The workplace is rapidly changing and there is an increasing focus on the mental health, wellness, goals, and happiness of employees. Joining us today is the incredible Amy Cappellanti-Wolf to discuss her interesting HR philosophies and help us find the right way to help onboarding employees integrate successfully. Amy is the global chief people officer and transformation leader at Cohesity and has had an extensive career at a multitude of companies, namely Frito-Lay and Disney. In this episode, you’ll hear all about how Amy landed at Cohesity, how her education has served her in her career, what the company is currently focusing on, and the changes Amy has made since starting there. We also discuss how Amy suggests we lead onboarding in order to secure an employee’s retention and help them engage in the work they’re doing, the importance of having diversity on a leadership level, the manager’s role, career path building, gradation, how to measure perspective, and much more! Amy even gives us an example of how to plan an employee’s onboarding process before she tells us how she approaches problem-solving with her teams. Lastly, Amy tells us why she loves her job, what her hopes are for the future, and shares some advice for anyone wanting to work in an HR role.
[00:00:05] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the front lines of modern recruitment.
[00:00:12] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life. We want to understand how they make decisions, where they’re willing to take risks, and what it looks like when they fail.
[00:00:22] RS: No holds-barred, completely off-the-cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs, and everyone in between.
[00:00:31] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings and got the certifications through diversity inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.
[00:00:39] MALE: Talent Acquisition. It’s a fantastic career. You are trusted by the organization. You get to work with the C-suite, and the security at the front desk, and everybody in between, and everybody knows you.
[00:00:52] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson, and you’re about to hear the best in the biz Talk Talent To Me.
[00:00:58] RS: Hello, dear listeners. It is I, your occasionally humble host, Rob Stevenson here with another certified banger of your favorite hiring podcast. It occurred to me lately that I’ve been doing my guests a grave disservice by not introducing them in more detail by only listing off their current role. Sometimes I don’t even do that, because I’m a naughty little podcaster, but I’m going to do it here. I’m going to make an effort moving forward to do so. To that end, here with me today on Talk Talent To Me is a woman who has a load of experience at the executive level in HR and talent. She was the VP of HR at Cisco, CHRO at Silver Spring Networks, as well as Symantec. She has had multiple HR board member seats. Currently, she is a CHRO over at Cohesity, Amy Cappellanti-Wolf. Amy, welcome to the podcast. How are you today?
[00:01:48] ACW: I am great. Thank you so much for inviting me to join you.
[00:01:51] RS: I’m so pleased that you accepted. Just in keeping with my meta explaining what I’m doing and then doing it. Did I leave off any of your superlatives?
[00:02:01] ACW: No, I think we’re pretty good. Other than, I’m a mother to two daughters, one is 20, and one is 16, who I learn from every day.
[00:02:08] RS: And also to beautiful large dogs.
[00:02:10] ACW: That’s right, Oscar and Miley, who I hope, don’t interrupt us, but if they do, we’ll just welcome them on in.
[00:02:15] RS: Yeah. I love to hear Oscar and Miley’s takes on onboarding, for example.
[00:02:21] ACW: I’m certain they have a lot to share.
[00:02:22] RS: They don’t need any onboarding help. They can jump right on the couch, right on the back.
[00:02:26] ACW: Exactly.
[00:02:28] RS: Well, if any of them join us, we will loop them in for sure. Amy, I’m so happy to have you here. We have loads to get into because you have such a rich experience. So before we do that, would you mind sharing just a little bit about your background? Maybe how you wound up in the current role at Cohesity?
[00:02:41] ACW: Absolutely. It was really by happenstance. I grew up in West Virginia and Morgantown, a great college town where the colleges of WVU is. I went to school there both undergrad and graduate. After undergraduate, I had majored in journalism. I’ve moved from pre canon pre pharma to journalism, and I thought, I’ll go into law school. Then I decided I don’t want to go to school that long. I stumbled across this program called industrial labor relations. It’s a Masters of Science program in the MBA school. I studied all about human resources, about compensation, about organizational design, organizational psychology. All these things that I never really knew about, but had understood were really important in terms of running an organization. Thereafter, after I graduated I was hired off of campus by Frito Lay, which is a stellar company, not only for their potato chips but also for their HR Academy. They’ve got a very strong HR program around building business acumen, change management, leadership development. So I learned from the very, very best.
