Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Susan Lowe Talks Being Courageous & Creating Safe Spaces

Like many of the HR professionals we feature in this column, Susan Lowe didn’t always work in HR. She started her career in people management and loved the people part so much – particularly coaching and developing people – she segued into HR.

Susan Lowe Fuel50
Susan Lowe

“I am driven to make a difference, and whilst leadership enables this, as an HR practitioner, you can make a difference at an organizational level, which ultimately changes the employee experience for a greater number of people,” Lowe recently shared with HR Daily Advisor. “I was fortunate, moving into my ‘second career’ that I was given lots of great opportunities and had lots of great leaders to learn from and who supported me.”

Additionally, Lowe believes that DEIB is vitally important within workplace culture and culture is the heart of any organization. So, what makes a great culture? According to Lowe, it’s one that not only allows people to show up as their authentic selves, but also be their best self.

“I strongly believe that organizations with great culture attract the best talent, have better capability, and are more innovative in their approaches,” she explained.

This passion for excellent employee experiences has propelled Susan throughout her career and continues to take shape in her current role as Chief People & Sustainability Officer at Fuel50, a skills-powered talent marketplace.

“People spend most of their time at work,” Lowe says. “It is important, therefore, that work is a place where they can be their best, bring their whole self to work and know it is safe to do so. This is how people thrive, and truly get to bring their best to organizations. I am passionate about working with people to co-create a culture that has this impact. Workplaces that are psychologically and physically safe are so important, more important than anything else, I would say.”

In our latest Faces, meet Susan Lowe.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

At an industry/thought-leadership level, Dave Ulrich’s work has shaped me as a practitioner. I have all his books and enjoyed reading them, learning, and reflecting on my own skills and capabilities. As a leader, I am a big fan of Patrick Lencioni’s books, his work on leadership practices and, in particular, his model of cohesive teams has shaped me as a leader but also my coaching of other leaders and leadership teaching.

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

That is a hard question. There have been lots of mistakes along the way. What I have learned is to own them, learn from them, and grow to be better next time. I think recognizing you’ve made a mistake early and leaning into it can be hard as a senior leader, and they are often more difficult to act on. Something I have thought a lot about in the last few years, and want to strive to be better at, is to be more courageous. I also think this is a key area where we, as leaders and HR practitioners, can help shape and create a culture of psychological safety, ensuring workplaces are a safe space to make mistakes and learn. Nothing better than leading by example and being a role model.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

My biggest personal driver is to make a difference, so my favorite part of the job is the opportunity to support businesses to create workplaces where people thrive – where they can truly be their best! As humans, most of us spend a significant amount of time at work, I love my job, and I want that for everyone, so I love that in my role, I can influence this for others.

My least favorite part (like most people, I suspect) is the tough part of the job, having to let people go for whatever reason. This is also influencing people’s lives and a decision that is never taken lightly.

How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?

Ensure that the people strategy is directly linked to the organizational strategy – it is, therefore, a critical driver of the overall success of the business. I also think HR can make sure it has a good level of commercial acumen and use this when presenting business cases to leadership teams and the board.

Equally, reporting on value delivered through metrics but also business case reviews. A lot of the work HR does to deliver value can happen in the background, so bringing this to the fore through reporting, ROI demonstrations and celebrating success also helps to ensure the value is directly attributed to the HR initiative and the leadership team sees and understands the impact.  

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

With the advancement of HR tech and automation, I think this presents a fantastic opportunity for HR teams to move more into the value-add space, knowing that the administration and transactional HR (which is important) are taken care of. DEIB, well-being, Business Transformation, and other cultural spaces across HR will get more resources as a result. We are already seeing the employee expectations shift, but often HR teams are not resourced adequately to enable working in these spaces to the level they want to. I think the trend is the new skills and competencies that are required now in HR teams, and what this will mean for HR talent in the market.

What are you most proud of?

Working in an organization that people love being a part of and knowing that the people strategy has had some impact on creating a business that people want to work for.

Helping support others and their careers, I take every opportunity to pay it forward and support those earlier on in their HR to help shape the organizations into the future, hopefully, this support has made a difference in the world of HR.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Know your why, and what you are passionate about within HR and then find your tribe. HR roles and People & Culture organizations can differ greatly, if you find one aligned to your values and the impact you want to have, this will make a difference to your learning and your own employee experience.

Never stop learning – be curious, ask questions, read (lots), network, and invest in your professional development.  

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