86: Leaders With Heart Embrace Their People And Their Results

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Alex Smith, Chief Human Resource Officer for the City of Memphis in Tennessee about her leadership style, her time when she was not the best leader, and her ways of leading with heart that has driven amazing business results for the city’s constituents as well as structure for the employee experience to maximize momentum.

Key takeaways:

  • Just because you are a leader with heart doesn’t mean results aren’t important.
  • Collective thought is better than individual thought.
  • Turnover can be good if the people are growing and developing.
  • You don’t have to be the smartest person.
  • Don’t do it alone.
  • Make sure to clarify your true north in being a leader.
  • Have wise counsel to help you.
  • Be humble and vulnerable, and admit when you need help.
  • Take care of yourself.
Be sure not to miss the pearls of wisdom in this episode!

Alex Smith is Chief Human Resources Officer for the City of Memphis. Alex is the visionary and architect behind the city’s talent management, training, employee relations, employee engagement, compensation, benefits, Total Rewards and diversity initiatives. She is also the “Chief Change Officer,” focused on evolving the City of Memphis’s culture to enable Mayor Strickland’s mission of “improving the quality of life for all Memphians, every day.”

Alex has been featured in publications for her work around transforming a government municipality to the 21st Century through cloud-based technology and economic empowerment through workforce sustainability. Alex has also served as a guest panelist and conference presenter for several conferences and forums.Before her service with the City of Memphis, Alex was the Director of Human Resources for Brightstar Device Protection. Formerly, she served in HR management roles for industry leaders, including Target Corporation and Microsoft Corporation, building a career of being a strategic HR partner for key business leaders.

Alex is also a firm believer in community service and has volunteered in several leadership roles, most notable being the global chairperson for Blacks at Microsoft, the first employee resource group at Microsoft Corporation. She also served on the board of Youth Eastside Services in Bellevue, WA.

Alex holds a Bachelors degree in Economics from Duke University and earned a Masters in Human Resources and Industrial Relations from the University of Minnesota. She currently resides in Memphis with her two daughters.

Business Around People

I am really seeing HR as a business. I tell my team all the time that we are in the business of talent outcomes, care, and feeding our employees and their families. Just for the City of Memphis alone, we have over 8000 employees, 7000 dependents, thousands on our health care plan, and over 5000 retirees. On an annual basis, we are touching over 20000 people.

Understanding our work to attract and retain talents, help people make life transitions, and care for our employees, gave me clarity. If you’re running a business around people, how do you cultivate your products? How do you help drive change? How do you help people understand the value of what you’re putting at the table? How do you help drive the talent outcomes that the business need in order to be successful? 

Take care of yourself. Make sure that you have plans for self-care. – @CHROAlexSmith #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

 Driving Results

It always starts from the top. My role reports to the mayor and I am fortunate to have a leader who really understands that people are the most important resource in an organization. 

He knows that we have to ensure hiring highly capable and qualified talents as well as putting them into the right roles in which they’ll be providing their expertise. We have to make sure that we have positioned them well to be successful individually. 

We also have to guarantee that our talents, managements systems, and processes fully support our idea. We believe that it is critical to have the right people for the right job, and that they are earning the right compensation while doing the right thing, in driving results for the organization.

Hence, everything we do has been thoroughly reviewed, considered, and thought through to help deliver the best outcomes possible. This includes the way we source talents, our interview processes, and our organizational structure among others. 

The City of Memphis is a 200-year old institution and I’ve only been in this role for three and a half years. So, obviously, there are things that had long existed, which we continue to manage and work with. But we secure that every new leader and every new role is aligned to the values system that the mayor has set in place. 

Also, we have more leadership trainings. We have invested in high-potential training, which includes direct leadership development trainings for all leadership levels to help them grow, and executive coaching for starting leaders as well to help them. 

Collective thought is better than individual thought. – @CHROAlexSmith #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Systemizing Accountability

From a management practice perspective, it’s important to have an accountability system

In addition to our talent management practice is a performance management system. Not only do we conduct quarterly performance review processes for our employees, but we have a KPI meeting every end of the month. 

During our KPI meetings, we sit down with all the top executives to discuss the most important KPIs, the things that are going well and that are not, and how we can work together to solve issues. Also, the executive leadership team members meet on a weekly basis to discuss the issues as well. 

So, having an accountability structure, a talent management structure, and the support of the CEO and his executives are crucial to drive some pretty amazing results for our organization and keep the ball rolling.

I always look for ways on how to grow and develop my team for them to achieve their goals and aspirations. – @CHROAlexSmith #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

How can you expect your organization to be agile if its human capital is not agile, innovative, and growing? – @CHROAlexSmith #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

A collective debate is better than one being isolated while trying to solve a problem. – @CHROAlexSmith #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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