You are the expert in the room. It took me awhile to realize and be comfortable with this. The first time I sat in a room of executives or spoke to a Board of Directors I felt on edge, no matter how prepared I was, that someone might challenge me or ask something I didn’t know. I got comfortable over time in knowing that I was the expert on that particular topic and could credibly occupy that position. It doesn’t mean I will always have the answer to a question or that someone else doesn’t have really valuable insights to share on the topic but by giving myself credit for all that I have learned and experienced in my field, I could be open to those other ideas and not get defensive or retreat, I could offer guesstimates or suggestions on things and I would be taken seriously. Part of that came from knowing that is how others saw me and part of it came from getting past any Impostor Syndrome and feeling comfortable owning that position of expertise.
As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jo Deal. Jo serves as LogMeIn’s Chief Human Resources Officer. She is responsible for leading global people strategy with a focus on attracting, developing and engaging world class talent by expanding LogMeIn’s reputation as one of tech’s most desirable career destinations, and by providing a collaborative learning environment where employees can grow their careers. Prior to LogMeIn, Jo held HR executive roles within the mobility application division of Citrix and at Informatica Corporation. She lives in the Greater Boston Area with her husband and two children, and holds a BA in Industrial economics from the University of Nottingham, England and a post graduate certification in HR through the Institute of Personnel & Development.
Thank you so much for joining us Jo! What is it about the position of CHRO that most attracted you to it?
I serve as the CHRO of LogMeIn, a global SaaS company that provides cloud-based collaboration and connectivity products and services that simplify how people interact with each other and the world around them. We aim to create more friction free experiences.)
My role sets strategy and develops programs which are all focused on talent and business results: how we can hire the best people, help employees develop their skills and grow their careers and ensure they enjoy an engaging work environment that allows them to do their best work. Like most technology and services companies, our only asset is our people (and the IP that is in their heads) and I love being in a role that helps us get the most from our talent by giving them our best and seeing their contributions directly impact our business results, from people developing new product ideas, selling solutions to help our customers or working on pricing, advertising or the financials. Every hour of every day I am spending time on something different, from understanding our benefits offerings in one country, re-designing our bonus program to ensure it motivate and incents, discussing what development programs we should be building, coaching a leader on solving a business or talent challenge, or planning for global expansion and how our HR operations can support rapid international growth.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what an executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As your role becomes more senior, you are less hands on in direct work, and more about coordinating the work of your leaders who direct the work through managers and employees. You are ultimately responsible for the whole function (or whole company in the case of a CEO) and everything that goes on within it. It is impossible to be on top of every single thing happening so your time is spent more on setting the high-level direction and ensuring all the moving parts work together in alignment, like multiple cogs in an engine. An executive is in charge of the whole engine and you set the design, and communicate it clearly out to everyone who is in charge of a sub-piece, then you stay close to the most important components to make that design work and walk around with your brain and your oil can, listening and seeing how you can smooth or improve various components in order to make the overall engine run better.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I like working within the bigger picture and having a very good understanding of our business goals and priorities, then being able to ensure our talent plans align closely to help achieve those goals. Fortunately, it isn’t all strategy and higher-level thinking and planning, as I like to get stuck in and “do” as well as doing the planning. That is what I love about working at a company of LogMeIn’s size — we aren’t so big that I can’t get my hands dirty, but we are big enough that there is always variety and something new to learn about or focus on.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
When you are the last person in the chain, there can be a lot on your plate. Lots of decisions to be made, often when you don’t have all the information or context, significant impact or consequence if you get it wrong and big impact from what you do well, or not! Sometimes it is hard to switch off, to take a day off as there are so many balls to juggle and lots to figure out. I sleep pretty well but occasionally if one of my kids wakes me up at night, my brain is immediately buzzing with things I need to figure out, questions that need answers and it can take a while to fall back asleep. In this day and age of always being connected, work follows you everywhere, so it is important to find a way to switch off, relax and focus on other things, like spending quality time with my family.
Another core part of being an executive is the “take one for the team” aspect. My part of the business may be doing well and another may not, but you can’t think of it that way, you are in it together and you need to do the right thing for the collective and share in the responsibilities and consequences that go with that. There will always be another day when karma comes back around and someone helps your part of the business out; you have to think company first, function second which can be hard sometimes.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Sometimes people comment that the CEO is too far removed to really care about individual employees or too focused on top line results to have time to spend on employee morale or recognition or engagement. I have only worked with a limited number of CEO’s of course, but all of them have been laser focused on ensuring we have the right programs in place to create a great workplace. They understand that our talent is our greatest asset and we will not move forward as fast or as effectively if our employees aren’t inspired, connected to the strategic goals or indeed, if the rewards, the development programs and the cultural attributes of a company are not designed to engage them.
