While the impact of successful mentorship has been proven in a multitude of ways, there is still the fear that participants could be mismatched or that a mentor’s time might be wasted. Concerns that the relationship will be short-lived or even fail can also get in the way of tremendous results. Today’s guest asks us to consider using intention and purpose to guide these relationships. Please join us in welcoming Tschudy Smith, Chief People Officer at ForgeRock, to share her perspective on purpose-driven mentorship. Tuning in, you’ll learn some of the characteristics of great leaders, why Tschudy believes we have to be more intentional than ever about who we bring into our network, and how to set outcomes and objectives before entering into a mentorship relationship. We also touch on the importance of empathy, the fundamental differences between a sponsor and a mentor, and the role that places and culture play for CPOs in a post-pandemic world, plus so much more.
[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.
[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.
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[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.
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[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz Talk Talent to Me.
[0:01:00.1] RS: Here with me today on Talk Talent to Me is the Chief People Officer over at ForgeRock, Tschudy Smith. Tschudy, welcome to the podcast, how are you today?
[0:01:08.4] TS: I am doing great, how are you?
[0:01:11.4] RS: I’m so good. I’m so glad that you asked, nobody ever asks me, just launch right into the talent part but here I am –
[0:01:16.3] TS: Of course, I care about how you’re doing.
[0:01:17.9] RS: That’s so kind, yeah, I feel good. I’m podcasting my heart out, you know? I went out and I bought a bunch of art supplies this weekend so I’m going to get my art on. I’m going to do some painting and get back on the old creativity production wagon. So, that’s what I’ve been thinking about, when I’m not podcasting anyway.
[0:01:34.3] TS: Great, I love it.
[0:01:35.1] RS: But enough about me and my fledgling art career. Tschudy, I would love to hear about you and would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and how you wound up in your current role at ForgeRock?
[0:01:45.0] TS: You bet, such a fair question. In the way of background, I was born and raised in Colorado. I bleed orange and blue, I’m a Bronco fan at my heart and, from a very young age, I was always interested in what motivated people to do the things they did. I decided to ultimately pursue psychology as an undergrad, went to the University of Denver, so I didn’t veer too far from home and, from there, went into graduate school in California and got a degree in marriage and family counseling.
Still super interested in how families handled conflict, why people got in relationships with one another, how you improve communication and, truth be told, a lot of that motivation was trying to understand the decisions my own family had made about some things that maybe didn’t always serve them well or patterns that they had or that past family they’d had that they repeated, even though they weren’t healthy.
I went on to graduate with a masters in marriage and family counseling and as luck would have it, you have to go through many hours, certified hours and have to pass a written test by that behavioral board to ultimately get certified to practice. I was still young, I hadn’t been married, I didn’t have kids, I never held a corporate job, and I realized I wasn’t as effective in supporting people, couples, families in a state of crisis or challenges and so I wanted to go and get some real-world experience myself.
I found a job as an HR representative at Anthem Electronics, got acquired by Arrow Electronics, and that started really my career in HR. What was interesting about the choice to move into that role is, all the things I had learned in school, undergrad or graduate, which was largely systems theory, I could apply at work. The relationship was a work relationship, the conflict was in the confines of how responsibilities were divided.
There was indeed a broader ecosystem in which people were trying to do great work. So, I still could take everything I learned, I was just applying it in a work setting, and ultimately stuck with it because I was still compelled by people. I still wanted to build relationships and effective ways, I wanted to help people through challenging times. I wanted to improve the dynamics between a person and their coworker, a leader and their team, and so I ultimately stayed with it.
The other theme that’s in that career is technology. I have largely been in technology companies, which is a really great, serve on the cutting edge of innovation and new cycles of business and change and, ultimately, surrounded, fortunately enough, by many women in this industry. They’re either my clients in the way that they were leading the functions that I was supporting as a business partner or they were my own leaders that I was working under throughout my career. So, I felt truly blessed to have worked with some amazing women.
Then, I would tell you, along that career journey, I have had really powerful mentors and sponsors. People who also almost met me at powerful intersections. To help me understand how to be a better leader. I remember one session with one of my sponsors and she came down. She found me in the physical space that we were in and really helped me understand how some of the business decisions that I was driving was affecting people.
