Use your power to foster inclusion and call out culture killers. Connect people from different teams that could promote collaboration. If you’re a bystander to an off-putting comment towards someone, call it out with a look of disappointment and some choice words. Lead through awkward and tense moments by creating a safe space for discussion. Have lunch in the lunchroom, not at your desk. Think about how you distribute responsibilities and tasks and do it equitably.
I had the pleasure to interview Stella Tran. Stella powers all things “people,” ensuring that HighRadius’ people and culture continue to thrive, even during periods of rapid growth. She leads the human resources team with a “people-first” mentality with the goal of hiring, retaining and developing the best talent around. Prior to joining HighRadius, Stella spent nearly a decade at a fast growth specialty retailer finishing her tenure there as Director of HR. Stella received her Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
Thank you for doing this with us Stella! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career started in consumer finance and lending at HBSC and ended abruptly with the housing market crash in 2009. One of my employees saw the Yahoo! headline announcing the closure of all HSBC US finance branches and called me…before we heard the company announcement a few hours later. Talk about a spoiler alert! Losing that job was one of the best things that could have happened because it allowed me to think differently about what I wanted to do next. I wanted to find something new while still leveraging what I was good at — sales and people. I put the two together and found recruiting — if I could sell mortgages (blah) then I’d have even more fun selling a company’s culture and opportunity. I saw it as an chance to be a career matchmaker and to make a difference in people’s’ lives. The timing was far from ideal. Here I was trying to find a new job along with the other 12 million Americans that found themselves out of work that year. I came across an opening for a Recruiter at a fast fashion specialty retailer that I loved to shop at, and they were going through rapid growth despite the economic recession. A friend (who was a Buyer) landed me an interview with the head of HR and the rest is history. Over my 8 year tenure, I grew from the very first Recruiter to the Director of Human Resources. Unfortunately, the company eventually went through a bankruptcy, so when the opportunity at HighRadius came along and I had the chance to build a people function from the ground up, so I was all about it!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Hands down, having the opportunity to travel to our Asian headquarters in Hyderabad, India, for our annual UMIXO (U MIX with Others) employee event. When the US team arrived, we were greeted with floral necklaces and headpieces. As is HighRadius custom, they also went out of their way to prank us by having a fellow HighRadian act like a doctor who needed to see proof of vaccination records or else we had to immediately hop back on the 20+ hour return flight to the US (funny now, not then). This week-long tradition fosters collaboration and healthy competition through culture, performance and creativity. All of our 25+ teams participate in a sports event, spend countless hours transforming and decorating their departments and to top it all off, there is a huge production where all 800+ employees perform with their teams on stage for the entire company. Our leadership team even did a surprise Bhangra dance on stage that we had rehearsed and the crowd went wild. I was blown away by the talent and dedication of our teams. Upon meeting everyone for the first time, I was immediately pulled into rehearsals for a department skit and cultural dance with our India People & Culture team. This is just a sneak peek of how the week started: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6474150078662737920
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We went through a major initiative last year to release our culture guide and core values. We assembled a global team of 40 employees and asked them to submit their ideas about HighRadius’ core values. After reading through over 260 detailed submissions, collating the data and trimming it down, we landed on 8 core values. This year we’re focused on embedding our core values at key moments of the employee journey. We want to be intentional about building the right culture. It’s not only a differentiator, it creates a deepened sense of loyalty when people can self-identify with our core values and see it as a part of who they are and how they think, feel and act.
Ok, lets 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?
People are unhappy when their expectations are misaligned with reality. It all starts with the job interview and the ability to paint an accurate picture from both sides of the interview table. If your manager isn’t who you thought she’d be, if your responsibilities and career path do not line up with what you were told, if you’re doing something that doesn’t utilize your strengths or if the promise of a fairytale culture ends up being a nightmare — then you’ll be unhappy. The list goes on. On the flipside, if your manager inspires you, you believe that you’re making an impact and you can find a reason to laugh everyday with the people around you — the answer is much more positive when one or more of these variables exist.
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?
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?
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?
Creating culture isn’t an HR responsibility, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get it right. A great culture also gets confused with perks. Having a ping pong table and sparkling water on tap can only get you so far. Trying to transform the stuffy corporate giant into feeling like a fairytale startup is a huge uphill battle. One size does not fit all and companies have to be vulnerable enough to understand their employees before trying to make a major change in culture.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Ok, I admit I had to poll my team to answer this for me to make sure that my self-awareness is on point. The one thing that I’ve tried to live by is that I’ll never have a bad day in front of my team. I may have moments of intensity but we find a reason to laugh everyday, no matter how crazy it gets. They can always count on me to help filter a tough conversation they need to have or just vent. I actually hate emotionally charged situations (comes from being bullied as a kid) so I’ve always tried to be the equalizer in tense situations and can get everyone back to being focused on what’s important. These are quotes from them:
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?
I’m a first generation born American and my parents were immigrants from Asia that came to the US in the 60s. I owe my success to my mom who is equal parts loving, gritty and tough AF. As a kid, I remember telling her that I was thirsty and she literally told me to drink my own spit. Not in a mean way, but she started nodding and acting like she was swallowing her spit to quench her thirst. Guess what? I forgot I was thirsty. I used to think my mom was highly impatient growing up, but it’s because she did everything with urgency and purpose. My mom did it all (without all of the progressive parenting hacks of today): wife, mom of 2, head chef, housekeeper, career woman and more. Being raised by Tiger Parents taught me how to stay the course and push through the obstacles. I don’t rank which areas of my life are more important. I want to be the best version of myself in all areas of my life: wife, mom of 2, and career. All of them matter greatly to me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m often asked, “Why are you still going to college career fairs at your level?” and it’s because I care deeply about the next generation of talent. I remember being a college kid, with self doubt and unclear direction about what I wanted my future to be. I’ve never turned away someone that wanted advice, mentorship, a quick coaching session or a resume review. I’ve been really fortunate to have worked for amazing leaders that have inspired me and I hope to continue to pass on that knowledge to others.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Pressure is a privilege.” I’m forever thankful to have my brother as my sounding board because he’s had a 9 year headstart in life and has given me advice at every stage. I remember venting to him very early on in my career about a bad day and he told me that pressure is a privilege. I had to repeat it back to myself and take in what that meant. It gave me a new perspective. I get to choose what I do and have to accept the associated pressures that come along with it. Every moment of every day is a micro decision that adds up to doing something that I really enjoy. I have choices. That in and of itself is a privilege that I never want to take for granted.
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. 🙂
I want to help women stand out in their own unique way. As a double minority, I’ve gone the extra mile to make my impressions memorable because if anything, people remember that I’m Asian. It’s especially important for women to understand the power in leveraging their differences from others in order to make an impact. Rather than attending a networking event and shaking everyone’s hand, adding a ton of new contacts on LinkedIn (that you eventually forget about) and making a lot of first impressions, be intentional. Don’t make the first impression your last. If you want your first impressions to make a lasting impact, be more selective and intentional about who you meet, how you meet them and why it matters.