There’s something special about Amanda Cable, Global Head of People at Educative. Quite aside from her unusual background — she spent 15 years in the US Air Force — she has a passion for people that shines through in every answer to questions we put to her. And, as a B2B tech website, we’re also fascinated by how Educative uses cutting-edge technology to support its people.
None of this is lip service: Amanda and her team have created and implemented innovative HR strategies that foster a diverse, inclusive and high-performing culture. Quite an achievement when 90% of the Educative workforce is based in Pakistan, where cultures and beliefs can be very different from the US.
Whether you’re an employee or an HR professional yourself, we suspect you’ll learn much from what Amanda has to say.
What made you pursue a career in HR? And what advice do you have for anyone considering a career in HR?
I spent 15 years in the US Air Force because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me, where I could make an impact, and do my part in protecting all the freedoms given to us by our ancestors. When it was time for me to separate and head out on my next journey, being able to still serve in some capacity was important to me.
I found that through HR. I have this amazing opportunity to make an impact and change people’s lives in their careers and help companies shape their culture to help their businesses thrive. But HR also comes with a lot of emotional labour.
My advice to anyone who enters this field is to find the following qualities, which have helped my career:
- You must like people
- Have a passion for helping others
- Be a lifelong learner, HR is always evolving
- Handle the hard stuff without losing sight of what is best for the business but also help your leaders see headcount as heart count so when we’re making hard decisions, we aren’t losing sight of the human aspect
- Be okay that from time to time other people’s poor planning will become your emergency
We hear about terms like quiet quitting, indicating a shift in employees’ approach to work post-pandemic. Is this something you’ve seen at your work? And how are you reacting to it?
I first heard this term about two years ago, “quiet quitting”. Lack of employee engagement isn’t a new concept. All we’ve done now is give it new terminology so we can talk about it in a different, more urgent way.
Today, we are seeing all generations in the workplace, so businesses have to be more aware of what matters to their teams. For someone who has been employed for over 20 years, myself included, what matters to me is going to be different than someone fresh out of college and just entering the workforce. Lack of engagement is a symptom of our leaders not caring for anything outside of the result.
The old way of thinking, ‘live to work’, no longer applies and if businesses want to hire and retain the best employees, they have to shift their thinking to a ‘work-to-live’ understanding. Understand what motives and drives your team and show them you care beyond the surface pleasantries. I have to remind myself daily when I get ridiculous requests that can sometimes come off as entitlement, that it’s not, this is who they are, this is what matters to them, what am I going to do to make today better for them? I don’t have to agree with what they want, but I need to be open to the idea and be their champion.
Post-pandemic, what are your thoughts on flexible work trends and how do you think they’ll shape the upcoming years?
Covid was extremely disruptive in how we view appropriate and effective work conditions. It taught us that we can be more open to alternative work solutions when it makes sense for our team and business.
However, I don’t agree that all employees out there want to be remote and all businesses need to adjust to this. I believe that every employee needs/wants something different. There will be employees who love being 100% remote because that is what works best for them and their families, some employees (myself included) seek a more hybrid model because they need human interaction occasionally but also want quiet time to complete project work, and then there are those who want to be in the office five days a week because maybe working remotely is too distracting for them.
As a business owner or leader, you need to first decide what model best supports your business and culture. Then hire to that. Don’t convince candidates that they should come to work for you, even though your model doesn’t align with their values. Trust me when I say — that employee will not be a long-term employee. Instead, define your culture and hire the candidates that are the best fit for your culture while adding diversity to your teams.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and how has it shaped your career?
Early in my military career, as a young manager, my leader told me that if I could build my team and develop them in a way that they would one day be promoted ahead of me, then that was a sign that I had done my job as their manager.
That advice has stuck with me and has shaped how I lead today. I make development a top priority with my teams, I require them to think about what’s next for them and how I can support them. Even if what is next for them is them moving on or eventually taking my job, I will help by ensuring they are set up for success.
We love the term, ‘failing forward’, on my team. Even when I fail, I use that moment to be vulnerable about my mistakes and I share what happened and how I will move on so they can learn from it.
What are the top three challenges HR professionals face today?
Employee retention is one of the biggest challenges. The term ‘job hopper’ doesn’t apply to today’s workforce. Employees will no longer stick around when they’re unhappy or not getting what they want. They will bounce around until they find an employer who aligns with their values. So, if we apply the ‘job hopper’ lens to our recruiting strategy, we will miss incredible talent. Businesses need to focus on why their people are leaving and what can change as a business to counter that.
