By focusing on employee engagement, people-driven leaders play a key role in ensuring people feel supported to be their best selves and do their best work. They uniquely understand that people are central to an organization’s success. 

For this article, four HR leaders agreed to share commentary on top-of-mind topics—from employee retention to lifelong learning. In each case, their advice springs from their commitment to put people at the center of HR strategy.

Diversity with S’ne Magagula at Tiger Brands

As conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion take precedence across organizations and industries, people-driven leaders are transforming ideals into action. This commitment has been a long-standing one for Sinenhlanhla (S’ne) Magagula, Chief Human Resources Officer at Tiger Brands.

Early in Sne’s career in South Africa—from where she hails—diversity and inclusion were mandated as part of legislation to combat the history of apartheid. Recognizing the pitfalls of a system that forces organizations to comply, S’ne drives diversity and inclusion by first establishing hiring and employment targets and, more importantly, by making clear the business imperative. “Diversity and inclusion provides an advantage from a business performance and competitive perspective,” she says. 

S’ne focuses on helping her colleagues understand that diversity and inclusion also drives the company’s attractiveness as an employer. “We can tap into the full potential of the talent pool with truly diverse teams,” she says.

To instill that mindset in the company’s culture, S’ne is driving an initiative around unconscious bias. “It’s easy to attract a diverse set of employees, but it’s hard to retain them if the organization’s culture doesn’t support them and they don’t feel a sense of belonging,” she says.

“We’ve integrated [relevant training] into our leadership programs—how to check your biases and solicit open conversations with teams to identify barriers to a winning performance.”  

Transforming culture with Pam Ries at Spectrum Health

When Pam Ries joined Spectrum Health as Chief Human Resources Officer, the community-oriented healthcare system had just brought on a new executive leadership team. Their mandate was to reshape the organization’s vision to be a top integrated health system, one that provides personalized health, made simple, affordable, and exceptional.

Pam’s focus is engaging her 31,000 colleagues with the company’s vision. “There’s a lot that culturally we’re trying to transform,” she says. “And so the values we launched—curiosity, courage, and collaboration—zero in on helping move our culture along.”

As Pam explains, compassion has always been a core Spectrum value, but courage, curiosity, and collaboration are core to the company’s new vision: “We can’t create, build, and implement everything on our own. We need partnerships, which require collaboration. And we must be willing to challenge the status quo, and be respectfully curious about alternative ways of doing things to be more efficient.”

When Pam thinks about how HR can evolve, she goes immediately to the business. “How do we better anticipate the needs of the business and get business leaders to think differently about the future of work in their particular area?” she asks. “How do we get them thinking about what their people need versus HR telling them what their people need? HR might not have all the answers, but we can prompt business leaders to think differently and plan differently.”

Employee retention with Rich Deal at FICO

The best people-driven leaders understand how to build a bridge between the soft and hard elements in a business. They can connect employee engagement to other metrics, such as employee retention.

Rich Deal, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at FICO, has a real penchant for using data in this way. “Data, science, and math support a positive narrative around the people experience,” he says. “When we don’t understand how to predict or manage human behavior, that’s the place where all kinds of negative things—like stereotypes, prejudice, and bias—can happen. When we can identify and reinforce the drivers of positive behaviors, engagement, and quality performance, we can open the world to you.”

This passion for numbers led Rich and his team to jettison outdated assumptions and refine FICO’s performance management and recruitment models in ways that have contributed to strong company performance.

Rich is most proud of the accomplishments in FICO’s office in Bangalore, India, which accounts for a quarter of the company’s 4,000-person workforce. For years, the office had assumed the most desirable engineering candidates were those with years of experience. But the data told a different story.

“We realized that in India, the candidates with many years of experience were predominantly male,” Rich says. “But the current male-to-female ratio of recent software engineering and data science graduates was 50-50. So we revisited our assumption about the length of experience required and discovered that these high-quality new graduates can learn very quickly and become fully productive within a couple of years on the job.”

Because of this revelation, FICO has made significant strides toward achieving its diversity goals among new Bangalore hires. The employee experience is vibrant and cohesive, proven by strong retention statistics. While the regrettable attrition rate for this demographic across India is 20%, the Bangalore division’s hovers around 11%.  

Lifelong learning with Lisa Doyle of HCA Healthcare

A growth mindset is core to a fulfilling career that continues to challenge employees and keep them engaged. With that in mind, people-driven leaders make a conscious effort to encourage and cultivate an interest in never-ending learning.

Lisa Doyle, Vice President of Human Resources for HCA Healthcare, has taken this to heart in her own career. For most of her 30-year-plus working years, her experience has been with two companies: PepsiCo, a consumer packaged goods company best known for beverages and food, and HCA Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest providers of patient services.

According to Lisa, both offered many opportunities to learn and grow, and she accepted every challenge to round out her skills and build her experience. (Part of her growth included taking time to focus on motherhood and raise three children, now 12, 13, and 15.) 

Lisa appreciates the wide range of experiences she’s had over the years. “What really helped me was being open-minded about my career opportunities. I didn’t always know I’d be successful, but I never shied away from a new opportunity.” 

The key, she says, is to never stop growing—even when the journey isn’t a straight line. “You don’t always have to see the immediate path ahead of you. I have taken opportunities that weren’t the most glamourous or comfortable, but when I look back, they tended to be my favorites,” Lisa says.

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Learn more about what it takes to be a people-driven leader and take your organization to a new level.