Nancy Halverson: “You need to be a good communicator”

I recently saw the results of a survey of performance reviews indicating that personality characteristics described by words like abrasive, strident or irrational occurred in 85 percent of the reviews of women’s performance and in only 2 percent of men’s reviews. Women executives still face criticism when they exhibit the same behaviors for which men […]

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I recently saw the results of a survey of performance reviews indicating that personality characteristics described by words like abrasive, strident or irrational occurred in 85 percent of the reviews of women’s performance and in only 2 percent of men’s reviews. Women executives still face criticism when they exhibit the same behaviors for which men are seen as strong, decisive and confident. That can be inhibiting for women leaders. Male or female, it’s about listening and acting on what you hear with care for the person.

As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Halverson, SVP of Operations, Retention & Support for MRINetwork. The company is one of the largest search and recruitment franchise organizations in the world. With 30 years of experience in staffing and executive search, Nancy joined MRINetwork in 2008 as VP, Learning & Talent Development to drive organizational training strategy, including the design, development and delivery of all training tools and management programs. Her role expanded to VP, Operations and Franchise Recruitment in 2013, with a strong focus on franchise relations and owner engagement programs to enhance and energize the company’s culture. Her commitment to the franchise community and her success in delivering service excellence led to her appointment as General Manager of the company in 2017. She continues to direct her efforts to providing enlightened leadership in today’s challenging environment and to developing programs for tenured franchisees.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I honestly fell into the industry. Right out of college, I thought I wanted to be in HR because I had a passion for people, only to find out that there were lots of things in HR that didn’t spark me with one clear exception — I loved the talent side of things — sourcing, screening, hiring and developing talent. The search industry gave me all of that and I didn’t even know it was an industry when I fell into it. I was hired by MRINetwork in 2008 to drive organizational training strategy. But my role in the company changed over time, partly because of leadership turnover, combined with my desire to expand my reach in an industry I loved. I was called upon to step in and take over as General Manager during a transitional period with a former leader. This was also at a time when we were sold to a PE firm: we were without an acting president and the company was in need of day-to-day leadership in a very turbulent time. My broad reach within the company made me a logical choice to ask to lead the firm, and I jumped in to take advantage of this great opportunity. Maybe it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, but I believe it had more to do with me having a diverse skillset with deep knowledge of most aspects of the organization.

What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

I realized that I had the chance to make a difference in an organization and an industry for which I have a great passion. As recruiters, we have a tremendous impact on our clients’ companies and our candidates’ careers. There was a period when a lot of really good people were leaving the company due to their uncertainty about the future of our organization. I was able to keep many of our most experienced and talented people, attract a few back and as things improved due to improved engagement, drive empowerment and the ability to work on exciting projects that they, too, were passionate about, making them were glad that they stayed. Most of them are still with us, excelling in a new phase of our organization.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or 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?

Good leaders have far greater responsibility than just running the company. They have to define and uphold its values. They have to inspire their people to embrace those values and to act always in the best interest of the organization. They have to give their people a reason to remain loyal, especially in today’s employment landscape where finding a new position is fairly easy. They set the tone.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I love interacting with our people, listening to them, providing them with the tools and the leadership they need to become the best they can be, and encouraging them to learn and grow. I’m still a teacher and trainer at heart, and I know how vitally important it is to give people the scope and the foundation to further their careers. Empowerment is key — give people the runway to spread their wings and fly, and be willing to help them dust themselves off and keep trying in a supportive environment.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

It can be lonely at times. It can give you reason to doubt yourself; you think; Is this decision right for the company? Do I have the best team in place for the future? What else should I be doing to make sure we’re on the right path? Fortunately, I’ve got a trusted group of people around me who are always willing to listen and brainstorm and keep me focused. I have learned it is all about balance. I can’t make everyone happy as much as I would love to. I will win fans with some decisions and disappoint those same people with other decisions, but if you keep the end game in mind — and treat people fairly and consistently, with respect — it will all balance out in the end.

Also TIME! In the executive seat, the line between personal and business is definitely much blurrier than in even top leadership seats. People don’t hesitate to text, call, or request your time 24×7 across time zones — they need to be heard and my job is to listen, even when it’s a bit inconvenient. And they don’t mind being heard during regular business hours 90% of the time, but being uber-responsive to schedule that time is key!