After seven years with Frito Lay, I found out I was more of a brand person, so I went from one brand to another one called Disney. I was at Disney for about five and a half years. I worked in the very cool place where they build and design the theme parks and resorts called Walt Disney Imagineering. Highly coveted place for the creative type, so I had a blast there and learned a ton. Then my husband and I met there. We were in Orlando, Florida and thought we want to go someplace that has a bit more opportunity for growth and a little bit more diversity, a lot more diversity.
I found myself moving to California in 2000. Since 2000, I’ve really built a deep and rich career in working in technology, Cisco, Sun, Microsystems, Silver Spring Networks, Symantec, and now at Cohesity. Cohesity is a pre-IPO data management company. I’ve done one pre-IPO company before and took it public. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of work, but it’s that ability to design and create and learn from your past about what you want to do in your next role. So it’s been a wonderful playground for me and the team.
[00:04:41] RS: It’s rare. I speak to someone who has an academic background in a related field to HR to talent. Do you ever go back to those that coursework in your mind? How do you think having an educational background contributed to your career now or maybe even just to getting the first role?
[00:04:56] ACW: Well, you make a great point, because a lot of people stumble into HR. They may have been in a different role. Then they say, “Hey, come over and help me with recruiting.” Then next thing you know, they’re deep into the role of HR. It helps me, because it grounded me in what it really is, and what it isn’t and what it is because sometimes people think of HR as being the event people, the people who pass doughnuts out, or the people that have to go fire people. It’s so much more than that.
I mean, really great HR is all about consulting to the business, providing solutions that support the business growth and the employee growth. Its risk mitigation, it’s also helping leaders be their best because the best leaders also create better teams. There’s so much more to it. I really didn’t understand that, because if you’ve ever watched The Office, which I can’t, because I cringe, sometimes that’s what people think HR is about. There are moments of that, but largely, it’s a pretty amazing field. I think it’s becoming even more important and relevant post-pandemic with the way people want to work and retreated and what they expect that of their workplace. I think it’s a pivotal role. I’m so grateful that I stumbled into it. We got enough foundation, understand the value it brings to the company.
[00:06:02] RS: HR and people management, people ops is certainly changed a lot. It’s become more technology-enabled as people come to expect new or different things from their workplace. When thinking about that change, maybe fast forward to like 2020 and beyond, because I feel like that’s a very different epoch of change. What do you think is the difference between HRs role now, versus early 2020?
[00:06:23] ACW: Well, I think early 2020 we were doing the things we’re probably doing now, but in a very different condition. I think we’ll never go back to the way we’ve worked in our past. People now have gotten a taste of working from home and having flexibility to where they want to go work. If you had said five years ago or six years ago that empathy and mental health would be first and foremost and the company’s perspective on their employees, I would have said no way I don’t expect that. I think that’s important but I never found the business found that to be important. Suddenly, those things really matter here.
I also think our role has to also be creative on how we enable managers. Their jobs are already hard enough. Then you add in hybrid remote work. Some of the things going on in the in the macroeconomic environments that makes their jobs even more difficult. I think our role in helping managers being managers finding different ways to engage employees because you just can’t walk around the office anymore like you used to, to engage folks has become much more critical. We have to get much more creative about it. I’d say we’re still learning as we go along.
[00:07:21] RS: Yeah, definitely. What’s going on Cohesity, right now? What’s top of mind for you? What are you working on?
[00:07:26] ACW: Top of mind, we are a high-growth data management company. We’re a platform there, where by people can do backup and storage, but more importantly, get their data to do different things for them to really get business transformation. I joined it, because it was a market differentiator. We weren’t trying to copy what others were doing. We were creating our own path. That was very exciting. So our big work in is, first of all, the whole notion of employee engagement. We are dispersed. We’ve got a population in San Jose, California and in Raleigh, Durham. Then India, we’ve got a large presence, and thereafter, it’s scattered with people either in field sales positions or people working in remote locations. So how do we engage those folks? How do we make certain that they have the tools they need to be successful every day?
Also doing a lot of work on, as we go to hopefully, sometime a public stance, we’re 2300 employees. People want to know what their career development is like the notion of I’m just going to work really, really hard. Then when we go public, everything’s going to be different is not going to keep people. They want to know that I’ve got a career path and I’m going to grow, this is a destination for me versus just a stop. So a lot of work around building out our career frameworks to ensure employees have passed for them. The last thing is both the culture and the DNI. So very often, when you grow quickly, the things that got you there may not be the things will get you to the next level of growth. How do we think about the culture and the things that really help us propel, and the things that may hold us back that no longer serve us?
