Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Holly Grogan Talks Building Empowered Teams, Positive Workspaces & Leading with Empathy

For more than 20 years, Holly Grogan has worked in a myriad of Human Resources (HR) roles with the goal of driving growth and profitability through strategic employee initiatives. While her first job out of undergrad was in recruiting, Grogan has spent majority of her career specializing in creating and building HR and talent strategies for high-growth companies that have helped them grow and succeed.

Holly Grogan

“I do this by uncovering and understanding the needs of the business and the employees so I can offer and execute solutions to build differentiated workplaces,” she recently shared with HR Daily Advisor. “In my time at Appspace for example, the People and Culture team looked to improve on our internal communications strategies to deliver more transparency and provide opportunities and forums for employees to share their ideas and ask questions of the leadership team.”

As Chief People Officer of Appspace, a Dallas-based technology company that provides a workplace experience platform for communications and workplace management, Grogan believes that leading with empathy creates connection – no matter what’s happening.

“There’s a lot of new industry terms from “The Great Resignation” to “Quiet Quitting” and “Productivity Paranoia,” Grogan says. “Personally, I’m not a big fan of buzzwords, but it is important to learn how and why these trends impact our workforces. Hiring the right people and building an equitable internal labor market is the right start. But we also must consider the intangibles like leading with empathy and transparency and providing enough autonomy to help our rock stars shine.”

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Holly Grogan.

How did you get your start in the field?

I studied sociology in college because I’ve always been interested in people and culture. My first job after college was in recruiting, so I was able to connect my goal of working with people to business outcomes. I was extremely fortunate to see early in my career the role HR teams play in shaping the workplace experience and, in turn, the business.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

Working in technology, I’ve experienced rapid growth and the need to quickly align corporate cultures with company, employee, and customer expectations. Patty McCord, the former chief talent officer at Netflix, provided a blueprint for building corporate cultures in high growth environments that foster collaboration and innovation. Fundamentally, she prioritized listening to the needs of the business and your teams over sticking to rigid HR policies. I’ve adopted and applied tenets of the Netflix “Culture Deck” that McCord co-founded with Reed Hastings, starting with being honest and treating people like adults. Like McCord, I believe in building empowered teams based on open discussion, problem-solving, and decision-making at all levels.

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

My biggest professional mistake was going to work for a company that wasn’t a good cultural fit. This was quite a few years ago and I quickly found out I was not in alignment with the company’s leadership and vision. The best HR strategies in the world will not work without executive buy-in. I learned the importance of due diligence in selecting the right job, the value of leadership and not remaining in an HR (or any) role where I couldn’t have an impact.

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 of my role goes back to the direct, immediate, and long-term impact, I hope, I have on Appspace and our team members. Every day, I work with all parts of the business – from People & Culture to the product team – to create a great workplace experience that makes everyone excited to be here.

I’m a firm believer that there’s a direct correlation from a positive workplace experience to customer satisfaction. Great workplaces are more than hyperbole. This impacts our business, revenue, and our employees’ families. I consider that a challenge, a big responsibility and what I find most rewarding about my job. My least favorite part of working in HR is the regulations. We’re a global company and, in some ways, other countries are outpacing the U.S. in offering more flexible workplaces based on worker preferences.

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 mentioned the importance of working for the right company. Empathy really starts at the top. As a company, Appspace offers technology to create better workplace experiences. As chief people officer, I offer ideas and strategies that create a workplace environment where team members can be productive and grow professionally. It is equally important to understand the real-life challenges people face outside of the workplace and work, within our power, to help employees address and overcome those challenges. The last two-plus years have highlighted the importance of addressing overall employee well-being and how that extends beyond a paycheck.

For example, while there’s a lot of talk of “productivity paranoia,” we want people to know we recognize and appreciate their hard work and dedication. We see it in our growth. We recently rolled out “Appspace Fridays,” which is intended to be a day without internal meetings and unnecessary Slack messages. We want employees to feel comfortable having a focus day where they can work on their “to do” lists without interruptions and, more importantly, head into the weekend without added stress or having a lot of tasks to complete. 

I’d also like to address the importance of vacation, which we encourage. Time off is important, and we strongly encourage everyone to really take their allotted time off to rest and recharge. This language is even in our employee handbooks that team members review and sign.

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

Some HR leaders connect HR success to company profitability and there are several formulas for that. Our human resources department is called the “People and Culture” team and our department’s success centers on the people component. HR teams (whatever they’re called within their respective organizations) are successful when companies invest in team members, through learning and development, advancement opportunities, and providing open channels of communications with managers and other executives.

Regular, anonymous surveys that gauge employee sentiment is one component in measuring success. I’m sure most companies also will see the correlation between team member satisfaction and productivity and retention.  

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

Two years ago, many companies didn’t know what the post-Covid workplace would be. One thing is for sure, we learned the industry is forever changed and employees have different expectations of the workplace than they did in 2019. In the next five years and beyond, HR leaders will continue to address different personas of workers in the same ways we apply these strategies to our customers.

Every company will need to determine what’s best for them, but for most, there will be some flexibility in workplace options that consider everyone from the recent college graduate to the working parent to the team member nearing retirement. I believe the days of “one-size fits all” workplaces are a thing of the past and that will likely be more evident in the years to come.

What are you most proud of?

Throughout my career, I’ve been a strong advocate for advancing women in technology. I’m also involved in a non-profit organization, Think Big for Kids, that helps middle and high school students with mentors and job readiness. Seeing this program grow outside of Tampa (where I’m based) to other communities where Appspace has a presence is really fulfilling.

At Appspace, I’m proud of growing our internal communications team and strategies. This has a direct impact on elevating team engagement and increasing transparency. Our town halls and all-hands meetings provide frequent forums where employees can hear what’s going on in the business and ask questions of our CEO and other leaders, even anonymously, if they feel more comfortable.

With Appspace being a global company (with employees around the world), I look at how our People and Culture policies can best work for our teams within their own respective regions and countries. Creating the best people policies to meet our team’s goals and needs, wherever they may be working, motivates me and keeps me excited about my role every day.  

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Be a constant learner on everything impacting your department, the company, and the community. This includes studying the business, competitive landscape, HR regulations and, most importantly, the needs of the team. HR professionals will continue to be most impactful the more closely we work with finance, legal, product, sales, and DE&I – when that falls outside of HR. Question programs and policies that no longer meet long-term strategies. Bring new ideas to the table and provide a culture where team members feel comfortable doing the same.

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