Generation Growth’s Advisor Series: Interview with Tracy Edkins

Tracy Edkins is an Advisor to Generation’s Growth Equity strategy, working with several of the companies in the Growth Equity portfolio to help assess and strengthen leadership approach, board composition and alignment of culture throughout an organization. Tracy brings 25+ years of experience as a business-oriented HR partner for industry leaders including Splunk, eBay and Starbucks. She currently serves on the boards of D2L, Happy Money and is an Advisor to iCIMS, Lacework, and Findem among others.

How did you get into HR?

I’ve always been interested in equity and fairness as it relates to people. My main source of inspiration for getting into HR and people operations came from having parents who never really had full satisfaction in their respective workplace cultures. As a result, creating good environments for people became very important to me. Aligning with Howard Schultz’s vision while I was at Starbucks shaped my point of view about sustainability and made me realize its importance. Ultimately, when you are in a position of leadership, you’re in a position of privilege to make the world a better place for others. HR leaders help enable better environments, better results and better experiences for organizations and their employees.

What does sustainability and a mission driven culture mean to you?

For me, a company’s mission is what it does and its culture is how they do it. Unfortunately, both are not obligated to be sustainable. In addition, how you get things done may not always be aligned to the mission. This can be caused by disconnects at the senior level or when companies are going through large shifts.

Companies with a sustainable and mission driven culture have an incredible advantage. Not only does it help define the “who, what and how” of the organization but it is attractive and motivating to employees of all levels. This deeper cause and meaning aids in retention, teamwork, focus and results.

What is one thing that leaders should do to tactically invest in and nurture the culture they want as they grow and scale?

If I had to give leaders two pieces of advice, it would be to define your culture and honor your culture.

Define your culture: Clearly articulate what matters to the organization: values, traits, ways of working and how decisions will be made. It’s ok if it’s aspirational because your current culture is not yet what you want it to be. But it must be defined in a way that employees can see it and align with it. This is helpful in both attracting people to your company but also in helping current employees know how to behave, navigate, and treat others.

Honor your culture: Ensure that you and your senior leaders truly are aligned and understand the culture your company needs to be successful. If defining it for the first time, engage your employees to ensure the words and approach resonate. Don’t allow any individuals, regardless of how senior or stellar, to act in ways that are counterculture.

Strong cultures and successful companies are built and maintained by consistent actions and decisions, big and small.

There are many different views about going back to the office. What is your personal view on hybrid and remote work?

I think that these past few years have proven that remote work can be productive for many knowledge based organizations. So instead of making decisions on personal biases, I would recommend we empower individuals to make their own decisions on what works best for them in executing in their roles. Equally, we need to think through how to mitigate problems that come with remote work. I had a meeting with a CEO recently who was very worried about whether recent college grads who are working remotely are getting the same learning experience and same career trajectory as those in an office. My response to her was to think about different ways of mitigating those challenges by leveraging technology and leadership approaches to help people feel and be connected.

What is the most interesting type of technology in the HR field right now?

What I’m interested in right now is leveraging technology for employee development and recruitment. Companies who can both develop and hire the right talent to meet the needs real-time will have an incredible strategic advantage. With respect to talent development, employees will be more loyal to an environment that is investing in them. Currently, we can leverage AI to create skills matrices and quantum labor analysis to get very prescriptive in talent development and recruitment.

This creates a win-win for the company and its talent; the company is always concerned about having the right capabilities at the right time to execute on their strategy and employees (permanent, part time, gig etc) are always concerned about managing their career and the required skill sets to flourish.

What do leaders need to do to continue to move the needle on DEI efforts?

Don’t get distracted. Don’t let this unpredictable and ever-changing world we live in provide an easy excuse to not raise the bar. This is an area where tech can be leveraged to find the unfindable. Be transparent with your metrics, hold yourself and your team accountable to your DEI commitments.

DEI spans hiring, promotion and retention as well as pay. Ensure you have programs in place across all areas to ensure you are set up for success against your commitment.

What makes someone a good leader?

A good leader has a growth mindset, assumes good intent, and is curious, humble and kind. They know where their knowledge in an area stops and empowers the talent around them to do their best work. And when the work isn’t where it needs to be, a good leader has honest direct feedback conversations that build psychological trust with that team member, who inevitably pays it forward to others. Good leaders create other good leaders.

What is a tough lesson every leader must learn?

You don’t know what you don’t know. Everyone at every level needs to keep learning along the way. Leaders have their teams around them for a reason. Allow them to do what they do best and foster an environment where there is proper space for sharing feedback — especially difficult feedback.

What is one small habit people can change to make a big difference in the world?

Be curious about anything and everything. Embrace that 1% chance you’re wrong. Don’t assume that you have all the knowledge. Listen more and ask really good questions.

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