To be [a people person] or not to be [a people person], that is the question. Or is it? HR or better named “people teams” have taken on the mission to bring the human back into HR and really drive change at organizations. While the office certainly isn’t a stage, and everyone wants to avoid workplace drama, basic tenets of theater can certainly translate to how people teams approach their organization and employees.
Meet Margaret Dwyer, the Senior Director of People Operations at SiteCompli. Margaret went to Vassar College and studied Drama, as she always dreamed of becoming a professional actor. Upon graduation she worked at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and began to audition for jobs. After a few years of the hustle, Margaret realized acting wasn’t the dream job she imagined.
During her time between acting jobs working as a freelance paralegal and assistant, Margaret enjoyed aspects of the business world she previously wasn’t exposed to. Working as a paralegal, Margaret had her “aha” moment, where she realized that she didn’t want the instability of being an actor and actually preferred to be at her job in a more structured business environment. She found that what she loved about the stage and theater could be translated into the business world.
In 2013 Margaret started working as SiteCompli in an administrative role during the company’s early stages. However, as with many new companies, wearing multiple hats was a must. Margaret saw a gap and need for initiatives such as employee bonding, recruitment efforts, scaling company culture, and conducting performance reviews. She began her research and stepped up to the plate. Within a year, her role shifted to be SiteCompli’s dedicated HR leader, and the rest is history.
While Margaret no longer studies scripts, but instead creates people strategies and conducts performance reviews, she uses much of her theater background in the realm of HR.
When you are an actor you receive a script to memorize. When reviewing the lines, you have to think with each word, what is my purpose- what is the goal? In HR, you don’t get a script- you have to figure out the purpose and how to communicate with others.
People teams are constantly evaluating the purpose and goals of initiatives. When speaking with people you don’t have a script, so using improv skills can come in handy when needing a solution on the fly. And just as an actor has a purpose and goal in a performance, so does the business. HR supports the business in meeting its objectives by supporting employees.
In theater and acting, it’s all about story-telling and being part of something larger. In HR you are supporting the business telling its story and mission to consumers and employees. You have to tell a story that resonates.
As Margaret found her way to connect her skills from the theater realm to HR, she also has a great approach for lean people teams. It’s important when you start as essentially a team of one to understand what is the most important thing for the business- you need to be strategic in every move. Focus on the most important items for the company, and don’t be afraid to change directions based on the business needs – HR needs to be reactive to what is occurring on the business side.
While the desire is always to be proactive and strategic, sometimes you need to address things immediately- you need to reactive. It’s a balancing act of learning to prioritize the what and why and map your time accordingly.
In addition to being on the frontline for the people at your organization, recruiting is an important aspect at a growing company. Finding talent is essential to working towards the mission of a business; and to build a great product, you need great people.
With recruiting, Margaret utilizes social media, employer branding, an engaging careers page, and her own employees to help attract talent to open positions.
We hire incredibly talented and kind individuals and keep that in mind as we continue to grow and scale. We stay honest with our communications and are employee-focused with our goals.
Once talent is through the door, focusing on retention is key as well. To help foster a great culture, Margaret and her team have implemented some great programs such as employee-run Lunch and Learns on topics ranging from “How to Host a Dinner Party” to “Microsoft Excel Tips.” All employees are invited to join the company’s “Fun Team,” who are responsible for setting up programs and events to foster inclusivity, collaboration, and fun across all departments.
It’s important to create a great employee experience- unlimited snacks and vacation are great, but people don’t join an organization for that- you have to ask, what is our competitive advantage for an employee experience that will excite our current employees and potential hires? You have to consider your narrative and the script that needs to be written to convey your story.
And as a last piece of advice, Margaret left us with this:
Keep iterating- you are never done with a program. There’s always room to improve upon employee communications, being clear on your intentions, and making employees feel welcome. You always need to re-up on that commitment to sustain the great culture you’ve built.