In another episode of Simply Feedback, we speak with Lauren Williams, founder of Workplace Harmony and co-founder of Williams & Quigley, as she shares tips on how to make a transition to a different career path and her own personal journey from Finance to Human Resources.
Lauren Williams, SPHR has over 15 years of progressive Organizational Development & Organizational Change Agent experience working for fast-paced, exponentially growing start-ups. Lauren started her career in Finance for small companies and technology start-ups. She eventually developed a passion for people and culture and transitioned into Human Resources. What started out as a fun part of her job, quickly became a passion to better the workplace and encourage a positive evolution of the employee experience. Lauren holds an undergraduate degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania in Finance and Economics and a Master’s of Arts from Immaculata University in Organizational Effectiveness.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Lauren utilizes her influential attitude and people skills to rally the workforce to maximize their full potential. She applies her positive attitude and creativity to all of her projects. Lauren cares deeply about the employee experience and how workplaces can leverage their culture to increase employee engagement, retention and empowerment.
On any given day you can find Lauren hosting her Caffeinated Convos & Horrible Bosses Podcast, laughing loudly. rapping to 90’s hip-hop in her mom-mobile, chasing her 3 kids, cooking, helping her husband find his keys and satisfying her addiction to retail therapy.
Troy Blaser (00:04):
Hello, welcome to another episode of Simply Feedback. The podcast brought to you by LearningBridge. We're delighted today to speak with Lauren Williams. Lauren has over 15 years of progressive Organizational Development and Organizational Change Agent experience. She started her career in finance for small companies and tech startups, and eventually developed a passion for people and culture and transitioned into Human Resources. Lauren's company, Workplace Harmony, provides communication breakthroughs for strategic quick wins and realistic recommendations to help the organization achieve next level success. She's also the Co-Founder of Williams & Quigley, an Org Change and Transformation team that helps smart leaders see what's ahead of the next turn using their HR and Ops program, Power-Trak, which takes companies through implementing real and lasting change. On any given day, you can find Lauren hosting her Caffeinated Convos and Horrible Bosses podcast, laughing loudly, rapping to 90's hip-hop in her mom-mobile, chasing her 3 kids, cooking, helping her husband find his keys and satisfying her addiction to retail therapy. Lauren, it's great to have you with us on the podcast today. Thanks so much for joining us.
Lauren Williams (01:20):
Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction. That was absolutely amazing. And I just appreciate you having me as a guest and it's so cool to be on the other side of the podcast so I am pumped.
Troy Blaser (01:35):
Great. Well, yeah, it's good to have you with us. There are a few things in your introduction that I would love to talk to you some more about, the 90's hip-hop, the mom-mobile.
Lauren Williams (01:45):
Yes. I used to DJ after college and in college. And so 90's hip-hop was my jam. So everything Biggie and Big Pine and lot of like the East Coast rappers more than West Coast, obviously. And before mashups were a thing I will say I was officially doing them on vinyl.
Troy Blaser (02:05):
You were a true DJ.
Lauren Williams (02:07):
True DJ. Yes. And kind of learned from a DJ in New York and so learned on some all hip-hop, all hip-hop base, but to this day just feel like everyone was coming out with such innovative music that was just uplifting and also able to kind of express the struggle people felt. It was such a great time in music
Troy Blaser (02:26):
That's yeah, that is cool. So Lauren, the podcast is Simply Feedback. I wanted to start just by asking you to tell us about a time that somebody gave you feedback and maybe this feedback had a significant impact on your life.
Lauren Williams (02:41):
I have many, I've had the pleasure of growing up in feedback, culture oriented organizations, where feedback was frequent and direct and deliberative, and also done in a really kind manner, which made it wonderful to accept. But I also live in a feedback household where my husband and I hold each other accountable and we'll give feedback on a whim and make sure, you know, each other's understanding and where that's coming from. And I subscribe to speak the truth from love. So as long as you're speaking the truth in love and you're sharing with what someone, what will help them because it may be a blind spot, then you can't go wrong. So I have a couple of times I receive feedback that had a significant impact on my life and my career trajectory. I will say that I had the pleasure of working very closely with a wonderful executive of one of the organizations I was with.
Lauren Williams (03:30):
And he was very good at giving feedback and not making you feel awful. He was just very transparent, but would say things that resonated. So he said, one day you are awesome at HR, but I want you to be careful as you go forward, that you don't err too much on employee advocacy. And that really resonated with me because as HR professionals, as org dev professionals, we are all about rallying for the employees being that voice, being that advocate. And at times you really have to balance that with what's best for the business. And I had a tendency to kind of step over that line and take a little too much employee advocacy approach to how I worked. So that feedback was significant. It's something I carry with me today. And I also share it with clients and people I work with and other HR professionals of, "Hey, be really careful of that line."