That, in some cases, I could take that equation of the impact, the people as a stronger imperative than just the business results. It was a moment where I understood even more deeply how empathy plays in the role of the people leader and somebody in human resources, and then on up to even people who really encouraged me to be fore vulnerable as a way of driving alignment, allegiance, and ultimately saying to people that being imperfect is also being perfectly good.
So, that’s my career. I have stayed with that, largely in the HR business partners space is what I’ve been in, done some stints in leadership and development, certainly overseeing talent acquisition teams many a times and, ultimately, hitting a crescendo of being the Chief People Officer of ForgeRock.
[0:05:51.7] RS: Fantastic, thank you for that context. I think mentorship is so important and I’m glad you called it out. I feel like it’s hard for people to find really good mentors. I think a lot of times, we learn it ourselves or the people immediately in our organization or the people that you just happened to have worked with before. What was so valuable about the mentors you had and how did you go about finding them?
[0:06:13.3] TS: Yeah and I agree. Mentors are really important and, I feel, even more important now because we’re in this hybrid virtual world. Even some of those formal or informal engagements we might have expected to have are fewer and far between at times, so we have to be even more intentional about who we have in our network that’s there to support us, to guide us, and to give us some coaching and insight.
For me, I’ve had mentors in a couple of different realms. Some of them have been inherently the people I work for because we can step away at times from the roles and responsibilities and the dos and the don’ts to the, “How can I? How might I?” You’ve taken this road before, what did you learn?
Then there’s been other ones who I have formally asked and engaged in a kind of a contract to say, “You have something in your experience, you have something in your knowledge base, you have something in the path you’ve already crossed that I want to benefit from. In doing so, can we set an arrangement up to meet on a regular basis?” I’ll set some objectives and, as much as I will get from them, I’ll also offer some things, some perspectives of what life is like for me or, for some of my mentors, who are in very strong leadership positions, a perspective about how they’re leading and how they might be thinking about evolving that leadership. That’s really important. Then, I also have been able to practice being a mentor.
I feel like it’s important to pay it forward and, I’ll tell you, when you can play the role of mentor, you also learn. I have a woman that I was mentoring in my previous role, that was new in her career and she was stepping in to kind of unfold lots of aspects of the work and understanding this big company she was working for, and how would I manage my time, my relationships? And we talked through that, and then, her aspirations to be in a leadership position and being able to say, “Hey, here’s some of the ways that you can build your leadership, things are low cost, no cost,” and being a sounding board for both her fears, her aspirations, and her needs. I found myself doing that for mentors.
The other thing that I would just say that I believe is becoming as important are sponsors because, sometimes, it’s the people hat are in the rooms we’re not in that are advocating for us, that are talking about the impact we’re having, that are helping to smooth out the rough edges of a process or a policy or a practice that might not be well received or really working at the advantage of all people.
So, I feel like sponsors are as important as mentors. I don’t get hung up too much on having to have in all cases of formality to them and they can have a point in time when you want to let them sunset and you’re going to pick up new ones. I often ask people to think long and hard about the outcomes they want in those relationships, to help them find the person that can serve them best.
Last thing I’d say about both mentors and sponsors is, individuals love to be invited into those arrangements. I think sometimes people feel like, “Oh, can I inconvenience them? I know their schedule’s really busy.” So, so many people really want to offer help, assistance, guidance, their perspective to others, so it’s often for people who are invited into that role, something to be appreciated.
[0:09:27.3] RS: So that was going to actually be my next question was, how do you ask someone? Because, I have someone in mind who I would really love to be my mentor and I have a weird job, I have a weird career path. There’s not that many people, I feel like, that have done this, exactly what I’m trying to do, and so there’s a very limited amount of people that I could go out there and be like, “Hey, you did this already, how?” How would I even make that invitation?
Because I am really sensitive to the, “Can I pick your brain?” email which I think is just very – it’s not respectful of someone’s time, you know? But the mentorship is kind of that so what would I say? Would I just message this individual and say, “Hey, are you interested in mentorship? I could really use your help with XYZ things,” or how would I go about making that ask in a way that respects someone’s time and is likely to lead to the outcome I want, which is them saying yes?
