Velocity Global Chief People Officer Sarah Fern

Sarah Fern Chief People Officer

In this episode, we are having a very exciting in-person conversation with the Chief People Officer of Velocity Global, Sarah Fern. You’ll hear all about Sarah’s career, her first time as a Chief People Officer, what it’s like when HR and talent teams work together, and how you can wind up on the wrong side of the business. Under no circumstances can you be passive in your pursuits, and today, Sarah shares how you can shape your life and be the CEO of your own career! We also discuss how to challenge excessive meetings and protect your time (even in a less senior position), and empowering yourself to take care of your mental health. Sarah tells us about the incredible scaling of her company before breaking down her team and what their roles are. Finally, she leaves us with some incredible pearls of wisdom on how to advance your career.

Episode Transcript


[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.


[0:00:59] RS: Welcome, welcome, all of you wonderful recruiters out there in podcast land, to what is a very special edition of Talk Talent To Me. It’s special, because my guest today, I am seeing in full three-dimensional glory. You may think that I’m about to go on a long spiel about the metaverse and the state of avatars, but I am not. My guest here is in the flesh, IRL, in real life, joining me all the way from the UK. She is here with me in Denver. I’m so pleased about it. Sarah Fern, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Velocity Global. First of all, welcome to my home. Second of all, welcome to my podcast.

[0:01:45] SF: Thank you, Rob. It’s a pleasure to be here in your home.

[0:01:48] RS: It’s such a delight. Thank you for seeing through the little weirdness of our first business partnership being in my actual house. You are normally based in the UK. You’re traveling this week, and it just so worked out that you’re going to be in Denver. I thought, okay, well, why not flip on the microphones here in-person, like the days of old, like I used to do. I never would do podcasts remote. Every single podcast I used to do was in person, because I believe it lends for better conversation. I still do believe that.

Needs must, Right? I don’t know if y’all out there listen to the news, but there was that whole thing for those couple years with the masks and the shots and the staying inside. We wound up doing it remote and we will still do it remote, because it’s so convenient. I am so pleased that I’m getting this opportunity to do it with you. Thank you once again, Sarah. What brings you to Denver, first of all? What are you up to with work this week?

[0:02:37] SF: Velocity Global is a work anywhere company. We have team members in 52 countries. It’s really rare to be together face-to-face. This week, I have an amazing opportunity to meet a lot of my team members in person. Many of them have joined the company during the time of the masks and the shots. We’ve not all met, so this is an incredible week of actually, having a lot of face-to-face time with team members.

[0:03:07] RS: Was it strange during the onboarding with these folks in a remote capacity? What does this getting together in person for the first time mean in those cases?

[0:03:15] SF: I think, it means getting stuff done. I think it means having honest conversations, and hopefully, building those relationships and the trust. They have a bit of time. When we are over Zoom, you have 30 minutes, you have 45 minutes. There’s always that deadline. You’ve got to rush through things. We get to have dinner together this week. We got to have a bit of social time together. I think, that’s something that really gets lost obviously. I’m really looking forward to that.

[0:03:47] RS: The 30-minute constraint, I think, hurts on both sides of the equation, where sometimes you wish there was more time. Sometimes you wish there was less. Long gone is the seven-minute meeting, where I might roll past your desk and decide, “Oh, Sarah doesn’t look like she’s too-too busy. I can interrupt her and say, hey, Sarah. Do you have a quick minute?” We can have a conversation, work gets done. I move on. There’s no calendar invites. There’s no Zoom links. There is just work happening spontaneously. For remote works, many benefits. I do feel like that is one thing that we have lost. Do you find that to be a challenge, too?

[0:04:23] SF: I mean, you challenging me if I did evolved, because I’d forgotten about those days. You’re right. Whoever said that you had to talk for 30 minutes? Whoever said that it’s going to take you exactly 30 minutes to go through all your stuff? That spur of the moment, that organic conversation, it’s been replaced by something artificial. It is so right.

