HR Tech Interview with Kim Sullivan, Chief Human Resources Officer at Sitecore

Journey into Tech

Please tell us about your journey in the HR industry. 

 I dove headfirst into the HR world soon after college and I’ve held many different HR roles in my more than 20 years in the field. I’ve worked for wonderful brands across industries and have had the pleasure of pursuing both generalist and specialist roles. 

Throughout my HR journey, the one recurring theme has been my focus on driving transformation projects. I’m passionate about finding innovative ways to add value to a business and solve its unique problems through transformational work. This includes both transforming the HR function specifically – including how companies hire and retain talent, as well as other HR functions – in addition to supporting overall transformation in business operations. In each role, I’ve been committed to finding new ways to drive measurable and sustainable impact for my employers.  

 I am proud to have spent my career focused on HR initiatives that have bigger business implications – including change management, transformation, innovation, and solving problems that lead to sustainable impact through people, culture, and community while simultaneously building high-performing teams. 

How did your role evolve through the pandemic? What unique challenges did you tackle in the last 2 years that you think were key to your promotion to a CHRO? 

I started my previous job at the beginning of 2020 – and within my first couple weeks there, we were in lockdown, and I had to shift gears from onboarding and getting to know the HR function to supporting with business continuity planning. 

While it was stressful and chaotic, it provided me with a unique opportunity to build close relationships very quickly with my colleagues and leaders in other departments. It also forced me to get oriented and embedded within the company, as I needed to quickly understand the organization and its staff to make sure I could create an effective contingency plan for its more than 200,000 global employees and their families. 

 The pandemic forced me to address and solve new challenges such as determining how to ensure people are taken care of in a distributed work environment where different offices faced different laws. I also had to determine how to communicate with employees and ensure that the employer was doing everything in their power to put staff wellbeing and safety first, while also balancing new constraints on the business. We had to make sure that people got paid, or if they were displaced, that they had all the resources and support needed to ensure they did not go without necessities. 

 Even though I was a new CHRO when the pandemic hit, I was luckily surrounded by a very strong team who worked together and focused on ensuring people were aligned in a way that I never had experienced before. Looking back, the pandemic made us all stronger – as a team and across the entire business – creating a sense of community and trust. 

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How different are the modern workplace management trends compared to what they were a year or two ago? 

The number one workplace management challenge is maintaining culture and driving connections in today’s remote and hybrid working environments. For the most part, people are no longer going into the office each day. Jobs have completely changed and it’s on HR to determine how the employer can balance and solve new issues with employee engagement. 

As some organizations consider bringing employees back into the office, I’d encourage them to first answer one question: why? We’re seeing and hearing a lot about how flexibility is more important than ever, so business leaders and HR professionals will need to develop a work policy that doesn’t compete with nor detract from the aspects that people really enjoy. Additionally, HR teams need to adjust their benefits and perks to mitigate employee burnout while supporting overall wellbeing and mental health. Work-life balance is more important than ever when employees are deciding where they want to work and where they’ll stay working. 

The culmination of all this is determining how to get executives and supervisors to manage and lead in new, more effective ways. As the world has changed and people have more control over how and where they work, HR teams need to provide managers with the right tools that allow them to adjust leadership styles to align. 

Please tell us a little bit about your HR technology stack and what kinds of tools and solutions you rely on for employee communication, etc. 

In my new role with Sitecore, I’m getting up to speed on the current tools and solutions we leverage. We use Workday Peakon as our main HR system for all information, resources, and employee surveys. We also leverage Jobvite for recruiting and applicant tracking, and take advantage of platforms like myGwork, Comparably and Glassdoor. We have also used our intranet for employee engagement which is built on our own Sitecore product with our partner, DoZen. 

As we evaluate our people and culture strategy, we’ll work on identifying the most effective tools that can help us optimize and automate HR processes as well as drive workplace experience and employee engagement.  

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Talent War and Talent Shortage have slowed down the pace of many industries. How do you see these trends and how would you tactically overcome the challenges arising out of talent management or mismanagement in your industry? 

The talent war is ongoing, but it’s also cyclical. The pandemic has accelerated the future of the workplace and driven employee expectations to all-time highs. Workers are now reflecting on what is important to them in an employer and a workplace – and this is forcing them to be more selective than ever before committing to one.  

