Faces of HR

Faces of HR: From Counselor to Champion—Denise Kulikowsky’s Journey to CPO

Denise Kulikowsky’s path to CPO at Tapestry wasn’t a traditional climb up the corporate ladder. It began with a deep desire to understand and support people – a passion evident in her undergraduate degree in Psychology and master’s in counseling. Her initial foray into social work laid the groundwork for empathy and human connection, skills that would prove invaluable throughout her career.

Denise Kulikowsky

An opportunity to join an HR consulting firm sparked a shift in focus. While Kulikowsky thrived in this environment, she craved a deeper connection to the impact of HR within an organization. “I wanted to be a partner to leaders,” she shares, “influencing the business and seeing the work all the way through.” 

This yearning led her to a public company, where she found a role perfectly aligned with her unique experience. This marked the beginning of a flourishing career, where she consistently leveraged her consulting background to navigate opportunities and become a strategic partner to business leaders.

In our latest Faces, meet Denise Kulikowsky.

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

Very early in my career I was asked to participate in a leadership intervention. I took it on with full accountability, even though there should have been accountability by the leader of the function.  Sad to say, it didn’t go well, and I learned an important lesson then about my role as an HR leader—it’s critical to ensure clarity in everything I do and that there is alignment in intent, action planning and accountability for consequences and outcomes.  I still apply these lessons today.

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 retail industry. It is fast paced, brand and product focused and people enabled.  As an HR leader, I am energized by driving business results through people strategies; it is exciting to see how my team and I can influence outcomes of the business and the success of our teams.  I am grateful for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of our employees, fuel their career growth and enable them ultimately to make a living to support themselves and their families. 

My least favorite?  The moments when the pursuit of perfection gets in the way of progress and results.  Infusing agility and a test and learn culture into organizations is an effective way to mitigate the negative effects of perfectionism.

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.

I believe taking a very human and humble approach to leadership is the most impactful way to demonstrate care and concern for our people.  Creating a culture that respects and values employees as individual human beings is the foundation to ensuring our Tapestry employees feel safe and comfortable. 

One way we do this is through well-being programming that supports employees in caring for themselves and each other. For example, we offer an incredible program, Mental Health First Aid Certification, that teaches corporate and store employees how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse. We’re building on the program by offering our store managers and leaders on-demand mental health first aid training. Our employees care about their well-being, and we’re so glad to be able to support them in this area.

Well-being programs like these, along with our leaders, continue to set the tone to further this culture that respects and values our people, and building programs, process, policy, and communication that consistently reflect care and concern for employees is very important to support this culture.

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

This is very clear to me.  HR leaders have to be business leaders first who drive the business through people strategies.  If HR leaders do their work without the context of the business and the needs of customers, they can offer only limited value to the leadership team.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the impact I have had on human beings in the organizations in which I have worked. Knowing that I not only enabled leaders to drive business outcomes, but I have also had the honor to play a role in their career success, are pride points.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Yes! Leave yourself open to possibilities and always look for opportunities to learn and to get uncomfortable. Proactively raise your hand to participate in new projects, reach out to leaders to build relationships and proactively ask for feedback and insight about your performance and career trajectory. Above all, have confidence in who you uniquely are and let it shine every day!

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