[0:10:14.7] TS: Yes, your lead in is a perfectly good one of “Here’s what I’m looking to do.” What you also mentioned is A, B, or C, so definitely hone in on what you would want to get out of that relationship. Sometimes un-gated, for anybody who’s invited, they’re not sure what value they can really give and they’re not sure, “Am I the right person?” When you can really put two and two together and this individual that you have in mind, you like something about them. As unique as your experience is, this person has something equally unique, so that they understand you already see the reason why them and not somebody else.
Explain that a little bit and then really be clear about the one, two, at most three objectives you think you can get out of that mentorship. When they see that you come in with a commitment level, a little bit of a skin in the game, and a willingness to engage in that, that goes a long way.
It’s also okay in that to give them the out, “If it isn’t now, if this isn’t the right place, if these are not the right things, let me know and I’ll move on, that’s okay,” but definitely when you come with some focus, intentionality, you’re more likely to be met with somebody who understands the value they can give to you versus just a broad request for mentoring.
[0:11:27.1] RS: Yeah, that is well put and an important call out. I think that’s why the, “Can I pick your brain?” message is so off-putting is because it’s so vague and it’s like, “Okay, you, person asking for my time, you haven’t even been thoughtful about how you would use it or what you would want from this. So, I’m not going to help you figure that out,” right?
Usually, my response to that is, “Hey, I’d love to chat, what are the questions you have? Send them over via email and I’ll let you know if I can actually be helpful,” right? Then, I’m just forcing them to be thoughtful because I don’t want to just be rude and ignore people but I think just doing that step at the beginning and saying, “I’d really love to have XYZ from you,” could be helpful.
When you reflect on the outcome though, that to me also feels big because I know I’m supposed to have mentorship. I know it would be great to have an example from someone who’s done this work before. But, again, if I was to look at the medium term and say, “Okay, say, six months from now, I am reporting that this mentorship relationship was really, really helpful, what did I get out of it?” How do you even figure out what that means for you?
[0:12:27.9] TS: Well, I think you go back to the outcomes you set when you got into that relationship. Did we or did I or did I not make some strides in regards to that? I give one of the things I want to understand from somebody is, how do you juggle, when you go from a leader of a team to a leader of an organization, how do you juggle that distance that maybe now got created between you and the rest of the team? Or even the fact that your leadership or requests for your time is over so much more. How do I balance that?”
Then, you go back six months ago, “Have I learned some traits for how to balance time? Have I understood how to delegate, have I understood how to empower and really look at key talent and build them so that then I have the breathing room to go further, or to go farther, or to go faster?”
But going back to look at those outcomes is the way I would say you would measure some of that success of a mentor relationship. The other thing that I find true in these mentor relationships is that you can come in with being intentional, what do you want to get out of it a little bit of, what do I need, what can I give, and why I think too people want to make sure that the relationship is good for both is they also stand the test of time.
In many cases, these relationships maybe have flash points where, “Yes, I need you and how do we do this?” I think of a woman that I worked with that was such a strong mentor for managing some of the dynamics that were happening on my team, which was great. I kind of then took a little bit of a hiatus and then I, ultimately, on one of my board positions, I wanted to understand from her, how does a woman operate on a board? She runs many of them.
So, I invited her back in to this board and particular, to give a talk on how do you do this well? What should a board be focusing on? What’s our most important priority? That relationship gave a start to helping me as I was elevating in my career but then, again, came around because I knew she had a unique experience that I could leverage the relationship to help me in another forum.
[0:14:29.4] RS: Got it, that makes sense. Now, what is the difference between a mentor and a sponsor? I meant to ask you that a moment ago.
[0:14:35.3] TS: Yeah, it’s a really good question and there’s a distinction. There’s a woman by the name of Sylvia Ann Hewitt, who has talked about the multiplier effect and it’s about how individuals and, certainly, diverse and underrepresented communities to start with, but how many decisions about talent, about people’s careers, about people’s progression gets made behind closed doors? And that’s okay.
