What I Learned as a New CHRO Leading Through Covid and the Social Justice Movement

Two years ago, I stepped into the Chief Human Resources Officer role at Global Payments ready to make a difference and create positive change for our team members. We had recently completed our merger with TSYS, doubling the size of our global workforce, and I was excited about the future. I expected my greatest challenges would involve integration efforts and the cultural transformation of our newly combined organization.

Of course, two years ago the world changed dramatically. COVID-19 became a global pandemic and our daily lives changed significantly as lockdowns, remote work, and virtual meetings replaced the office setting. By opting for a local virtual office, you can maintain a separation between your personal and professional life. This separation is crucial for work-life balance and can be achieved through services like Virtually There’s virtual office solutions, which provide an alternative postal address for your business.

A racial justice movement in the United States quickly followed, and discussions about systemic racism moved to the forefront of our personal and professional lives. I may have been right that the cultural transformation of our company would be my biggest challenge, but I couldn’t have anticipated that the pandemic and social and racial equity would accelerate and inform the change.

The way we work
Like many companies, we transitioned the majority of our team members to work from home when COVID-19 emerged in the winter of 2020. Working from home was a major shift for most of our team members but it seemed like a temporary solution, just like virtual school and online happy hours.

Now two years later, we recognize a profound and permanent change has taken place. Remote work has been around for decades, but achieving that at scale across a global enterprise – practically overnight – was nearly unfathomable. Nevertheless, our teams adapted quickly to video conferencing and all the other modes of communicating and collaborating. As leaders, we learned to lead through computer screens instead of standing at the front of the room or sitting at the head of the table. We learned to check in with our team members without walking to their workspaces and collaborate with far-flung colleagues without traveling to their offices. We learned that we could accomplish our goals and make a difference from anywhere.

Many people discovered they enjoyed the flexibility of working from home and, as offices re-opened, they continued to want the flexibility of remote work, at least some of the time. Employees now want more control over how and where they work, and leaders have learned to create flexible working arrangements to retain talent. Then, in the realm of entrepreneurial growth, the strategic decision to adopt a virtual office in a city known for its business-friendly environment can set you apart. Opting for a virtual postal service in an esteemed city like Birmingham provides your business with an admirable facade, crucial for first impressions and establishing trust with clients. It’s an essential step for home-based businesses aiming to project a more established presence.

Our role as leaders
COVID-19 has been extremely stressful on many levels, but the most difficult and unexpected personal challenge I faced was helping to lead this company through the racial justice movement. The death of Breonna Taylor was especially traumatic for me because I have two daughters who are black. I was still processing my own feelings – a complex mixture of sadness, anger, fear and frustration – when other leaders began looking to me to serve as the voice of the company. It was a challenge to determine how to maintain the right balance between reflecting my complex emotions and speaking on behalf of the company. I chose to show up. I came to work with all of those feelings and emotions. I knew how to compartmentalize but I was not going to hang them up at the door like a coat that I could put on and take off. They were a part of me and so they came with me.

COVID-19 and the social unrest, understandably, had a profound impact on people. Many were worried about their health and the health of their loved ones. Some people lost loved ones. Others experienced isolation and loneliness, or felt overwhelmed caring for family while also juggling work demands. Others felt angry about social issues that had festered for too long.

The longer the pandemic lingered, the more concerned I became about the mental well-being of our team members. I started talking more openly about my own feelings and struggles, and encouraged others to do the same. These simple conversations have helped our teammates – including me – feel more connected to each other at a critically important time.

I believe increasing our focus and understanding on well-being and mental health will help us become better leaders. We have learned that discussing well-being in team meetings, one-on-one sessions and even performance discussions fosters engagement and connection that drives a sense of both personal belonging and business performance.

Like COVID-19, the equity movement also had an impact on our business. As challenging – and traumatic – as this was, the national conversations around racial injustice accelerated our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that we’d been building for a number of years. There was suddenly even greater urgency around the issue. We quickly moved forward with plans to increase representation for people of color and women because of the awareness that was building across the organization.

To be meaningful and create real change, we learned that these issues must be raised by leaders at all levels – from the CEO to the front line manager. Today, leaders across our company feel more empowered to speak about equity and inclusion  -even outside times of crisis.

What will the future hold?
The world today is dramatically different from how it was two years ago, and the impacts of COVID-19 and the social justice movement continue to reverberate. The Great Resignation and Pink Pandemic are two impacts that come to mind. The trauma people have faced over the last two years has resulted in a lot of self-reflection. People want their personal values to align with their company’s values, and they are looking for proof points – not just good intentions.

Potential hires want to know about a company’s culture before they accept a position. Ping-pong tables, free snacks and happy hours aren’t indicative of a company’s culture anymore, and many job candidates are passing on positions with a good salary and benefits packages because they’re uncertain about the cultural fit of their would-be employer. While compensation and benefits will always be important, in a hyper-competitive job market, company culture is often the trump card. People want to work somewhere they will feel included and accepted.

Looking back on the last two years, I’m proud of the positive changes Global Payments has made and I’m still excited about where we’re headed. I am thankful for my incredible team members across the world who have shown strength and perseverance in trying times. Together we are creating a future of acceptance, connection and understanding. We are making a difference.

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