Meet Jennifer Locklear, Chief People Officer at ConnectWise – a software company dedicated to the success of IT Solution providers. In her role, Locklear is responsible for engaging and developing high-performing ConnectWise colleagues, facilitating a professional environment that cultivates dynamic teams obsessed with partner success, and helping individuals grow and meet their career goals. We recently connected with Locklear to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influences, trends, as well as her best mistake. The lesson? Learn from it.
“I took a role years ago that ended up not being the best fit for me,” she shared with HR Daily Advisor. “I knew it within the first few days of starting the job, but it did offer me the opportunity to gain global experience. While I don’t recommend seeking out roles, that you don’t feel you’re a great fit for or your career, sometimes you learn something else along the way and that turns that mistake or negative into a positive, which is what happened to me. Taking that role and learning from that opportunity opened the doors at ConnectWise, who specifically wanted a leader with global HR experience, and that made that decision the best mistake I ever made. On the employee and co-worker front, the best mistake I ever made was assuming that I knew what our people wanted or needed. Learning the lesson, just ask them, really changes the experience for everyone involved.”
In our latest Faces of HR, meet Jennifer Locklear.
How did you get your start in the field of HR?
So, I got into HR at a tech startup that was willing to take a risk on someone who did not have any formal or traditional HR training. There were only a few of us at the time in my role prior to landing in HR was operations. I really understood what the company did and where we were going, but my passion was for getting the right people in the door and creating strong teams. The tech industry, in my opinion, was the best place to get started in HR. The expectation is innovation and how it was always done is not accepted here. I really got to focus on people, and how the company was able to step up and serve them, and I think that’s a really unique experience in HR.
Where did you get the idea for connecting teams and bringing people together?
Well, I think a lot of it was a product of the environment I was in at the time. When you’re in a startup and there’s three or four people, and one person’s very technical, and one person is sales, and one person is running the company, it really allowed for that opportunity to focus on people, and they needed someone doing it and I loved it. I think so much of it was just the right time and that was really what I was supposed to be doing. In my whole career, I was supposed to have been doing HR.
Now that I’m in it, I love it. I can’t imagine any other job and this is what I tell people. We get to see really great wins. Sometimes there are things that aren’t as pretty that we have to deal with, but in the end, I get to deal with people. And I always think that that’s the most important part of the company and so what a cool job.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
This one is the easiest of all the questions that you could possibly ask me. When I started out in HR, again, it wasn’t the plan at the time. When I started out in HR, I worked with a payroll company and they had assigned someone to our team that would come in and help us. Her name is Carrie, and she was in HR at the time, and she still is the biggest influence on my career. She took the time to educate me on what was important, what was important to people, what was important to the company. She also taught me the value of understanding the business I was in. So, the basic questions, how does the company make money?
As an HR business partner, if you can’t answer that question, you don’t have the credibility you need to be a leader in a company. She also gave me a very simple, but sometimes tough to execute concept: Do what is right. So when that’s your compass, the issues can become much easier to navigate. In the HR industry I would say it was that leader, it was Carrie who would end up shaping my career. To this day, I lean on her for advice, all things HR, as well as personal.
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, as we’ve mentioned earlier, was working with the most amazing, innovative, diverse people in the world. The worst part is in the technology industry, people can see it as difficult to break into. So, I would love to see more programs that target school-aged children, getting them more into technology and coding. As a great example, we’re working with a nonprofit called CompTIA and they’re starting to open a lot of these doors. They’re pulling people from different backgrounds, they’re training them up, getting them certified, and getting them into a workforce that they didn’t even know was an opportunity for them six months ago.
It sounds like you genuinely care about people, and you want to make them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in this industry. Please elaborate here.
Yes. The last few years there’s been an abundant opportunity and responsibility to help our people feel safe and comfortable – pandemic, social unrest, and a volatile economy. Not to mention the challenges each person is facing in their daily lives. I know it is overwhelming and it can feel overwhelming trying to focus on work or a job while so much is going on around us, impacting our families or seeing it in our communities. I think my role as an HR leader is to make sure our people feel seen and heard. And it sounds simple, but unless we’re being intentional about it, people can feel like they’re falling through the cracks.
What’s one strategy or perhaps even lesson that you’ve taken away from this time that you’re using as a leader moving forward?
I learned a good lesson early on during some of the political unrest around Black Lives Matter is don’t do nothing, do something. And you know what? At the risk of making someone unhappy or uncomfortable, make sure you’re standing for your people. A lot of times that just means opening up a forum of listening where people can come in, and talk, and air their concerns. I think that that was the hugest lesson to me in all of this is being ready to listen.
How can company leaders make HR value within their organization?
I am so thankful that somehow, I’ve just fallen into companies where this has not been an issue because I work with really seasoned executives who know and support the value of HR. Where my team steps up is creating these scalable programs and practices that ensure we’re ready to grow the company. So, it’s much more than things like implementing a global HR tool, or training our leaders, or educating career growth opportunities in the company – all of which are critical.
It’s about understanding the company’s vision and growing a department to support that vision. So the executives I work with understand the critical role that we play and enable us to do that role. I don’t know if it’s luck or there’s just that many amazing executive teams out there, but I’ve always felt supported because HR has always been able to show their value.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years or are you seeing any current trends?
That’s a good one. I mean, could you have imagined asking that question five years ago, and how we would’ve answered, and then what five years would bring? I mean, it’s wild, but I think that, what I’m hoping for is that we’re on the cusp of a lot more flexibility and innovative practices. So how we hire, how we train, how we retain people. In the tech industry, for example, demand is soaring for qualified technology workers with many of those positions going unfilled so recognizing this need.
We partnered with another company; I mentioned earlier CompTIA to bring an apprenticeship model into the industry on a much grander scale. This is helping to match trained workers with a robust group of potential employers. So, think about how many people are trying to hire right now, how few skilled laborers they’re saying they can find, we can be a part of partnering with the company that makes those resources available to them.
These partnerships are going to grow the workforce, they’re going to equip tech talent from any background with the skills, trainings, and certifications they need to grow careers. And that’s what I think the next five years is going to look like. I can’t predict it, but I think that these last few years have been such a blessing in terms of thinking differently about how we prepare people for the workforce.
That’s a great silver lining: we can think outside the box. We can literally create and do whatever we want because, quite frankly, the rules are now out the door, and they no longer work.
Isn’t that fantastic? I have a daughter who’s in 10th grade and we just made her get a job at Smoothie King because I want her to know the skills that she’s going to need when she gets into the workforce. So learn young, get out there, and give it a shot and yeah, get yourself prepared.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I get to work with people that come in every day, and drive this industry forward, and ensure the success of each of our customers. We support small and mid-size businesses. And I mean, what a great opportunity that is and we get to do that every day. So, our people know the value of their role in our company. They understand what our customers need and they understand the impact on our industry. When you’re looking at what you want to do with your life, if you can’t speak to those things, I think that you’re at a disadvantage to someone who can. And that’s something our company is doing and I’m really proud of that.
I’m also proud of the programs that we created to make sure people feel like they can grow their careers with us. We have an in-house leadership development program, which is amazing. And my favorite part is we have really low turnover on the HR team, which makes me know that what we’re doing for all of our people also impacts HR. I think it’s a great group and foundation for all of our colleagues.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Learn your business. So HR skills, if you’re going to be in HR, those can translate and transfer from company to company, but the real value comes from being a true partner to the business. The more you understand about how your company operates, the better you can support your people. My second bit of advice would be, listen, really listen, listen to people, listen in meetings, really understand what’s happening so that you can be a true partner.