Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Cori Davis on Honesty, Inclusion, and Investing in People

Meet Cori Davis, Chief People Officer at Genentech, a leading biotechnology company and member of the Roche Group. Davis not only brings more than 25 years of HR experience as an innovative leader to her role, but also a commonsense approach to problem-solving, thinking, empathy, and results orientation.

Cori Davis Genentech
Cori Davis

In her role as CPO, she oversees the company’s strategic initiatives to foster a culture of inclusion and inspiration that allows Genentech’s employees to grow and thrive. Davis has been with the company since 2009, providing HR and organizational development support to myriad functions including government affairs, medical affairs and business operations in both U.S. and global roles.

“I lead our efforts to attract, develop, and retain the brightest minds in the biotech industry and ensure Genentech remains the employer of choice for over 13,000 employees in the U.S.,” she shared with HR Daily Advisor. “I’m grateful and honored to be able to play a part in our employees’ growth and development and our company’s success.”

Prior to Genentech, Davis worked for Microsoft, Deloitte Consulting, and as an organizational development and leadership effectiveness consultant for companies across a variety of industries. We recently connected with Davis to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influences, and the importance of inclusive environments.

“I’m passionate about inclusivity and fostering an accepting environment in which people can be themselves, share their ideas and experiences, and speak openly without worry of being judged,” says Davis. “To me, inclusion is not only a moral imperative, but is also a strategic advantage. Inclusivity contributes to teams being more dynamic, innovative, and effective, which ultimately results in improved performance, competitiveness, and sustainability for an organization.”

In our latest Faces, meet Cori Davis.

How did you get your start in the field?

Throughout college I spent summer breaks working in a gold mine in Nevada. It was my first experience in a highly structured work environment, and I was fascinated by how people approached work differently and became curious about what motivates people.

It wasn’t until I took an organizational psychology class in my senior year that I discovered there’s an entire academic discipline dedicated to studying the psychology of people in relation to work. After college, I took a job in HR at a steel manufacturing company, and then went back to school to get a PhD in organizational psychology.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

I’ve had the privilege throughout my career of working with leaders who put people first. That’s what I admire most about Genentech’s leadership team—their care and commitment to the people who are working hard every day to make lives better for our patients.

I feel extremely fortunate to work in HR at a company that greatly values and invests in people.

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

Early in my career, I made the mistake of not giving people direct feedback if it was less than positive because it didn’t feel “nice.” I’ve learned that being indirect or withholding feedback isn’t nice either; we all need honest, constructive feedback to develop and improve. Without it, problems perpetuate, and people (and teams) aren’t set up to succeed.

So as challenging as it can be, honesty is always the best policy.

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

I love working with leaders and teams to address complex challenges in ways that have a positive impact on employees’ development and experiences at work. What can we simplify? How do we better collaborate across silos? What capabilities will we need for the future?

These are the kinds of questions I like helping people answer.

I don’t love the perception that HR’s primary function is to come up with rules and reinforce them. Of course, we play a role in ensuring that an organization’s people practices and systems are compliant and fair…but we also play a crucial role in shaping an organization’s culture, aligning people strategies with business goals and objectives, and creating solutions to help people learn and do their best work.

These are just a few of the contributions we make to an organization’s success.

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

The most effective HR professionals understand their company’s business and how to leverage HR to further business outcomes. In other words, we need to be business leaders who have an expertise in HR.  Being able to speak to leaders and employees about the company’s strategy, products or services, financial performance, competitive landscape, and other elements of the business is an invaluable skill.

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

I expect technology, AI in particular, will play an interesting role in the way we manage HR processes in the years ahead. We’re still in the early stages of understanding how we can best put it to use, but I’m excited about the possibilities.

I also expect we’ll be leveraging data more effectively to inform decisions and guide action. Many of the challenges we’re facing today— attracting and retaining talent, engaging employees, keeping a distributed workforce connected, maximizing the return on our investments in compensation and benefits— may be less formidable if we’re able to make more data-driven decisions.

What are you most proud of?

The HR professionals I’ve worked with over the years are among the most selfless, committed, empathetic, and savvy people I know. I’m very proud to be part of this community.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

I’d encourage new HR practitioners to gain experience in a few different areas of expertise within HR. There are so many to explore: compensation, benefits, recruiting, learning and development, business partnering, organization development, employee relations and the list goes on. Having a holistic understanding of the full scope of HR increases our effectiveness as practitioners.

I’d also encourage anyone who’s new in any role, not just HR, to be curious, ask questions, and learn as much as you possibly can about the business.

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