This has in large part driven the “Great Resignation.” Employees want to feel connected to a company and fulfilled by their overall mission and culture. This has created new challenges for employers and their HR Teams. They now need to have a clear description of what it means to work for an organization and what the company stands for. In addition to describing this mission, the company must put action behind their words. If a company doesn’t really live their values, employees will see right through them. 

While compensation and benefits remain important, they are no longer the sole deciding factor when candidates are evaluating an employer. Attracting and retaining workers requires employers to be very tactical about operational work, and how they operationalize culture. To be successful, it’s also important to hold leaders accountable to behave in a way that ties back to company values. 

Your predictions on the future of HR Technologies and how most industries could benefit from adopting this technology to meet global employee experience and HR management goals: 

My top prediction for HR technology is we’re seeing a shift away from self-service to direct access. Self-service tools sent the message to employees that they were on their own, while direct access is a more comprehensive way to understand and leverage HR tools. 

We’ll also see automation continue to play a larger role in HR processes for employers and leaders to bring employee experience to life in a very methodical and intentional way. When it comes to enhancing the employee experience, every detail must be planned – just as we’ve seen with companies who deliver top-notch customer experiences and supporting employees should be no different. Automation tools can simplify and streamline painful HR processes that negatively impact employee experience. For example, if a manager says it’s important as a culture to move quicky, but the time-to-hire takes several weeks, that is a painful process that automation tools can help overcome. As an HR leader, it’s important to consider the moments that matter – such as hiring, onboarding, and learning & development – and find ways to simplify. 

Your advice to business leaders looking to transform their HR practices. 

It may sound simple, but my biggest piece of advice is to start at the root of the business. What are you trying to accomplish as a company, and what is your value proposition? As you start to dig into these questions, you’ll find it’s much more complicated than originally thought. 

Once you have an answer, it’s time to apply that same thinking to the people side of the organization. Business leaders spend a ton of time and resources to build out a business strategy and objectives; but they fall short in providing that same level of thought on their workplace and workforce.  

Analytics is so important to supporting these decisions and helping an HR team function as a powerhouse. Armed with the right insights and data, HR teams will be able to address workforce challenges in new, smarter ways and be more strategic about measuring the success of their new programs.  

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A technology event/ conference/ webinar/ podcast that you would like to attend in 2022-2023.

There are many wonderful conferences I’d love to participate in alongside the organizations with which I already work. I’m passionate about participating in new and upcoming companies who are contributing to innovation in HR. 

For example, I sit on a newly formed HR Council for VC firm Greycroft, where we connect with portfolio CEOs to provide perspective and advice on building people and culture strategies. I’m also a founding member of Hacking HR’s HR Experts Council, where I’m able to collaborate and knowledge-share with other reputable HR leaders about current trends and problems in our industry. I also recently accepted the role as an Advisor for Team Handoff, which is a SaaS startup with a social mission of impacting the future of work through software that enables two employees to share one full-time role. Finally, I also actively participate in salons hosted and facilitated by Coco Brown, CEO of Athena Alliance, which is an Executive Learning Community that accelerates leadership advancement to the C-suite, the CEO’s office, and the boardroom through a unique model of modern business leadership education and a powerful network. 

In addition to HR-specific events, I’m thrilled to be joining my colleagues at Sitecore Symposium in Chicago this October to explore the future of digital experience and see first-hand how the world’s largest brands are unlocking new business outcomes through CX technology.

Thank you, Kim! That was fun and hope to see you back on HR Tech Series soon.

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With more than 20 years in the HR industry, Kim Sullivan has had an extensive career, including a mix of strong business acumen and the desire to develop people, while also identifying the business drivers and complex issues of every organization she’s worked with. She has experience modernizing the People Solutions (HR) function by implementing new HR service delivery models; redesigning, eliminating, and repositioning roles; and implementing a digital HR strategy to address short long-term business needs. Kim is a thought leader in all things transformation, business transformation, HR transformation, and transforming organizational culture. She is passionate about elevating HR team performance to ensure people and culture strategies enable a company’s value agenda. She holds a master’s degree in human resources development from the University of Houston and a bachelor’s degree in speech communications and organizational psychology from Texas Southern University.

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