Searchlight kicked off our Light After Dark event series in style with a panel on Leadership and Ethics in uncertain times and how people leaders can help guide companies through. If you joined us either in person or virtually, thank you for spending some of your valuable time with us. We hope you learned something new, enjoyed our speakeasy, and will come back for more next time! If you missed it, read on to learn some of the key takeaways that our brilliant panelists shared.
The panel included:
- Moderator Cara Brennan Allamano, Chief People Officer at Lattice
- Tracy Williams, Chief People & Diversity Officer at New Relic
- Jevan Soo Lenox, Chief People Officer at insitro
- Erin Faverty, Operating Partner at PeopleTech Partners
The discussion centered around how the four of them have responded to the big changes in their jobs over the last three years created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the renewed social justice movement, the accompanying mental health crisis among employees, economic pressures, and the war in Ukraine. It was an authentic conversation without pretense that had our attendees laughing, nodding, and overall connected over shared realities. Here are some highlights from the conversation.
People Leaders Must Tackle Big Human Questions
Several panelists talked about a shift from feeling like they were in an optimizing role pre-pandemic to grappling with big human questions (that they were not necessarily qualified to answer) in the last three years. Before, their assignment might have been how to take a values-driven company from good to great. Now, they have had to figure out how to steer their employees through a global pandemic, racial justice issues, the threat of a continent-spanning war and more. Tracy Williams talked about being excited by the new challenge that this presented, and emphasized the importance of differentiating between what people leaders could control, and what was beyond their control. She emphasized how she views her role as being a Business Leader with a people focus, and how she’s found herself being more human-focused over time.
Jevan added that people in culture issues now feel “truly essential to the business” compared with three years ago. “You’re not just at the table, you’re probably carving the turkey!” No longer being kept an arms-length or two from the front-line issues of the company was exciting, but also hard and he admitted that the stakes felt very high.
Navigating Uncertainty is About the Process, Not the Result
The panelists’ advice for working with such high levels of uncertainty was to be clear and transparent about the process used to make decisions. Jevan emphasized that your decision will always make someone mad, so your goal should be to get them to acknowledge that your process was valid (even if they disagree with the result). Tracy added that making the entire company aware of the decision-making process helps build trust. Everyone agreed that the process requires more empathy and more understanding of what different stakeholders need.
A Close Relationship with the CEO is Vital
Cara pointed out that as you advance in HR, you go from having many different colleagues and managers to collaborate and share ideas with, to having just one: the CEO. Erin noted that the last three years have shown that values and principles are everyone’s business, not just the people team’s, and she pointed out the value of having a servant leader mindset.
Jevan’s approach to working with the CEO and board of directors is to emphasize that the problems the company is facing are messy and difficult, not get too caught up in their individual reactions to them (understand that they’re people with flaws like the rest of us!) and assure them that you can walk the company through these issues in a principled way. Everyone agreed that employees are putting more pressure on organizations to be transparent, and people leaders should prepare to defend their processes and machinery to the company or to the public at large. Even if they aren’t asked to do this, it’ll help ensure they’re acting ethically.
Future-Looking Advice for the CPO?
Tracy: “We can’t stand up and fight every fight. You have to figure out what you’ll stand for, and be really thoughtful about if you can really stand up for it. We need to keep mental health in the forefront of our minds and have real discussions about the impacts of everything we are experiencing today.”
Cara: “My dream is to have brilliant minds come in to work on the people side of the business! We suffered from a lot of “uncoolness” for a long time.”
Tracy: “To communicate business value, you need to understand your business in a deep way.”
Jevan: “(Our) orientation is to drive business impact through the lens of business and culture.”
As always, Light After Dark is a community hub by People People, for People People. We hope you’ll join us next time!