Happy and engaged employees are better for the business, so even if they were only focused on the bottom line, a smart executive knows these things are important and will make time for them.
The CEO I work with now goes so much further than that and truly does care about the individual, he makes time to visit our offices, to spend time one on one or with teams and, most importantly, he actively seeks out feedback and actively listens to what people have to say. Then he shares that feedback with his executive team and we act upon it. Every individual is unique and each of us want different things. It isn’t always possible to address every piece of feedback or idea but our employees have great ideas and are much closer to the business than the executives can be, so it makes sense to ask, to listen and to adapt. A cynic might think that you only ask for feedback because it’s the thing to do, but when you bring authenticity and openness to these conversations and truly seek out feedback, the impact is huge and meaningful to everyone.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I have been fortunate (and thoughtful in my choices of companies to work at) in that I have not really experienced challenges as an executive that tie back to my gender. Nobody has treated me differently because I am a working mother or a woman and if they did, I’d hope I would tackle it and put it to bed as it is simply not relevant. Or maybe I have experienced it, but haven’t noticed as I am laser focused on doing good work and not spending time on silly behavior!
It can be a struggle balancing work and family, and sometimes I see women bearing more of that burden. I am up front with my team about occasions when I am taking my kids to an appointment or leaving early to watch a baseball game and don’t try and hide it. At LogMeIn, most of the leadership team are parents and my male colleagues are also involved in their children’s activities. I don’t judge them if they are leaving to coach a kid’s game and I hope for the same in return. I do think that tone and attitude starts at the top. Our CEO is a family man, is serious about work life balance and is interested in what my children are up to and what is going on outside my work life, so that makes it very easy. I try and role model the same transparency with my team, many of them are care givers and all of them have lives outside the office. We also have great collaboration tools that enable us to work from anywhere so as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter if it is being done outside the traditional work-space.
I have definitely come up against the delicate balance of being direct enough to get my point across and not being labeled or judged as being “over aggressive” or “abrasive” — or worse. You don’t hear people describe a driven male executive as pushy and sometimes women can have unpleasant and unfair labels assigned to them when they are acting the same way as a male colleague. I decided some time ago not to worry about it and to let my work speak for itself. If someone wants to describe me a certain way, I can live with it. There are likely to be occasions where as a woman, you might actually need to be a bit more direct to make sure your voice is heard so it is very likely to lead to some backhand comments. People will be who they will be, we can take a moment to educate them but if you can’t change someone’s mind then move on and don’t waste time on it. Focus on being great at what you do.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
As I grew in my career I had the opportunity to see the CHRO job in action so there weren’t too many surprises when I moved into the role myself. There are some days where I seem to spend most of my time coordinating across activities and swapping information with different people. I wonder what value I have added on those days, as I feel that I haven’t actually done anything material myself; however, I have realized the huge value that comes from sharing information, making each separate activity better by the inclusion of that information, and tighter coordination gives us better alignment across our various programs so that when they come together, they are more powerful and effective. So a series of conversations telling my head of recruitment about some work my head of development is doing or about a new initiative coming out of one part of our business and how that will shift how we think about our workforce plan, are a very valuable use of time. Really effective communication is a very core part of my job. It is often a quarterback role, ensuring everyone has what they need and is in the right place with the right information and tools at the right time, to produce the best output.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
One example, to my point on communication above, there are many times when I will exclude people from a meeting. If they don’t need the information or to be part of the decision, and it will slow the process down, then I believe in telling them that and freeing them up to go and work on something else. Not everyone likes that though and there are definite examples of FOMO (fear of missing out). That is one example of being a leader and doing something that isn’t popular with everyone. Leadership isn’t about popularity; I would hope I can earn my team’s respect and inspire them with a vision of what we are trying to achieve together but I think you have to be ok if not everyone likes you.