I think that goes hand in hand with diversity, equity inclusion, because if you start early, which we did. We were 1300 employees. We just launched a whole new diversity strategy that I hope they’ve never been launched before when I got there. If you start early on with lower numbers, the law of numbers work for you. If you try to introduce DNI when you’re larger enterprise company, a lot of numbers work against you. We started off really focusing on belonging, culture and engagement. Then with that, we’ve also increased women representation by 8%, in the director-plus population, and we’ve also improved the level of women representation in the company.
We’re seeing not only the sentiment improved but also the representation, which I believe you get much better business outcomes when you’ve got a diverse set of people versus a homogeneous set of people. Those are our big priorities. There’s a whole lot more I could share, but those are the ones that come to mind in this discussion.
[00:09:38] RS: I’m glad you called out the increase in representation at leadership levels because it’s such an important way to slice and dice diversity. It’s not enough to just have the representation that as I think where a lot of companies struggle is okay, you have hired people at the entry-level and you look maybe more representative there, but those people are not going to have a good employee experience, because the people who make the policies by which they must abide don’t look like them, and don’t have the life experience to speak to them in a way. Really, really important to get that right at the more senior levels.
[00:10:08] ACW: Great point. I mean, I cannot agree more. I think when you see people who look like you that are in positions of leadership you feel like, “Gosh, I can be that person someday, too.” I think very often, people who are underrepresented are often the ones that are pushing the big rock up the hill. I think when you have leadership in place that reflect that they’re the ones helping bring that rock up alongside them or further with them, versus them doing it by themselves. I’m very keen around focusing on that cohort to build in the company.
[00:10:37] RS: Yeah. That goes hand in hand with getting it right early, just because you want people to look at your organization and think, “Okay, someone who looks like me can succeed here.” I’m seeing this, in front of me is already the case, I don’t have to be a trailblazer. Some people are exhausted, having had to do that before. Super important to get that right early. I’m also really interested in some of the scaling you’ve done. Specifically, what were the things you have to change, right? When you said the things that, “What got you here, won’t get you There.” The things that served you well in the past may not be appropriate for the size. Can you think of any examples of process or hiring approaches that you’re like, “You know what? This was great up to this point, but we need to change.”
[00:11:18] ACW: Yeah. I’ll first start off with one that may be unusual, but it’s also about mindset, because I felt when I got here, people felt pretty constrained like this is how we’ve always done it. I’m in a box. I don’t really – either feel empowered to do something different or maybe I’ve no one’s ever asked me my opinion on doing something different. I’m really attuned to that. So one of the first things I did when I walked in the door is like, yeah – it’s a blank slate, if you could do it again differently or if we have to now appeal to a larger audience and you don’t have to work so hard to try and do some things to make things customized. How would that look for you? Start opening up people’s aperture about continuous improvement. How do I think about this as a learning organization and try new things, and experiment, and learn from them, and then reapply so it gets better every time.
I think that’s really an important ingredient because if people don’t have that mindset, they’re going to fight some of the things you’re going to do that may be non-traditional to what they’ve expected in their past. Then on ideas around scale, so there’s things everything from we have got to get some systems in place in terms of we have workday as our platform, but are we fully exploiting it to do things that are much more automated than the manual inputs may found my team doing. The manual inputs are larger, that we didn’t maybe perhaps configure some of these systems very effectively. They didn’t have the budget to get some consultation to fix them, or people just were happy doing manual labor, but I don’t think anybody’s happy doing manual labor. It’s probably just all they were used to.
Secondly, we did a lot of work on our talent acquisition practices. We had a competency-based hiring process that wasn’t that well adopted when I had joined. So we put a lot of process down and how does the process flow into the system support that in terms of scorecards to assess people, debrief meetings, making certain we’ve got diversity in our slates in our interview teams, ensuring people know how to ask the right questions, not just the legal questions, but also how do you really understand situationally or competency wise, if someone is equipped to do the role you want them to go do. Then also, how to onboard them?
I think we’re still working on a lot on onboarding. We do a magnificent job on day one. You got your computer. You have your orientation, you get attuned to all the systems we have, but then what happens thereafter? Very often managers neglect that and go right into do your tasks that I gave you to go do without context. We’re doing a lot of work around how do we build scale around onboarding that really brings people through their first six months in a way that’s very different, that also helps them get to productivity faster.
