This time for Fond of Work, we spoke with Terese Lam, Chief People Officer at Wind River, a global leader in delivering software for the Internet of Things. Terese has 20 years of international experience in Australia, Singapore, France, the UK, and now the US. Terese is an agile and a strategic change leader with a reputation for thoroughness, quality, and achieving results in the HR space.
How did you first get into the HR space?
At university, I signed up for a commerce degree. But there was a course, human resource management that covered human behavior. I was very intrigued by that. I actually changed my major to HR and got into the HR space after university. I graduated and went into a graduate program in HR.
How did you end up at Wind River?
This time last year, I got a LinkedIn invite from an HR-specialized recruiting firm wanting to chat about an opportunity. They explained that the company, Wind River, had split out of Intel and was now owned by a private equity company called TPG. Jim, the CEO, was looking for someone to really help him transform the organizational culture, to energize it — being split out from Intel that was important to help grow the organization.
I met with Jim and the executive team and they spoke about the need to transform culture. I was intrigued by the company, which has been around for about 40 years, as well as the technology they were working on. Jim and the executive team were wonderful and I was excited by the opportunity to help transform the company.
You’ve been in HR for a while now. Why do you think it’s an important department for businesses to have?
Especially in technical, engineering, and industrial organizations (my background), a lot of managers just focus on getting work done and people have become a second thought. HR is really important in helping rebalance discussions and strategy so they also consider people. It helps create an environment where people can thrive — one where they want to come to work and be engaged.
What’s your management philosophy? How do you apply it at Wind River?
As much as being a manager is about getting work done and driving results, it’s also important to take care of your people and teams. We just launched a manager enablement program called “Manage@Wind,” and our first session was “What Makes a Great Manager.”
I visited different sites around the world and focused on getting managers to think about rebalancing their mindshare to address not just their work, but also their people, and ways to create an inclusive, energizing work environment.
One great thing about Wind River is that we really do have an inclusive environment and the message I get from all around the world is that we are very inclusive, with equal opportunity.
What we focused on was having managers think about their people, how to take care of them, how to support their career development, and how to help them be the best they can be at work.
We also had managers receive upwards feedback from their teams on 11 different traits we identified as characteristic of great managers.
Can you explain a few of those 11 characteristics?
One has to do with making sure that you have career conversations with people. A major reason people leave companies is because they lack career visibility or a career path. One of the traits we talk about is making sure that managers offer career development. Not on a weekly, monthly basis but at least twice a year: once to help set it up and once to review.
Another characteristic has to do with effective decision making, which lets managers move quickly. We also talk about being a good coach as well, and being able to empower your team.
These traits were taken from various studies — some engagement studies from Gallup, for example — or Google Project X’s study on differences between good and bad managers, and some from our own experience. We combined all those to come up with these 11 traits.
How do you recognize your employees for what they deliver every day?
I try to do it during one-on-ones with my team. If I see them doing great work, I say that. Also in team meetings — when a team or individual presents something that’s done really well I’ll thank them, and always give context too.
I discovered that this recognition and feedback was really something we needed to work on. Other people in other teams have also really helped us be successful with the launch. I think it’s really important to have visibility and show that you appreciate their efforts.
Why do you think employee recognition matters?
When I went on a world tour to really define and design our culture, what I heard loud and clear from employees and managers was that they wanted a feedback and recognition culture.
This was not a situation where HR came in with the idea for a recognition program. It actually came from employees and managers themselves. Their work matters, and they want to have a culture where people are celebrated for what they do — not just the great successes, but also our core values. Our recognition program actually came from employees themselves, which feels great.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
I’ve received a lot of advice, but one thing I’ve heard consistently is to slow down and ensure my team is on the same page as me. I tend to move very quickly so not everyone is on the same page all the time.
When you’re leading a global team, people who are at headquarters or closely located to you know what’s going on, but those that are further away, not so much. I make sure to slow down and ensure my team’s on the same page, aligned with what we’re trying to accomplish, and focused on the “why.”
What are some of the most pressing issues that you think HR leaders are facing today?
The challenge I hear everywhere is how to attract talent.
There are so many great companies out there. There’s only a finite pool of great talent. How do you make sure that you can attract them? Through your technology? Through your culture?
There are tools out there like Glassdoor and LinkedIn that have helped define this — but it’s more than attracting talent from the front end. You also have to consider the interview process, the candidate experience, introducing them to people in the organization, the work environment you get to show off. Regardless of whether it’s Wind River or a different company, it’s all about knowing how to attract the talent from that finite pool that everyone’s vying for.
The other big challenge I would point out is digital transformation. A lot of HR leaders are still figuring out what that means in the HR space. You have so many different tools — there’s AI for recruitment, and robotic automation so you no longer need people to do some of the things they used to. It’s all about figuring out what’s available, and what you can really leverage to help your team move up the stack and do less transactional work. It can alleviate some of that work for your team and let them work on things that really matter.
Is giving back important to Wind River?
It is, very much so. We’re getting into an era where it’s no longer just about the company but also social responsibility and community. When I started, we allowed time off for parents to volunteer at schools but that was really only available for a select group. We launched Wind Gives Back, which allows anyone in the organization — Romania, Japan, wherever — two days off for volunteering. They can volunteer anywhere they choose.
In addition to that, every quarter we have site-wide opportunities employees can sign up for. We work with a platform where we can curate community events. Individuals in the company can sign up for these events, or for the site-wide ones. We’ve had three or four site-wide events since we launched and it’s been great. Different teams come together and it’s just a fun day — whether we’re working on a sustainable farm or cooking at a soup kitchen, everyone has received it really positively. They’ve found the experience and the feeling that they’re doing something to give back to the community really memorable.
We’ve also done a bake sale, which was also (surprisingly) overwhelmingly positive. We were able to get a match from the company to help raise money for schools, as well as hygiene kits for homeless people. We raised double our original target. These are all really fun events that people rally behind and value. I get so many emails and people coming up to me, thanking me for such a great program. They feel that the company isn’t just about the company, but also about taking care of those around us as well. That’s really important for them.
Speaking of taking care of the community, do you also offer those incentives for employees?
We have a partnership with Virgin Pulse that offers a wellbeing program. Employees can sign up for it and earn points, then redeem those points for awards. That’s globally available to employees as well.
We’ve still got more to do. I really want to put in a recognition program. We’ve rolled out so many things this year that employees and managers are asking “Can you slow down? There’s a lot going on!”
Any advice for future HR leaders?
There’s so many pieces of advice out there, and other HR leaders can share theirs as well, but one key piece of advice to me has to do with the importance of including the voice of the people in everything we do.
Whether it’s driving a cultural change, or building career development opportunities, it’s important we make sure we always include the users. It’s a bit like design thinking. I really advocate for it with my team. We make sure everything we do fits a purpose and meets the needs of the people and employees.
I think another key piece of advice is to be agile. Engineering has this terminology around “continuous delivery,” which is a bit like agile and we’ve adopted this as well. We approach any program deployment with an agile mindset, making sure we constantly update and incrementally improve it according to whatever feedback we get. Having that feedback loop is so important.
One thing I found early in my career working for big companies is that you might take six months to a year to put these programs together because you want them to be perfect. Instead, this agile approach looks at putting together a minimum viable product, getting it out there, and then improving on it based on feedback. This helps move the company forward and shifts the way that we think about moving forward as well.
Thanks so much to Terese for taking the time to speak with us for Fond of Work. Stay tuned for the next interview in the Fond of Work series, coming soon! By the way, Wind River is hiring, so check out their website to view their open positions.
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