As a Chief People Officer, we hold talent calibration sessions. We think about the intentional ways that we were going to invest in talent but, sometimes, those conversations we’re having about the talent, the talent’s not in the room. The idea of a sponsor is to have somebody who advocates on your behalf, who is in those rooms, who is in those conversations, and who actually is thinking about you when you’re not there.
We call that and Sylvia Ann Hewitt calls that, there’s a role of sponsor in the multiplier effect, and what we feel is that, with a sponsor, you’re that much more likely to have doors that open, to have considerations that maybe others wouldn’t, and to start to appreciate and understand what the adjacent environments or experiences or opportunities are because people are telling you about, “Here’s, in this room, what we discussed, here’s what’s important, here’s the capability we’re looking to see more of.”
“Here’s the thing that they’re focusing on or the priority they’re making and in business and you should look here,” but that role of sponsor, it’s somebody who definitely understands your work, it’s definitely somebody who has exposure to you but it’s somebody who is probably in a room or engagements or meetings that you are not who can advocate on your behalf. If you look at the work done by Sylvia Ann Hewitt on the multiplier effect, they go into great detail about the role of the sponsor. It’s really, really powerful. I have also found as I have done inclusion work on increasing the representation of diverse groups across the company that, when somebody get in the role of the sponsor, they get really proximate to the person.
What do you care about? Where do you find challenges in the company? What obstacles exist for you personally versus professionally? And how am I as a sponsor helping or hurting? What are the things I should come to understand and appreciate about how you experience work, how you experience leadership, how you experience a company’s objectives to do A, B, or C? Then, we have seen that you just end up increasing the diversity and inclusion of leaders in an organization when they can fill the role of sponsor.
[0:17:01.2] RS: It sounds like a sponsor would oftentimes be a boss but not necessarily a boss. However, I am now thinking if I didn’t view my boss as also a sponsor, I would feel like that it’s not a very good boss, you know? I’d be like, “Maybe, should I leave if my boss isn’t at least doing that for me and looping me in on meetings I am not in or having my back and sort of rooting for me in the org and making sure that the org remembers that I exists?”
I would feel like I am probably not set up for success. So, is it necessarily a boss and like if your boss is not your sponsor, can they still be a good boss?
[0:17:33.5] TS: I think they definitely can because some of the things that you mentioned about being a sponsor would happen absolutely. Are you having one-to-one conversations? Are you having transparent dialogue around what are my strengths, what are my areas for improvement, and how are you helping support that? For sure, that’s a good leader. A good leader is staying present to how are you doing, how are you feeling
Do you have the support that you need to do your best work? That’s a great leader and then, sometimes, your manager but not always is informed of places or opportunities that can advance or at least represent an individual’s desires, needs, or strengths. For that, it can sometimes be somebody other than your immediate manager.
[0:18:17.8] RS: Yeah, that makes sense and perhaps, it even should be just because your boss is going to be close to you in other ways no matter what and I think part of this is just you’re developing allies, right? You’re sort of consolidating friendships and territory within the organization. It is probably – it is great if your boss is a sponsor but it’s good to have other ones too or maybe even necessary.
[0:18:39.2] TS: That’s right. That’s absolutely right. One of the things we found and I think a lot of people who look at business today, things are so matrixed and so highly collaborative that sometimes even your boss, while very important, they might not always be in the same place with you. They often are not necessarily the ones who are working on a dynamic project or maybe you’re set to deliver and experience. They have delegated it and empowered you to do that but they’re not there living it, breathing it but your sponsor is.
Are they taking that experience into rooms or engagements or places that can give individuals their due credit for the impact they’ve had? As well, sponsorship is as much understanding where is the company, the environment, and the system helping to support you. Because even when you go into this, you find out that, in some cases, the types of things we’re doing as leaders aren’t serving people well.
We have policies that are unclear, maybe we have practices that have everybody in the room saying one thing and the one person that’s on video being acknowledged last. How does that feel? Maybe I can be more proximate to the fact that that is an unbalanced experience and individuals can sometimes help us see that. So, it’s such a really powerful and unique role can sometimes be played by your manager and then can be in addition to your manager as well.