The last thing I’d say we’ve done is how do we think about employee listening because it before was very tribal. It was anecdotal. I have no problem with anecdotal data. I also want to have some other mechanisms by which to measure people’s perspective on things get their input and their sentiments. We’ve launched a series of regular pulse surveys. We also have our yearly census engagement. We do a lot of roundtables that we call unplugged sessions with our executive teams that can get further down in the organization to understand what’s working, what’s not, and how do we improve it. Things that I think were low-hanging fruit, but for others might have sounded pretty existential, but they’re things you’ve got to start thinking about now, if you’re going to build it, because working harder and faster is not the solution. You’re going to burn people out. You have to find other mechanisms to scale the business.
[00:14:26] RS: Well, Amy. You’re just an encyclopedia of practice here. I feel like you know how to choose your own adventure novels, where it’s like, to do this go to page 92. I feel like, I want to do that for this episode, where it’s like to hear more about onboarding, go to this timestamp to hear more about process, go to this timestamp. I mean, I don’t know. I will try to get to follow up on all of that because there’s so much good stuff there. I guess the follow-up question that is coming to my mind, though, is around onboarding. That first six months such a crucial time. What are some of those things you can do to lead someone along to make sure they’re going to be an engaged employee and more likely to stick around in addition to like you said, just manager says, “Here’s your responsibilities, do your job.”
[00:15:04] ACW: That’s a great question. One, I think we’ve been grappling with for many years as HR practitioners, as well as managers. I’m a big believer of like consumerism, as you think about your employees versus their just assets. Like we all have different preferences. Like I my iPhone. You might like your particular brand of phone.
[00:15:22] RS: You’re not iPhone.
[00:15:23] ACW: You’re not an iPhone, an android.
[00:15:25] RS: I like iPhones.
[00:15:26] ACW: Exactly. Sometimes you go to a company. It’s like we’re not one size fits all. It could be, I have elder parents and I have young kids. They’re calling them, I think between her so how do we help those people be successful? You have people that are right out of school, that have never worked in a corporate environment. How do you help them be successful? So one, I try to tailor the experience level of who we’re trying to onboard to ensure that we have the right materials that they need. Then what we’ve started to do is just map out the employee experience. I call them follow me home, which is like what are the points in your time at work or your career at work that are monumental and moments of truth that make you want to stay in the company versus leave?
Those are typically, when you get hired your first six minutes in how you get onboarded, when you get some development programs, when you get promoted. Maybe when you have your first child, maybe when you change roles and function, do something completely different, and even when I’m going to leave. How do you make certain you map those in a way that as those moments go forward, you’ve got a way to approach that employee? For onboarding, a lot of it is how do you make certain that they have the tools they need and the systems, they have the right touchpoints with their manager, which is called one-on-ones which aren’t that hard, but sometimes people don’t do them. How do you give them a mentor that’s not their manager, that might be the person you ask when you’re embarrassed to ask something or need some guidance? Then how do you also build what I call cohorts?
We try to get new employees together, that started an alumni group in 2022, for instance, together every six months, to learn from them and have them have a chance to get connected on their own. So finding connective touch points is really important because when you’re new employee, you feel like pretty lonely, because you want to show how much you know and show how good you are. But if you don’t have the people around you to give you context and support you, you’re not going to stick around. There’s a ton of studies that if you don’t get onboarding, right within the first month to 60 days, retention drops drastically after the first year of employment. There’s real data behind why it’s not only the right thing to do for your employees, but there’s real business value and doing that.
[00:17:25] RS: The process begins almost with like a employee persona exercise, right?
[00:17:30] ACW: Exactly.
[00:17:31] RS: You’re like, “Okay, who is this person? Their age matters? Where they are in their lives matter? Their motivations matter, right? You have to, I guess, go back even to the interview process and be like, what did they say was important? Then based on that, you feel okay, this is their persona. This is what they care about. Let’s try and imagine what a successful journey for them looks like, and then you chart that out.
[00:17:50] ACW: Exactly right. It’s very persona-based because I think the one size fits all is not going to work. so what matters to me is a more experienced manager versus a new college grad’s going to be very different. So we try and map them into these personas. Then we tailor how we onboard them as a relationship to that. You made a great point. Onboarding actually begins in the interview process, because if you have a really great interview process, you’re going to hit the ground running excited about the opportunity versus it was mediocre, it wasn’t good, but I’m going to take the job anyway because I like the manager.
