15 minute read – Last updated: February 3, 2020

Feature Interview: Theresa Strickland, HR Advisor & Coach

This is the first post in a new blog series about Human Resources and People Operations influencers.

We ask these experts for their thoughts on the state of the industry today and get their valuable tips and insights. 

The first expert we’ve chosen to feature is Theresa Strickland, an HR Advisor and Leadership Coach based in Silicon Valley, CA. Theresa is passionate about helping individuals, leaders, and businesses achieve personal and professional success. Her practice can be found at stricklandhradvisory.com.

What do you enjoy most about your role as an HR practitioner?

Throughout my career as an HR Executive and now as an HR Advisor and Coach, what I enjoy most is working with a diverse group of people across all aspects of the business. For me, understanding the strategic business initiatives of the organization and the various departments, and figuring out how my team can support those efforts from a people and culture perspective, from a development perspective, and from a business growth perspective has been a rewarding and continuous learning process. The variety of work, the impact, and value delivered to the business, from a talent and people operations perspective have always inspired me. 

What would you say are the biggest challenges of working in HR? How do you overcome these challenges?

The biggest challenges I think are the very things that motivate me to work in HR. Not a single day goes by where I am not learning or having to overcome “unplanned” issues that arise, helping others to seek understanding in changes or to partner with leaders to help them make good people decisions for their teams and the business. 

Learning to manage the “unknown” or the “unexpected” while helping everyone to evolve and see the right or bright side of any given situation is often a challenge in HR. You can have your entire day planned out, but days don’t always go as planned. This is often the case in customer/employee-centric environments.  Acknowledging the nature of the role and learning to be flexible, learning to prioritize, and learning to not take on issues personally are critical skills for success. With that said, empathy is also an important quality in a good HR practitioner.

HR can also be a “lonely” place due to the nature of the confidentiality required of every HR practitioner. However, it is that confidentiality that builds trusting relationships that allow you to help and empower others to achieve success. If your employees and leaders trust you and feel comfortable confiding in you, then often HR issues can be resolved early on. True partnerships and collaboration happen between HR and the business when there are trust and respect for working together to resolve business and employee challenges. Be a good partner to your leaders and employees, and you will be recognized as an important team member and feel less isolated.

Lastly, change is constant in the workplace, and for HR professionals, when dealing with multiple people, locations, global employees, and projects, changes in employment laws and the business climate that affects employees, change can be that much more complex and exhausting to manage. Learn to embrace change, manage your time well, delegate and partner with your leaders when possible, leave work at work and keep your emotions intact, and develop a growth mindset to help anticipate and manage change. 

What are some examples of strategies you use to influence company culture?

I am a big proponent of building a strong company culture. My best tip for HR professionals who want to influence culture is to start at the top of the organization. What are the norms and behaviors of your leaders? What is important to them? What do they value in regard to the organization’s culture? Is focusing on culture important to them? If not, evaluate what it is you hope to accomplish by influencing culture and how will it support the business? Are you trying to create something that doesn’t exist at the top? If so, that may be the wrong approach. The key is, if you are not aligned with your leaders’ view on culture, then often you will not get the support of managers and leaders when introducing strategies and people operations programs that support the culture you are trying to influence. Leadership buy-in is critical!

If you are aligned with your leaders on culture, one strategy for influencing or maintaining a strong culture is to ensure that the organizational values are supported in all aspects of your people programs from the interview process, to hiring the right people that are a good fit with the culture, to rewarding and recognizing employees when someone has demonstrated behaviors that support the values embraced in the culture, to communicating cultural values and expected behaviors across all programs. Most importantly, live the behaviors and values you expect of your employees. Being a good role model can create a domino effect in the workplace!

What advice do you have for HR practitioners to make performance reviews a success? 

My advice is to keep things simple and not to over complicate the process. Plan ahead, be clear with your goals and expectations, timelines, and empower your leaders to communicate and meet the deadlines set. 