[0:19:59.1] RS: In this discussion about sponsors and mentors, I feel like we have danced around your approach to your role a little bit because you are mindful of how leaders are showing up, how people can position themselves in the organization to develop and grow. It feels like it’s part and parcel with your approach to the role but I do want to make sure we’re explicit about it.
Can we shift gears somewhat abruptly here, would you mind sharing a little bit about how you conceived of the role of the Chief People Officer and your approach to it?
[0:20:25.7] TS: Yeah and it’s a good question and even the title, Chief People Officer, has become more common even as short as a decade ago, it was chief human resources officer and so you can see that that change has even happened just by title. Why? Well, certainly back, we’ve all been human for sure but we once were seen as resources. Now, we see them as people, right?
These are individuals, they have things that they value. They have impact on the company and so much of what an organization does can’t be realized without its people. I would tell you, the pandemic has brought so many things to the forefront for a Chief People Officer. We just got done talking about diversity and inclusion, the role of sponsorship, the role of mentorship, that’s one of the things that continues to help drive an inclusive and welcoming environment.
Then the other is understanding and appreciating where people are at, that people’s work and life is not as separated as one might have originally thought, and we want to be able to support individuals, both in their work but also be able to know and understand what’s going on for them. In some cases, because the company plays a role to offer benefits and an environment for them to do their best work but also because people want to be seen in their entirety.
It doesn’t mean that we help them solve all of the things that are going on but definitely understand and appreciate who they are fully. It also helps us as a Chief People Officer in our role, I think more and more about the outsized role a leader plays for their team members. One of the things that’s also emerged as a Chief People Officer is not only the power of culture, which is so important even now as we’ve gone virtual, largely virtual or hybrid, how do I experience the culture? What behaviors are expected even if it’s delivered in a digital world?
The other is around empathy, how do we really teach leaders empathy? This is 22nd century of leadership. It isn’t just about managing a to-do list. It isn’t just about showing up to run an agenda for a team meeting. It’s really getting proximate, caring for your people, seeing them at their best, and figuring out how you can help them do more of that.
Individuals want to have a deeper relationship with their people leader and they want to see that the team, which largely is what delivers great results, is also appreciated by the person they are working for. So, that’s hence why I think people became an important part of the title. The last thing I’d tell you, which is an interesting evolution in this pandemic-endemic world is what I like to now call places.
We used to call it facilities, maybe it was your office, but the places we do our work now are a factor for us in the company and those places, you want to be safe. You want people to be healthy there, you want them to feel like they’re productive and you also want to still get engagement. We don’t want people to be left feeling lonely, so how do we create opportunities for them to still connect with team members, coworkers, leaders or executives at a company?
That’s a real challenge now because people have now somehow figured out their life even in this COVID pandemic world and it is working in some cases, and still, we want to drive deeper engagement. We want them to experience the culture as we are doing this here today and when they come into an office but that intersection of culture and places is also one that’s coming more and more into the Chief People Officer role and that is seeing people for where they at.
[0:24:07.3] RS: So, it’s not merely branding, right? It’s this shift from CHRO to CPO. It is also just a new approach, a new mindfulness perhaps of the individuals who work with our companies. I do worry though that the responsibilities of the Chief People Officer as compared to a chief human resources officer are much more vast. If you are a CHRO of a company in 1994, you never thought about diversity hiring probably, right?
That’s a crime, literally a crime, but it’s now in a good way like much more top of mind for folks. My point is that the responsibilities have swelled with expectations for your senior most people executive. Do you think that they are still set up for success or should this role be further broken out?
[0:24:55.9] TS: It’s a fair question and I would say that the individuals who were CHROs a couple of decades ago, look, they were incredible. That is an incredibly important role back then as well. What they were prioritizing was necessary at that time and, yes, massive evolution that’s happened, some out of our control and some that we wanted to drive. I believe that what is happened is its just become more and more important, less and less negotiable to pay attention to, to have an answer for, and to engage your employee base in these important topics.
As we start where we started, the role of a manager. It is not okay to just be okay at your job as a manager. There’s expectation, there is people who are depending on you. There is energy we have to lift of our teams that sometimes are tired, they want to be seen more fully.
