Archives for May 2019

May 22, 2019 - No Comments!

The Team Advantage – It’s about Talent says Sarah Pearson

Business has never done so much hiring as they do now. Companies are building internal capable recruiting teams and using external experts as well. It could not be a more challenging time to build a team of energized recruiters and partner with the business to keep up with talent demand. I recently learned that Sarah Pearson, head of Talent Acquisition and Corporate Strategic Business Partners at Orora Packaging Solutions won the HR team of Excellence award given out by NHRA in Orange County. I wanted to know what her “secret sauce” was for building her team and found a time to speak with Sarah about this.

Sherry Benjamins: What brought you into the talent business?

Sarah: I grew up in England and attended high school here in Southern California. I was fortunate to land a position at the Walt Disney Company and stayed for 12 years. I learned from the best and appreciated their marketing genius. It was there that I began to see the importance and power of brand and what motivates us as consumers. I then went on to recruiting and worked for an executive search firm, I learned more about people and what they are capable of, as well as, what gets in the way of them tapping into their own individual genius. Next stop in my career was a dive into fashion and brand with a tech start-up in LA, where I scaled the organization from 80 employees to 2500 across 12 countries in less than 4 years. The differences of experiences, companies, industries and strategies I’ve encountered prepared me for the business of attracting and engaging talent in a meaningful way.

Sherry: What do you think it takes to select and lead a team today?

Sarah: Leaders need to be future-focused. I study the trends that will impact us in the future. When I look ahead at potential change, and work backward from there, it helps me determine the strategies needed for the team. I believe that future leaders need to be self-aware. They need to know what they are good at and to allow themselves to be vulnerable (admitting where they have blind spots and/or deficiencies).

Imagine a culture where failure is rewarded, not feared or avoided. Imagine the innovation that can occur when you create a safe space to experiment and fail. I launched a new system (Applicant Tracking System) at Orora and I am rewarding mistakes as we implement this. Those on our team that raise the most “bugs” will get a reward. I am working to create a culture where it is ok to fail and it is important to foster risk taking.

As a leader, it is also important for me to understand what drives each person and then learn what success looks like for them. Leading a team means getting to know each team member very well and helping them unlock the career that they truly want.

Sherry: What have you learned about yourself from leading teams that surprised you?

Sarah: I have learned to give up the idea of perfection. Being perfect was a killer of any attempt at innovation. I can see that now. I was fortunate to have a role model earlier in my career who understood teams and celebrating differences. She was the leader of a gaming company and exposed us all to mindfulness and the importance of intention and balancing physical as well as mental well-being.

Sherry: What is the role technology plays in bringing your team together?

Sarah: I have a team that is 90% remote. This forces me to think about technology as a tool for communicating and sharing information. It means we need to be there when we can’t physically be there. The team is encouraged to self-organize and use tools such as instant messaging, social platforms with a blend of planned update calls. I am proud of our ability to perform remotely and serve such a diverse customer base. We implemented a team meeting conference and video call every two weeks and I schedule a weekly touch base call one on one with each team member. Other parts of the organization have not yet adopted virtual work in the way we have however, I see that happening at some point.

Sherry: What is your operating priority for the team?

Sarah: I think it is all about service. That is service to each other and our customers. If you recall, I grew up in the Disney culture and personally experienced their practices of “concierge” service to guests. I believe in aspiring to that level of service. One idea is to aim for a “zero inbox mentality” – getting back to people quickly. In today’s world of communication that may seem daunting. We tackle this in steps; first establish clear email etiquette and second, decide if the email is action required or information sharing. I work hard at modeling this concept of service and managing communication for our team.

Sherry: Bob Johansen, the trends analyst, says that “the best leaders in the future will be gritty gamers and prototypers.” Do you see that?

Sarah: I agree that the power of games is here to stay and for something we can learn from. I have an eight year old son who loves his games and frankly, rather than worry about it, I embrace it and see it fosters a growth mindset. He is continuously learning about strategy, creating a hypothesis for action, learning from mistakes, and figuring out how to navigate change. When I play with him, I can see these skills in action.

Our future leaders will have to anticipate and shift, iterate, learn and improve their tactics. I agree with Bob, that it is all about simulation and immersing yourself in unfamiliar environments so that you can learn in a very personal way.

Sherry: What is your advice to new managers today?

Sarah: There are three areas that I would suggest new managers focus on.

