Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Dean Carter on Positive Cultures, Purpose-Centric Leaders & Pathways

For the last three decades, Dean Carter has served as a change agent. From Fossil Group to Sears Holdings, and most recently at Patagonia, Carter has honed his craft by leading HR transformations.

Dean Carter Guild
Dean Carter

As Head of People and Culture at Patagonia, Carter amplified a purpose-driven culture while serving as a strategic partner to the Founders, Yvon and Malinda Chouinard, and CEO Ryan Gellert. He also earned a reputation for transforming the HR function to foster a regenerative employee experience, ultimately impacting a new future of work that focused on how employers put more into the lives of their people than what they extracted.

Additionally, Carter was a tireless supporter of working parents and piloted a new approach to encourage better work-life balance for employees by having a four-day workweek every other week.

Currently, as CPO at Guild Education, Carter serves with a passion for expanding the impact of Talent, Culture, and Employee Experience teams within the organization. Guild partners with the nation’s largest employers – including Walmart, Chipotle, Discover, Hilton, and The Walt Disney Company – to create cultures of opportunity that attract and retain top talent while building the workforce of the future from within.

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Dean Carter.

How did you get your start in the field?

After a couple of years in my first job at P&G, I landed a job in their Pearle Visions Executive Development program. I quickly moved into L&D and was ultimately in charge of Pearle Franchise University. This was my first role in HR, which led to more work in Employee Relations. I got a great break with a job as head of Corporate Recruiting for Pier One Imports.

A couple of years later, I made another large change when I became the head of HR for Fossil. That was in my early 30s and I had a high degree of imposter syndrome.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

Working alongside Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia was a masterclass in living your purpose. Yvon said that “profit happens when you do everything else right.”  A clearly defined purpose allowed a new hire at Patagonia to suggest that we give 100% of our Black Friday proceeds towards saving the planet – and the founder approved that idea within 10 minutes. The company donated 10 million dollars that day.

Purpose can equal profit. These things are not in conflict with each other. Those learnings – and that way of working with a clear north star – will stay with me always.

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

My best mistake was eliminating executive titles at Patagonia. Great idea – buy-in up front – then it got challenging because the rest of the world was still used to executive title structures. Two most frequent questions post change, “What do I put on my LinkedIn profile?” and “How do I know who my peers are?” Even so, I’m still not a fan of executive titles.

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 about working in the industry is the opportunity we have to make an incredibly positive impact on people’s lives. My least favorite is the resistance to change – bring inspiring ideas backed with data and case studies forward.

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.

Absolutely – thank you for calling that out. It’s incredibly important for companies to leverage systemic, unconventional, and regenerative practices to drive a more sustainable and thriving future for the company and its employees. I firmly believe that purpose-centric leaders and cultures can accomplish good on a previously unimaginable scale.

That work must be centered on creating community rooted in positive cultures that foster psychological safety and trust.

It also means really walking the walk on what people need. How are we thinking about effective teamwork and community-building as fully distributed or hybrid companies? How are we enabling working parents—not just giving them a leave of absence but creating systems where they are set up to succeed and their nuanced needs are taken into consideration.

As a B-Corp founded with purpose at its center, Guild demonstrates we can do well by doing good for our members and also our employees. One of the things that filled my heart and left me with a big smile when I first visited Guild’s headquarters in downtown Denver was seeing the children of our Guilders play and learn at our onsite early childhood education center, The Beehive.

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

I think many companies have had this decision made for them during the last few years. Known historically as the executive member who had to fight for a seat at the table, CHROs were thrown into the spotlight when COVID-19 hit. The CHRO was asked to transform during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing recovery to fill new roles for the company as Chief Crisis Officer, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Chief Communications Officer, and so much more.

We’re hearing over and over that people want three things from their employer—purpose, pathways, and pay. HR must step more robustly into the conversation to make those 3 P’s a reality.

Guild’s recent American Workforce Survey showed that while two-thirds of U.S. workers would like to move into a new position, more than half of them hope it’s at their same company. Today’s employers need to respond to the needs of their employees by not only providing competitive pay but also pathways to career advancement within their company.

I’m very proud of the large role that Guild is playing in helping leading employers create those pathways, particularly into in-demand fields like healthcare and cybersecurity.

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

The CHRO role needs a redesign in the post-COVID era. The responsibility of carving out career pathways has been left largely to individual workers. It’s time for employers to rectify this huge, missed opportunity to help talent rise—and for CHROs to step into this new era.

In decades prior, when 83% of assets on the balance sheet were “tangible assets,” the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) was seen as second in command to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Today, CHROs oversee the vast majority of companies’ assets, with companies now recording 90% of their assets as “intangible assets”– the IP, technology, and brand developed by the human capital in the company and the human capital itself.

This major shift, coupled with the changing social contract between workers and their employers, has led CHROs to transform as the second in command to the CEO and as the moral compass of the company. As a part of my role at Guild, I will lead a consortium of CHROs from innovative F500 companies, partner with Guild’s learning providers to innovate the curriculum for emerging and established HR leaders and share insights on a regular cadence with other people leaders through webinars, roundtable discussions, and more. 

We’ll work together to build the roadmap for the future-looking, purpose-centric CHRO.

We’re also seeing a really important shift happening in the role of HR in general. The industry is acknowledging the need to move from an extractive view, only thinking through the lens of how much we can get out of our employees, to one where we focus on what we’re putting into the lives of our employees.

HR leaders need to take a closer look at systems that have been in place for a long time, like performance reviews and engagement surveys and acknowledge that while they’re valuable, they may need to be done differently. While clear measures of success are important, arbitrary rating systems are becoming a thing of the past. There’s a clear connection when you tell someone that they’re a “3” out of 5 and that their engagement is impacted.

With engagement surveys, you get what you measure, so our profession must ensure that we’re measuring the right things. We need to use those tools to look closer at the employee experience. When you ask questions that put things into the context of people’s lives vs. traditional extractive questions, you learn things about engagement and belonging that traditional survey questions hide, particularly around the experiences of marginalized communities.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the life I’ve built alongside my loving husband of 22 years, Mark, our daughter Grace, our Black Lab, Blu, and our Golden, Iveagh. I’m also a proud advocate for men’s health, especially after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in May 2022. There are a lot of misconceptions – and I know it’s a difficult thing for a lot of men to talk about.

We don’t – and we should. I want to share my story and what I’ve learned about diagnosis, treatment, and my full recovery to help others feel ok about sharing their stories as well.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Focus on the learning years, and the earning years will come. If you pass up learning for earning during that time, you’ll pay for it later. I’ve seen this come true watching careers grow (or not) for over 20 years.

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