Tami Aguilar of JimmyJane: “Provide Opportunities for Challenging Work and Stretch Goals”

Provide Opportunities for Challenging Work and Stretch Goals. Make sure you are leveraging their strengths and delegating work that will give them new experiences and help them grow professionally. Give them opportunities to shine and have their work and contributions to be recognized in front of leadership and their peers. We’ve been able to do […]

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Provide Opportunities for Challenging Work and Stretch Goals. Make sure you are leveraging their strengths and delegating work that will give them new experiences and help them grow professionally. Give them opportunities to shine and have their work and contributions to be recognized in front of leadership and their peers. We’ve been able to do a really good job at this. As individuals have left the organization, we’ve been able to backfill key roles by assigning them to other employees that were in need of a new experience and/or capable of taking on more responsibilities.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tami Aguilar.

Tami Aguilar is the Chief of Staff/VP of People at JimmyJane. Tami came to JimmyJane with 20 plus years of experience in Human Resources, working her way up from an HR Assistant while attaining her bachelor’s degree, to her most recent position at Amgen where she evolved over a 15-year tenure from HR Manager to Head of Quality for HR. She’s honed a range of skills and experiences including performance management, talent management, organizational development, talent acquisition, organizational design, executive coaching, and change management.

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 tell people that my career path kind of naturally fell into place. When I started college, I knew that I wanted a general business degree. I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do. I started with Accounting as my major, then switched to finance and finally decided on Human Resources. They actually had this as an area you could focus on in your upper-division classes at Cal State Long Beach. I was also working part-time while I was going to school. I found a job through the student union to work as an HR Assistant for a Company called American National Can. They manufactured amber-colored beer bottles for Anheuser Busch. I reported directly to the HR plant manager. It was a primarily blue-collar workforce and a unionized environment. Under the HR plant manager’s mentorship and leadership, I learned the fundamentals and ropes of HR. I knew from this experience that HR was the career path I wanted to pursue after I graduated, and so I did. The rest, as they say, is history.

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

The most interesting story is probably the first industry trade show I went to. It was right after I started and was very eye-opening. It really helped me get to know the sales team better, learn more about our products, our competitors, our customers and this industry. Most of my career has been in biotech, pharmaceutical and tech industries. So this is my first real leadership position in the Consumer Goods Product industry and I had a lot to learn about our supply chain, our manufacturing, our product development and how we sell and market our products. At the end of the day, what I learned so far from this experience is that business is still business, no matter what industry you’re in and lucky for me JimmyJane is the best of the best.

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

Yes, we are always working on exciting projects that will help grow our business and result in improving the customer experience. These projects will not only benefit our customers by being able to get our products faster and more reliably but will also help our employees by being able to translate those earnings back into enhanced benefits and perks.

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?

Well, I think it’s like the Forbes study says. People don’t leave jobs because of the work or the pay, people leave jobs because of their leaders. That’s been my personal experience as well. If you love what you do every day and you enjoy the people you work with, you feel that your work is of value and appreciated. If you also have a boss that you can trust and will support you, it’s going to be very difficult to be able to recruit that employee away to work for someone else. Creating this type of culture for people requires focus and attention. It requires strong leadership principles, expectations, norms, and walking the talk. Do what you say you will do and treat others the way you want to be treated. If you can create that “Golden Rule” mentality and the ethical environment through your leadership and example, you can go a long way to transform your company and culture.

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?

Disengaged employees definitely lead to a loss in productivity. A loss of productivity leads to delays in work getting done in-full and on time. Whether that be product development delays, people making more errors and mistakes in their work, people calling out sick, the decline in overall output/performance, delays in project execution, etc. Also, unhappy employees may lead to overall mental and general health issues such as depression, anxiety, etc. That’s why it is so important to keep the lines of communication open and communicate often. Know your people, talk to them, show you CARE.

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?

Get a Pulse of your Organization Ask employees: How are we doing? What can we do to improve? How can I support you? What do you need from me/us? A recent example of this for us was a survey we did with our employees on our benefits and paid time off policy. Based on the results and staff’s feedback, we were able to communicate and implement changes. For example, we added 2 paid holidays this year. One for the Martin Luther King Holiday, and the other for the employees’ birthdays.

Provide Transparency and Communicate Often. Allow employees to understand what is happening with the company outside their general areas. Provide them with information on how we are achieving our financial targets, our goals, things that may impact them or their customers directly, so they are not caught off-guard. We do this on a regular basis with our employees in weekly staff meetings, Corporate communications, regularly scheduled one on ones and all-hands meetings.

Give Meaningful Rewards and Recognition. Provide staff with meaningful coaching and feedback on a job well done, or how they might improve and how that benefits the overall company’s success. Recognize staff’s work anniversaries and birthdays. Make them feel like they are a special person and a special part of the organization. Get to know them as individuals and accommodate their needs when personal situations arise. Encourage them to take time off. A rested employee is a more productive employee. Celebrate success and wins. Take the time to celebrate small wins. Lastly, compensate them appropriately at a competitive salary, and make sure they understand how their role and responsibilities have an impact on both the bottom and top line for the company. For example, since I joined the company, we rolled out a pay for performance system which includes having SMART Goals, reviews on progress towards goals and financial incentives that drive performance.