[0:04:47] RS: The 30-minute thing is interesting, because a lot of those meetings that I’m in, they start with people saying, “Okay, so I don’t think we’ll need to take the full-time.” Are you familiar with this phenomenon, where when you add another lane to motor way, a highway, thinking it’ll alleviate traffic. What it results in is just more cars on the road. If you have 30 minutes to fill, you will use 30 minutes to fill. When people are like, “Let’s not use the whole time,” we ended up at 24 to 27 minutes. That’s the minimum time back you’re getting in your day. It’s arbitrary and inorganic. I’m glad to hear that you are seeing the other side of that here in person.

We’ve jumped in here with some just opining on remote work. I do want to set a little context about you, Sarah. Would you mind sharing about your background and how you wound up in your current role?

[0:05:36] SF: It will be my pleasure, Rob. My career goes a little while back. I started out, I left university and started in a revenue role. My role was to talk to HR leaders about their technology needs, or lack of technology and the challenges they were having. I was effectively selling a tech platform, HR tech platform at that time. I would spend all my days talking to HR leaders about their lives, and took about a year or so for me to go, “Hold on, I’m in the wrong job. This is so interesting. I want to be one of those.”

I then transitioned into a HR role, people team role with Honeywell. Spend a few years there. Then also, work with Mattel, the toy company. Spent a few years there. Then I ended up with a tech company, a tech company that is now Cornerstone OnDemand and spent the next eight and a half years in that environment, going through tons of acquisitions and mergers. That journey led me to where I am today. I actually became a client of Velocity Global many moons ago. I was doing some business in Mexico and Brazil, and I needed a helping hand locally. I came across Velocity Global. I’m happy to talk about that a little bit more in detail. yeah, that’s how I ended up here. Revenue to HR, and it’s as interesting as on day one.

[0:07:04] RS: May I ask you a little bit about your time working on all those mergers and acquisitions? Specifically, what tends to happen to HR and talent teams when there are presumably two of these teams that are now being joined together? Redundancies are almost assured all across the business. I’m curious specifically, what was your experience? What did you notice about how talent teams and HR teams fared in those sorts of situations?

[0:07:30] SF: Lots of learning. My future self would be grateful to get some advice on that. What I’ve learned, Rob, is that you should take the best of the best and you should put it together. What I’ve seen, what I’ve done myself, I’ve been in those situations over the years is that you make assumptions before you’ve even gotten to know the other side. Maybe you make an assumption that we’ve got everything here. We don’t need anything else. Have you checked up the people? Have you spoken to them? Is that assumption the right one? I wish, I’d known that, because I had to lose a lot of really good people, just because they happen to be on the wrong side of the business. It’s not a good place to be in. Was that the right decision for the business? Not always.

[0:08:18] RS: How does one wind up on the wrong side of the business?

[0:08:21] SF: If you’re being acquired. I’m on the side where my business is being acquired by someone else. They make a decision and say, “We don’t need an HR team. We already have one. We’re not going to bother talking to any of them and seeing if they have different skills, better skills, something different to offer. We’ll just make them all redundant.” You just happen to be on the wrong side and you haven’t contributed to that. You haven’t had a say in it.

[0:08:48] RS: If you are finding yourself in that position as a recruiter, or HR, what would you do? I mean, there’s a lot of differences and it depends on the specific example. I fear that people will go through this thing at some point in their career. Is there writing on the wall? Should they start looking immediately? If you are not in a leadership position maybe, how would you handle that reality?

[0:09:12] SF: I love that question. What I have learned over the years is that you can shape your life. You can shape the future. Sometimes, you just have to see that and understand that if you declare yourself out and start looking for another job, it’s almost a staff of fulfilling prophecy, because you’ve already left the building. You’ve already disengaged. I have seen people joining the other side. I’ve seen people make a big difference there. They’ve put their hand up simply and said, “I’m here. This is what I bring to the table. This is what I’d like to do for you in the company. I think I can add some value.” Could be as simple as that one conversation.

