Joan Burke

Chief People Officer

People Success Insight:

Helping others find and live out their true passion in their work

In 2000, Joan Burke was riding the wave of a more than 20-year career at the financial services firm John Hancock. Instead of giving in to the temptation of settling in, she took the biggest risk of her life: she left both her company and her lifelong home base in the Boston area to start fresh and build a new life with her partner, now wife, in San Francisco. For the first time, Joan had no community, no family nearby, and no job.

“I was out of work for six months,” she says. “It was shocking, I won’t kid you. I was a New Englander through and through. It was my emotional, spiritual home. And I was all about the Patriots and Red Sox. I still am, to be honest. But the community of Bay Area HR leaders is so welcoming, even to newcomers.”

Her transition may have been unsettling, but Joan was clear about her passion to help organizations create great managers. These managers, she believed, would in turn develop and lead world-class employees. Both Joan’s focus and the supportive community she found gave her the confidence to live in a period of uncertainty, passing on opportunities that weren’t aligned to her vision of HR and the critical role it plays in high-achieving organizations.

Her advice?

“Find the place where you’re going to be able to grow and develop in a way that’s aligned with what you believe great HR is,” she says. “Have a point of view that you believe in passionately, and be able to articulate what you stand for and what you bring to the organization. This is your most important differentiator. If the executive team doesn’t agree with you, that’s not the place for you.”

“Each high-potential HR professional should have an organizing principle – a point of view that’s their true north toward which everything they do and stand for are pointed. It becomes part of their brand as they mature and their careers develop.”

Joan’s point of view is that the best HR leaders build great people managers wherever they go. And Joan has done this at several prominent Bay Area companies including in her latest role as Chief People Officer at DocuSign. In her role, Joan is developing her company’s managers to serve the most inspiring mission yet.

In fact, when Joan joined DocuSign, it was immediately apparent to her that the company had done a lot of great things but had not invested in developing its people managers. One of the first things Joan did was build a Talent Development team which she charged with creating the Work of Your Life Manager program which defines what the company expects of people managers and also sets an intention that every employee deserves a great manager and that every manager deserves the time and resources to become great.

“For me personally, it’s no longer about climbing the corporate ladder,” she says. “It’s about helping other people do the work of their lives. That’s a deeply personal experience; it means something different to everyone. But it has to speak to their intrinsic motivation in some way. Remember, the work of my life is creating great managers. So we’re wrapping all our management training around this goal. We want them all to act in the spirit of serving people.”

Joan’s litmus test: Making sure that, when employees look back and reminisce about their careers, they say, “At DocuSign, I did the work of my life.”

“Everyone deserves to have that feeling,” she says. “If we can create a company and culture where people are saying: I am doing the work of my life, we have succeeded. And it feels so good.”

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