Lauren Williams (04:26):
There's there is such a thing as too much employee advocacy. The second piece of feedback that was actually very impactful was from a LearningBridge survey I took about eight years ago. It was my first 360 feedback survey, and I was profoundly impacted by the results. And that was for a couple reasons. One, I had never had a 360 done at that time in my career any time. I had never heard this kind of feedback from peers, family members, friends, colleagues, and the way the LearningBridge tools delivered is you really have to get serious and intentional with that feedback as a survey respondent, which I love. So the piece that resonated with me is someone wrote, "Lauren goes a hundred miles per hour all the time and never stops. And it scares me."
Lauren Williams (05:15):
Oh, I always thought that was like the greatest thing ever about me. What do you mean? It could be bad? And I spent a lot of time with my cohort peers digesting that and understanding, well, what's so bad about that and why wouldn't people want to go a hundred miles an hour because that's what you do. And so it gave me this incredible opportunity for some self awareness. And again, to this day, I can recognize when I'm running a little too fast and clients can't keep up or strategic partners are not moving as quickly as me. I get, I tend to get frustrated. So now I know how to kind of temper that down a little, but that was a huge piece in my feedback journey. Yeah,
Troy Blaser (06:00):
That's really an amazing thing about a 360 is sort of that feedback from different perspectives. The difference between what I think of myself versus what others think about me, but also, you know, what my manager thinks about me versus what my direct reports think about me because we obviously, we act differently to those different sets of people. I wanted to go back to your first story about, you know, getting the feedback that sometimes you were too much on the side of an employee advocate. That sounds like feedback that really set a trajectory for you.
Lauren Williams (06:35):
A hundred percent. Because now I see it and I'll be really honest, it's a lot of times apparent and visible in more entry level or junior level folks who are coming up into HR and they see it as like, I like people I want to help the employees and that is a big part of it, but that's not all of it. And when I work with companies, I see that a lot of times the HR leaders who are struggling to be more strategic or have a seat at the table is that they are too much on that side of employee advocacy. And they're not looking at the bottom line of the business, the business strategy. What's the five year goal? What's the ten year goal? What does that mean? And you can't always have the blinders of, I'm just doing what's best for all the employees, because you have to know what's best for the business.
Troy Blaser (07:21):
Can you help us understand a little bit better about what too much employee advocacy might look like?
Lauren Williams (07:27):
Sure, absolutely. I'll give you a great example. There may be an employee with repeated performance issues and you'll see sometimes HR professionals keep siding with the employee and almost making excuses or we need to give them another try, another try, at some point you say, no, that's enough. This is a performance issue. And that's all this is. Or especially during terminations, you can see it where, um, you know, some HR leaders or professionals aren't comfortable just telling the facts and during a release, it's a sensitive conversation. You need to just stick with the facts. You don't apologize. You don't go into a diatribe about why, you just do it. Right? And so I can see where HR leaders and professionals want to be that employee advocate. But if you aren't careful, you could be siding too much with an employee and not being objective about the manager viewpoint or the bigger business unit challenges they're experiencing. So you always have to kind of play the middle line.
Troy Blaser (08:28):
That makes sense. I like that. We're all compassionate and it can be easy to come down too much on the side of the employee without taking into account everybody's perspectives. Well, so tell us a little bit about your background, Lauren. I mean we ran through the bio at the beginning, but tell us some of about where you came from, what caused you to get into the field that you're in? Give us some additional detail.
Lauren Williams (08:55):
Sure, absolutely. So I originally started in the financial industry and I started as a financial advisor and worked for Morgan Stanley and another firm and realized really quickly I hated it. One, it was early 2000, so the markets had all crashed and everyone hated their jobs. And I'm looking around like, why did I pick this? This is the worst thing I could have picked. And it felt very unnatural to me. And I had basically gone to school for four years to be a financial advisor. So that was my track. There was no other option for me. And so I tried to stick with it and I realized probably after six months, it just was not for me, it was not where my passion lied.
