Inspire a shared vision: I spend a lot of time coaching managers and members of my own team. For example, I am currently coaching a director and in a recent conversation, we discussed building a strong vision for leadership excellence focusing on the behaviors that this person needed to demonstrate. The individual gave great examples of what they needed to do and how they would demonstrate those behaviors.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janet Dulohery, SE2 Vice President/ Head of Human Resources.
A transformative leader, Janet brings over 20 years of global HR experience to SE2. She’s responsible for building people programs that will empower employees and fuel SE2’s growth and scalability. She is able to draw on her extensive experience at global high-tech companies, having worked in more than 50 countries across the world. She’s adept at stabilizing companies during periods of rapid growth and change. Janet operates under the premise that to build a successful company that’s scaled to grow, you have to build a strong leadership team that envisions the path forward and inspires and engages teams.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I started my career, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa. I had never been on a plane and had barely been out of Kansas. I lived in a mud hut and rode a camel named King Tut. I lived in a remote village on top of a sand dune above an oasis in the desert. It was an awesome experience and taught me about the power of culture. It also taught me about training and leader development. Peace Corps profoundly understands how to build culture, navigate culture and create an organization that highly engages its employees. It set in motion my drive to understand people, culture and the systems we live in. My field of HR with a focus on leader and organizational development stems from a foundation laid during my time in Africa.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I came into SE2 to lead their Human Resources function in the middle of a significant growth period. Although I grew up in Kansas where SE2 is headquartered, I had never worked here as a professional adult. I became a professional living and working on the East Coast, as well as living and working in numerous other countries. The culture between the Midwest and the East Coast is quite different, so I had to apply the skills I developed over the years when entering into a new culture to my role here. The story about Midwesterners being incredibly nice and kind is so true! The rhythm and pace was also different. It took me a period to understand the culture and integrate into it. It has been a fantastic cultural experience. I found a great company to work where associates work hard and are committed to the mission of SE2. It has been a tremendous period of growth and change for the organization.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I just finished working on a project further expanding SE2’s geographic footprint that entailed launching our first location in Asia, located in Gurgaon, India. Prior to that, SE2 had locations in the USA and Ireland, but did not have its own presence in the APAC region. It has been extremely exciting and fulfilling to be part of the team that — during the past nine months — started our own separate business unit there — SE2 Digital. We now have nearly 2000 employees globally focused on driving innovation and supporting the business operations of some of the largest insurance carriers in the world. Opening our location there will help SE2 further scale its operations to ensure we continue to provide the highest quality level of the customer service and experience to the insurance companies we work with and the end customers they serve.
The second part of that project will include building out another center of excellence. India is a wonderful opportunity to fully leverage a “follow the sun” model to support our clients. There is amazing, motivated talent that complements our teams in the USA and Ireland. The synergies across our global organization create tremendous value. Entering into a new market is always exciting and challenging as we build company and employment brand. SE2 has a very compelling story about its evolution, growth and positioning in the market.
The wonderful power of working across multiple cultures is that it makes us a stronger organization in so many ways. Leveraging different approaches and using a multitude of lenses to view an opportunity makes us more innovative. It is also a lot of fun to work in a multi-national organization (now that we have offices across the USA, Ireland and India).
HR is also working on the design, development and implementation of a global SE2 University. This year SE2 was recognized as a 125 Top Training company through Training Magazine. As an organization, we have a strong commitment to our associates and ensuring they are role-ready for the job at hand. We also want to continue to prepare them for increased responsibilities and opportunities. We are in the process of building a management and leadership development program called “Drive to Excellence.” This program has three levels and is described below:
- Ignition: Learning to manage the SE2 way
- Accelerate: Strengthening your manager acumen
- Velocity: Transitioning from manager to a leadership mindset
In addition to our focus on management and leadership, the HR organization is working with each functional organization to build a common core curriculum and to develop learning roadmaps for key roles.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think there are multiple reasons why employees are unhappy. It needs to be broken down across multiple spectrums from the lens of generational differences, cultural backgrounds, personal pressures, untrained managers, and the intense pressure of organizational life. I think many employees lack self-awareness and lack the knowledge and skills to manage their stress and to know when they may need help. We as business leaders need to do a better job of helping employees navigate and support the many elements of the workforce.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
If employees do not have the energy, passion, engagement, or excitement about what they are doing, it will affect their productivity. It will affect their ability to focus on the customer experience (internal or external). It will affect their motivation and desire to learn more, do more and contribute more. It will breed apathy. Team building and having fun will be impacted as well as the sense of pride and joy in doing the right thing well. Mistakes are made and accountability is diminished. It can create a “blaming” culture instead of a culture of accountability and transparency. When you put that all together, profitability goes off the rails.
We also know that life pressures are more significant than ever for employees. The statistics behind this today are staggering and costly. Stress depletes a person’s energy, motivation and ability to focus. It also causes people to eat unhealthy foods and have little desire to take great care of themselves. In 2017, Ipsis published the results of a poll about American mental health, reporting that more than two-thirds of respondents had experienced some kind of mental health problem in the past year. One in four Americans say work is a source of anxiety.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Clearly define key cultural imperatives. At SE2, we defined our key cultural imperatives and have been embedding those imperatives across everything we do. At SE2 we believe in ARTIC (Accountability, Responsibility, Transparency, Innovation, and Collaboration) as a way to help all associates engage each other and our customers. At a personal level, I check myself to ensure I am demonstrating these key areas and soliciting feedback from my colleagues. At an organizational level, HR has developed a curriculum to help associates learn and understand skills to demonstrate ARTIC in their day to day work life.
