PEER 150 Executive Interview
Girl Scouts of the USA
Q. Can you give an overview of your background and how you became the Chief People Officer at Girl Scouts of the USA?
I have 25 years of experience in business and human resources leadership in particular. I started off on the profit side for GE Capital, a bond insurance business. Shortly after, I went into non-profit. I have spent most of my career in non-profit. I have been really privileged to have a great foundation on the profit side working for the very leading edge, GE Conglomerate. It taught me so much around business and leadership in general. When I made the move over to Human Resources, I learned from some of the best of the best. I took that learning with me to the non-profit side and again was just privileged to work for whole variety non-profit organizations. I’ve built HR from the ground floor and took it global at the international AIDS vaccine initiative; I worked for another iconic brand, The American Red Cross, where I served as the Chief People Officer and I’ve done non-profit consulting.
The most recent role here at the Girls Scouts as the Chief People Officer for this national organization has brought all of those experiences, and the entire journey to bear. I have had a passion for a long time around getting folks to the next level and figuring out how to stretch and grow and work outside of our boxes and comforts zones. Although I work in HR, I say I am a business leader first, HR leader second. It is one of the reasons why I founded Who’s Got Next in HR. WGNHR is a membership organization very much designed to help people figure out what’s next. Even if that means what’s next is outside of HR, that’s fine or if it’s inside of HR and you want to get to the C-suite, the top seat, or the CEO seat, we focus on different ways to help people get there.
I have a personal passion and drive to grow talent and to get the next level and help people find out what that means for them. I spend my day job doing that for a pretty cool organization working and supporting the 21st century girl.
Q. Can you provide an overview of your company, specifically your HR department?
The worldwide movement of the Girl Scouts is headquartered in New York. We’re around 300 employees including full time and part time. We are national office for the Girl Scouts and so the rest of the organization is comprised of 112 councils across the nation. In HR, I have a 14-person team and it’s pretty much focused on three big buckets:
- Talent Acquisition: Getting talent in the door and using our employer brand…our powerful brand to do that.
- Talent Management and Learning: Which is all of the culture, learning and development work. This happens once people are here. We build and strengthen skills, and sharpen tools through this work.
- Total Rewards: This work involves putting together the best and the most competitive package to serve as the value exchange for someone who would be attracted to and stay with the organization. It is also where we house a new function: workforce analytics.
So talent acquisition, talent management, and learning and total rewards are part of the 14-person team.
Q. What do you think your biggest challenge is as the Chief People Officer?
I think the biggest challenge is probably our ability to use data strategically (i.e. workforce analytics) so that it not only helps us to analyze trends and report on them, but to make predictions around our talent. Who is most likely to stay? Who is most likely to leave? Where are our vulnerabilities across the organization in terms of bench strength in our critical roles? What are the most effective sources? What are the greatest yields for some of our sources when it comes to talent acquisition and where we recruit from? So using data strategically to not just be analytical in our decision making, but to help forecast and assess trends before they become trends. It’s probably our biggest challenge but we are on that path and I am really excited about it!
Q. What are the dynamics of your team, specifically when it comes to age and experience in the non-profit industry?
Actually, we are seeing more millennials being interested in joining the organization. They bring a different skill set and we’re having to really flex our muscles differently as managers and leaders in terms of engaging millennials and retaining them. We’re having some successes and learning opportunities as well, but we are seeing more millennials come than we ever have. It’s no surprise. They are reported to make up about 75% of the work force in 2025. We are beginning to see that influx as we think about those who are attracted to the organization as we recruit.
Q. Can you share your performance review processes? Do you see a difference in people’s reactions to them?
Yes, we do performance reviews. We encourage ongoing all year around feedback and conversations between managers and staff. We try to make that process more organic and part of the fabric of how they engage the talent of the organization on a regular basis. We have a formal end-of-the-year process. We find that the younger generations are more focused on feedback and looking at whether or not there is some career path for them here. So, the traditional job description doesn’t quite work for that population. I think those individuals are looking for more fluid and flexible, approaches to the same job and how we create those jobs to develop them, so it’s a win-win. I think this is one of the things we are trying to figure out as we go along. Some of that means just different titles and different job responsibilities that are much more attuned to the kind of skill sets that folks bring to the table – and less rigid about how we get a particular job done.