The door to the conversation is open. You have that. You explore, you see when there’s an opportunity. I would say, be bold. Have that conversation. Don’t assume that the door has already closed.

[0:10:05] RS: Or that it might remain open, right? I think that’s great advice to take a little bit of action to be proactive and really kick some doors down and find out what the truth of the situation is. Because if you push hard enough, you may find someone who’s willing to tell you, “Listen, I shouldn’t tell you this, but it’s probably not looking good. If I were you, I would XYZ.” The alternative to finding that out is just waiting and hoping. Any situation in your career, I think it’s probably good to be pushing that rock uphill a little bit.

[0:10:39] SF: Don’t be passive. That would be my advice. If you sit there and you’re passive, what is the other side going to see? Nothing.

[0:10:48] RS: Someone who they can fire easily. Yeah.

[0:10:49] SF: Yeah. Someone who sits there and they haven’t contributed any value. They haven’t maybe said anything meaningful, haven’t brought any new ideas to the table. Now, may not always be welcomed, it may not be asked. But if you have something valuable to contribute, go and try. Go and try. It is very rare that the door doesn’t open at that point. You don’t know everything about the other side. Maybe the other side is dealing with some performance issues. Maybe someone just resigned on their team, but they haven’t been able to tell anyone. Maybe you are the perfect person to fill their shoes. Unless you ask, unless you show interest, they will never know. You will never know.

[0:11:31] RS: Yeah. This organization doesn’t know anything about you. They’re going to know what your boss, or boss’s boss says. Hopefully, that’s good. Hopefully, they’re an advocate for you and have your back, but you can’t always rely on that.

[0:11:42] SF: That’s one thing I’ve learned, Rob. You are a name on the spreadsheet. I’ve been in these meetings where you plot, you bring two organizations together, the word synergies comes to mind. You may sit there with the investors for a few days, locked into the room, making the synergy numbers work. You’re looking at spreadsheets. You’re looking at names on spreadsheets. You may be going on LinkedIn to find out a little bit more about the people. You may have an opportunity to talk to some managers. Sometimes the window of opportunity is so small, sometimes you need to make decisions on the close of the acquisition. How are you going to prepare for that situation? How are you going to make the best decisions? Because you just have a name on a spreadsheet? It’s difficult.

[0:12:29] RS: Yeah. Wow, that really put it in context for me. The only way you elevate yourself from a name on a spreadsheet, about whom a quick decision is made, is by having the conversations you outlined a moment ago. That’s good advice. For people who find themselves in that scenario, I think, yeah, like you said, don’t be passive. I do want to get to your current role as well. You had this experience, Mattel, you mentioned, a long time in mergers and acquisitions elsewhere, you mentioned. When you came to Velocity Global, did you come in as the Chief Human Resources Officer?

[0:13:04] SF: Yes, I did.

[0:13:05] RS: Was that your first CHRO stunt?

[0:13:07] SF: Yes, it was. 18 months ago, almost to the day.

[0:13:11] RS: What did you find was new and hard about being elevated into the CHRO position?

[0:13:18] SF: This company that I joined, Velocity Global, was quite a different beast. I will explain myself here. I’d worked for a very big company. Honeywell, super big. Mattel, super big. Then it went smaller and smaller. Velocity Global is the smallest company I’ve worked for. For the record, we have close to 900 employees. We are in 52 countries. It was that global beast. It was their global complexity. Coming into a smaller company. You asked me, what was different and what was new? The impact you can have. Because joining this smaller company, you can immediately drive impact from day one. You don’t have to batter of all the bureaucracies, or the processes, because we’re a bit leaner, we’re a bit more agile, because we can. We’re an eight-year-old startup, Denver-based. It’s so much fun. I didn’t expect it to be so much fun. Truly.

[0:14:14] RS: I love to hear that. What were some of the unforeseen challenges maybe?

