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Over the last 5 to 7 years, Sarah Pottieger has seen a shift in the realm of human resources.
“People are finally realizing your best asset is not your entire C-suite,” said Pottieger, now the Senior Vice President of People at Forum Brands, a consumer goods company based in New York.
“Your best asset is all of the other people that are working for you and you have to make their working environment something that feels inclusive to them, something that feels rewarding to them and somewhere they want to stay,” she said.
Pottieger went to school for journalism and started her career in the editorial world before seeking a move into a role that felt more stable and sustainable.
“Part of what drew me to HR was that it felt a lot more impactful than what I was doing,” Pottieger said.
She noticed that HR was evolving beyond what people traditionally think of (hiring, firing, coordinating benefits and payroll, etc.) and expanding into work more oriented toward creating a meaningful employee experience.
“I saw roles like ‘people operations’ and ‘culture manager’…that was very attractive to me so I wanted to pivot into that,” she said.
She began that shift by staying in the editorial world but switching to a job in operations, which she saw as an opportunity to learn more about the various departments that made up the business. She relied on her soft skills as she made the transition and said the hardest part was simply allowing herself to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and adaptable to change and ambiguity.
While the traditional roles of an HR department still fall under her department’s umbrella of tasks, she said she and her team are focused on understanding and improving employees’ time at the company.
That takes having strong people managers and systems in place that support employees in their development and “give them the space to see they have a career track,” Pottieger said. Surveying employees has become increasingly important as a way to get an honest read of how employees view the company and how the company can better serve its workers.
“It’s become much more of a two-way street,” she said.
In looking for new hires, Pottieger said she focuses on an applicant’s soft skills and wants to see a willingness to learn and strong communication skills. In marketing, it’s imperative that hires have the ability to tell a compelling story and be comfortable using data, she said – and those skills are valuable and transferable skills across all roles.
Applicants should also have strong references and be ready to share real-world examples of how their soft skills were tested – even if those scenarios didn’t happen within the context of a professional environment.
Once hired, employees at Forum go through a robust onboarding process where a manager sets them up with a detailed immersion plan, Pottieger said. That plan helps the employee understand their role, the roles of those around them and the expectations for their first 30, 60 and 90 days in the position.
The company also offers training for those who are managers or aspiring managers and partners with an external coaching and mentoring team to support those at the director level.
Finding employees who have the right combination of soft skills requires interviewers who already have them, Pottieger said.
“You can only recognize and understand true emotional intelligence if you have it yourself,” she said. “That’s the first step.”