Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Patty Bedard on Leading with Empathy, Compassion and Your Authentic Self

Patty Bedard spent the early years of her career working as an operator in the restaurant business. Not long after, she transitioned to the corporate side of business, leading a management university. From there, she joined Hilton Worldwide, and for nearly a decade, she held a myriad of leadership roles driving human capital strategic initiatives.

Patty Bedard

The past six years, she led customer-facing products as Amazon’s Head of Strategy & Operations for AWS Educate, which is Amazon Web Services’ global initiative to provide educational opportunities to students looking to develop career skills as they enter the workforce. In June, she became Chief People Officer at CareRev, a technology platform that connects healthcare facilities to local, flexible healthcare professionals.

We recently connected virtually with Bedard to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influences, trends, as well as her best mistake. The lesson? Always be your authentic self.

“There have been a few “best mistakes” that have taught me valuable lessons,” Bedard shared with HR Daily Advisor. “The most relevant is when I was promoted to the VP of HR role at Hilton Worldwide. I thought the stakeholders were expecting me to fill the shoes of my predecessor with the same approach, but I was mistaken. They expected me to think differently and have a more evolved way of leading the HR function. It was not until my Chief Commercial Officer brought this to my attention that I realized that I was not being my authentic self. Rather than my usual warm and caring approach, I had adapted a much more formal one. I explained that I thought this is what he now expected and, fortunately, he quickly moved to correct me by reminding me that the reason he wanted me in this role was to continue doing the things that worked well for me in my previous role as a Senior Director. I was relieved and appreciated the feedback.”

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Patty Bedard.

How did you get your start in the field?

I started in restaurant operations in the days when management training was not a focus. I became a GM early on in my career, and honestly did everything wrong. I assumed that my peers would simply respect me because of my new title and not because I was a leader, but after months of going home thinking I made the wrong decision, I read a book that changed my life, “First Break all The Rules” by Marcus Buckingham. I continued to read more about becoming a better leader and it worked. I was quickly promoted to Regional Director, but I had awakened something that would define the rest of my life.

I made the intentional decision to shift my career from operations to helping people, essentially to focus on HR and leadership. I also developed my personal mission, which is to enable success in others, success defined by them and not me. I stayed with Darden Restaurants, where I applied all that I had learned, then moved to Hilton Worldwide where I was able to elevate my practice to the next level as a VP of HR. At that time in my career, I had helped people within organizations, while being deeply anchored in my mission, but I realized that I wanted to do more.

I took my learnings to Amazon, working at Amazon Web Services (AWS), where, among other things, I helped develop a revamped ‘cloud degree’ program at community colleges and universities, one that taught the skills AWS was looking for in new hires. The initiative provided immediate access to tech education and opportunities for local tech careers in underrepresented communities and was eventually adopted by entire countries – United Kingdom, Bahrain, Indonesia – and educational institutions across the United States. I hope to bring these same learnings to CareRev and expand continuing education opportunities for healthcare professionals.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

Like many, I have experienced first-hand the kindness and empathy of caregivers while navigating a hospital environment. This ultimately led me to pursue a career change that led me to CareRev. In January of 2022, I lost my father to COVID-19. During the ten days he was hospitalized, visiting restrictions were intense and it was difficult to spend time with him. During my father’s treatment, my family and I got to know a nurse named Barry. Barry called me early one morning and told me my father was going to be put on a ventilator and urged me to come see him. There was resistance from hospital staff, but Barry advocated for my family and me, and allowed us to spend time with my father before he passed. If it weren’t for Barry, we wouldn’t have had that opportunity, and I am forever grateful to Barry for what he did for my family. There are countless nurses like Barry in the world, and CareRev empowers them to continue to lead with empathy and compassion. I wanted to be a part of building the healthcare workforce of the future, one that truly prioritizes the needs of its professionals.

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 having the opportunity to provide individuals with the tools that they need to succeed in their careers. I am passionate about establishing mechanisms that fulfill employees and companies.

My least favorite, and one that I will never get used to, is lay-offs, severances, and letting people go due to decisions made at the business level, that then affect individuals. Having experienced this quite a bit in my career, my focus is putting into place rigorous, disciplined, and data driven processes to avoid over-expenditure in the future. This starts with workforce planning, budgeting, compensation, benefits, and, of course, hiring, and developing the right talent. If we get it right from the beginning, we are sure to minimize layoffs in the long term.

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.