- Associate Engagement. This is one of our key organizational focus areas at SE2. We look at things like reward and recognition. In 2018, we launched a CEO Awards in Excellence program to recognize associates and/or teams for going above and beyond, including demonstration of core values and cultural imperatives like ARTIC. We have implemented numerous programs for ensuring we share information with associates and gather their feedback. We have a program in place called “Coffee Talks” that is a breakfast conversation with an executive. The executive updates the group on key corporate initiatives and spends most of the time soliciting feedback from our associates. We routinely do an employee engagement survey where we share feedback themes and action plans and provide updates on a quarterly basis. We hold Associate Townhall meetings and conduct a variety of skip level meetings with teams.
- Lead by example. This is one of the most powerful and important tools managers and leaders have. The bar for leaders and managers is incredibly high. We must lead by example in demonstrating our core values both personal and organizational as well as our cultural imperatives. I do believe in the innate goodness of people and at the end of the day, most people want to do the right thing and do it well. I have been in numerous situations as an HR professional coaching and guiding managers and individual associates. One strategy that I am launching with a manager is for both of us to read a leadership book that we have selected. Once a month, we will each read five chapters and then meet for lunch to discuss what we learned and how we would demonstrate those principles and practices with our teams.
- Inspire a shared vision: I spend a lot of time coaching managers and members of my own team. For example, I am currently coaching a director and in a recent conversation, we discussed building a strong vision for leadership excellence focusing on the behaviors that this person needed to demonstrate. The individual gave great examples of what they needed to do and how they would demonstrate those behaviors.
- Foster collaboration: Leaders have a great opportunity to foster collaboration and build trust. Encouraging associates to work together in unity makes a stronger product or service for customers. I routinely discuss with managers across the organization how to network, collaborate and build bridges to other parts of the organization. Within my HR team, we discuss how to work more effectively with others and our clients.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
It is as simple and complex as being open, accepting differences, and always seeking to understand each other. Our fear of differences is destroying the world as we know it. We fear what we don’t understand, and we want to reject or crush what we don’t understand. I am a perfect example- growing up in a very small farming community in Kansas; I did not have a lot of exposure to the world outside of Kansas. However, I had a very open mind and heart. When I moved to West Africa after college, there was nothing that was remotely familiar to me. I was raised a Catholic and moved to an Islamic country. I made a very conscious decision to be open, to understand, to suspend judgement, and to fully participate. It was then that I started to develop an understanding of unconscious bias. It was an extremely powerful experience and it opened my mind and heart even more to differences and the power of those differences. We humans want to be loved and respected and that is what binds us together. We need to seek to understand our differences and look for common ground.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
My style is one of inclusion, respectfulness, having fun, and operating with transparency. I like to collaborate. The power of sharing and having many voices contribute makes a significant difference. I have a wonderful HR team who work highly collaboratively together on just about every issue. We try to make our work fun, even though we may deal with very difficult issues. Feedback is a powerful and critically important tool and a muscle that needs to be developed and used every day. I also have a very direct and open style with my teams. Recently, one of my Talent Acquisition team members shared with me how she described my style to a candidate that I interviewed for a role in HR. This person said that I was direct, set clear expectations with the team, held the team accountable to those expectations, and provided feedback. She also said that I help the team understand when we have done the right thing and help provide guidance when we may have missed the mark.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been so many individuals that helped nurture me along my life’s journey, but one in particular has had the most impact on my life and my personal and professional journey. I met this person at a training facilitation course. We became fast friends and both ended up doing the same master’s degree program. She went into the consulting arena focused on leader and organization development mainly working in the developing world, and I went to work for a non-profit focused on improving the lives of children in the developing world. This individual is kind, compassionate, smart, and funny. She is one of the most authentic individuals I have ever known. I worked with this individual in over 20 countries throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa. This person leans into the culture and treasures the people in it. This person brings joy and light wherever she goes and has a beautifully curious mind that drives her desire to fully understand and not judge. She works every single day to help make the world community a better, kinder place.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
On a very personal level, trying to make sure that every interaction is respectful and positive, even when it may be delivering a difficult message. I try to make sure that I am contributing in a variety of ways, from doing things like sponsoring a child through Plan International to participating in movements that I feel very strongly about. I make a conscious decision every day to not collude with systems that I feel oppress us, but to be part of systems that uplift us. The world and all of its rich diversity is a beautiful gift. It takes a lot of nurturing on an individual and organizational level to ensure it will flourish. The spirit of volunteerism is a wonderful way to bring goodness to the world from being a Peace Corps volunteer to participating in organizations that I feel passionate about. I started out volunteering as a teenager at a local hospital and a nursing home. That experience taught me the value of giving back. Each one of us can make a significant impact spreading goodness through very ordinary actions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou.
Every time I meet someone or engage someone, I have an opportunity to lift them up, even in those times when I may be delivering a difficult message. It does not make a difference whether it’s in my personal life or professional life, I want the person to leave feeling that they were treated respectfully.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Respect Movement — to shift the world to a place of respecting our differences and each other and finding commonalities in our stories. We are born to love and cherish each other, so let our differences powerfully bind us together not push us apart.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!