The synergy of lawyers and HR in solving human problems is what inspired me: Holly Windham, Rackspace
As the Chief Legal and People Officer of cloud computing services pioneer Rackspace Technology, Holly Windham has shown what it takes to synergise experience from both backgrounds for the benefit of both the organisation and its employees.
Windham is a legal professional with over twenty years of experience, who stepped into the domain of human resources when the Rackspace leadership asked her to do so three years back. People Matters met her in India to find out more about her and how her skills as a lawyer has played into the role as a human resource professional and enabling her to meticulously lead from the front in the new world of work. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.
You are one of the few HR leaders with legal expertise. How does this skillset help you in matters of human resources?
I have been a lawyer for most of my career. But I did study sociology and organisational dynamics when I was at the university, keeping me abreast with HR. I believe that the practice of employment law puts general counsel and the role of CHRO on the same wavelength, especially for a global company where we have workers' councils in different countries and employees all over the world. This gives us an opportunity to understand those laws and regulations when we hire and also when we acquire companies.
I got the opportunity to take over the CPO role at Rackspace Technology when my CEO came in. He was relatively new to the company and was building his new management team. He liked the way how the legal team was approaching the problems and solved them for the internal clients and customers. I was given this opportunity on basis of the management style & the skillset that my team and I would bring to the Human Resource, to think more about being a business enabler than being an HR function.
The approach that we believed in is: lawyers for a living, solve human problems. HR professionals for a living, solve human problems. The synergy of lawyers and HR professionals in solving human problems is what inspired me and as the head of both legal and HR teams.
You’ve talked about the synergy between the lawyer and the HR. Besides being the business enabler, how has your skillset enabled you in matters of policymaking, as an HR person?
At Rackspace, the legal department actually owns the policies for the company, especially as a public company. Our policies and our compliance function sit well within the core of the legal department. This is where we work closely with our business partners as well as our HR partners. Hence, there's a synergy present with the legal and the policy part of the business, allowing me to utilise my skillsets to address the human resource challenges.
What is the biggest human resource risk organisations can face in the new world of work?
I believe that the biggest risk is probably the biggest challenge i.e growing your talent pool. You can work really hard at hiring and bringing in new talent, yet once they cross the door post-recruitment, it's a different cup of tea irrespective of whether they are a new talent or a tenured one.
The second way to ensure this is to give the employees the opportunity for learning and development, which is critical, especially in the technology industry. People want to grow in their careers, they want to continue to develop skills. Here at Rackspace Technology, we have created our own learning platform called Racker University and we are able to train technologists on all kinds of different certifications to keep them current. We encourage them to learn the latest technologies because technology moves really fast and we don't want them to go anywhere else.
The new world of work demands new ideas for learning and development. How is Rackspace faring in this regard?
The Racker university that we have conceptualised, is an example where we have invested in newer technologies that are more in demand. The curriculum that we have created, is on an accelerated basis, so they come in and they spend 90 days and when they come out, they have skills on the latest technological skills that they can utilise in the new business areas where Rackspace makes the investments. These opportunities will enable the talent to develop better competitive skills, make more money and find better job opportunities. This kind of learning and development opportunity can enable the employees to just continuing to learn and grow in different ways. Therefore, when the time comes, the talent will be ready for the next higher-paid opportunity if the organisation takes the gamble to invest in their skills.
Does 'quiet quitting' present an element of risk to CHROS as they create new working policies? What are your thoughts?
“Quiet quitting” actually sums up the mentality of workers who have become disengaged. In our professional lingo, we used to call it “passively disengaged”, which we have discussed in the HR circle for years.
“Actively disengaged people” can sometimes be the best source to tell you what's wrong with the organisation and what you need to improve. It is the “passively disengaged” or the “quiet quitters”, that the organisation doesn’t necessarily recognise right away. And they can really bring down the morale of an organisation as well as their colleagues if they are not putting in that extra effort.
Quiet quitting has existed forever. One of the challenges that we face now with so many people working remotely, is spotting it. I think that the best way to spot it is to have very hands-on management in the sense of being connected with your employees.
I do believe that is one of the reasons why people become quiet quitters: the lack of connection. They haven't either formed it or they've lost that emotional connection to their colleagues or to the managers, and to the purpose of the business. HR leaders and managers need to understand the importance of communication here.
Research has shown that employees are reevaluating when and where they work before taking a job. Could you share some tips with your fellow CHROs and HR managers on how to tackle this in the new world of work?
Keeping ‘wellness’ in mind is an important tip I would like to share. Nowadays, It is not just about coming to work, doing a good job and getting yourself a paycheck. Professionals can work from anywhere in the world now and they have a lot of choices. Hence, we have to think about the wellness of the employees holistically.
Mental health is a big thing and building up the culture and awareness is really important in an organisation. At Rackspace, we have a programme where we concentrate on different parts of wellness.
Rackspace encourages its employees to come back to the office not because it's being mandated but because they want to be here at the office. We plan a lot of physical engagement activities for employees returning to the office. For example, we planned a blood drive where we encouraged our employees to come back to the office, take part in the blood drive, and see and meet their colleagues. Also, we have organised food events, for example barbeques and off-site lunches. It’s an interesting exercise in creativity for HR leaders - how to motivate employees with activities.
What do you think the future of work holds in the next few years or decades?
Collecting as much data as possible is of utmost importance. Data-driven decisions will enable organisations to take precedence in attritions as well as stay ahead in employee retention.
One size doesn’t fit all. It is important for CHROs to know what really motivates their team and collect the necessary data through surveys and polls.
I also feel that it is also important to do your exit interviews and to find out why an employee is leaving. It enhances a CHRO’s data-driven decision-making process.
I also believe that the future of work requires physical presence. Nothing can happen without being in person.
Hence, the return to work is quite a possibility that many organisations are tackling. Yes, hybrid work is the future but people are required in offices too, and that is where organisations and individuals need to come to a compromise.