[0:14:18] SF: I think, navigating in a truly global work anywhere setup. I’d worked. I’ve had global leadership roles for the last decade or so. International presence. You don’t see each other. The remoteness was already part of my life, but not necessarily across 52 countries. The six continents that we need to cover, the time zones, you’ve got to be really organized. You’ve got to have boundaries. You’ve got to just be willing to throw the playbook out of the window and start again with your diary and probably, stop and pause every quarter and go, “Am I still doing the right thing?”

Because there were days when I would – I made a pledge when I joined Velocity Global. I said, I want to meet everyone face-to-face, one-on-one. I want to meet everyone. I want to hear from people. I want to have their feedback. What’s working? What’s a challenge? Get all these data points. You would find yourself easily on 17 back-to-back Zoom calls. You get to the end of the week and you go, “I’m not a human being anymore. It’s not sustainable.” I haven’t taken a breath. I haven’t been thinking about any of the conversations, any of the things I’ve been listening to. You have to be willing to just learn again.

Working for a truly global company across all continents, you’re continuously learning, and you’ve got to listen to what you’re learning, and go, “Okay, how can I do it differently? How can I do it better?” That was a huge, huge learning. Having come from a global and remote work nature, diving into this, just to be really open-minded, and pivot as needed. Go to sleep as needed.

[0:16:01] RS: In that situation, where you find yourself with 17 back-to-back Zoom calls, are these meetings you wanted to have, things you wanted to work on? Or is there a tendency for your calendar, like the proverbial motorway, or 30-minute zoom call, is there a tendency for it just to fill itself up?

[0:16:18] SF: I should say that today, 18 months into the job, I no longer have 17 back-to-back Zoom calls. I think, it was that initial excitement of, I have to know everyone. I want to make a difference, and to meet everyone really quickly. I still challenge myself to this day, do I need to have this call? Does it need to be 30 minutes? I’m playing around with, could it be 20 minutes? Do you get the same amount done? Could it be an email? Could it be a video message? Really play around with what is the purpose of that call.

One of the things I’m still not really great at, but I’m challenging myself, why can’t I take that call for a walk? Because when you sit there day in, day out, it’s not all that healthy. Once you’ve built the relationships, you’ve built the trust, and maybe this is a meeting where you don’t need to show the screen. Could I just go and take my phone for a walk? The times I’ve done that, it’s a better meeting. I listen more. I’m completely present. Don’t check emails whilst I’m listening to someone. Don’t check the time. I’m just there.

I think, again, the message here is there isn’t a playbook for this remote work anywhere world. You’ve got to continuously challenge yourself and go, is this sustainable? Mental health, work-life balance, boundaries, being at your best game, and you work for a startup around the globe in this setup, you’ve got to be at the top of your game. How do you achieve that? How are you your best self? It’s work every single day.

[0:17:56] RS: How can you protect your time more if you are less senior? You maybe have an ability to say no to meetings, right? If you are a recruiter, a senior recruiter at director level, you may not have that luxury, how can you protect your time better in those cases?

[0:18:11] SF: I love your question. I was that person. Of course, I was that person. It starts with your leader. Do they give you permission? Do they allow you to challenge? Do they allow you the opportunity to say, actually, what’s the agenda? How long do we need? Could this be a walking meeting? Do you mind if I take my phone for a walk? Having that two-way dialogue, I think is really important. I think that’s one. The other thing that I always say to people new on my team is I say I cannot give you work-life balance on a plate. In other words, I’m not going to knock on your front door and give you work-life balance.

I was sitting there for years, waiting for someone to knock on my door, giving me a better work-life balance. It didn’t happen. It never did. You have to be the type of person who goes, okay, it is on me. Only I can make it happen. What am I going to put in place every day to allow myself to breathe, to step away? Maybe there are a lot of meetings. One of the things we’ve done on the people team I work with now, we protected some Fridays. We call it Zoom-free Fridays. There may be other words for it. So you can actually get stuff done, because this is the other thing that happens. The more meetings you have, the less productive you are, because you just sit on calls. When do you actually follow up on the stuff? When do you think about what you’ve just learned, what you need to do? Putting it all together. I think, it’s that just keep an open dialogue and really figure out, how do we get to the end product, and it isn’t always a Zoom call.