When performance discussions are annual, this can be a stressful time for many employees and managers alike. Get your managers involved in the performance management process early on, seek their input about the process, timelines, and best practices that have worked in your environment. Train managers in advance on skills for evaluating performance to ensure understanding of how to rate employees and how to minimizing bias. Teach techniques on how to give feedback and the basic skills needed to have good discussions with their employees, even if some discussions may be more difficult than others.

Lastly, I would recommend that your employees be provided some guidance on what to expect, how to complete self-reviews and to also help them set realistic expectations for review time. Performance discussions should be forward-thinking and offer balance — what’s working, what’s not, what should they stop doing, what should they continue to do, what would they like to do or can do differently going forward? And managers should never focus on topics or areas of development that they are not willing to invest in. A coaching style of management works best for these discussions

Was there an instance in your HR career where you were tasked to lead the implementation of HR software? If so, what advice do you have for other HR practitioners that are implementing HR software for the first time?

Yes, I have implemented several HR systems throughout my career, some successfully and some that were quite challenging for our managers and our employees to adopt. My advice to those organizations thinking about a new HR software system or application is to first understand what you are trying to accomplish by implementing a new system. What are your desired outcomes or goals you hope to achieve? How will a new system benefit the business and your employees? Seek input from business partners, IT, and your leadership team to ensure your goals and the problems you are trying to address are aligned.

Do your homework and define what the “basic or absolute” needs are versus what the “nice to have” needs should be. There are many choices in the market to choose from, and it is easy to select a feature-rich program that is often underutilized. With that said, while addressing today’s needs is most important, you should be considerate of the future needs of the business as you grow to ensure the system you invest in will grow with the business. 

Once you have made a decision to implement a new system, build a plan and allow enough time to implement the plan. Be thorough, communicate your plan in advance to prepare users for the new system, and train users to effectively benefit from the system. Don’t rush the process!  When implementing new HR systems, these often affect and touch every employee and it can be a challenge if things don’t go smoothly, especially when dealing with highly confidential or sensitive information. 

Most vendors have implementation project managers to help you through a new integration, however, do not rely on their expertise alone. Be curious and ask questions. You know your environment and needs better than anyone and if you are not thorough in checking details, running tests, and addressing issues before you launch a program, then a new system implementation can backfire and create challenges and a loss of credibility for the HR team. Your attention to detail from beginning to end is critical! Think about the system from a user’s (employee) perspective vs. an HR perspective too!

How do you measure the effectiveness of performance management?

Measuring the effectiveness of a performance management program is essential to ensuring the time invested by your managers and employees is worth it. Before launching a performance management system, goals and measurements for success should be established upfront. If you have done this, then measuring success will be that much easier.

There is no one formula for measuring for success and much of it will depend on your organization’s goals. However, the best way to demonstrate the value of your performance management system is to link it to the business impact. Learn how to calculate the cost of employee turnover, engagement, and productivity, and use those goals to determine the success of your performance management program. Secondly, it is also important to define measures for your performance management processes (i.e. the mechanics or how people are completing the process). You’ll want to know how easy your employees and managers find the processes and tools they use, how time-consuming they are, how well they are implemented, what proportion of people are following the processes and whether people are demonstrating the necessary performance management skills. If the mechanics are working, the performance management process will be more meaningful.

Below are some common goals tied to the business for measuring performance management success:

  • to improve organizational performance (this can tie to revenue too!)
  • to align individual and organizational objectives
  • to develop a performance culture
  • to improve the individual performance
  • to align individual behavior to organizational values
  • to provide the basis for personal development
  • to inform performance pay decisions

The field of HR and how organizations are managing performance (annually, bi-annually, quarterly check-ins, development discussions, and compensation being separated from goals, etc.,) is ever-evolving and I encourage all organizations to make it a priority to remain up-to-date with performance management trends. Define what will work best for your organization, then select a process, evaluate the process by reflecting on goal achievement, gathering data (direct feedback and/or surveys), and redefine or modify to ensure it is meaningful for your company.