sHeroes: Dr. Laura Hamill of Limeade is showing employers how to truly care for their employees

Choose positivity. Realize that you get to choose every day how you interact with yourself and the people around you. I remember when it clicked for me that I controlled what was going on in my head — that I didn’t need to feel controlled by my own thoughts. Learning about the power of self-talk […]

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Choose positivity. Realize that you get to choose every day how you interact with yourself and the people around you. I remember when it clicked for me that I controlled what was going on in my head — that I didn’t need to feel controlled by my own thoughts. Learning about the power of self-talk and deciding every day how I want to be with others is a huge life lesson. Do I help people feel more or less capable when I’m in the room?

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Hamill, who leads the People Team at Limeade. She’s responsible for nurturing the company’s award-winning culture of improvement while developing groundbreaking people practices and architecting employee engagement strategies for Limeade and its 100+ enterprise customers. Laura is also the founder and Chief Science Officer of the Limeade Institute, which conducts proprietary research, establishes market points of view and keeps a pulse on the latest employee well-being and engagement trends. Along with her team of Ph.D. organizational psychologists, business insights experts and data scientists, Laura works with Limeade customers to translate the Institute’s research into actionable strategies and hands-on workshops to strengthen and evolve their employee engagement strategies.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in a household (well, it was more of a log cabin), with loving parents who struggled to make ends meet. As a carpenter, my dad kept a job for a month at a time and attributed our financial instability to “the man” — always lamenting about his horrible treatment on the job. As a child I wondered why work created this sense of hostility and pain. I started dreaming up a future in my head: First, I wanted to have a “big” career that was exciting, fulfilling and financially secure. I knew I’d have made it when I could buy Spaghetti-O’s whenever I wanted to, if that tells you something! And second, I wondered if there was a way to use my creative yet academic spirit to solve some of the problems that my dad brought home every day. In college I discovered business psychology — a subject I was advised against because it was a new field within psychology and there was some skepticism in my more traditional school that it was a viable one. But I knew in my gut it was a place that I’d thrive — and today I sit at the center of the multi-million-dollar HR technology industry — all designed to influence the way employees work and live.

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

For me, the most pivotal moments happen when things aren’t going well. In 2017, Limeade found itself in a difficult financial state — largely due to a dramatic shift in customer buying behavior and an unwillingness to change our DNA to fit the mold. As a leader, I felt dark and helpless, but I had to muster the positivity and will to lead. I wondered what I was doing wrong and what mistakes I’d made to get here. The tides turned during a walk with my colleague and friend, Henry Albrecht, CEO and co-founder of Limeade. We agreed that our approach was right — we were just in the wrong market, and that we needed every single employee on board in order to make the shift. Our change initiative (lovingly named “Changemaker”) marked a defining moment in Limeade history. It wasn’t a perfect miracle, but it paved a path of hope to move forward. These are the moments I’m the most proud of — the moments in which the whole company rallied and worked together to change our destiny. It’s easy to be a leader when things are great, but when things are hard is when your people need you the most.

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?

It’s scary to think about how long ago it was when I was “first starting” — almost 30 years ago now. I made a ton of mistakes, but a funny one is when I had my first job in college. I was a research assistant in a biofeedback lab. As part of my duties, I had the pleasure of shaving men’s chests to attach electrodes and creating a stress stimulus, like making them do complex math problems or putting their feet in a tub of ice. When the experiments were over, I had to take the electrodes off. I didn’t realize there was some gel I was supposed to put on the electrodes initially to help them come off more easily. So, in the beginning I just yanked them off! I am thinking they thought that was just a continuation of the experiment. I didn’t feel like it was right, so I asked the lead researcher and he was quick to show me what I was supposed to do. I guess a lesson I learned from that was to listen to what my gut tells me and ask questions!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The software that we offer the market focuses on how employers can show their employees their company cares about them. What I think stands out about us is our commitment to ensuring that what we sell is also what we live internally. We are very focused on creating an intentional culture — that’s hard work when you are a fast-growing tech company. Our leaders, managers and employees have a lot going on — it can be difficult to take the time to care about each other. It is an ongoing intention and effort — what I’m proud of is that we are working on it, that we are talking about it and that we keep focusing on improving. We have so many examples from our employees of how they care about each other. For example, one employee found out that her young son had significant hearing loss and thought she would need to quit her job to be able to focus on helping him. Her manager and team rallied and found a way to support her so that she didn’t have to leave the company.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have so many projects that I’m excited about — one that stands out is focused on the science of care. There is amazing academic research which supports this idea that when organizations authentically care about their employees, they get better business results. However, there are still lots of “care naysayers” out there. We are digging into what care is and all the ways that organizations can show they care. I think changing minds through science and rejecting traditional assumptions about how work is “supposed to be” can have a huge impact on how much suffering people go through when they don’t feel cared for at work.

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

I don’t know if I’d limit this to female leaders — all of us can keep working on this and keep focusing on building trust with your team. Think of this as “reciprocal” trust — the trust they have in you and your leadership and how you trust them.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

It is a big transition for leaders to go from smaller teams to larger ones, when for some of us our promotions and success have been a recognition of great individual contributions. It is difficult to realize that you should no longer be focusing your efforts on these types of projects where you are the owner, but instead how you need to delegate and empower others to shine. Realizing the need for this important transition early and then actually doing it, is really important as your team grows.

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 are lots of people that come to mind, but my mom is the person who I am particularly grateful for — she has always been there for me when I’ve had a hard day at work, when I’m worried about my kids or when I want to share some good news. I remember a time when I was asking for a promotion and how I got her encouragement and perspective to keep pushing on it. She always listens and supports me — I’m so grateful for her.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am focused on helping large employers make work more caring, human and authentic. My team and I get to study and put in place practices that make work better — creating workplaces where employees can thrive and be their authentic selves. Who gets to do this? Not many people get the opportunity to work on these kinds of issues, and I truly strive for us to bring more goodness to the world.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

● Always lead from your core. Be clear on what you stand for and use it as a guide to the every day. Early in my career I reported a leader that was abusive and toxic, but highly respected in my field. She could have blacklisted me, but I did what I knew was right and I will always be proud that I took action. In fact, it made my confidence and sense of self even stronger.

● Say what you are thinking and feeling. This is a lesson that I’m still working on — to be courageous in the moment to voice your concerns and to speak truth to power. I also think this is a form of being vulnerable and honest about what’s really happening and how you are really feeling. I have learned that being vulnerable almost always means I have a more meaningful interaction with the person I’m talking to.

● Choose positivity. Realize that you get to choose every day how you interact with yourself and the people around you. I remember when it clicked for me that I controlled what was going on in my head — that I didn’t need to feel controlled by my own thoughts. Learning about the power of self-talk and deciding every day how I want to be with others is a huge life lesson. Do I help people feel more or less capable when I’m in the room?

● Listen. I intend to be in the moment and really listen when I am interacting with people in my life. I try to put my stress and distractions aside and really listen. I know that sometimes that’s all I really want from others is for someone to just listen. I work to do that.

● Care. In the end, I’m sure it’s really all about the quality of the relationships we have. We have to invest in the people around us.

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. 🙂

CARE! On an individual level, team level and organizational level — we need to shift traditional thinking around our work practices, like work is an adversarial relationship and/or the only reason we work is to get a paycheck. If more organizations start authentically caring about their employees and redesign their people practices to reflect that, I am confident they will get better business results and the world would be a better place.

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

“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think — or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?” — Brene Brown

Some of the biggest 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 🙂

Brene Brown — I love how her work has pushed me to be more myself.

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