Allison Allen has nearly 25 years of experience leading all aspects of the employment experience, starting with talent recruitment at Tek Systems. Throughout her impressive career, Allen has held myriad leadership positions, including serving as chief human resources officer (CHRO) for Orchard Global, where she developed international people programs and service delivery strategies to help drive the business forward.
Allen also spent 19 years at Ernst & Young (EY), a multinational professional services company, serving as talent leader for the Southwest region. Her 48-member team was responsible for the advancement and implementation of the EY talent agenda, as well as leveraging data analytics and diversity and inclusion to support business development and strategic priorities. Additionally, Allen led the U.S. talent specialist team, a center of excellence, where specialized operational functions like employee investigations, contingent workforce, and project management were consolidated for increased efficiency.
Today, Allen serves as CHRO at Transwestern, a Houston-based commercial real estate organization. According to Allen, Transwestern is currently embarking on its boldest transformation plan in the company’s 45-year history.
“I’ve been charged with crafting and executing a robust human capital strategy that aligns workforce management with overarching business objectives for five integrated companies across 33 offices,” she shared with HR Daily Advisor.
We recently connected with Allen to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her best mistake, and advice for those entering HR. According to Allen, don’t put yourself in one box.
“Seek out a broad base of experience early on,” she said. “During my time at EY, especially at the beginning, I was able to serve in a lot of different roles. I’ve done campus and experienced hire recruiting, been an HR generalist and worked in organizational development, including transformation, succession planning and compensation. Viewing human capital through many lenses helped me understand its function and value, and as a leader, when I ask someone on my team to do something, I understand the challenge that comes with it.”
In our latest Faces, meet Allison Allen.
How did you get your start in the field?
After a college internship with Southwest Airlines, I graduated with the intention of pursuing a career in public relations and communication. Soon after, I received a job offer from Tek Systems in Atlanta to be a telecommunications recruiter and felt that opportunity could complement my experience. I worked there for about 1 year before my journey led me to EY, where I moved into the dynamic field of campus recruiting.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
The person who made the greatest impression on my career development was Randy Cain, a retired partner with EY. Randy led the Southwest tax practice. He underscored that everyone is a client, especially employees. He emphasized the importance of communicating with employees to ensure that HR and the company were doing things that would benefit them based on their direct feedback. He framed how I view HR and always made it a priority for HR to have a seat at every meeting. His perspective on this industry shaped mine and taught me how I want to lead. This mindset goes hand in hand with the Transwestern Experience, our company’s innovative approach to customer service. The Experience, a promise to all clients, reinforces shared cultural values and a commitment to treating customers with the utmost respect and careful consideration at every opportunity, delivering extraordinary service at all times.
What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?
When I was about 25, I was in a role that required me to speak at partner meetings and present reports about how we were doing as it related to recruiting. One day, one of the partners approached me and said I was communicating in a very “HR way” and that for my message to make an impact on my audience, I needed to present it using more data- and analytics-based language. This partner continuously met with me over the course of the next 6 months so I could learn how to reframe my presentations so they would resonate with listeners. Recognizing the importance of “knowing your audience” was very pivotal in my career. I gained respect at a very young age, as I adjusted my delivery in future meetings to forge greater understanding and, ultimately, trust. This also fueled one of my biggest passions, which is utilizing data and analytics as a primary business driver for decision-making.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?
I hold a profound appreciation for how hard HR team members strive to make a meaningful impact in clients’ lives. A lot of the behind-the-scenes work goes unnoticed, but our work impacts people in many positive ways, which is very fulfilling.
What I find most disheartening is the too-common perception of HR as a compliance or disciplinary-related function instead of specially trained resources dedicated to helping employees and the company. One of the ways I am trying to challenge and alter this view is by greater reliance on data analytics. Measuring feedback from our internal clients allows us to develop the best solutions. It also gives them more context behind why certain decisions are made.
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.
Everyone has a different background, experiences, and values, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It is essential to create policies, programs, and processes that provide flexibility; in this way, you foster a sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace. An example of this would be how a company rewards its employees. Often, we think of monetary compensation. However, some employees may derive greater satisfaction from an extra day off, a donation to a charity of their choice, or a happy hour with their team to celebrate a group accomplishment. Allowing recognition to be personalized evokes a genuine sense of appreciation.
How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?
Metrics are immensely valuable. Recommendations must be backed up with data. In this way, we can be held accountable for the results. For example, we can measure our success regarding retention rates. We continue to channel resources into nurturing our people and should be able to quantify that they are performing at a high level and growing within their roles.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my family.