[0:19:44] RS: You really dropped a truth bomb there with, no one’s going to serve you work-life balance on a plate. It’s so true. You have to advocate for yourself, because your boss, your co-workers, your boss’s boss, they don’t see the scope of your responsibility typically, and how much time that’s taking you, what sacrifices you’re making in your life outside of your work to accommodate that, they’re not going to intuitively know. Most aren’t going to bother to ask, because they need you to do work. If you are getting the work done, they’re not going to look too closely Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right? We’re really mixing our aphorisms here.

The point is, it’s interesting that maybe it isn’t your boss’s responsibility to give you work-life balance. It’s your responsibility to cry uncle a little bit and say, “Hey, I am overwhelmed with meetings. I cannot get my job done. If you expect me to be in this reporting call and this weekly check-in and this stand-up, and on and on and on and on, when am I meant to do my work?” Then maybe, like you said, it starts with the leader, then they give you permission to say no to things, or to turn your video off, or what have you.

This is a little bit of a theme now, with be proactive. If you wait for the company to give you what you need, you may wait a long time. What do you think is the responsibility of a company who maybe is much more thoughtful, more mindful of their employees’ mental health and development? Do you think it’s reasonable to expect a company to provide that? Do good companies provide that, or it should always be up to the employee?

[0:21:15] SF: I think, it needs to be a balance. I think, the company’s job is to start the conversations. We’ve introduced a range of courageous conversations, where we talk about mental health. We talk about a lot of things that may be uncomfortable for people. The reason why we do that, Rob, is we want people to start thinking about these topics. How does it relate to my life? Maybe I need to talk about something. Maybe I need to open up. Maybe I hear that someone else is struggling with something IT. I’m struggling with that, too. The advice they’ve given, or what they’ve implemented in life could be useful for myself.

Let’s start having this courageous conversations, because we are all in the same boat. I’m telling you as the chief people officer here at Velocity Global, life can be terrible, when you are just sitting there on Zoom call after Zoom call after Zoom call after Zoom call. It gets really unhealthy. There was one moment and I shared it with the whole company. It’s a running joke. There was such an overwhelming week, where I didn’t have time to cook dinner. I dumped from the Zoom call into the kitchen cupboard, got a box of Flapjack cookies. Then I had them under the desk. Being back on the Zoom call, just meant on mute, to eat, went off camera for a couple of minutes here and there. That was my dinner.

Then I put it in the bin just under me. Then the next morning, I came back to the desk and I saw this package of biscuits, and it was a real eye-opener. What are you doing with your life? That was your dinner. It’s not nutritious. It’s not healthy. Just, what are you doing? I share that, because we’ve got to watch ourselves. We’ve got to know ourselves and go, “Hold on. This is an unhealthy sign. How can I do better for myself?” The answer to your question needs to be somewhere in the middle. As companies, we need to give permission, we need to have this conversation, so people know, she is pretty normal. Our CHR does it. She shares. We share. We all talk about.

What are the boundaries? What are the permissions? I come back to the earlier conversation, you can have all of that. You can have the best policies in the world. If you don’t implement it here in your house, it’s never going to happen. The company enables you have to take the time and take the space. Then you’ve got to take it. You know when people say, “Please empower me. I want empowerment,” but they’re not prepared to take it. This is one of those. You need to then empower yourself. That’s the next step. Without that, that jog doesn’t happen. That healthy salad doesn’t make itself. You’ve got to make it happen.

Whether that’s booking it into the calendar, or preparing the night before, or taking your phone for a walk, or going, “Do I need this meeting? Can we not get three people together, than having three one-on-ones to talk about the same thing?” Just look at your calendar. Every Monday, every night before the next day and go, “Does tomorrow make sense?” Is tomorrow still relevant?

