Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Jennifer Trzepacz Talks Keeping the ‘Human’ in HR, Her Best Mistake, and Reimagining the Workplace

Jennifer Trzepacz has more than 20 years of experience implementing operational and talent strategies at transformative, industry-leading companies. During her career, not only has Trzepacz held talent leadership positions at fast-growing technology companies, but she has also been an early adopter of HR technology, supporting many start-ups to build out their product offerings for mainstream markets.

Jennifer Trzepacz

For our latest Faces of HR profile, we sat down with Jennifer to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influences, as well as how company leaders can make HR a value within their organization. According to Trzepacz, it all starts with changing your perspective.

“I look at HR leaders as primary candidates to become CEOs in the future,” she told HR Daily Advisor. “We’re responsible for talent. We’re responsible for marketing – building the employment brand. We’re responsible for the sales funnel – attracting and hiring talent. We’re responsible for customer success – enabling our employees to productivity and performance. We’re responsible for our tech stack. And, in the tech sector, we’re responsible for as much as 70 percent of the costs on the financials.

“All the things that we’re doing are essentially CEO, general-management responsibilities,” she continued. “Leaders should look at HR that way versus it being the party planners or the Terminator or the cheerleader. It’s a function that is critical and essential to success. It brings the skills and experiences that are necessary in order to fuel entire ecosystems end to end. A better appreciation for it will bring more value to the organization.”

Today, Jennifer is Chief People Officer at SymphonyAl, a leader in enterprise AI software solutions for specific industries. In her role, Jennifer leads the company’s global HR strategy and builds a cohesive culture across SymphonyAI’s vertical businesses to position the company for continued growth.

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Jennifer Trzepacz.

How did you get your start in the field?

I actually took a deliberate route. I majored in human resources back in college, and that’s how I entered the field. I had a passion from the start. From there, I had an internship at a bank in Rhode Island. I moved to a recruiting coordinator job and eventually moved into HR in financial services in Boston. I kept at it and stuck in there. In 2000, I moved into the tech sector.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

The bosses I had along the way in HR were the ones who most influenced me in the industry.I had a boss, Joan Dorian at ZDNet, who really took me under her wing and taught me the ropes. She put a lot of trust in me. She allowed me to make mistakes. She could balance the relationship-building and technical acumen that you need to have in HR. She was the person who influenced me the most in continuing to pursue this career.

Also, I should call out Libby Sartain, who was my boss at Yahoo. She wrote “HR from the Heart,” a book that is still extremely relevant. She taught me about keeping the human side of work in mind rather than thinking about everything in transactional terms.

What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

I was putting an entire company-wide merit file together to be sent to the executive staff for final review. I needed to send the file to the email address for “Cambridge executive staff.” Instead, I sent the email to “Cambridge employees.” The latter address appeared in the recipient email box because, alphabetically, it came before the former and I just clicked on it quickly and sent it out.

All of sudden, I was receiving loads of responses —ping, ping, ping, ping. I sent out the merit file to the entire company.

I called my boss, told her what had happened, said I was willing to put in my resignation, and I understood if they needed to fire me. Instead, they said, “We’ve been talking about transparency for quite some time, you know?” So, they took something that was really negative and turned it into a positive.

But I had to send out a message and own it and then work with all the managers as to how to talk through it with their employees. You bet I would never send out an email again without double and triple checking when it came to confidential material. I also started putting passwords on important things. We’re all humans and we make mistakes.

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 see individuals tap into their potential and – when they’re tapping into it – thriving, learning, and being challenged. You know that you were part of that journey and helping them. It’s very fulfilling and rewarding.

I think my least favorite part is feeling like we always have to justify the importance of our function, HR. Because, to me, it’s just so obvious. I continue to have to do it 20 years into this career. It’s exhausting. Things have changed over the years, but not a lot in this regard, unfortunately.

I am trying to change it using metrics, business outcomes and data to tie HR to product innovations or sales. I take the angle of how talent increases revenue or decreases costs. Instead of being a very emotional and touchy feely, I use the language that CEOs and CFOs and boards are more comfortable with. That’s how I’ve been able to make impact, influence organizations, and rationalize investments in the human resources function.

It sounds like through your 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.

I care about people feeling valued and included in our employee experience, and if – or when – they leave saying, “Wow, that was a great experience. That was one of the best times that I had working at that company, and I got so much out of it.” I strive to create a compelling employee experience where teams are high fiving each other. That happens when people are in their groove and feel like they are fulfilling their purpose. You do that through authenticity, vulnerability, transparency, and heart, including tough love. That shows up in programs, process, and our approach and style to how we work with leaders and managers and employees.

Finally, you act according to your internal moral compass to do the right thing. That’s how you help make sure you’re demonstrating empathy and creating a safe environment.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

Instead of looking at positions, we’re looking at experiences and skills. We’re breaking down this structurally hierarchical, rigid way that we’ve been operating. The economy and workplaces are becoming more dynamic and fluid. The future of work is changing. Wellness is now a concern. People are viewing things differently. The question is, how do HR programs keep pace with that type of motion? That shift will challenge HR folks.

Basically, we will need to experiment. We need to think more provocatively and with an open mind – like perhaps we should explore four-day workweeks. Also, there’s so much data that we’ve got to embrace as well. How do we leverage that data for insights and predictive analytics? These are big questions that I think about a lot.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of hiring amazing talent into the human resources function. And I have seen all of them just grow and prosper and be impactful leaders in the industry. I probably will be working for them someday. I’m proud that I have contributed to fueling the HR profession with strong talent and that I was part of their formula. Obviously, their success derives from their achievements and how they’ve handled themselves. But I was a part of their journeys. I’m very proud of that.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Really understand the business. Understand the product. Understand the sales motion. Understand the financials. That way, you have credibility when you’re advising and working with your internal clients.

Anything else you’d like to add? We can talk about anything you’d like to discuss here.

I believe that the talent marketplace today is massive, increasingly selective, and constantly evolving due to technological disruptions. Amid this change, I think CHROs have a golden opportunity to replace outdated legacy management styles and embrace a more fluid vision of their role in moving their enterprises forward. Corporate structures that value uniformity, bureaucracy, and control are no longer fit for purpose. Instead, CHROs often must reimagine their workplaces and workforces in order to maximize efficiency, productivity, and morale.