Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Sabra Sciolaro on Acts of Courage, Coaching, and Communication

Meet Sabra Sciolaro, Chief People Officer (CPO) at Firstup, a content and collaboration software company. Sciolaro brings not only more than 15 years of HR and organizational development experience to her role but also a history of leading transformational change and strengthening employee engagement in myriad industries, including software development, cybersecurity, retail, and health care. 

Sabra Sciolaro Firstup
Sabra Sciolaro

In her role as CPO, she oversees Firstup’s strategic initiatives to attract, develop, and retain top talent while fostering a culture of inclusivity, collaboration, and innovation.

We recently connected with Sciolaro to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influences, and why it’s important to create work cultures that allow employees to feel safe and comfortable.

“In my view, a fundamental aspect of any successful organization is the well-being of its people,” Sciolaro shared with HR Daily Advisor. “When individuals feel safe and have a secure sense of belonging, they are more likely to thrive and contribute their best work. This not only fosters a healthier culture, but a foundation of sustainable positive performance that enhances innovation, productivity, and collaboration.”

In our latest Faces, meet Sabra Sciolaro.

How did you get your start in the field?

I stumbled into it! A student in one of my college courses owned his own business and was using the opportunity to scout for interns. After a group project, he offered me an HR internship that summer. It was a good summer job, so I accepted. The company was small, which meant that I got to experience lots of different parts of HR, and I loved all the different aspects—the balance of data analysis, coaching, project management, etc. I stayed on after the summer and became the HR manager for them when I graduated.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

I have found great influences in so many different and unexpected places: work, home, and throughout my community. At each company, I have intentionally sought out one mentor in HR and one in a different department, which helped me better understand the business and how HR could be a better partner.

Early in my career, I also learned from Dave Ulrich’s publications. I was (and still am!) fascinated by the theories behind HR business partners (HRBPs) and the path to serving as a true strategic partner. Now I follow dozens of HR and leadership influencers, including Simon Sinek, Brene Brown, Josh Bersin, Hebba Yousef, Tim Sackett, and Jeanne Meister.

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

I love the fast pace and the challenges this brings. I also really love the coaching part of our job. By working with leaders, from first-line managers to the CEOs, we can exponentially impact the structure, culture, and overall success of any organization. That type of influence comes with tremendous responsibility and profound reward.

I have always chafed at the idea that HR was the principal’s office, the dress code police, etc. The function is, by nature, highly strategic. We abdicate that responsibility and opportunity when we are drawn into those punitive and reactive roles. We can and should work with our leadership teams as advisors and influencers in pursuit of the shared mission and vision for our organizations. Focusing on developing our expertise and investing in a culture that is healthy, performance-focused, inclusive, and equitable isn’t just more valuable; it’s also so much more rewarding.

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

It starts with understanding the business and aligning our efforts to the shared objectives. To make the biggest impact, the HR team needs to understand the company and the industry’s unique challenges and opportunities and tailor our strategies to directly contribute to the company’s success.

Additionally, we have to speak the language of business. This means using data and analytics to provide meaningful insights that connect HR initiatives with key business metrics. By presenting data on employee performance, engagement, retention rates, and other relevant metrics, we can demonstrate the impact of its strategies on the company’s culture and the bottom line.

Where do you see the industry heading in 5 years? Or, are you seeing any current trends?

Intelligent employee communication is going to become more and more critical. Communication is the foundation of any relationship, and that includes the employee/employer relationship. One of our most important challenges is solving how to reach, engage, and listen to employees in a way that is relevant and cuts through the digital deluge. And that means developing a deep understanding of each employee along their journey, regardless of job, location, level, and role. Intelligent communication platforms provide a huge advantage over other solutions by allowing us to create and orchestrate personalized communications and provide insights when low engagement takes place. It’s a game-changer in how HR connects to the broader organization.

Second, there is a growing recognition of the importance of whole-person well-being and health. HR has new opportunities to implement initiatives to promote physical and mental health, financial wellness, work/life balance, and stress management—all in support of their employees’ holistic well-being.

And last but not least, artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay, and HR is here for it! We have a chance to embrace AI. Used wisely, it can help us become more efficient and streamline operations. The use cases for HR are seemingly endless. Here are just some that I am excited about:

  • Predict future workforce needs, identify skill gaps, and provide insights into talent availability and succession planning.
  • Analyze performance data, feedback, and other relevant factors to provide insights into individual and team performance.
  • Design and deliver personalized learning and development programs by analyzing employee skills, learning preferences, and performance data, then recommending relevant training resources, courses, or learning paths tailored to individual needs.
  • Assess job requirements, candidate profiles, and historical data to identify the best-fit candidates.
  • Identify potential biases in job descriptions, candidate selection processes, or performance evaluations.

What are you most proud of?

Professionally, I am incredibly proud to be part of the Firstup team. I am very passionate about our vision to make work better for every worker and mission to improve the employee experience at every moment that matters—large and small.

Most companies share a similar set of people challenges: attracting the best talent, curating a compelling experience at every stage of the employee journey, and supporting an authentic and high-performing culture. Our workforces are more diverse and distributed than ever, and employees have higher expectations than before about their employee experience. And HR and communications teams are often in the middle, trying to bridge the gap between the board and executive teams and the employees we support.

The Firstup solution is an amazing tool to solve these challenges. The platform gives us a way to ensure the necessary information reaches the right employees in a way that they will consume at a time when they are most likely to engage with it. That’s profound and helps us ensure that our teams have equitable access to information and are always in the loop and connected. I love evangelizing this because I think it empowers HR and communications teams to showcase their great work by giving them better tools and data to work with. The result is a better employee experience, which is why we are here to begin with.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Take risks on yourself—take on new challenges, speak up when you have an idea, and ask questions even when you are self-conscious about the perception. These everyday acts of courage will pay off and help you find your path to success.

Additionally, invest in your learning. HR has so many interesting facets (HRBP; benefits; compliance; diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); compensation; learning and development; communications; HR tech, etc.)—explore them all! Each provides depth to your expertise and is part of the full value of the organization.

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