We’re taking the pulse on the modern leader’s workplace experience; as we strive to promote a culture of learning at Circles, we periodically interview leaders in our sphere regarding their priorities, challenges, and best practices. Those we spoke with this round cover a range of industries, including medicine, trucking, technology, and more. Representing a multitude of locations and backgrounds, they’re looking for intersectionalities as they cross cultures; in order to create people-first cultures, they’re resourcing managers, improving transparency, and building trust.
Meet the leaders we’re connecting with in Circles.
A VP of talent & culture, Mandy Kutschied was an aspiring actress working as a temp when she discovered an affinity for the corporate world . “The training and development aspect of human resources appealed to me, I think because it is similar to performance: you’re up in front of folks and it’s really engaging.” The company she worked for at the time saw her potential, which might explain why she’s cultivated potential in others ever since. “I had a wonderful vice president who became a good mentor. She said ‘you’re good at this; let’s talk about it.’”
Mandy recognizes that resourcing managers is key to scaling culture; After moving into a leadership role, she built an emerging leaders program for middle managers. “We have to empower our leaders to build community, to ensure it’s a part of the entire tapestry of the company.” Mandy says part of each manager’s bi-annual assessment involves determining how they’re showing up for their teams, creating capability and competencies to hold them accountable for attraction, retention, and development.
At fintech startup Ness, Katy Zorich works in People Strategy & Operations; like Mandy, she prioritizes training managers, specifically in culture and values. “Managers are the ones in all the one-on-ones and team specific meetings, so my job is really making sure they understand our core values and how to talk about them with their teams.” Likewise, Lisa Nguyen, an L&D leader at Pliancy, says her number one priority is helping managers level up. “We talk about performance management and what continuous feedback looks like.”
Radha Nandagopal, MD, caters leadership development for the medical community. As Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs & Continuing Professional Development, she identifies skills gaps, connecting faculty in peer circles to grow. “What’s challenging is that many of us who are physicians or in academic medicine don’t have a lot of leadership training, and haven’t been in the corporate world. Sometimes in terms of actual physician leadership, people make a lot of assumptions about who good leaders are based on how many papers they’ve published or how long they’ve been practicing medicine.”
The need to develop managers also extends to the nonprofit sector. Nadra Dennis works as a Learning & Development Facilitator at The Center for Employment Opportunities, which helps previously incarcerated people in twelve states get back on their feet. Part of her role involves creating spaces for managers to develop in small groups. ”I’m responsible for ensuring that our justice-impacted managers have quality leadership opportunities that prepare them for higher levels of leadership.”
Intersectionality Across Cultures & Time Zones
Today’s managers and team leaders must master crossing cultures and time zones while helping their teams do the same. Omani national, Maria Sarfaraz met people from a variety of backgrounds when she attended school in the U.S; now a People Partner at Ericsson, she leads teams across Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. “Not everyone I work with has had the same cross-cultural exposure I’ve had, and sometimes you have to meet them where they are. You have to find a way to adapt to all cultures.”
Taylor Mirkarimi works in Talent Acquisition at Amazon, resourcing teams in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to receive diverse hires. “We’re recruiting people from all types of backgrounds, including women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities, and military. We want to make everybody feel like they belong.” She said she celebrates each group by acknowledging various global calendar dates, including Black History Month, Lgbtq+ History Month, Christmas, Orthodox Easter and more. “When my associates experience togetherness, it fuels my passion for this work.”
A People Development Manager at Abax, Damla Cetin lives in Norway and virtually commutes across time zones and cultures every day. “We have people in nine different countries helping me implement processes across three different time zones and cultures. It affects our communication, making it difficult to standardize everything from the way we understand things to the way we design systems.” As they digitize more and more, she’s looking for technologies to make their training and team connections more interactive.
Like Damla, Strategic Account Manager Matt Lozada supports SimilarWeb offices all over the world. ”We’re a global company spanning 6 countries. Domestically, we have offices in Burlington, MA and New York, NY, and I currently sit remotely out of the Washington DC metro area.” He says he builds trust and community at scale by identifying intersectionalities, pursuing cross-cultural commonalities, and addressing challenges unique to different people groups. “For example: leaders in Tel Aviv will have a fundamentally different set of experiences and struggles than what we experience in the U.S.”