First, utilize a tool for feedback – to spark honest conversation. I use a tool called “Stop, Start and Continue.” This quickly builds a trusting relationship with your team, especially when you supply them with feedback and ask them in return for feedback on a regular basis. Each of us gets to say what is working, what should continue and what we can stop doing to make things better.

Secondly, connect the work to a mission or purpose. Be specific – so that if your purpose in the next three months is to complete a project that everyone is participating in, then be clear on the deliverables and why it matters to them. Be realistic and pragmatic. They will feel committed and clarity moves everyone closer to your success.

Lastly, audit your reputation. Ask peers, clients and your boss for feedback. Ask how you are doing and how you are known in the organization. It takes being vulnerable. And, be willing to listen and respond. I have learned the most from asking for this feedback to support relationships and future success.

Conclusion by Sherry

I have respect for leaders in our community who are building high performing teams. Peter Cappelli, in his recent HBR article, talks about how hiring is all wrong today. He is referencing the challenge in retaining talent. Sarah’s advice on building teams and understanding what each individual member wants works across the business. Not every manager has this focus or intention, so we lose quality people.

LinkedIn data shows that the most common reason for employees leaving is to consider a position elsewhere which meets their career advancement goal. Hiring managers sell the career conversation but they also need data. Analytics tells the story of why retaining internal talent results in stronger outcomes. It is time for us to do the numbers and reveal the truth.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Uncategorized

May 12, 2019 - No Comments!

Count Up Your Transitions

When were you at your best? Jot down memories where you were energized and enthusiastic. What were you doing then? Imagine creating more of those welcoming moments. I bet some of them were during a transition.

I decided to count up the transitions that I have had over my career and it is well over 15 when I look at the change in roles and responsibilities as well as new culture, organizations or starting my own company. Each change required a shift in mindset and a deeper understanding of me. I was impatient at times and wanted the answers much faster than they came to me.

I recall a very big transition which was to leave corporate America and figure out what was next. Although this was many years ago, I recall it vividly. I had been in the career consulting business and focused on helping others with their story but I had not thought about my own story. Have you ever been in the pace and groove of your work? You try to convince yourself that it is all right. Over time, you realize it doesn’t feel right.  It was welcoming at first but you start to ask yourself questions about your new perspective or direction and whether you are still learning.

Fortunately, I was asking those questions and was introduced to LifeLaunch, a program of the Hudson Institute which is now called Life Forward. Back in those days it was a five day program focused on your inner talk, possibilities, feelings, prized memories and eventually goals and action steps. The concepts introduced were about reflection, revision, and renewal. It was focused on where you are today, where you want to go and how you will get there. There was a phase called “go for it” and being a results-driven person, I liked that phase. But, that is not where you start. The process begins with reflection and slowing down to think about dreams, passion, and interests and of course, purpose.

Whether you are making a job change or taking on a bigger role in your company or moving into the entrepreneurial world, the transitions we go through from one stage to another is a gift. They are exhilarating and they can also cause anxiety.

I was ready to create something new but had no idea how it would work out. That was stressful and exciting.  This can happen when you are inside a company and have a role that you enjoy and then you hear of an opportunity that you can transition to with more responsibility along with a very steep learning curve. It is what you were looking for yet scary at the same time.

What I observe today is that the speed of transitions and personal change in our careers is so fast that there is little time to move through the changes and or the emotions. We need that in order to understand ourselves, what might accelerate our effectiveness or get in the way and how best to navigate an entirely new challenge. The people are different, expectations vary and the social norms might shift but you are not aware of that yet.

As you embark on your change, it may be that the rules have changed or the way to get things done is entirely different. You might have to navigate this on your own or if you are lucky, you will have a change “Sherpa” in your company. We are never really on our own and change does not mean you will be in “free-fall” as one of my clients expressed. However, I know that feeling of fear and internal second guessing that takes us down a path of non-constructive self-talk even during a positive expanded role. Slowing ourselves down to reflect, envision and then act is a human thing to do. Reaching out to your network is a human thing to do as well. Our company cultures are not great at slowing down.

Here are my suggestions on moving effectively on a wave of transition.
1. Celebrate - Did you celebrate the ending – you may have just accepted a promotion in your company and moving on to a bigger role. Did you celebrate and congratulate yourself for the accomplishment of getting this far? Take the time to do this with your team and acknowledge success. It is easy to let the voice in our head worry about the new job or jump to action with enthusiasm but take the time to breathe and celebrate this ending before starting a new beginning.