Provide Opportunities for Challenging Work and Stretch Goals. Make sure you are leveraging their strengths and delegating work that will give them new experiences and help them grow professionally. Give them opportunities to shine and have their work and contributions to be recognized in front of leadership and their peers. We’ve been able to do a really good job at this. As individuals have left the organization, we’ve been able to backfill key roles by assigning them to other employees that were in need of a new experience and/or capable of taking on more responsibilities.

Delegate Authority. Push decision making down to the lowest level possible. Organize roles and responsibilities so that employees can be held accountable and responsible for their work. Remove the bottlenecks that require multiple layers of approval or for all decisions to go through just one person. A good example of this is that we’re rolling out department level budgets this year with the ability for leaders of those functions to make financial decisions based on their approved budgets.

Promote Teamwork. Lastly, don’t create a toxic environment that pits employees against each other. Some types of performance management systems will do that. Create team goals and targets for employees to achieve and so that everyone can celebrate our successes and learn from our mistakes and challenges. Create a learning environment so that employees will take some chances without fear of failure or reprimand. There’s a scene in the movie Gladiator that is so powerful to me around teamwork. It’s when Russel Crowe’s character, Maximus, and the other gladiators first fight in the arena and they are being attacked from all sides. Maximus tells them all to come together in a circle and says, “Whatever comes out, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we WORK TOGETHER”.

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?

I think the key here is balance. The balance between work and life. I don’t think we have figured this out as a nation and how to do this as well as some European countries. I’m a true believer that you need to shut it down and really recharge your batteries in order to be more alert and more productive. Otherwise, you are just going to burn out. I don’t care how much you love your job. Taking time off and balancing your life is very important for your overall mental and physical health.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I would say my leadership style is empowering others and encouraging partnerships. I believe in the saying “you hire the right people and get the heck out of their way” but also be clear and transparent about what you expect (the what and the how) and hold people accountable. I treat my employees more like they are my peers. I communicate often, share as much as I can, bounce ideas and problem-solve together, listen, try to clear roadblocks and delegate ownership. For example, I used to be much more involved with the upfront role in recruiting. I was in charge of hiring the agencies, going through resumes, pre-screening, conducting the first round of interviews, basically driving and owning the overall end to end process. I’ve now delegated that responsibility to a direct report. I let her own and drive that process. I’m now only involved in the final selection of the candidates and she’s done an excellent job. This has freed up my capacity to work on other things and has allowed her to grow and gain additional experience.

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 a few amazing mentors and managers I have had along the way that are very special to me. There are two in particular. One was my manager from my first job right out of college, the other is my current manager. My first manager was my mentor and teacher. I get a lot of my leadership style traits from him. He mentored me in the HR business partner role. He taught me how to do an employee relations investigation, how to train employees and managers, and how to be a business partner to clients and leaders. I learned so much from him, and he gave me those opportunities and experiences to learn and to grow as an HR professional. My current manager is the inspirational leader I’ve always wanted to work for. He also has a very similar leadership style to me. He took a BIG chance on hiring me for this position. I had never worked in the consumer goods industry, nor had I ever been the head of HR. It was a new big role for me, but he believed in me, empowered me, trusted me and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life. We have built this amazing team together. I can’t say enough good things about Matthew Matsudaira and what his leadership and mentorship has

meant to me. He really taught me how to be a humble and servant leader. I am so grateful to Matthew and for this opportunity.

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

The world is a very big place. I can only control what’s in front of me. I try to make a difference each day, one person, one conversation at a time. Hopefully, I’ve made a positive difference and maybe changed the way people have traditionally viewed HR with the people I’ve come into contact with. I’m not the police. I am a business leader driving change, making moves, taking chances and delivering results to grow our business in a meaningful way in-line with our leadership principles.

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

Oh, this one is easy. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” — Albert Einstein. It’s easy to get stuck in the same routine or habits. There have been times in my life where I have felt frustrated, stuck or unhappy either personally or professionally. It’s not always easy, but what I’ve had to do is take a step back in the moment and reflect on why I am stuck and why am I so unhappy. Those moments of self-reflection allows me to develop a plan to make a change and come up with some short term and long term goals to improve my current reality. Sometimes I take baby steps like currently I’m making a commitment to drink more water every day and eat healthier. Do something or anything that will make you feel better and healthier as a person.

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. 🙂

Since there is such a spotlight on the COVID pandemic and how data/stats suggest that certain ethnicities (i.e. Hispanic and Black) have been adversely affected by the virus, I would want to focus on a movement that addresses the socio-economic issues that have put these ethnicities at a disadvantage. Every person should be able to have equal access to medicines (experimental or otherwise) and healthcare with the chance to be on an equal playing field for survival, regardless of their economic status. This one hits home for me. I have been directly impacted in my immediate family by COVID. Because of our socio-economic status, we did have access to the experimental medications and healthcare necessary to combat the virus early, but what if we did not? What would have happened? I would call this movement “No COVID patient left behind”.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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