Dave Carhart has been involved in the field of human resources (HR) for more than a decade. For our latest “Faces of HR” profile, we sat down with Dave to discuss how he got his start in the industry, his biggest influence, as well as his thoughts on trends and best practices for the HR industry, including how company leaders can make HR a value within their organization. According to Carhart, it all starts with critical thinking and setting your intention.
“You must really identify what the biggest business problems to solve are and how you are able to directly impact them,” Carhart recently shared with HR Daily Advisor. “In addition, figure out what the rest of the business and financial analysis is missing. What unique insight or perspective can you bring to the table precisely because you are coming with skills and knowledge about people?”
In our latest Faces of HR profile, meet Dave Carhart, Vice President of People at Lattice, a people management platform that helps leaders develop engaged, high-performing teams. For nearly two years, Carhart has led a team of more than 40 people across HR and recruiting.
How did you get your start in the field?
I started as a technical recruiter at an agency and loved the pace and excitement. Two things happened while I was there. First, in working with a lot of different companies I saw the opportunity that my customers in People teams had to impact their organizations with talent strategy, but also how disconnected they were from the actual business. I saw that there was a real need for people leaders who were able to bring those two pieces together. Second, the economic crash of 2008-2009 happened. If it weren’t for that, I might never have left, but the wreckage forced me to get out of my comfort zone and diversify my skillset and experience.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
There were two senior HR leaders that I worked with at HP. One was Don Robertson, who has gone on to run HR at multiple tech companies and now Northwestern Mutual. He pushed us to set incredibly ambitious goals that we didn’t think we could achieve and took risks on talent, giving people (including me) big opportunities long before we thought we were ready. It showed me some of my own potential as well as how to unleash that in others. The other was Jessica Swank, who is now the Chief People Officer now at Box. What I saw in her was an ability to bring together deep business understanding, leadership skills, and real functional HR expertise. She showed me ways to break out of what is sometimes an HR echo-chamber, grounding HR initiatives in the needs and understanding of the business.
What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?
My best recent mistake was our initial hybrid planning. Earlier this year we got to a point where we really wanted to provide people certainty of what to expect. I was overconfident, both in my own assessment of what the pandemic would bring and I think all of us as a leadership really felt that we knew what hybrid working would be like. All of that was wrong – as we got back into the office during an optional opening period what we liked or didn’t like, what worked or didn’t work all was different than what we expected and then came Delta. It’s taught me to embrace experimentation, optionality, and emergent strategy much more than I have in the past and also to be really open with employees about uncertainties, unknowns, and the undecideds.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?
My favorite part is being able to bring together such a wide array of areas – the operations involved in recruiting so many people, the medical understanding that we’ve been forced to develop recently to keep our teams safe, the branding and communications skills, the understanding of company financials. Pulling all those pieces together and then figuring out decisions – often very hard decisions that involve lots of gray areas and judgement – is something that has always motivated me. My least favorite part is that we can sometimes get into an HR echo chamber. We need to do more to bring in learnings and skills from outside of HR – what can we learn from user experience research and product management as we design talent programs? What can we learn from supply chain and operations professionals to build better processes and systems?
It sounds like through you experience you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.
There’s a set of things that we know define high performing organizations and teams. They are engaged, the members feel a sense of belonging, they engage in rigorous debate, they consider differing opinions, they set ambitious goals that are not guaranteed, they learn from their failures, and they give each other feedback. None of that can take place unless there’s a foundation of psychological safety. It’s not the only thing that matters and on its own it’s not sufficient, but it’s a critical enabler. There’s a reason why “Drive out fear” was one of Deming’s 14 points and “absence of trust” was the first of Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” In various incarnations of organizational strategy people have put different words around it, but it’s the same core concept. We know that it’s critical, but it’s also much easier to shatter it than it is to build it. It takes time and effort over an extended period.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?
Hybrid work is going to be a multi-year journey as we all figure out how to do this in practice and the pandemic keeps evolving. Total rewards is going through an overhaul – the inflation that we’re facing, changing relationship between pay and location, new comp tools, the rise of the importance of benefits for remote employees, the need to continue to shape benefits to support an increasingly diverse workforce – all of these require us to really rethink our rewards strategies. Also, L&D is about to be reinvented. Shortening average tenures, competitive labor markets, the demonstration of how LinkedIn has changed the external talent market, the rise of a micro learning platforms and the need for agility within organizations – all of this means that a People team’s development capabilities need to shift.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the work at Mulesoft – we doubled the company to well over one thousand people, had a hugely successful IPO and then a very successful acquisition. The people work we did during that time was integral to that – creating our company values, establishing our first clear leadership expectations and enablement, creating an HRBP model and then all the direct support involved in both IPO prep and the acquisition – was a huge lift from a whole team that I’m still immensely proud of.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Understand your business and understand your people. For the business, get to know the financials, the business model, the market that you are in etc. For your people, really build relationships across the company and listen to their experiences and aspirations. Also break out of your comfort zone. Find a way to spend some amount of time working outside of your home country, outside of HR or in another way that gives you greater perspective.