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

People often think that because you’re in charge you have great power and a lot of latitude. And I guess that’s somewhat true. But more importantly, you also have the weight of great responsibility — for the stability and success of the company and for the well-being of your employees. Just because you’re at the top doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want. Sometimes even when you know you’re right about an issue, you have to go slowly or even in some cases alter the path to your course to accommodate current pressures or concerns.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I recently saw the results of a survey of performance reviews indicating that personality characteristics described by words like abrasive, strident or irrational occurred in 85 percent of the reviews of women’s performance and in only 2 percent of men’s reviews. Women executives still face criticism when they exhibit the same behaviors for which men are seen as strong, decisive and confident. That can be inhibiting for women leaders. Male or female, it’s about listening and acting on what you hear with care for the person.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I mentioned balance earlier. It seems balance is key in most everything I do (and everything I try to help others do). Previously in my organization, members were treated differently via “special deals” all the time. This might seem like a good thing, but when you aren’t treating people the same as it relates to contracts or rates/terms, it can be horribly damaging to the trust in these relationships and the future growth of the company. While I was part of the leadership team (not executive role), several of us had visions of what the future of our industry and contracts needed to look like to retain owners with expiring agreements, and to attract people to us. It was only when I took the executive seat that I was able to make sure this vision was executed. It’s working! Members feel good that there are no more “special deals” — our contracts are consistent, visible and everyone is treated the same. We are now able to make people feel special in different ways, while maintaining consistency within contracts.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not sure it was the funniest. — In fact, it may have been one of the scariest innocent mistakes ever. In an attempt to pull off a meeting for our top offices and ensure we didn’t go over budget with our new format, and get more people engaged, I asked each qualified office to elect ONE person to come to the meeting (vs. the 2–3–4 some offices historically brought). When the invites went out — they went to one person per office (telling them to select who was the best fit for the meeting) instead of sending to all names on the contract (telling them the exact same thing). People were offended, some called me sexist, others were hurt and still more were furious. Lesson learned — there is a place for politics! Some offices had 6 names on the contract — from that point on, I sent to all 6 names and so far, knock on wood — nothing is over budget and no hurt feelings.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Time again! I have never felt so popular or needed (depending on the day). The issues, challenges, opportunities and daily operations is exactly what I expected. But if I had a magic wand, I would have enough hours in the day to spend time on the personal side of the business with my customers. I underestimated the value of paying attention to the human behind the business. My customers want me to know their business results & challenges but they also NEED me to know their team, their family, their interests and their quirks. It’s a lot of people but never underestimate the value of that in building loyalty & commitment for life (not just the term of the contract).

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?

You need to be a good communicator. You may have a wonderful vision for your company, but if you can’t communicate it effectively to your leadership team in a way that they can take to their teams, you won’t be able to realize that vision. You have to be honest; your people have to know they can trust you. It’s always better to admit you don’t know the answer then to give one that may not be true. You have to listen, and you can’t isolate yourself from what’s going on in your company outside of the executive suite. People who can’t create consensus, who are reluctant to share the credit and who can’t remember what it’s like to be on the lower rungs of their career ladder shouldn’t be in charge.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Get your team members on the right track through mentoring, empowering and freedom to make mistakes which will also help you identify and train emerging leaders. Encourage lifelong learning as a professional goal and stress the importance of hard work balanced with some time for fun with work peers, customers and the team in general. It’s not about spending a lot of money, cutting into personal time or doing events — make time to recognize the personal side of people along with the professional — privately or publicly depending on the person. Laugh! Push them to take a chance when an opportunity arises and boost their confidence in themselves.

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?

Early mentors! Get them early and find them at all points along your career path.

  • Gary Peck for teaching me there is such a thing as too enthusiastic and too fashion forward!
  • Mary Lucas for teaching me how to celebrate success no matter how small and how to find the “like” in everyone
  • Trudy Evans & Evan Davis for empowerment & teamwork
  • Rob Romaine for the value of people that get stuff done -no matter what the barriers
  • Michael Castleman for how to embrace and get better at the things you aren’t so good at in your job
  • And now, Bert Miller. Still to be determined, but early indicators are transparency and innovation even when you may be treading on shaky ground!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Giving back and paying it forward in every area I have been afforded the same guidance and mentorship.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You will never work harder than you do as a director
  2. Ethics and values trump all
  3. Take time to learn the little stuff about the PEOPLE you work with (not the work they do)
  4. Surround yourself with people that are smart (even if they are smarter than you are)– its ok not to know everything
  5. Ask questions if you don’t understand — it’s only going to get worse as time goes on!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I just heard from a keynote speaker Mark Lindquist at a conference about never forgetting Sept 12, 2001. Not the 11th -but the 12th — people came together, forgave, saw commonality, not differences. It really hit me. Can we start a Sept 12 movement?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Do what is right, not what is popular or easy.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

My breakfast would be all do overs with family members, particularly Dad and Grandma who are no longer here.

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