IOD Feature: An interview with Taylor Ward
Taylor Ward is a Human Resources professional with nearly 10 years of experience supporting senior leaders and mid-level managers with a focus on leadership development, coaching, talent management, training and development, organizational design, performance management and change management. Starting her Human Resources career at Coca-Cola Refreshments as a HR Business Partner, Taylor now works for PulteGroup, Inc. as a Sr. HR Manager supporting 9 divisions over the Midwest and Northeast. Taylor holds a Master of Science in Human Resource Management and Organizational Change from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Science Recreation, Parks and Tourism with a Minor in Business Administration from the University of Florida. She is a member of SHRM – Chicago and a founding member of PINKK, a women’s professional networking group based in Chicago.
- What are the keys to success when helping organizations implement change?
TW: Organizational changes can vary in complexity and impact; however, I’d argue the process is always the same. You always want to start by understanding the purpose of the change and the desired outcome. You will need to identify the key stakeholders and create a feedback loop for them throughout the change process. It is important to lay out a change management plan, including identifying the stakeholders, a communication plan, timing, impact, risk and contingency plans.
Often, I think organizations underestimate the important of analyzing risk in changes. Having clear, concise and transparent communications is critical. You cannot overcommunicate. Leadership presence and visibility throughout the change can be very impactful. Also, establishing a feedback outlet is very effective, especially if it is a large change. Ensuring the leaders and managers understand the impacts of change for themselves as well as their employees is very important. After the change, having an after-action review debrief can help the change team evaluate what went well, what they can do better the next time and if there is any further action needed.
- What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started your professional career?
TW: Like most other Type A people, I brought my perfectionism to work with me. In some regards, wanting to deliver a flawless work product is a positive attribute; however, if it impacts your efficiency and stifles your creative contributions it becomes a big obstacle. I also wanted everyone I worked with to like me. I wasn’t comfortable making mistakes, telling people “no,” and failing was just not an option. I have learned over the years that some of our greatest learning comes from making mistakes and failing. Sometimes the 80% solution ends up being a better result, and as my mentor once told me, “if everyone likes you, then you aren’t doing your job.” In coaching people earlier in their careers, I see these same patterns and I try to convey some of the lessons I have learned; “perfect is the enemy of good,” striving towards being respected versus liked and the importance of failing forward.
- What does being an HR Business Partner mean to you?
TW: The most effective business partners I have seen are those that truly understand the business, their clients’ needs, challenges and what success looks like to them. They are also able to analyze trends in the business and use analytics and metrics to make decisions. They can then leverage that knowledge to truly partner with their clients and help them drive their business through an HR lens. When you are able to do that, you then become a pull to the business and can influence them on their talent strategies, performance management, organizational structure, compensation decisions, change initiatives, etc.
- Why is Performance Management a necessary component of your Talent Management Strategy?
TW: Performance Management is all about understanding your company’s priorities and aligning individual performance to drive those priorities. Understanding core competencies, setting performance expectations through goals and objectives, ongoing performance coaching conversations and a performance review and evaluation process are all key components of a strong performance management program. Performance Management is the necessary foundation to build your Talent Management strategy.
From a recruiting standpoint, it is helpful to know your company’s priorities and core competencies when creating an ideal candidate profile. From a development standpoint, you want to have a coaching and feedback process in place as both are critical when developing talent. Performance Management also helps with retention. Research shows that employees are more engaged when they have clear expectations and goals, receive regular feedback and coaching and have buy-in to that process. It can also help with succession planning and identifying top performers in your organization.
- As a “millennial” what do you value most in an organization?
TW: As a millennial and furthermore as a millennial woman, the most important experiences I value are being given opportunities to learn and grow, having a seat at the table with key decision makers and having my company invest in my future career goals.
I have been fortunate to have amazing managers, mentors and coaches in my career that have provided me with development and career advancement opportunities, as well as opportunities to lead and have a seat at the table. Those opportunities and advocates have been instrumental in my career growth. I truly value flexibility and empowerment to manage my day to day whether that be in the office, from home or somewhere remote. That flexibility drives my performance and engagement more so than recognition or financial rewards. I am not sure there is really a price one can attach to having flexible work options versus a strict 9 – 5 desk job.
- Why is being a lifelong learner important in today’s environment?
TW: We live in a constantly evolving and changing world; business continues to get more complex, our workforce more diverse, technology more advanced and customer demands are constantly increasing, especially with the impact of social media. Learning, growing and staying educated is more important than ever if you want to be able to successfully navigate our ever-evolving world. One of the most valuable qualities I find in both employees and leaders is curiosity. It can be difficult to ignite a desire to learn in someone. However, if you have someone who has a desire and passion to learn, you can teach them almost anything. When recruiting new talent or interviewing internally, I always try to discover how curious the candidate is and what they do from a continuous learning perspective. The most successful leaders I have worked with make learning a priority in their day to day lives; they are avid readers, follow business trends, listen to podcasts, and have a mentor or coach.
- What are some of the best ways for leaders to develop?
TW: Development is more than a plan on a piece of paper or in a Learning Management System (LMS). Ideally it should be something that is tangible and you can realistically execute. Some of the most effective ways that I have seen is to align on the core competencies in their current role or the role they aspire to have and conduct a gap analysis of where they currently stand against those competencies.
From there, build a plan with developmental experiences to support their gaps and leverage their strengths as it relates to the competencies. I encourage a focus towards on the job opportunities; such as leading another function, a stretch assignment, leading a cross functional project, or driving a critical initiative. These will pay huge dividends for their development as well as strong business impacts. It is critical to have a supportive leader and a safe environment where they can make mistakes and learn from them as they are developing. It is also very helpful to have a coach or mentor to guide and support them on the journey as well as to provide constructive feedback.
- What are some of the most important aspects of being a trusted advisor to your leaders?
TW: In graduate school, I learned a formula for trust that has always stayed with me. “Listening leads to understanding which leads to credibility which leads to trust.” Trust goes beyond a formula, however, there is a lot of truth in it. Truly listening to your leaders is very important. It helps you understand their needs and challenges and gives you space to provide advice and options for solutions. Providing sound guidance and consistent follow through are key in gaining credibility with your leaders. Serving as a confidant and remaining consistent, ultimately will help you gain and maintain trust with your leaders.
Another key aspect to become a trusted advisor to your leaders is being a ‘truth teller.’ This can be a delicate balance since your leaders are technically your clients, however, I have found most leaders appreciate feedback and transparency especially from an outside partner. It often results in a high trust level and stronger partnership.
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