The Team Advantage – It’s about Talent says Sarah Pearson
Business has never done so much hiring as they do now. Companies are building internal capable recruiting teams and using external experts as well. It could not be a more challenging time to build a team of energized recruiters and partner with the business to keep up with talent demand. I recently learned that Sarah Pearson, head of Talent Acquisition and Corporate Strategic Business Partners at Orora Packaging Solutions won the HR team of Excellence award given out by NHRA in Orange County. I wanted to know what her “secret sauce” was for building her team and found a time to speak with Sarah about this.
Sherry Benjamins: What brought you into the talent business?
Sarah: I grew up in England and attended high school here in Southern California. I was fortunate to land a position at the Walt Disney Company and stayed for 12 years. I learned from the best and appreciated their marketing genius. It was there that I began to see the importance and power of brand and what motivates us as consumers. I then went on to recruiting and worked for an executive search firm, I learned more about people and what they are capable of, as well as, what gets in the way of them tapping into their own individual genius. Next stop in my career was a dive into fashion and brand with a tech start-up in LA, where I scaled the organization from 80 employees to 2500 across 12 countries in less than 4 years. The differences of experiences, companies, industries and strategies I’ve encountered prepared me for the business of attracting and engaging talent in a meaningful way.
Sherry: What do you think it takes to select and lead a team today?
Sarah: Leaders need to be future-focused. I study the trends that will impact us in the future. When I look ahead at potential change, and work backward from there, it helps me determine the strategies needed for the team. I believe that future leaders need to be self-aware. They need to know what they are good at and to allow themselves to be vulnerable (admitting where they have blind spots and/or deficiencies).
Imagine a culture where failure is rewarded, not feared or avoided. Imagine the innovation that can occur when you create a safe space to experiment and fail. I launched a new system (Applicant Tracking System) at Orora and I am rewarding mistakes as we implement this. Those on our team that raise the most “bugs” will get a reward. I am working to create a culture where it is ok to fail and it is important to foster risk taking.
As a leader, it is also important for me to understand what drives each person and then learn what success looks like for them. Leading a team means getting to know each team member very well and helping them unlock the career that they truly want.
Sherry: What have you learned about yourself from leading teams that surprised you?
Sarah: I have learned to give up the idea of perfection. Being perfect was a killer of any attempt at innovation. I can see that now. I was fortunate to have a role model earlier in my career who understood teams and celebrating differences. She was the leader of a gaming company and exposed us all to mindfulness and the importance of intention and balancing physical as well as mental well-being.
Sherry: What is the role technology plays in bringing your team together?
Sarah: I have a team that is 90% remote. This forces me to think about technology as a tool for communicating and sharing information. It means we need to be there when we can’t physically be there. The team is encouraged to self-organize and use tools such as instant messaging, social platforms with a blend of planned update calls. I am proud of our ability to perform remotely and serve such a diverse customer base. We implemented a team meeting conference and video call every two weeks and I schedule a weekly touch base call one on one with each team member. Other parts of the organization have not yet adopted virtual work in the way we have however, I see that happening at some point.
Sherry: What is your operating priority for the team?
Sarah: I think it is all about service. That is service to each other and our customers. If you recall, I grew up in the Disney culture and personally experienced their practices of “concierge” service to guests. I believe in aspiring to that level of service. One idea is to aim for a “zero inbox mentality” – getting back to people quickly. In today’s world of communication that may seem daunting. We tackle this in steps; first establish clear email etiquette and second, decide if the email is action required or information sharing. I work hard at modeling this concept of service and managing communication for our team.
Sherry: Bob Johansen, the trends analyst, says that “the best leaders in the future will be gritty gamers and prototypers.” Do you see that?
Sarah: I agree that the power of games is here to stay and for something we can learn from. I have an eight year old son who loves his games and frankly, rather than worry about it, I embrace it and see it fosters a growth mindset. He is continuously learning about strategy, creating a hypothesis for action, learning from mistakes, and figuring out how to navigate change. When I play with him, I can see these skills in action.
Our future leaders will have to anticipate and shift, iterate, learn and improve their tactics. I agree with Bob, that it is all about simulation and immersing yourself in unfamiliar environments so that you can learn in a very personal way.
Sherry: What is your advice to new managers today?
Sarah: There are three areas that I would suggest new managers focus on.
First, utilize a tool for feedback – to spark honest conversation. I use a tool called “Stop, Start and Continue.” This quickly builds a trusting relationship with your team, especially when you supply them with feedback and ask them in return for feedback on a regular basis. Each of us gets to say what is working, what should continue and what we can stop doing to make things better.
Secondly, connect the work to a mission or purpose. Be specific – so that if your purpose in the next three months is to complete a project that everyone is participating in, then be clear on the deliverables and why it matters to them. Be realistic and pragmatic. They will feel committed and clarity moves everyone closer to your success.
Lastly, audit your reputation. Ask peers, clients and your boss for feedback. Ask how you are doing and how you are known in the organization. It takes being vulnerable. And, be willing to listen and respond. I have learned the most from asking for this feedback to support relationships and future success.
Conclusion by Sherry
I have respect for leaders in our community who are building high performing teams. Peter Cappelli, in his recent HBR article, talks about how hiring is all wrong today. He is referencing the challenge in retaining talent. Sarah’s advice on building teams and understanding what each individual member wants works across the business. Not every manager has this focus or intention, so we lose quality people.
LinkedIn data shows that the most common reason for employees leaving is to consider a position elsewhere which meets their career advancement goal. Hiring managers sell the career conversation but they also need data. Analytics tells the story of why retaining internal talent results in stronger outcomes. It is time for us to do the numbers and reveal the truth.