HR Exec Shanda McKinney Listens Then Delivers
Shanda McKinney's advice for anyone looking to get ahead: Listen and be patient.
The latest Women to Watch honoree's career path began in the unlikely role of administrative assistant at a print and promotional marketing materials company.
“I had my master's degree in human resource administration and accepted a position as an administrative assistant,” said the vice president of human resources at the $2.8 billion Wright-Patt Credit Union in Fairborn, Ohio.
She said also made it clear to the hiring manager that she ultimately wanted to be in HR. After six months she went from temp to full-time employee at the Dayton-area firm, then got promoted to HR.
“If I hadn't been patient or if I thought that the role offered was beneath me, I probably would not have had that door to HR opened to me,” said McKinney. “It turns out that manager was committed to helping me reach that goal. I was promoted five to six times at that organization just by doing the best I could in every role while being patient.”
While she moved up in the organization, a corporate environment, where development of talent was not valued, she said, was not one where she could be true to herself.
“I’ve always been driven by a desire to serve and help others, yet at the time I was being promoted, in one quarter, 30% of the workforce was being laid off,” McKinney said. “I got into HR because I truly care about people and helping them identify and live their potential.
Then she made the move to credit unions in 2008. “I was on maternity leave when the opportunity came up at Wright-Patt and I’ve never looked back. I get to be part of an organization with a group of people who really care about their members and each other.”
One of the corporate values at Wright-Patt that particularly appealed to McKinney was that the credit union doesn't lay off employees. A transition group works with employees to find them a better fit and with training and development redeploy their skills in another role. She added that nothing is better than watching people thrive in what they do best.
“So many people are misplaced and land in a career that maybe their parents or someone said they should pursue,” McKinney said. “I like helping our employees figure out and follow their passion by being in the right role. “
She said it can also be a challenge to be candid and tell people the truth even if it's not what they may want to hear.
“My job is to remove the barriers,” McKinney said, explaining constant communication is key. She said she holds daily 15-minute update huddles with her team.
“To me innovation is focusing on creating simple, practical solutions to everyday challenges big or small. It's about making people's lives easier. People tell you every day what they need or want, you just have to stop and listen,” she said.
Listening is particularly important for HR departments to be heard. McKinney said human resources should be a part of strategic planning sessions to help ensure goals are aligned to business objectives that ultimately result in the greater good of the organization.
“I’ve learned the hard way that any solution or roll out has to be about what we are doing for the employee and organization as a whole not to them,” McKinney said. “That inclusiveness in seeing how it's tied to the bigger picture makes all the difference. We don't have to ‘police’, when everyone understands the why behind an initiative, policy, procedure or training.”
For McKinney, complacency is not an option. To foster an environment where people feel valued means taking risks.
“It's a constant work in progress,” she said. “It doesn't happen overnight and requires being consistent in what you say and do. So if you tell employees you want their opinions and ideas, then there has to be an environment of open communication, and you have to live it and show them the change .”
For example, when an employee survey revealed staffers felt Wright-Patt wasn't doing a good job of promoting from within, a commitment was made to a 70% internal succession plan. It's a detailed plan to identify and develop leaders and successors across the organization. McKinney said it's a way to help employees see growth opportunities as together they work on individual career progression plans.
“I always tell my team my role is to help mentor you to take my place,” she said. “Don't just look to a specific title when looking for a mentor because you might miss a great one. I believe my character has been shaped by a lot of good people who really take the time to invest in my development.”
McKinney added, “Really the most important quality is to find someone who will tell you the truth that no one else will say but you still need to hear. Don't look for someone who just agrees with you and validates you.”
At a recent quarterly manager meeting when McKinney asked those who had been promoted from within to stand up, and 15 to 20 people stood.
“What a great visual that we weren't just playing lip service to delivering on our leadership goal,” she said. “We heard them and acknowledged they were right. We could have been doing a better job so we worked on it. Our employees know that our credit union is one where all opinions matter and are valued. It's a safe place to express yourself.”
In addition to a renewed drive to developing talent from within, the credit union is focused on the empowerment of employees. McKinney said great workplaces share three common elements: Trust in leadership, pride in the work, and coworkers who genuinely enjoy their time together.
“To have pride in what you do, you have to feel empowered to make decisions,” McKinney said. “Our employees have such respect and trust in our CEO that they do their best to live up to the values of the organization. We want them to understand they are truly empowered to make their own decisions.
“At Zappos, employees have a discretionary fund to help and delight customers. So if someone mentions a family member died, that employee can just use the funds to send flowers without asking,” she said. “We want our employees to feel free to do whatever they need to do to wow our members or their peers on their own. So we are working on that.”