2) Welcome the new – Meet your team, get to know the business and how things work. Ask a lot of questions. Your focus is on learning rather than doing. We are all programmed to do but few of us focus on the learning part first. Step back to figure out the new landscape and what small steps of success will look like. Determine how your network will expand and who will be there to guide you. Sometimes it is not your immediate boss.

3) Envision – Listen to your internal voice but also gather the perspectives of others. I recall my voice telling me, “you are responsible and you will do the right thing.” I had to add something critical to that inner dialogue and that was “enjoy this adventure and trust yourself.” Not so easy to accomplish but it was my daily mantra.

4) Grow – The aging process is inevitable and I don’t recall ever thinking about it until my 40’s. That is when I realized mid-course corrections are a good thing and if we can look at our learning and development as part of our investment plan that is cumulative, than we are ahead of the game. It takes time to learn a new role. You have more decisional capacity than you realize so learning, risking and experimenting is part of the deal going forward. Your company will not drive that for you so you get to set that growth plan and course correct along the way.

What is your learning agenda for the next chapter of your life?  Who are the people you would chose to have as mentors, friends, and guides? Build this into your plan and you will see that endings, celebrations, beginnings, and your feelings around change will be more aligned with your level of satisfaction and connection with those that matter.  Do not hurry this process. It takes time and intention.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Blog, Communication, Employee Engagement, Talent Economy

May 8, 2019 - No Comments!

Expand the Circle

Imagine you have a circle of friends that you have known for a long time and they are just the folks you hang out with when you yearn for connecting and comfort. Often, food accompanies this connecting time.

You know these friends, their unique perspective on life, what makes them laugh and their favorite food. True appreciation for who they are and why you enjoy this circle of friends or friend, is very clear knowledge that you have lived and experienced with joy.

Now think about what it is like to step out of that circle and connect with new people – that are not in your circle. It takes a different energy to expand beyond your comfort zone. It amplifies our curious self to meet new people and listen to other perspectives of the world. This is the space where we don’t know things.

We should not take advantage of our circle. Relationships are not static and the world is dynamic, so why not consider new dimensions to explore. This does not mean we abandon our circle of “confidants.”   However, do you want to learn about other people, cultures, interests and or experiences? We are only one person, so when we can learn from others, it is truly a gift and from a practical standpoint it makes us more productive and maybe even a bit worldly. We learn about the things we don’t know.

Be honest, is it tough for you to make new connections? Are we good at getting to know others? Is this a new skill to master? And, where do we find the time to expand these connections? Are we good at the art of inquiry – really getting to know someone?

I believe the next generation will offer us more perplexing situations and opportunities to expand our notion of “circle of friends” and learn new skills in connecting with others. It will be a broader definition and produce more meaning, complexity and fascination as the world seems to get smaller.

I was invited to a dinner party a year ago, for my son, a visual artist and creative writer, was fortunate to be the first artist and one person show for a new gallery in Echo Park, Los Angeles. He was so excited and the opening night was invite only for this special celebratory dinner. We sat down with 12 other folks and what was astounding was the diversity of people, backgrounds and areas of interest beyond art. Saying they were eclectic is an understatement. They shared a love of art. Beyond that, they worked in the finance area, teaching, performance, coaching, making art and professional traveler. You might say this is an LA thing but it clearly is an example of an open circle of connections that invites you in to a new conversation.

We knew before getting there that we might feel like a stranger among strangers. However, it did not take long to see more of the synergies and possibilities, and delightful peculiarities of this group getting to know each other.  Yes, there was some trepidation at first which moved into wanting to learn more about each person.

My take away is to suggest we abandon the mental models in our head about how we should meet new and different people and just embrace the unknown. That is not hard to do under an LA warm summer night while we get to share pasta, grilled zucchini and wine.

Are you part of a peer learning group? What are you learning that is unexpected? How does this group support you in the challenge of navigating work and personal challenges? I am passionate about helping others learn and build meaningful connections. As humans, we all lean towards these kinds of relationships where people can be authentic and find their voice. Enjoy expanding your circle along with wonderful food!

Sherry Benjamins facilitates peer learning groups that are forward looking, and have a keen interest in building relationships that strengths impact and direction on work and career. They begin in building a new circle of friends where it is safe to be themselves, learn about each other and accelerate their success as leaders and learners in business. Contact Sherry to learn more 562-594-6426 or


Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Blog, Communication, Employee Engagement