Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Tyana Owings on Prioritizing Humanity, L&D, and Mentorship

Meet Tyana Owings, Director of People at Cloverleaf, a SaaS company that provides automated coaching to every team member. Over the course of her impressive career, Owings has grown into a talent development and people operations leader who believes companies succeed most when they truly put their people first. Early in her management career while training and mentoring other leaders, she fell in love with developing people. As a result, opportunities came along not only to begin facilitating and writing workshops, but also, she returned to grad school to study Human Resource (HR) Development and started a subsequent career in Learning & Development.

Tyana Owings

Ultimately, Owings’ experience working with, and training, other HR professionals eventually led to two People Director roles as the first People leader of the organization.

“I am drawn to new ideas and generative connections and have a history of building programs from the ground up, collaborating with cross-functional teams, and bringing tarted solutions to life that meet the needs of the organization,” she recently shared with HR Daily Advisor. “I’ve served in a variety of industries, including higher education, healthcare, non-profit, enterprise, and startups.”

In our latest Faces, meet Tyana Owings.

How did you get your start in the field?

Like many colleagues I’ve talked to, I kind of “fell into” Learning & Development and then HR. I was a music major in undergrad with the goal of becoming a teacher eventually, so I’ve always had a heart to help people learn and grow. My post-college experience in retail management exposed me to an industry I had never heard of prior: organizational learning & development. I was fortunate to have leaders who saw the potential in me, provided me opportunities, and gave me exposure to this type of role. While many of my colleagues may have started in HR and then decided to focus on L&D, I went a bit backwards. Part of my role in L&D was to create courses to train HR professionals across the organization, and our team learned a lot about HR from working with subject matter experts, writing, and leading those courses. A short while later, the company I moved to had an opening for their first HR person, and my efforts to help with recruiting turned into “we’d like to offer you the role.” I appreciated the vote of confidence and the challenge and was fortunate enough to work at an organization who valued HR, so I knew I’d have the support. I feel like my lens into the broader HR field is a bit different, having come from L&D into it and believing strongly in the need for L&D in organizations much earlier than most prioritize it.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

As a speaker and author, I’ve been a big fan of Marcus Buckingham’s work for years. Early in my career, I connected quickly with his focus on strengths and his viewpoints on performance, feedback, and career development. His re-thinking of how HR/Talent Development have done things for decades has been instrumental in helping form how I think about these things and design these programs in my organizations. On a personal level, my former boss Tanya Ladd had the biggest influence on me on the Learning & Development side. It was her mentorship and leadership that helped me become a professional and increased my passion for helping people learn and grow and becoming a business partner.  

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

Early in my L&D career, I was so concerned about “proving myself” that I set a bar for myself that was unreasonable, unnecessary, and slowed me down from meeting deadlines and business objectives. Seeing that I was on a fast track to burnout and/or failing to meet outcomes if I couldn’t reign this in, my dear leader Tanya had a talk with me about the value of good vs perfect, continuous improvement (we can keep working on it to make it better!), setting boundaries, and managing expectations appropriately – we had a very small team considering the number of employees we were there to serve. This has made a huge difference in how I approach work, and I’ve had similar coaching conversations with other employees who I see on that same fast track to burnout. “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress” is a saying I routinely remind myself of when I feel myself getting overly caught up in inconsequential details or a desire to make something perfect.

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

I truly love helping people see how amazing they are, finding ways to help them lean into those strengths, and taking care of the ancillary things that may get in the way of them fully recognizing their value and the fullness of who they are (how we pay, benefits, culture – the things that can either facilitate great work or cause extra stress for our people). It’s incredibly important to me to work for a company that is people-centric that gives space for people to be human, not just employees.

My least favorite part in other organizations has been feeling like I have to fight for a seat at the table – to be seen as more than the “compliance police” or the person who helps you sign up for benefits – and to be seen as a true business partner that can influence strategy beyond the silos of HR. People can bring a lot of baggage about HR into their work from prior experiences or even how media can tend to portray us (HR needs better PR (ha-ha)) – but I see the needle moving the right way. If we focus on being more proactive in how we take care of our people, how we communicate these things, and include our People Leaders in decisions that impact employees (which is significant), our people feel it, and the need to deal with that “not as fun side of HR” stuff dramatically decreases.

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.

People can’t discover who they really are, lean fully into it, and be unleashed to do their best work if they don’t feel safe, accepted, included, and loved as a human being. It’s the core of psychological safety (hat tip to Amy Edmondson for her work here, which has been impactful to me). Cloverleaf is all about celebrating differences in who we are, how we think, how we work, and what our needs and motivations are. These differences aren’t risks – they’re assets. We as leaders and HR professionals need to find more ways to allow people to be fully who they are so they can bring their best selves to work.

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

As People Leaders, we need to do better at seeing ourselves as critical business partners, helping to form and move strategy forward and giving leaders a well-rounded view of things to consider when they may be laser-focused on just the impact to their department. We must have a constant seat at the leadership table, and a peer leadership team who will say, “should we bring our People Leader into this conversation?” when they aren’t already there. HR has so many areas of the business it touches to be disconnected from what any department is doing that may impact the employees.  

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

HR has done a great job of building specialists, which is good and amazingly helpful, but the downside is we’ve ended up very siloed within our own field. Our benefits people may not talk to our L&D people, who aren’t talking to our engagement/DEI people. Our systems and platforms aren’t talking to each other well. Our people are people. They’re not siloed. Their benefit needs can impact their performance. Their performance results could be impacted by how well we do with DEI. I think over the next several years, we’ll start to see more of an effort to tie these things together in a more holistic way.

What are you most proud of?

I’ve had the opportunity to build a lot of great programs, processes, workshops, eLearning’s, etc., over the years. I’m not sure 10 years ago I would’ve seen myself as a “builder,” but I’ve learned that I enjoy listening to the feedback from people on what they need and want, and meshing that with the values, mission, and goals of the company to develop these things. Working at Cloverleaf is helping me to lean into that more, celebrating that as a part of who I am, and building my confidence in it, and it’s a true honor.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Do informational interviews with people. Connect and follow on LinkedIn. The HR world is wonderful and crazy, frustrating, and rewarding, and it’s not for everyone. Hindsight is 20/20 – learn what you can from people who have been there and remember those lessons when you get into your first role.

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