Faces of HR

Consider the Customer in Your HR Practices

What do employment branding, product branding, a great employee experience, and HR strategy have in common? According to Tammy Perkins, Chief People Officer at PMI Worldwide, they are all connected. When HR treats the employee and candidate experience with the dedication and care often given to customer-facing branding, the organization grows.

How did you get into HR?

“I attended Ohio University where I majored in HR and organizational communication courses. After I graduated, I worked in HR in various roles. I was at Amazon for 13 years. I held various senior HR leadership roles across customer service, operations, sales, third party marketplace, e-commerce, and engineering organizations. I then joined Microsoft where I was HR director for Windows marketing, and was the senior HR leader for customer services and support. Then I went from working in larger companies to leading the entire HR functions in startup environments.

“I joined PMI Worldwide in 2018 as Chief People Officer. My role is to set our global HR strategies and enable a culture that supports our business. I’m passionate and energized about creating an employee experience that is diverse and inclusive.”

That must have been very interesting being at Amazon because of how rapidly they expanded.

“Yes. I was there from 2000 to 2013 and was able to take on different roles and launch global locations; it was during a time of explosive growth. I learned a lot and valued my time there and worked with some amazing people.”

It sounds like you went to school for HR from the beginning. Is that right?

“I didn’t go into school thinking about HR and I actually started out in journalism. Then I took classes around organizational development, diversity and organizational communication. I met with a professor who asked me if I had ever considered consulting or HR. At that time, I did not realize what either role was, in terms of responsibilities and impact, although I am certainly happy that I decided pursue a career in HR!”

One of the reasons I was asking is that you were almost the first person that originally went to school for HR. I’ve never met a single person that went to college from the beginning specifically to be in HR. I guess the search continues.

“Many people I know went into HR from a different career path. HR is where I want to be. I have one of the most incredible jobs there is, because it’s the people that bring a company’s products and services to life.”

I’ve recently discussed the concept of making strategic decisions with the customer in mind with an expert. It was very interesting. It sounds like you’re in line with that approach.

“Yes. At Amazon I was HR leader for worldwide customer service for nine years. The notion that employees are our customers is one that resonates with me. The employee experience is directly tied to the culture.”

What about connecting HR with the external customers?

“There are two sides to your brand. I see that as two work streams; for the employee, experience is your external brand, which is how you build your employment brand and strategy. Then there is the internal side of that, which includes the employee experience and culture. Employee experience illustrates everything that people encounter or observe during their time with a company. It’s everything from the recruiting process, to the daily vibe in the workplace, to how they work and contribute to the organization.

“I believe that it’s essential to approach employee experience with the same diligence and dedication that companies approach customer experience. Employees need more than birthday cake or ping pong tables; no one ever quit over birthday cake or ping pong tables. You’ll retain them if they feel like they have an experience where they are valued and they can contribute and grow their careers.”

One of the things I find interesting about a failure to create successful employer branding, other than the shortsightedness of it, is the failure to understand that when your employees leave because they’re upset with how you did things, they have networks of people that they connect to and talk to that are all interested in their success. Those people will ask what happened. Maybe it doesn’t have the same reach as a marketing effort, but it impacts your bottom line because those people are probably not going to be customers anymore. It also affects your talent pool in that area.

“Absolutely. It starts with your employees. Your employees can be the brand ambassadors to help market your culture. You can engage your employees as your storytellers. They are the brand champions who share the experience and bring others along in the journey of their exciting place to work, and help shape the culture narrative.

“If someone interviews with a company, you want them to have a great experience even if the role may not work out for that individual. You could fill it internally. Or there could be someone else who is a better match for that skill set or area of expertise. What you want is for that candidate to leave and say, wow, that’s a great company and tell their friends.

“There’s no better endorsement than the impassioned recommendation of an employee who works for the company and uses your products and understands them. Recruiting their voices helps in everything you do.”

What’s something about HR that took you a long time to understand? I find that there’s a lot of initial learning when you get into a new career and then you kind of feel comfortable, although you probably shouldn’t. And then you realize you’ve been terribly wrong all along and you have that sort of more advanced learning moment. I’m interested if you’ve experienced that.

“Yes. One area that I think is important is building talent capability and hiring for the future. It’s easy to hire for the open position that you have, but things can change. And it’s important not to compromise your talent bar because you have an immediate need today. Hire with the company in mind.

“Another area that I’m passionate about is hiring for culture add, instead of culture fit. Hire people who can add to what’s missing today. That will fuel your innovation through different experiences and perspectives. Seek input from the missing voices at the table so that you can create an open and inclusive environment.”

I’ve read about the wisdom of not rushing to fill your open positions.

“Yes, it’s tempting. It’s something I’ve learned over time. You have to think about the impact moving forward.”

Yeah. I mean a lot of what worked, a lot of the best practices and human resources in general are things that are not necessarily obvious. Like being measured when your employees upset you if you’re a manager or not suddenly firing somebody or not asking somebody about their disability. It’s almost like to be a great HR professional you need to outsmart your instincts. What do you think about that?

“It’s true. And it’s something that you learn over time because it’s not necessarily the textbook side of things.

“There are a lot of things that you learn that aren’t being said that are important. In HR, we hear what’s said, and also what’s not being said.

“We work with employees and leaders to remove barriers and to make things happen. We also know which leaders are authentic and the ones who have challenges. What I’ve learned is you have to trust some instincts more than others, but it’s important to identify that there is probably more to it than what’s being said. You get there through judgment and decision making. Those are things that you refine over the course of your experience.”

What is something about HR that you’ll never forget?

“I believe that positivity is a force multiplier and it’s contagious, both at work and in personal life. Negativity can also impact people at work, and it can influence the environment. If you have a negative or toxic leader, or negativity in your personal life, that can affect you and how you interact with others. So I choose positivity. I want to encourage and inspire other people.”