If I booked something, and I have a busy schedule, so maybe something lands in my calendar three weeks in advance. Maybe it’s a on a Wednesday. I look at it on a Monday and I go, “Mm-mm. This week, this is what’s going on. This is what the focus needs to be.” Don’t be afraid to make changes, because only you will know what your priorities are, your business priorities. Don’t be afraid to make changes, because we are slaves to our calendars. It doesn’t always make sense. Not always the smartest thing. Keep looking, keep checking, keep pivoting would be my advice to everyone out there.

[0:24:52] RS: It’s great advice, to look for the biscuit container in the bin of your own life. What is that example for you? It could be, “Oh no. I looked at my screen and report and it said that I was on TikTok for three and a half hours yesterday,” one example. Or, the back-to-back meetings. I’ve allowed my entire day to be filled up with these meetings. Do they actually align with the goals I set with my boss at the beginning of the quarter? That check in is constant. Yeah, you’re right. The best policies, the best resources provided, you still have to reach out and take it. Check-in with yourself, people, I guess, is what I’m saying. Look for those items in your life that you can iron out.

I do want to hear a little bit about Velocity Global and just where you are right now in terms of the scale of the company, and how that’s impacting you and your people team.

[0:25:37] SF: Rob, and I walked through the door at Velocity Global 18 months ago. We had 11 team members on the people team. Now, they are 52. We have tripled the size of the entire company. We’ve gone from 17 countries globally to 52. That’s quite an intense 18 months, and huge learnings for everyone. What do we need for the future? How does it all fit together? Does our plan still make sense 18 months later? Lots of questions that keep me awake every night.

[0:26:13] RS: What is the size of the talent team at the moment?

[0:26:16] SF: Today, we have 52 people in 27 countries. We support close to 900 employees in 52 countries.

[0:26:27] RS: What is the makeup of the talent team? Are these sources, recruiters what kinds of roles are there?

[0:26:32] SF: We have four distinct functions in the people team. We have, of course, the talent acquisition function. There we have the sources, but we also have a big focus on brand and partnerships. Now, you’ve heard me say before that we work anywhere. That needs explaining a little bit, because that brings amazing opportunities to places in the world where maybe people didn’t have those opportunities before. They will say it, not everyone is on LinkedIn to find us either. What are the conversations? Who do you need to talk to? What are the partnerships, maybe sponsorships, even [inaudible 0:27:10] in communities around various countries? How do you get in touch with people?

We have a number of refugees that we employ in the team. How do you find them? How do you get to the most remote places in the world to find talent? That is really, really important and as part of the talent acquisition function. Then of course, we have our people business partners that work with our leaders very closely on day-to-day items. We also have reimagined what you would typically know as the L&D team, right? That is our people enablement team. It is the job of the people enablement team to partner with the business and remove any obstacles that may stop people from being effective, successful.

That could include work anywhere excellence. We use the company’s advertising for head of remote jobs, that kind of thing. How are we going to smash it in this remote setup? What are the tips and tricks, so we don’t have 17 hours on Zoom? The fourth pillar for the people team at rustic over is our total rewards and people operations, people services analytics group. We really reimagining the system side, that processes. I mentioned earlier, we’ve tripled in size as a company. There’s a lot of things to think about and to consider. There’s a lot of things we need today that we didn’t need 18 months ago. Didn’t need three or four years ago, because we were still that startup. That team has just scaled up just so fast, because we need that expertise. Did I mention, they also have run paywall for 52 countries, which is no mean task, I can tell you.

[0:28:53] RS: What are some examples of the systems and processes that they needed to update, or replace, or put in, or install to begin with, right? As you mentioned, they weren’t necessary 18 months ago, but here we are.

[0:29:04] SF: Some of my colleagues in the people team, they know the days when there was 18 people at Velocity Global, or 47 people at Velocity Global. A lot of people love that startup mentality. It can be scrappy. It’s okay to be scrappy, because you’re a spilling edge. When you get to almost 900 and you have big and lofty ambitions for the future, you’ve got to have a bit more process. You’ve got to have a bit more thought that goes into, okay, how’s this scalable? When we get to a headcount of 5,000, how is this going to work? We already knew 18 months ago that some of the systems and processes, we’ve outgrown them. They were broken, for a better word.

