ArchPoint Consulting welcomes Cindy Strohm to the consulting team. Cindy’s thirty years of Human Resources experience has focused on leadership and organizational development across diverse industries. Cindy has led numerous corporate initiatives in leadership and competency development, strategic planning, organizational resource planning, staffing, employee development and employee engagement.
Her career began in the Management Development Program with Hart Schaffner and Marx and eventually transitioned to senior strategic human resource roles with General Electric, Transamerica, Aon and most recently Phonak, the leading manufacturer of advanced hearing aids.
Following an undergraduate education in business administration from Drake University, Cindy pursued a management career and later specialized in human resources. During her career, Cindy has received training and certification in organizational development practices in Change Management (CAP), Quality Process Improvement (Six Sigma) at General Electric Corporation and Strategic HR Management at the University of Michigan.
Cindy volunteers in many community outreach programs through the Junior League, Infant Welfare, Special Olympics, “Hear of the World” for the Haiti Deaf Academy and the Dupage Foundation.
Why did you choose HR as a career path?
I graduated from Drake University with a degree in Business and initially went into a management position. I soon realized that I enjoyed developing talent. As a management trainee for Hartmarx Corporation, I was responsible for learning the role of a store manager where I quickly realized the value of motivating employees and keeping them engaged to reach sales targets. I found myself helping some of the employees learn how to work the register and run the store so they could progress in their career. I found great satisfaction in developing others and see their reaction and desire to learn.
That experience led to a position at Marshall Fields in Chicago as a Training and Staff Manager. Here I had the opportunity to teach and develop a number of employees and get involved in launching the Marshall Field’s TEAM training program. During the TEAM program, employees and managers were taught the value of working together as an organization to achieve a common goal, instilling in the employees the value of teamwork especially cross-functionally.
In addition to my training role, I had a more operational assignment to monitor the store staffing flow and ultimately determine the optimal labor to meet the needs of the customer. This combination of personnel development and operational staffing intrigued me to continue my career in Human Resources.
What about HR really fascinates you?
It’s the combination of many different facets to ultimately develop the overall organizational capability—from developing leaders to improving organizational efficiencies to aligning and recognizing talent—all of which should align to help the organization achieve its strategic objectives.
In my last role as the head of Human Resources for Phonak, it was critical to develop the leadership capability within the organization to sustain the growth of the business. We had to look through the lens of organizational capability to identify the programs that would have the biggest impact on the business. Ultimately, by developing emerging talent, engaging teams to have accountability to the company’s long-term objectives and instituting a succession planning and talent review process, the organization achieved over 50% leadership internal staffing rate while the business continued to have year-over-year annual sales growth.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?
Humility. A good leader establishes rapport with employees, managers and customers by listening and understanding their needs. I always liked Stephen Covey’s quote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
What do you find challenging about today’s workplace?
Developing internal talent can be one of the most difficult areas for organizations. As the companies grow and change at a more rapid pace today, it is important to continually focus on developing an internal pipeline to promote talent from within into leadership roles. Given the tight labor market, companies must find ways to retain talent and “retool” employee’s skills so they can be developed into new roles within the organization.
How do people go from just managing to really leading people?
Managing and leading are two different skills. Managers need to understand the fundamentals of how to develop employee performance and leaders need to show the direction by establishing a vision, communicating it effectively and walking the walk. Leadership comes by watching and learning from other leaders and being given the accountability and responsibility to lead and direct.
What skill are you most proud of?
Collaboration has really been the foundation of my career.
The first major project focusing on collaboration was during my time at GE Capital during their Six Sigma quality initiative roll-out. The focus on teams and the value of collaboration to solve problems was at the core.
Later in my career, I found myself leading efforts to bring diverse teams together to solve issues that crossed functions and businesses. The work of bringing together different perspectives to solve problems was exciting and I found that our cross-functional collaborative solutions really had an impact on business performance.
As Elizabeth Gilbert stated in her book, “Big Magic,” “All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life–collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration.”
What advice would you impart on today’s leaders in regard to HR?
HR should be a key partner in the business to enable the organization to deliver on its strategic objectives. It requires that HR truly understands the business and partners with leadership to develop a workforce that meets the changing demands of the business. It also requires leaders to have an understanding of HR to create engagement within their organization, develop talent and navigate marketplace dynamics that impact their workforce.
Truly the success lies in a partnership.
What might surprise me about you?
I am a distant relative of the famous Native American princess Pocahontas. It is a very small part of my heritage but very proud to be associated with this female that was such a significant part of our history.
What didn’t we ask that you wish we had?
About the value of an organization’s culture—about HR’s role in it. Many companies overlook the importance of establishing a strong corporate culture and how it contributes to employee morale, individual growth and the bottom line. Human Resources should play a role to facilitate the process, measure engagement and ensure leadership has a vested interest in the development of a strong corporate culture.