It starts there. Then it starts even before they start on their job because they get provisioned for what they have to sign up for, their benefits, their computer – the Maslow’s hierarchy of like eating and having safety in your life. That’s what’s really important. Then as we move along, we look at helping people map into potentially what ERGs might be important to them, employee resource group. If you’re an early career, folks, we’re getting ready to launch and early in career ERG. We have – I chair, the Thrive Employee Relations group, which is about mental wellness. We have a woman’s ERG. We have Latinx ERG.
As we bring people in, we also try to map them to connections of organizations that might help them on board and also make them feel like they belong. As we go through that we look at everything from their benefits, their reward structures, their connection structures, how we bring them together on a more frequent basis to have those discussions. It sounds complex, but when you map it out, it’s not as hard as you think it is. You just have to be disciplined about understanding where someone’s coming from and how you can help them meet others that have perhaps like backgrounds or opportunities to grow together so they don’t feel they’re on their own.
[00:19:27] RS: Can we try a little activity here that I think could be fruitful and illustrative? If I give you an employee persona, could you maybe rattle off like how you would plan for them to have a successful onboarding experience?
[00:19:39] ACW: Let’s go for it.
[00:19:40] RS: The persona I’m going to give you is the most common listener persona on this podcast. Let’s say you hire Amy, a mid-level to senior recruiter five to 10 years experience in the United States.
[00:19:54] ACW: Well, first and foremost, even though they’ve got a ton of experience in recruiting, I want to make certain they understand our practices, because recruiting is done very differently everywhere. I feel like very often recruiters just get thrown into the deep end and have to figure out the tools and processes. We spent a fair amount of time on building out onboarding and enablement and we’re still building that out, to be honest with you. I first understand, what do they bring to the table? They have a strong Rolodex. Are they a technical recruiter or sales recruiter? Where do they have geographic opportunities to help us build new pipelines? Because when new TA recruiters come on board, they also bring a connection and network with them. How do we tap into that effectively?
When they join, we have a process by which we gain where they have a lot of experience and expertise in particular regions or functions so we can start to align them towards that work. Secondly, because they’re experienced and mature, doesn’t mean we don’t walk them through the process. We get them through, here’s all the different practices we follow, here are the systems that we use here, the metrics that we use. Then what we’ve done differently in the past is typically recruiters just recruit. We don’t use them for anything else. I think that’s a travesty, because very often recruiters have best practices in their minds about what worked and didn’t work, whether it’s with a recruiting coordinator, with as a candidate, whether it’s with data.
We’re now also asking senior recruiters, such as the person you just described, also help onboard new recruiters who may be earlier in career to help them grow and understand how we do work in the company. If you’re more mature in your experience level. We’re going to train you up to how we do things, not to the art of recruiting, but how we follow the processes here. Then we’re going to ask you to help do the same thing for when new folks come on board and with that impart your knowledge about how do I build a diverse pipeline? How do I build relationships? Because recruiting can be super transactional, so how do I leverage that more senior person to say let’s start building a relationship by having tech talks, or reaching out to the top five software developers that are icfied’s and getting them to get to know about Cohesity? I leveraged some of the things they bring to the table, whereby when you’re an earlier career, folks, it might just be much more instructional and less knowledge application from their pasts and more about how to do things for their future.
[00:22:02] RS: I can see how that teaching them the Cohesity way would also work in terms of onboarding, because now the recruiters are like, “Oh, there’s a plan here.” They’re not just going to be like, “All right, we got 30, open roles, how about it, kids? Like you actually are, there was a plan for this. You have been thoughtful about this. That I think, would make me feel a little bit more at ease, knowing I had just made this big change, I’d signed up and I’m now putting my eggs in this Cohesity basket for my employment, that I’m not going to come into a bunch of fires, basically.
[00:22:31] ACW: Exactly. I think that’s been that way in the past, because we were growing so fast, and really trying to put that. That’s the process that has real impact. Also like how do they pitch the company? You have to really understand what the value of the company is it from an engineering perspective, a sales perspective, wherever function you’re recruiting for, in addition to the larger company pitch. I think they’re like salespeople. You enable your salespeople, right, when you’re selling a product. We have to do the same thing for recruiters. So very often, I will also leverage the recruiters around the pitch or I’ll bring in sales enablement or marketing to help us with that. I think it’s another thing that people don’t spend a lot of time on is like, do I really understand what this company does, so I can sell the value of it to a potential applicant versus talking off the cuff that don’t really understand what we do as a company.