Q. Do you have a seat at the board table?
I work on staffing the committee for the board which is the Executive Development and Compensation Committee. That committee is made of board members from the national board. It was originally called the Executive Compensation Committee. We found several months ago, as I was partnering with the board, that it was important to be just as focused on developing the executive level talent of the organization as we were on the compensation aspects. That’s when the name changed to the Executive Development and Compensation Committee. It’s a committee that is focused on holding senior executives accountable for talent, and staying laser focused on the kinds of talent that are attracted to the organization. It’s important to know whether or not we are holding onto to them effectively or whether or not we are experiencing what we would describe as ‘regrettable turnover’ that could have been avoided. Regrettable turnover is losing talent that we would have otherwise wanted to hold onto in critical roles and high performing talent, etc. This Board Committee also helps us to stay focused on our risks: Where do we have bench strength? If someone were to leave in a critical role, do we have a succession plan? Is there capacity in those areas or not? What is the general health of our culture? What are we doing about strengthening our culture and making it the type of thriving organization where people want to come…and to stay? This Board Committee is very much all in and very much holding us accountable for those kinds of things – all things talent related at a board governance level which is great. Yes, I do have a seat there.
Q. What do you consider your leadership style and approach to be?
That’s a great question because I believe strongly in leadership. I think it’s one of the highest callings that a person can have in an organization where you are trusted with leading and shaping a strategy as well as influencing and motivating people to achieve it. For me, it’s completely hand and glove with strategy – whether that strategy is growth for the organization or any other organizational strategy. It’s the secret sauce in my mind for why an organization is successful and why it’s not. Leadership is everything from how I make decisions to the kinds of decisions I spend my time focused on. It involves making the tough decisions that need to be made and the data needed to figure out how to make those decisions. It’s your ability to be a truth teller…to be able to call things as they are happening in an organization, bring the truth to life and be able to make decisions based on real information or taboo topics often avoided. You cannot be a conflict avoider as a leader. I believe in being authentic and being true to who you are, personally and professionally so people see the real you and are inspired hopefully by what you do and what you say and what you bring to the table. Goals can be happily and regularly accomplished not just because people want to stay employed but because they are motivated to do something bigger than themselves. Transformational leadership is important as well. I think it’s really hand and glove with any strategy within an organization and when the leadership is strong, decisive, authentic, and transformational, I think there is no limit to what that company or organization can do. The opposite is true as well.
Q. What advice would you give for incoming generations looking for a career in Human Resources?
I often think about the younger me. I think about what would I do differently. If I had to rewind, if I could rewind, what would I do differently? What would I encourage other people to do or to focus on? Two things come to mind: One is to keep your entrepreneurial hat on. That doesn’t necessarily mean building your own business from the ground up. It does mean thinking broadly, and differently, and creatively, and innovatively about whatever it is you are there to do. Always approach your job as if it is a start-up, as if there are endless possibilities for how you might be able to perform a set of responsibilities. Be resourceful and, as I said, creative in how you approach your job. Think like an entrepreneur. Think like a business owner. Even if you are on the inside of an organization, I think you add tremendous value when you approach your job that way. The other thing is I encourage all folks in any profession across any business, and certainly in HR, to be very much as I said at the beginning of this interview, business leaders first and functional leaders second. For me, what that means if you are in finance is – be a business leader first and finance leader second. It means being broad. Don’t approach things out of a silo or out of a functional expertise. Get yourself involved in projects and initiatives that have absolutely nothing to do with your field. Be bigger than what your field expects you to do or be and I think you will not only add value, but you will be much more well-rounded. You’ll be able to speak different languages across the organization. Everything from reading a balance sheet to understanding the challenges of diversifying revenue, if that is what your company is worried about. You will be at that table and be invited to that particular table well outside of your area of expertise and that’s the highest compliment anyone can give you because they see you as more than just necessarily ‘the HR person’. So those are the two greatest pieces of advice I would say to anyone that is considering entering the field.