Being Warm and Demanding Makes a Good Leader and a Good Culture

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Often, what makes leaders and workplace cultures great is that they are warm and demanding. The best organizations function when their leaders, HR team, internal brand, and culture all match their external brand. Getting that balance right, however, can be challenging. I recently discussed the issue with an expert with many years in the field of HR.

Meet John Reid-Dodick, Chief People Officer of AlphaSense, an artificial intelligence (AI) company that provides business insights.

How’d you get into HR?

I actually started life as a lawyer, originally with a law firm called Sullivan & Cromwell, and I then moved in-house to a client, which was Reuters. I moved there in 1995, and in 1997, I became general counsel of Reuters America. And then in February 2000, I was asked by the Chief Executive of Reuters America if I would move from leading the legal department to leading the HR function, with the goal of transforming and modernizing it. I agreed I’d do it for a year and then go back to being a lawyer, which I thought was my passion. But then I fell passionately in love with HR, and I’ve never fallen out of love since; it’s been a little over 20 years now that I’ve been in the profession.

A lot of law school and a lot of late nights to then just go over into HR, huh?

I joke that I was born and raised to be an HR person but didn’t know that until I became one. With the benefit of hindsight, I found I always oriented toward people things.

Even in law school—I was on the Law Review, and rather than writing a piece for publication or aspiring to one of the editing roles, I became what was called the Managing Editor, which involved organizing the work of the students putting out a monthly legal publication.

When I was at Sullivan & Cromwell, I got very involved in recruiting and helped organize the entertainment portion of the summer outing and the litigation section of the summer associates program, those sorts of things.

My first manager role was when I was leading about a 40-person legal department in Reuters America. I was more energized by the managing side of my role and the opportunity to grow the team than by the substantive legal work. We had the good fortune of growing fairly ambitiously at that point. We grew from 8 to 23 lawyers and also added a number of other professionals. I loved the recruiting process, and I think that’s what the Reuters America CEO saw in me when he proposed I move into HR.

And you said you never looked back. Have you found that your career has taken a sort of natural path?

That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t know if, for the past couple of decades, anyone’s career has taken a natural path. The best way to put it is that I probably moved to adjacent opportunities. In February 2000, I became Head of HR for Reuters America and did that for about a year. During the course of that, I led an HR transformation, which involved bringing in Deloitte and applying a very structured approach to doing the transformation.

And then the Reuters America CEO was announced as the new CEO for Reuters globally, and he put in a large-scale change program to reorient how the company ran itself—from regions to global customer segments. At that point, I had a year of doing structured change, so I was asked if I would lead what became known as the People and Capabilities track of that transformation. It was a short-term assignment based out of London; I commuted regularly to London for that.

Part of the change program was to globalize the various corporate functions. I helped with the organizational design of the HR function, and when that work was complete was asked to take on a global HR role reporting to our chief HR officer, and moved to London for that role.

Then, it just progressed from there. Part of it was the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. But I was also fortunate—all of us should be so lucky—to be able to do work I was passionate about, such as leadership, culture change, transformation, learning, talent, etc. And the roles I had after that tended to flow from that passion.

I did a lot of work in large-scale culture change. Over the past 15 to 20 years, I’ve led the people and culture work streams in about six large-scale transformations, ranging from completely re-architecting Reuters after our stock dropped from 16 pounds to 96 pence in 2003 to the merger several years later of Reuters and Thomson Financial to helping modernize Dun & Bradstreet to helping scale and grow WeWork.

As someone in that position, you kind of have to roll with the punches. Why don’t we talk about a few of those punches. You mentioned WeWork. WeWork is very interesting and something I’ve been following kind of closely because of its exponential growth and then of course the … what would you call that? Cataclysmic detonation. I think one of the things that impresses me the most is that it survived it. Were you there during that time?

Yes, I was there for four years. I joined in January 2016, and my last day was February 1 of this year.

Oh really?

My time at WeWork was in two halves.

The first half, from January 2016 to January 2018, was as chief people officer, and we scaled aggressively during that time. We grew from 1,000 to 4,100 people, from $300 million in revenue to over a billion, and from 16 to 65 cities, that kind of thing. So it was a pretty big rush of growth at that point.

In January 2018, I took on a role I had proposed for myself that stepped out of the chief people officer role to orient externally around something we called the “cultureOS,” which stands for “culture operating system.”

For most of my 4 years at WeWork, I worked directly for our co-founder, Miguel McKelvey, who along with Adam Neumann created the company. Miguel was a terrific partner for me, a creative entrepreneur, and a leader I really enjoyed working with.

We had developed, initially for our own use, this concept that culture is the output, and the critical thing is to focus systemically on the right inputs. We used to joke that the inputs are not Ping-Pong, foosball, or free lunch—those are “cultural confetti.” The inputs that truly shape culture are more profound—things like purpose, leadership, citizenship, space, connection, talent, agility, and platform. Those are the components that made up the cultureOS.

Essentially, you need to look at all of those things and bring design thinking and intent to how you activate those in support of the culture you need. As I mentioned, we had developed that framework to use internally, and it was featured as a case study that Professor Jeffrey Rayport taught at Harvard Business School in his class on scaling tech ventures.

During 2017 as our enterprise business started to really grow, we found that more and more large companies were interested in WeWork to use workplace as a lever to evolve their cultures. Often, the client’s CHRO was partnering with the head of real estate on this effort, and I found myself more and more being asked to join client meetings.

I mentioned earlier that I’d led the people and culture workstream in several large-scale change programs. Well, in every case I’d treated real estate as a way to shape culture and had partnered with the head of real estate in those efforts. And at Dun & Bradstreet, real estate reported directly to me.

Given the market opportunity, we formed a small team to use cultureOS thought leadership externally to help influence how companies think about culture and in particular the role that space can play in shaping culture. So for the last 2 years, I worked with some key clients in building really good relationships and helping to grow their revenue materially with WeWork. Read more here…

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Source: HR Daily Advisor

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