Matt also serves as co-chair of the Asian @ Similarweb Employee Resource Group (ERG), whose mission is fostering an open space & forum, with a focus on talent development and retention for the Asian American Pacific Islander community. “We want to make sure, for instance, that when layoffs happen, we know who it impacts and how. We don’t want to be tone deaf to the needs of the people in our communities.” Each SimilarWeb ERG has a small stipend to drive core functions and events, as well as local businesses they want to support. “For example: during AAPI month, we organized a speaker series to drive awareness and speak about some of the intersectionalities of shared struggle that women in the workplace, members of the AAPI community, as well as those with a disability have faced to get an equal seat at the table.”
Many leaders we interviewed mentioned how their identity as working parents influences their work. Matt sees his role as father as an asset. “While some companies might see children as a distraction from the hustle and grind culture, many of the core communication and soft skills required for leadership roles–for instance: negotiation, empathy, and deep listening–are crucial to hone and develop.” Similarly, Sharleen Clarke, Talent Manager at Bahia Principe, recognizes how her roles at home benefit her as a leader at work. “I believe my experiences as a wife and a mother have shaped me to be more tolerant and understanding of people’s circumstances. No two people are alike, and you need to be flexible and willing to compromise.”
As a single parent, Maria says working in a fully remote regional role gives her the opportunity she always wanted: to work in a regional role she can execute from anywhere in the world. “As long as I get my job done, that’s enough. I know a lot of companies have gone back to full-time office work, but I think that’s the old way of working.” In some cases, expectant mothers face particular workplace challenges: 20 years ago when Colleen Moen went looking for a career change, Starbucks Coffee Company hired her, not knowing she was five months pregnant. She says it was the first time she worked for a company that actually lived out the values they had written on the wall. “Starbucks treated me like a human who mattered more than my work. Ever since then, what has sustained me in my career is finding organizations that align with my values.”
Often, putting people first starts with listening to and learning from employees. Myriam Del Angel, new VP of HR for North America at Randstad Sourceright, says that often the automatic response to low employee engagement is focus groups. “In previous roles, when I would talk to direct reports they would cringe, because they felt like we always did focus groups, yet nothing changed.” She started taking a different approach and tried one-on-ones instead. During her conversations with employees, she asked for their recommendations and suggestions. “I went to leadership with some of the ideas, and they implemented them. I’m proud to say that after the very next employee engagement survey, they got out of the red for the first time.”
In her previous role, Myriam led the Latino ERG education pillar. She says that when she first took the role, instead of coming up with what she thought people might want, she asked them directly what they wanted. “Three things came from that: professional development, community and culture. So we started thinking about how we could do that and align it with our company’s overarching value of bringing your best self to work. The point is to really make people feel heard–that there’s someone who really listens to them.”
Transparency & trust
Ellen Voie works to create a more gender diverse culture in the transportation industry. As an executive for the Women in Trucking Association, she focuses on maintaining a culture of trust. “Trust is important because when you work in a virtual environment, you can’t be looking over someone’s shoulder. I trust my team to be productive by putting in the time it takes to get their work done. If work isn’t getting done, we have a conversation about it.”
Sometimes trust means lifting off and letting teams work on their own. Vinutha Kinni manages in L&D at Thermo Fisher Scientific, and has seen multiple benefits of simply deciding to trust her people. ”One thing that’s really worked for me is letting things go and trusting people. For a large part of my career, I felt that only if I do something will it be right; if I let someone else do it, then they’re gonna mess it up. Now I let people come to me when I’m absolutely needed.”
Abigail Church, HR business partner at GrowthLab finance, thinks a culture of trust is built through a combination of transparency and timely communication. “The thing that can really destroy trust fast is giving the impression something is being swept under the rug or hidden, or people feeling like they don’t get the information they need to adequately do their jobs in a timely fashion.” Relationship Strategist Elizabeth Overstreet agrees and says that remote work requires more intentional culture building. “The key is transparency from leadership, so people feel safe; in the end, you’ll get more honesty from everyone.” Director at Practifi, Sandy Hopwood also feels leadership should embrace transparency with people as much as possible. “That includes being open and honest about company goals and challenges as an organization.” Learning Lead Diego Herrera suggests building culture from corporate down and leading by example, so everyone understands what each core value means. “That will build engagement, trust, retention, and collaboration, because then we are all pulling North to the same goal. It also builds a sense of belonging.”
These talented leaders inspire us every day as they resource their managers, listen to their teams, and build human-centered cultures. We’ll continue listening and learning as we design inclusive spaces where teams connect and grow; to experience our newest product designed to help managers lead healthy, productive teams, schedule a complimentary session in The Team Table today!