In my career, I have had the pleasure of creating learning and development opportunities for employees in a variety of fields in order to support individuals on their own career path. I feel there is no industry more in need of support right now than nurses and other healthcare professionals. The national nursing shortage is not only impacting hospitals and the patients they treat, but it’s also putting severe strain on the existing clinical workforce. Nurses, certified nursing assistants, and technicians want work-life balance. They want to be able to choose when, where, and how many hours they work, to make some extra room for the things they love alongside their careers. In a time of unprecedented on-the-job stresses in healthcare, healthcare workers are ready to get back to their lives – but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to abandon their passion for caregiving. They just want to do it on their terms. The work we’re doing at CareRev is all about our people – empowering local healthcare professionals to be their own boss, while simultaneously allowing hospitals to expand their talent pool and ease stress on their existing workforce.

How can company leaders make HR a value within their organization?

Talent acquisition and talent development are crucial to a company’s longevity and impact in their industry. Here’s a secret I learned at Amazon that allowed us to create a scalable cloud degree program: identify pain points in your pipeline, determine where you can flex in the system, and build localized programs that fill a need. At Amazon, we started in Virginia, working with the state board of education to determine how much we could change a curriculum to ensure community college students were learning the skills we needed before building our two-year cloud program, and worked directly with colleges to create local pipelines from our degree program to our talent pool. This was important because it allows for early talent acquisition.

I grew up in the world of HR, which can imply that people are resources. While people are certainly a critical component of any business, this is definitely not how our employees see themselves. We need to move to a world where business leaders see that people ultimately determine the success of the business, and where the management of people is even more important than managing a business operation. Traditional HR is focused on policies, compliance, regulations, executing on directives from leadership, and is reactive when it comes to employee issues. People Operations (POPs) does all these things, but these things are not the center of the efforts, instead a POPs function is focused on the employee experience, strives for accountability and alignment, is a partner to the business to help align people to goals, and publicly discuss culture and values.

If business leaders understood that they could accomplish more work (optimization of talent), increase revenue (performance driven compensation), develop products faster (accountability, collaboration, talent acquisition) through HR, I am sure they would prioritize it.

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

The HR industry has certainly shifted dramatically in the last few years given the needs of today’s workforce, and I expect this trajectory to continue in the next five years. Today’s workers expect greater flexibility and more control over how, when, and where they work, and HR teams must also adapt to meet workers where they are. My experience at CareRev has shown me that healthcare professionals are no exception to this trend. We’re seeing more and more clinical professionals expressing the need for flexible hours and shifts, and the ability to float across units, acuity levels, and settings. These are not needs that healthcare’s traditional workforce model can accommodate. But similar to what has already happened in other industries, health systems must find ways to adapt and enrich their existing workforce by tapping into a growing pool of local, flexible talent. This is a more sustainable option for both health systems and healthcare professionals, the latter being increasingly reluctant to commit to permanent, full-time roles. The same way our professionals want flexibility, so do our employees. Our people’s processes must embrace this and find ways to meet people where they are.

What are you most proud of?

The first is the two-year cloud degree program I helped create and drive for Amazon Web Services. It began when we realized the MIT, Harvard, Georgia Tech, etc., grads we were hiring still required some essential skills in order to be successful. Ultimately, we needed to cultivate the skills we were looking for among our incoming talent and had the opportunity to do so while democratizing our pipeline by creating access to tech education in historically under-represented communities. The two-year program we created was embraced by community colleges across the United States, and was scaled across the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and Bahrain. This helped Amazon hire ‘ready’ talent, it enabled universities to place students in jobs quicker, and most importantly made tech education accessible to those who would not otherwise believe they could have a high paying job in tech.

I am also proud of being able to represent the Latinx community with pride. When I was an executive at Hilton, I always enjoyed talking to the diverse staff at properties about where they were from, and how they got to the U.S., their families, etc. Particularly in McLean, VA, which is close to D.C., and has a huge Salvadoran community, it was very common to come across employees who were from El Salvador at the hotels where I stayed. They and other Latinx individuals I met were always over the moon to know that they had representation at an executive level and in HR. This meant so much to me. I recently went to Harvard Business School for a Strategic HR course and the gentleman who took my luggage to my room was from Columbia. After I shared that I was from El Salvador, he went on to share that he felt like this was so special for him. That he could count on one hand in the 35 years he worked there, how many Latinx leaders had come to participate in a course there. He thanked me for helping our communities have a voice. That makes me very proud.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Learn the discipline, because you need to know the laws as you put policies in place, but don’t get bogged down by things you cannot do. Know that when there is enough ‘need’ from the business, communities, and people, you will be amazed at how fast things can change. It may be scary to push up against the norm, but it is worth the effort when you get through.

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