[00:23:13] RS: Right. Right. Let’s assume that the recruiter understands the Cohesity way of doing things and they pitch it well. Then is it enablement? Is it tech? Or do you jump right into here’s the development path for you?
[00:23:26] ACW: We probably jump right into, here’s the role that we’re going to go have you go drive and have the build credibility with their particular customer, so to speak, or their business unit. Then along the way, we’re now starting to create career pathing. We didn’t have that before. We didn’t have gradations. We had a lot of senior people, not a lot of junior folks early in career in the TA organization. We had very little in operations. A lot of these TA recruiters were having to do a lot of manual work, whereby had you had an operational team that can look at whatever ATS you have, and being able to do the reporting on the funnels and where you’re at in terms of recruitment practices and butts in seats, so you can get to finance about what the cost might be that are coming in this month.
All that was very nascent, so some of the things we’ve done is begin to build that infrastructure, which therefore then allows bringing in some more junior folks. As a result of that, we’ve had a couple of junior folks go from sourcing and voting pipeline into either full-time recruiting in end-to-end, or a couple have gone into our operations team helping with either our ATS tracking system or helping with recruiting coordination. We’ve started to expand on the career pathing because I’m finding people leave any company, because I’ve been at so many when there’s no career growth, and they don’t see a career path. That’s what people want.
Part of the things we’re working on now is how do we build that career path for folks? One of the things I’ll say, and I’ll shut up after this, but there’s a recession in front of us, right? So hiring is slowing down. So the thing I’m really focused on now is with the slowdown in hiring, let’s go clean out the garage. There’s things we know aren’t clean in the TA process, whether it’s documentation, data, how we provision people on and off, etc. so let’s use this time to really do some work so that when we’re ready to ramp back up to more of the pace that we’ve been hiring at, this stuff has been socialized and finished and we’re ready to move on.
I think sometimes we don’t take advantage of these downtimes. Sometimes we just lay people off, that’s easier thing to do. I really want us to focus on, let’s build what we need to get built, right, so that when we come back up, we’ve got the right capability to go even faster than we were before the downturn.
[00:25:32] RS: A quick point of clarification. What did you mean, when you said gradations?
[00:25:35] ACW: Gradations would be, we had end-to-end recruiters. They all were very senior. Now what I’ve done is brought in more junior recruiters that we’re going to have to train and develop, that may just be doing sourcing, or they may be doing more of your skills-based recruiting like when you’re recruiting for customer support. It’s the same job over and over again, so how do we give them a chance to do something that might be easier, that’s more broad versus that very specific Python code, or that you have to go find, you have to have an experience in.
I’m trying to bring people in in a way where they can learn that ropes. They can go after roles, or they’ll have success with that have tried and trued. Then they build their acumen, they can go into more of the specialized aspects of town acquisition, where you’re going either after executive recruiting, or specializations and technology or accounting, or your chief accounting officer, etc. So if you don’t have that, you’ve got a very expensive model, because you’ve got really senior people working on the roles that may not necessarily need that level of senior leadership into your building succession pipe for your business.
[00:26:31] RS: Gotcha. That was a fantastic example of the senior recruiter five to 10 years’ experience. Now to build that out the last 20 minutes or so, to build that out for not just every role your company, but the person in that role, right? Because it needs to be unique to that person and their background and desires and motivations, etc. That feels like a pretty tall order. How do you do that if you have less resources, if you’re a director of recruitment, you maybe have a couple of sources and RCs and recruiters under you. It sounds like a pretty advanced, complex project, is it?
[00:27:03] ACW: Are you talking about for the greater company or for the TA organization?
[00:27:07] RS: Probably for the whole company, right? Because if you’re going to do it, what’s good for the goose is good for the –
[00:27:11] ACW: That’s exactly right. Yeah. This is where a manager enablement helps. This is where you’re really helping the manager to understand how to get underneath people’s motivations. What inspires them? What do they not like to do? Which doesn’t mean they’re not going to go do that, but how do you mitigate their weaknesses or their lack of passion with their strengths and passions? We are moving more towards a strength-based culture, which is where I’ve always worked in and I’m excited about that. So how do you leverage the strength of an employee in the role they have today, or perhaps other strengths that might help other employees grow. We’re trying to enable managers on how to have those conversations. We’re creating individual development plans that the manager works with the employee on.