Inclusion and diversity efforts are another big one. This isn’t going away and with how divided our country is, now is the time for companies to pick the right side and support their employees. Diversity efforts will fall flat if they aren’t sincere and are only used as a PR stunt in the public eye. They also can’t succeed without the business creating authentic inclusive cultures in the workplace. Without true inclusion, diversity efforts will mean nothing.
This last one may not be as important to some HR leaders, but is one that I truly believe in – companies have to adopt true workforce planning and organisational design. When you hire HR leaders, make sure these are skills they understand or can acquire.
Without these things, companies can fall into what I like to call Battlefield Hiring with no understanding of how building these teams will propel the business forward. So, if you just hire to hire because you know you need help but you aren’t thinking through the work, skills needed, your internal talent, how the team should be structured for the work, and how all this supports the company’s objectives — then you’re aren’t actually solving for any problem but creating a bigger one.
Can you give us an example of how your team uses technology and how that has helped the company?
It’s not uncommon that we promote employees to be our people managers because they are really good at their jobs. I hear this in almost every calibration meeting during reviews when it’s about our leaders, ‘but so and so is so good at their job’. Okay, but what about their leadership? How are they treating their teams? How are they performing there?
This isn’t unique to any one company I have been a part of, I have seen this almost everywhere I have worked and the employees suffer because of it. Performance isn’t being managed effectively, 1:1s aren’t happening regularly and when they are it’s most likely a status check-in, and no one is getting productive feedback.
So, we recently established an online check-in tool with 15Five where we can keep track of these conversations and when they’re happening. We also put the power back in the employee’s hands to submit a request for check-in while identifying the topics that are top of mind for them. If the employee submits the request, the manager is required to meet them. With this all now in the tool, we can track these requests and follow-ups to see where we need to step in to provide additional training for our people managers.
What do you think has been the most significant way in which technology has impacted HR?
There are so many! Now that I have worked in one startup and two smaller companies, I have come to appreciate these even more! I started my career in bigger companies like PwC and Equifax which had enough money to have tools for everything that when I left for the startup world and back to where we’re doing it all manually — I was like how?! How are we functioning!?
HR is always evolving and today companies are expecting their HR to be business partners so that means we are moving away from operational tasks and now have a seat at the table to be more strategic. But all that manual work still has to be done so HR and businesses need to adopt a HRM tool to automate employee records, onboarding, performance evaluations, payroll, and recruiting. Otherwise, there will be no time for the fun strategic work.
There are also amazing tools out there to streamline how to recognize your team, the check-in feature on 15Five as I mentioned earlier (my personal favourite), LMS and ATSs have changed the game for recruiting!
The HR tool space is now so large, that you can find anything you need for small or large organisations but do your research, shop around, and talk to HR professionals in other companies to see what is working for them and why. There won’t be one solution for all your needs so make sure you have a clear vision on your trade-offs and non-negotiables before you talk to a sales representative.
What is an HR initiative you’ve spearheaded that you are particularly proud of?
I currently work for a company that has over 90% of its employees based in Pakistan. This comes with some cultural challenges that as a HR leader can be hard to navigate from time to time. What makes sense to me isn’t always the right decision in other parts of the world. This can be due to religion, their beliefs or their country’s laws. So, I have to remind myself every day to look at both sides and try to understand perspectives even when I don’t agree because it goes against my own values and what I believe in.
Last summer, I wanted to do something to celebrate PRIDE and I took some ideas to the CEO. That conversation was an eye-opener for me. We had a very thoughtful discussion about Pakistani culture and their beliefs. What we both did agree on was we needed to do something but we had to think about it differently. We wanted to create an initiative our employees would embrace and support, not one they would revolt against. So, instead of celebrating PRIDE specifically, we launched the Embraced as I Am campaign across both countries. No matter what our culture, our religion, or our beliefs are — there is one thing we can all get behind; Inclusion. Everyone wants to be included, free to show up as their authentic selves and in a safe environment. So, we started there.
Next, we launched our Blind Spots workshop where we discussed the diversity wheel, unconscious biases, how they creep into our everyday lives and our commitments to each other. We now discuss biases at all our training sessions. If we’re doing a performance review training prior to kick-off; we’re discussing biases to be aware of.
The approach we’ve taken, while not as big as some other companies, is meeting our employees where they are and respecting their culture while initiating change in the right way. I am excited to see how this continues to evolve!
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