Now, we’re redesigning and really looking at okay, how is it scalable? I’ll give you an example. You can onboard people manually. You can do a lot of things manually when it’s just a few of you. When you suddenly got 30 people coming in every week as newbies, across 52 countries in a remote set up, how are you going to scale that? We still today have a few jobs that are really, really very manual. We’re looking at those and we’re understanding what takes up all that manual time? What systems do we need in place to make it better? People can add value, because this is career development as well. Who wants to sit there for 30 hours? An engineer, or doctor of a port that goes to the executive leadership every week. Maybe the systems could do better to help us.

[0:30:35] RS: I see. When it’s time to replace a process that was perhaps manual, or that you’ve just outgrown, is it time to invest in technology? Is it time to make a hire? How do you typically attack that?

[0:30:47] SF: What I’ve seen here is we’ve invested in a lot of systems. I think, if I was to go back in time, I’d really take a moment and go, “Okay. Yes, we need systems.” What are the systems that may give us three or four things? We are now at a stage where we’ve invested in a lot of systems over the years, but do we have too many systems and maybe the systems aren’t talking to each other. We have such a great world out there today with systems and platforms, really do your homework. What will we need in a year? What will we need in two years? I see the companies around me who invest a lot of money and a lot of time and effort in implementing a new system. Then two years later, they’ve already outgrown it. It doesn’t fit them. Doesn’t work for them any longer. Doesn’t serve them.

Be very, very thoughtful. Where are we going as a company? What do we need? Is there a system that may be doing two or three things for us? Sometimes there isn’t. Maybe you’ll need best-in-class for recruitment, and that’s different for best-in-class performance, and that’s different to the best-in-class LMS. There’s been so much progress on that landscape. Really take your time and check it out, to talk to people in your networks, talk to other HR leaders and really understand, are we making the right investment? Is it a long-term investment?

[0:32:09] RS: Well, Sarah, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. You have given some tremendous advice throughout the last half hour or so. I’m going to ask you to give us a little bit more. For the folks out there, who are looking to advance in their career, take on leadership, take on more responsibility, what advice would you give them?

[0:32:30] SF: Rob, I love that question. Maybe it goes back to the earlier conversation. I like to say to my team that you are the CEO of your own career. It’s a little bit similar to that acquisition and merger situation. What you do shapes and defines your future. In other words, are you going to sit back and wait for a manager to knock on the door and say, “Here’s career development. Here’s a promotion. Here’s an opportunity?” Or are you going to take charge and say, “Actually, this is what I’d like to do. Do you have a project for me? This is what I don’t know yet. Is there any way I could acquire that knowledge? Could I shadow someone? Could I talk to someone? Is there maybe a mentor out there that I could get close to and work with?” You need to think about all of this.

The days are gone when there’s a linear career ladder. Those days are truly behind us. What is it that you want out of this career? Where do you go next? It isn’t always the shiny management title. I have seen many people reach those levels and go, “I don’t want to do that. I really don’t want to do that. I was really happy as an individual contributor. This is stressful, Sarah. I am having to deal with all the people problems now. No, thank you.”

Know yourself. What is it that sets your world on fire? What makes you happy? What gives you job satisfaction? Don’t find it. Who are the role models out there? Who do you want to talk to? Which networks do you want to belong to? This day and age offers you so many opportunities. It can’t just be a manager that knocks on the door and says, “You’re ready for promotion.” I’ve honestly not seen that in many, many years. That’s not the reality. Don’t look for it. Be the CEO of your own career, and never stop learning.

[0:34:16] RS: That is fantastic advice, Sarah. Thank you so much for being here. I have loved chatting with you here in my dining room today.

[0:34:22] SF: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, Rob, for having me.


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