We also believe our philosophy is, is that your career is owned by you as the employee. It’s the manager’s job to facilitate it, but you have to decide what you want to go do. Then we’ll help you figure out how to go get there, and you have to invest the time in that. It’ll only be scalable by virtue of having the managers own this. Then the people team, which is what I lead will help provide some enablement, whether that’s cohort-based learning, whether that’s experience-based, exposure to a new opportunity, mentoring from executives, etc. There’s lots of different levers you can pull, but if we don’t have the managers equipped to do this work, then it won’t scale, we will never get to that level of customization I’m striving for us to get to.
[00:28:24] RS: When you pull your team into a room to discuss this project, how do you delegate? How do you make sure that this is going to get done in a meaningful way?
[00:28:33] ACW: Great question. Well, first, wherever I bring my team into a room, I first get really clear with them, and also ask for their input about what problem we’re solving, because sometimes you just you see something, I’m going to go fix it this way. Sometimes it could just be putting lipstick on the pig, and you’re not really solving it. I always encourage my teams and myself that when we see that there’s a challenge, why is there a challenge? What’s the root behind it? Let’s assume we’ve gotten that figured out. Thereafter, I basically put together who’s going to lead this thing? Because if you have several heads leading it, it’s never going to get done and we ensure the person that we’re having lead it has the capacity for it. I also believe the busier you are, the more you get done versus those who aren’t as busy. I look at the capacity of that person. then I asked them to do co-design.
I’m a big believer of and just to take a step back in people, organizations, you typically have centers of collaboration or excellence, which is like your compensation, your talent acquisition, your development, your communications, and you have business partners who are there to consult with the business. Very often, they taking ideas back to the Centers of Excellence to help them formulate a plan to go solve a business issue, or maybe rolling out something that the Center of Excellence has decided is important based off of feedback and market conditions. So knowing that’s the case, I never believe that anything should be developed on the people team without co-design in mind. Meaning if we’re going to roll out a new compensation strategy, you better have the business partners in there.
You better have the enablement team in there so that we all are clear about what we’re trying to solve for and we’re designing it together. Having been in this role, quite a bit of my professional career, when you are out to roll something out as a business partner, nothing feels worse than you’ve given something you’ve never seen before, you don’t necessarily think is relevant for your business, buy a center of excellence, and you roll it out, and it’s not ready to be rolled out. Then you’re tasked with answering all the questions and closing all the gaps. Same thing, sometimes business partners get overzealous and commit to things and build their own little machine for this particular company that has no enterprise scale to it and probably could have had been developed in conjunction with the Center of Excellence.
My big belief is whenever I bring projects together and make certain that they’re diverse, they are multifunctional within the function. Sometimes I’ll bring in people from the business, if it’s something that I really need someone’s perspective and either to serve on the project team or as a stakeholder, but if you try to create things in a silo. It’s not going to be ready for folks. It’s going to be a lot of lack of change management. If you can evolve the right people, not 100 people, but maybe enough to eat one or two pizzas to term a phrase. You’re going to probably have that level of success with really good stakeholder management and good timelines, outcomes, and making certain you’re meeting your commitments along the way. Long answer, sorry.
[00:31:06] RS: Great answer. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Frankly. Since we’re speaking a little bit about career development here, may I ask you about yours, Amy?
[00:31:13] ACW: Sure. Sure. What do you want to know?
[00:31:15] RS: You’ve been at the VP HR level. You’ve had a couple of different CHRO roles. Do you love this position, particularly? Do you think you’re going to stick it out as a CHRO now for a while on your career? Or what’s next for you? I guess what I’m asking is, is this the ceiling? Or do you have another plan for something else you want to do?
[00:31:32] ACW: It’s a great question. Well, I will say my philosophy which I was brought up this way, just to give you some perspective, but I grew up in a very strong work ethic family, my father owned his own business, we had a family business that was a restaurant that some of us worked at, throughout the years. He works Mondays through Saturdays at 6am, to 7pm, with breaks along the way. We had never had vacations except for maybe a long weekend trip to Ocean City, Maryland, for those of you who are on the east coast where I grew up. But we learned if you work hard, and you show your value, you’re going to be successful. I grew up with that perspective.
Then I also grew up that the ways you learn most are the really challenging things. You could pick the easy stuff it’s not going to necessarily build sustainable muscle in you. Early on in my career, I’d be the one that raised my hand on sometimes a less attractive or more thorny issues to go solve, because that’s where I learned my most and had probably more grace to learn, because there was no place to go but up. I always encourage folks you like it’s good to have nice, easy days of work. We all love those. You also have to pepper that with things that are challenging that you might fail at. You’re going to learn from better, because I do believe you learn better from failing than from being successful and failings as a temporary comment. It’s not long-term.
