilities. 
  • Serving on our integrations committee. As new facilities are acquired I ensure employees in new facilities get the orientation, leadership, and soft skill training they need to be successful with our organization.

How do you spend your days? Do you spend a lot of time in the office/lab/meetings/outside/___?

There is no typical day in my position. I do spend many hours at my desk, but I also spend a good part of my time in front of groups facilitating or teaching. To love this position you need to be flexible enough to move at a moment's notice and you have to enjoy a varied routine every day. One day I might be putting together objectives for a new program and meeting with subject matter experts who will eventually help me facilitate within the program. The next day I might be meeting with a group that is struggling to complete their daily work because of great conflict.

What is the best part of your job? The worst part? The toughest part?

The best part of my job is having the opportunity to help people be successful at their job. In turn those people make the organization successful. I also love the variety in my work and being able to work with different people every day and learn new skills every day. The toughest part of my job is finding enough time in the day!

If you knew all this back in college, what would you say were the most important classes? Is there anything you would have paid more attention to? Any additional classes you would have taken?

The educational knowledge I draw upon the most in my daily work are my human development, counseling, and adult education courses. If I could change one thing about my undergrad experience I would have taken management classes.

What degree did you need for this job?

A bachelor's degree in psychology, management, organizational behavior, human resources or a similar degree is required. A master's degree in organization development, psychology, or management is sometimes preferred.

In college, I hear a lot of people saying, "You won't get anywhere with a Bachelors degree. You need a masters or a PhD to get your foot in the door." Do you think that's true?

I don't believe this statement is true. I have had many opportunities to do interesting and worthwhile work with just a bachelor's degree. While education will move you ahead in your career (and I am currently seeking my master's degree) I feel that employers are looking for employees with education and experience that can translate into results for their organization. Spend time thinking about how your education and experience can meet the needs of the organization before you go to the interview. Networking is also critical when seeking employment.