Meet Sharon Edmondson, VP of HR at IWG, an organization that provides work spaces around the world for flexible remote work. She is responsible for the America’s Division of HR and has 16 direct HR reports across the globe. She leverages her 19 years of HR experience by managing an organization filled with remote workers across a variety of local service centers in the United States, Kuala Lumpur, Barcelona, Leeds, Belfast, Latin America, and Canada. Naturally, that involves a lot of world travel.
Can you share a cultural awakening moment from your time traveling for work?
“The first time I went to Asia Pacific, I was doing a training on recruitment, attraction, and selection in Thailand. There I had all of our Asia Pacific leaders together in a hotel meeting room. Now, I’m a little bit of a fast-talker naturally. These were senior leaders, and they all certainly spoke English, so I was feeling comfortable. I always start my trainings comically just saying ‘Listen, I realize I speak quickly, and when I get really excited and engaged, sometimes I can get more amped up.’ I hand out candy, and I say to just throw a piece of candy at me anytime it’s too fast and you don’t understand—I prefer the sour green ones. I don’t want them to feel like they have to sit there and not be able to engage; I want them to get a lot out of this, because I’m there for them.
“I would check in because no one was throwing anything at me! Periodically I’d ask if things make sense and if everything was OK. And I’d get a ton of nods. We got to our first official break, and it was clear no one learned a thing. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about or what I was saying; I was speaking way too quickly. It’s such a respectful culture that everyone was all nods and smiles. They were so friendly and so engaging, and I realized I had just completely failed on a solid 4 hours of training. It was painful.
“I did a lot of searching to figure out how to evolve and do that differently. When I see some of these leaders at company conferences, we still laugh about it. You have to be humble and understand how to get ingrained in the culture, know the audience, and understand how to read the graduates in the room. I totally did not take that into account. I didn’t value that piece as much as I should have.
“It’s funny, in my first board meeting ever, my CEO was standing in the back of the room, and I said, ‘OK, give me a hand signal to slow down if I’m going too quickly.’ He’s from Argentina, and his hand signal was hand over hand, which in every other culture means speed up. I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m doing a great job. I’m too slow!’ Then he was waving his hands wildly and saying, ‘What are you doing? You’re going faster!’ I was like, ‘Who does that motion to say slow down?’”
Was your first HR role with this company?
“I started my first role kind of touching the world of Human Resources at IBM, where I worked as a recruiter back in 1998. I had a little 10-month-old, my first kiddo, and got into recruiting. It was super fun. We were doing all these invitationals on-site and going through this elaborate testing for people straight out of college. But I realized that while it was enjoyable, it was definitely not my passion. Recruiting was not the piece of HR that I absolutely love. But there were aspects that were amazing. So, in January 2000, I had my second little one, and after maternity leave, I came back and started working for what was then called HQ Global Workplaces (now part of IWG) and got back into the world of HR. I then slowly evolved my career through many amazing promotional opportunities with the organization. I continued to expand my experience and footstep and my growth and development.”
Would you say it was because you had recruiting experience that you went into HR? Or was that something you thought you were interested in even before then?
“It’s interesting. I don’t remember any moment whenI thought I wanted to go into the field of HR. I’ve always loved coaching and teaching. I’ve been a problem solver, and I’ve been kind of a mediator by nature. And I’ve always had a huge heart for the underdogs from the time I was in kindergarten. I was the annoying child who stood up and said, ‘That’s not fair, Mrs. Smith, because so and so did it too.’ I was always driving for integrity, ethics, and fairness. I’ve always had a passion for people and the enjoyment of getting to learn about people’s lives and understand how people work—I’ve always been fascinated with culture.
“I think recruiting seemed interesting, but that job fell into my lap as an opportunity. I had a friend that worked there and kind of pulled me in. I loved the aspect of helping people find a job, and making a first job offer to college graduates was amazing. I was sending college kids prepaid phone cards to accept a job offer. It was a completely different world at the time. That was a ton of fun. But the rigor of going through and asking the same questions over and over again wasn’t my cup of tea. Yet, the talent part and learning people’s stories and watching them build a career was amazing. That kind of opened up my eyes to HR, and I really fell in love with the employee relations side of it. That meant being able to problem solve, help people be successful. It just kind of evolved from there. My passion for the people and the ability to see my influence and the way to help within an organization just seemed more and more interesting to me.”
Seeing as how your organization is so spread out, how often do you interact with your employees?
“I don’t see all of them all the time, but I do interact with employees in the field every day. It’s one of my big things. I’m a big believer in an open door. I don’t want to create the perception that because you have an executive title, your office is off limits. I play basketball with a coed league once a year from people from various parts of our organization. I’m very ingrained into the day-to-day. I don’t think you can be successful, personally, in the job if you are too removed from the business. If you told me I couldn’t go out to the centers and see the teams and meet the people and I had to still be successful in my job, I’d have to leave. I don’t think it’s possible.”
Do you think your job has influenced you outside of work?
“Absolutely, yes. It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m still happy to be part of it. For me, the big lesson learned is really valuing the view from someone else’s shoes. So much of my job is trying to understand what the perspective of the person on the other side of the desk is. Where are they coming from? You can get to that level of understanding and be able to meet that need, which hopefully then brings cohesion to the results that you are trying to gain. It just makes it a beautiful partnership. When we try to manage this one style, one approach, one path, it’s just not going to work. The reality is every person is different, look at how unique and different humans are across the globe and even in the same country.
“My husband and I collectively have 9 children, all with very different personalities. This career has helped me navigate home with a different level of appreciation and home has helped bring a bit of perspective to the tolerance of chaos at work!”
Would you like to be profiled in a future Faces of HR and share your experiences, challenges, etc.? Or, do you know anyone else in HR you think has an interesting story to tell? Write us at HRDAeditors@blr.com, and include your name and contact information; be sure to put “Faces of HR” in the subject line.