That’s how I’ve built my career. There was one point, Rob, where I didn’t think I wanted to be head of HR, I just had two small children. I was working a lot at Cisco traveling globally. I thought I don’t ever see myself being a head of HR, but as my daughters got out of diapers and got a little bit more, never self-sufficient in that age, a little bit more independence, which I’ve raised both of my daughters to be independent. Look, my husband, I said, “I think I want to go do this thing. I’m going to try to be this head of HR.” Part of it was I saw my boss who’s head of HR like working these crazy hours. I’m like, “I don’t want to go do that.”
I won’t say I’m not working sometimes crazy hours, but I feel I’ve learned a lot from this job about how to be a role model around how you have work-life balance. Integration is not balanced. You never balanced. One day, you’re a better mother. One day you’re a better employee, but I started realizing I can do this job. I love it because it allows me to be creative. It allows me to be business-oriented, allows me to think of things multiple ways versus just one subject matter expert perspective. I love working with executives, and I love working with employees and getting them engaged. It’s a job I think it was fit for me.
I’m on two public boards and a private board. I anticipate, I’m trying to build the next generation of HR talent, much like I was built earlier in my career. There lot of pioneers at Frito Lay who stood on other’s shoulders, they allowed me to stand on their shoulders as they set the table for being an HR leader. I hope to do that for the same next generation of folks. I anticipate I’ll do this for a while. Then I’m going to continue my work. I really liked working with boards. I have a lot to offer, as both a business leader and HR leader. I like being able having my feet in both places, but at some point in my career, I’ll probably go more into advising in working on boards.
[00:34:17] RS: Got it. We are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. Before I let you go –
[00:34:21] ACW: Exhausted. I’m exhausted now –
[00:34:23] RS: I’m invigorated, Amy. This has been a blast.
[00:34:25] ACW: Great.
[00:34:26] RS: I want to ask you to give some parting advice to our friends listening out there in podcast land. For the folks who are maybe still at the individual contributor level or like head of director of level, what advice would you give for them if they want to advance and wind up in a VP, HR, CHRO, type role?
[00:34:42] ACW: Sure. Well, first, know that you love this work, right? Because if you don’t love it, the title will bring you happiness for one day and then after that you were like, “Oh, my gosh. What did I step into?” Because not everybody loves to manage large teams or small teams or the complexity that goes with it, but if you know you love that stuff. I think the most important thing is one, build your business acumen, because really great HR people distinguish themselves from others by virtue of really understanding how the business runs. Where are the products? Who’s the market? Where do you make money? Where do you have challenges with competitors? Where you gaps in your roadmap? Those are really important things, because we speak the language of the business, it’d be much more effective in consulting with the business.
Two, I really focus on your ability to not only analyze data, but create data insights. I can’t tell you how many times my team will put together slides with me and there’s no headline. I’m like, “Listen, people are too busy to look at a slide and know what to draw from it, so we have to provide those insights to them, so they know what we’re trying to compel them to.” So always have good insights on your data. Third, be very good at creating a business case. So know what you’re trying to solve for and why, and what you need to go to go do it.
Then lastly, build relationships. Learn how to manage stakeholders, I mean, I’m a big believer that you got a lot more forgiveness when somebody have a relationship with them, than when you don’t, if you screw something up. So start investing in those relationships, one that will help mentor you and help you grow, but also help you propel what you’re trying to accomplish in the organization and make certain that it’s relevant, because they’ll have perspectives that you might not be seeing if you develop it on your own. The four things are back to the beginning is data, business acumen, stakeholder management and relationships, and building a strong business case.
[00:36:19] RS: I love it. Amy, last question. Small dogs or big dogs? Why?
[00:36:23] ACW: Big Dogs. I have 120-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback, named Oscar and a 70-pound Aussie German Shepherd, named Miley. There’s more to hug, more to love. I like just to run with them and grapple with them and they don’t yap. They have real ass barks.
[00:36:39] RS: Real ass barks, always. Amy this episode has been full of real ass barks. I have to say so much insight in here. Thank you for being here, for being yourself. I’ve really loved chatting with you today.
[00:36:48] ACW: Me too, Rob. I could chat with you for hours. Thank you so much for inviting me to join you today.
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