Great executives are able to cut through the noise, narrow in on the key details and make good decisions using the data they have available, which is often ambiguous or incomplete. Focusing on the business priorities and not getting distracted with “nice to have” is very important — you have to explore new ideas but also know when to kill those ideas off, which is a hard thing to do and even harder to explain to the person whose idea it was. I don’t believe there is a type of person who can or cannot be an executive, but any individual would want to understand the key traits and understand if they are ones you can be comfortable with, day in and day out. In my view, being happy in your job is a key contributor to sustained success so you want to be comfortable with, and enjoy, what you do every day.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I believe in authenticity and transparency. I am a flawed human being, some days I have no idea what I am doing as a mother and sometimes, fortunately not as often, I am not sure of the right answer at work. I think the best thing I can do is share openly with my team when I am struggling, when I don’t have the answer and for all the parents and caregivers in my team, female or otherwise, I let them know when I am heading out to watch a baseball game or taking time off with a sick child to show that work life balance matters and hopefully empower them to do the same. I think women have become more supportive of other women at work over the past decade and it is great to see. In the past there tended to be a bit of “nobody helped me and I made it, so you should too” approach. I appreciate the help I get from other people and believe we should all pass it on and make it a goal to help our teams thrive. That means understanding the whole person, not just focusing on their work output, making strong human connections and being able to help wherever they need it, which may be outside of the traditional or expected areas. For female leaders specifically, it can help to seek out others who you can network with, learn from and enjoy a glass of wine with. We all need a little therapy sometimes and I think that can be found with a group of like-minded women; putting some time in for yourself will help you in helping others to thrive.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be Ok with imperfection. I don’t know what I used to do with all my time, before I had a family and a big job. I never appreciated it when I had it and I filled it with lots of activities, but I always had enough time to strive for perfection at work and put in whatever extra hours I needed to. After I had a family and my job grew bigger and more complex, I struggled with finding enough time to do everything well. I finally learned to be ok with not being a perfect employee, a perfect mother, a perfect leader and a perfect wife, daughter, friend etc. Some days I manage it, other days I am great at some things but not others, but the best gift I could give myself is to make peace with that and instead of perfect, be comfortable that I did my best today and can have another go tomorrow.
- It is Ok to say no. I like to say yes and be reliable and be counted on to get it done. I know plenty of other women who operate the same way; we want to be the problem solver, to help each other and to deliver great results for everything that is asked of us. However, to preserve your sanity, you so have to say no sometimes. Otherwise I know I will do a lot of adequate work and not much great work. If I focus on the biggest priorities and say no to some others, I can have a bigger impact overall. It is hard to do and one of the areas I coach many of my team on; we don’t want to let others down or say that we can’t help them. You can mitigate it by saying “I can’t do it now, but I will next week” or find someone else to help, but some days there is no getting around it and you just have to say no. You will be better off for it, and it does get a little easier every time!
- Data is Key. I work in the field of people. They are unpredictable and individual and sometimes emotional and irrational. I love that part of my profession, but I do believe that logic and data have a huge role to play in how I think about talent and the programs we want to invest in and the ROI that can bring for the company. Using data and analysis is critical to making business decisions, evaluating a business case but it is also the most effective way to present your case or defend your position. Having some gut instinct is helpful in my mind but I have learned to always use hard data to help guide me on decisions and when I am presenting an update or a request for funding or a new program.
- You are the expert in the room. It took me awhile to realize and be comfortable with this. The first time I sat in a room of executives or spoke to a Board of Directors I felt on edge, no matter how prepared I was, that someone might challenge me or ask something I didn’t know. I got comfortable over time in knowing that I was the expert on that particular topic and could credibly occupy that position. It doesn’t mean I will always have the answer to a question or that someone else doesn’t have really valuable insights to share on the topic but by giving myself credit for all that I have learned and experienced in my field, I could be open to those other ideas and not get defensive or retreat, I could offer guesstimates or suggestions on things and I would be taken seriously. Part of that came from knowing that is how others saw me and part of it came from getting past any Impostor Syndrome and feeling comfortable owning that position of expertise.
- Make time for yourself. This ties back to being ok with not being great at everything and balancing all the demands you have going on. Be sure to make some time for yourself. You don’t realize how much you need it until you don’t have it, and how much better off you are for making a little time for yourself. I used to take a vacation day but act as if I was going to work. I would use that day for me, to meet friends for lunch or have a spa session. Now I tend to take mini chunks of time, to read, get a pedicure or go for walk and put some charge back into my battery. That allows me to be a better mother, wife, leader. Taking some time away from a big task can make you much more effective if you can come back to it feeling a little more refreshed and energized. It is hard to do with all the other things you have going on but once I learned to do it, I think the overall result is way better, and having colorful well-kept nails makes me happy too.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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