You mentioned diversity and inclusion, it is not a negotiable anymore. People, talent decide what companies are going to go to based on the sense of inclusion and belonging that individuals will talk to you about an interview process or even as you do a little bit of your own architectural dig around that company, what you find about what is truly being lived. That’s not negotiable.
Then, I think this response to how we’re caring for people in this pandemic-endemic, they really know and should come to expect that the company sees them and keeps them at the heart of all they do and even while things might be tough that we take time to understand where you’re at, how are you feeling, and how do we help you do your best work? Those things, I would say, to me, more and more, are non-negotiable.
Now, do I think things should be broken out? I don’t know because I’ll give you an example. That places strategy that I talked to you about, where people are doing their work, how they are doing their work. What used to be flexibility as a competitive differentiator is a necessity. It is how it’s working, so then if the next layer up is not flexibility but is understanding personal choice, how do I honor that personal choice while still keeping you engaged and experiencing the culture?
The intersection is places and culture. Some people might say, “Well, hand places over,” but no, it’s how and when and where people experience the culture. It is where we get to live our values and, for that, I’d want to keep that connected to and a part of the Chief People Officer’s strategy. So, there’s a lot to it for sure. I don’t yet see the real abstraction or a separation of some of the core remit of a Chief People Officer.
What I would say is we are more and more engaging with our communities to help us do that work. If you think about, in a talent acquisition world, how important a hiring manager’s social media profile plays to help people understand what it would be like to work for that person, what it’s like to be on that person’s team? We can bring them into some of that work or in the culture or places strategy establishing what we did here at ForgeRock, which is a culture club.
So, a set of individuals who play a role of ambassador. Do they have leadership roles? Yes. Are they strong experts in their space? Yes, and they can wear multiple hats to include thinking of individual contributors, thinking of lower tenured employees, higher tenured employees, and help us really build and codify a culture that people would aspire to be a part of.
That is a culture club, we can involve them. It doesn’t have to be a people officer program. It can be a company program and so we are getting more and more thoughtful about ways to share in the work because it is important to everybody, because, without our people, we can’t achieve what we want to achieve as a company.
[0:28:41.7] RS: The ascent to the C-level is, in a lot of ways, an assumed ambition for folks that, “Oh, this is the upper echelon of your function,” whatever your job is, right? That you can just sort of chart that to the top of your department. For you though, I’m guessing it wasn’t assumed, right? It wasn’t just about, “Oh, I want the prestige, I want the influence, and responsibility, and the paycheck,” because just everything I know about you so far, you are such a thoughtful person about development and growth. I’m guessing it wasn’t an assumed ambition for you. At what point in your career did you decide this was right for you and why?
[0:29:20.5] TS: Yeah, it is a fair question and I will tell you, for me, so much of what was driving me day in and day out was feeling compelled by the company I was working for because I wanted to believe in what we were doing for and with our customers. I felt like I would be inauthentic if I didn’t believe in the company. I also really wanted to always enjoy whom I was working with and I wanted to be challenged.
Then, I believed if I put my head down and did great work, good things would happen for, by, and with me. It was probably a couple of decades into my career where I also started to realized that I could step into bigger and bigger leadership positions in service of setting really compelling strategies and making progress on really hard topics and improving things for, ultimately, who I was going to hand my legacy to.
That became really compelling. When I ultimately, probably midway through my career, had both, I continued to do what I am doing and do more of it and do it in bigger environments, do it with more and more senior leaders, or really set my sights on that Chief People Officer role. When I ultimately was able to win that position, I realized that that care and concern, that growth mindset that I had, the desire to develop and support talent, not only could I do that with my team but I could now be a facilitator for the company.
That became a motivator of like, “Wow, this is the thing that you can do not only for your team, Tschudy, but for the company.”
[0:30:53.3] RS: That’s a fantastic answer and this has been a great episode, Tschudy. I’ve loved meeting with you, so thank you for your candor and for coming to this conversation with your zeal and all of your thoughtfulness. I’ve loved learning from you today, so at this point I would just say, thank you once again for being here. This has been a delight.
[0:31:08.7] TS: Thank you, Rob. Thank you for having me. It’s been a ton of fun.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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