Lauren Williams (09:40):
So I tried out some other roles. Funny, my dad had a huge influence on my career, sent me an article and he said, you don't know what you want to do. You're delivering pizza now. So why don't you think about temping? It's where you try all these different jobs. And I was like, yeah, give it a whirl. And so I actually worked for a temp agency for like a year and I tried all these jobs and I figured out what I hated and what I loved. And it's great because if you temp and you don't like it, you don't have to go back and you don't have to really talk to anyone. You just tell the temp agency, "I didn't like that one put me somewhere else." So I got exposure to so many jobs, so many industries, I landed in a waste management company, which I loved. I loved it so much. I worked as a staff accountant, but in small companies, a lot of times human resources also is accounting and payroll and all it all gets jumbled together.
Lauren Williams (10:31):
So I was doing a lot of that and I had a wonderful, wonderful boss. And he was the controller and he said, look, I see what you do really well. And you should think about Human Resources. And I looked at him and I said, what is that? I had no idea. I had no idea what the job even was. Because I never really worked anywhere with HR and very little experience. And he said, no, you'd be pretty good about it. You should think about it. So I went on to a tech startup and was helping with their Series A, series B financing and then some acquisitions. And I was on the accounting finance side. And after they grew exponentially, they said, we need an HR team. Do you want to do that? Or do you want to stay on the finance side?
Lauren Williams (11:13):
And I had seen enough to know where my strengths were and I had noticed the flow in my work and that when I was doing things that were more people and human resources related, time just flew by, I loved every single aspect. I was really good at it. I was very intuitive with people. So I could kind of cut through the crap and see what they were trying to get out or what they were trying to deal with. Or I could see between the manager and the employee who were butting heads, what was really going on and I could have those real conversations. So I absolutely dove headfirst into the human resources side of things and got to work for some fantastic tech startups, both of which went on to become unicorn companies in PA. So both valued. Yeah, it was. I mean, you can't imagine the explosive growth. Like when I say how fast we moved and how many people we acquired and how many groups we folded in. It was a wonderful learning experience to spend time in both of those organizations and see their continued success today. And it got my feet wet to a lot of merger and acquisition activity, which is work I still love to this day.
Troy Blaser (12:18):
That's fantastic. I really liked the idea. I've never thought of working for a temp agency as a way to try to maybe find what your passion is, or at least to try different jobs, different perspectives.
Lauren Williams (12:29):
For me, it was perfect because I got to work in a lot of different spaces and places and figure out management styles that worked for me, company sizes, industries. So like spending that year, figuring out was better than saying, I just know it all. I'm going to go work for a financial industry and be miserable and hate it. So it was a wonderful experience. So yeah, I'd highly recommend it. I know sometimes they get bad rap, but the temp agency was the way to go for me.
Troy Blaser (12:57):
Cool. That makes sense. So let's see you run your company, Workplace Harmony. How would you sort of categorize your clients?
Lauren Williams (13:06):
We tend to stay with small to medium sized businesses. So we stay under the 500 employee space, our sweet spots, really under a hundred employees where we can influence a lot of change and do the work we love and make strides because our whole goal is not to be with you forever and ever. Our goal is to come in, do a program, do a couple programs, be there and help you get in a position where you won't need us anymore. That's honestly the goal.
Troy Blaser (13:34):
Sure. Yeah. I like that. That makes a lot of sense. So as you work with your different clients, how do you incorporate feedback into the work that you do with those companies?
Lauren Williams (13:43):
So I am a huge proponent of fierce conversations by Susan Scott. So that is something that when I begin with a client their first piece of homework is read fierce conversations because it's part of my vernacular. And I want them to understand what I'm talking about and what a fierce conversation is and is not because when we do our work, a lot of times, the reason we're called in is because that conversation hasn't happened and still needs to, and we just start opening that dialogue right away. So we build trust with our clients. We become a trusted advisor where they can tell us things and we can be in the know and also be able to provide them some perspective.
Troy Blaser (14:27):
I was going to say, what are some of the biggest difficulties you see around having those conversations inside of a company? You know, maybe before you've come in.
Lauren Williams (14:38):
So a lot of times it's just that conversation hasn't happened. We work with smaller businesses, sometimes there can be a family dynamic or in small businesses, you have a closeness because they are small where everyone knows everyone, everyone's very tight and everyone knows all of the conversations kind of going on. So there's a lot of fear around having a conversation that someone would perceive as criticism or giving very candid feedback. And so we're really helping them understand that it's not that hard. You're making it harder by building it up to be this thing. But we see a lot of times they just won't address the one pain point in the organization, which may be an individual's behavior, leadership style, attitude, that all plays a huge part that we're seeing frequently in business leaders.
Troy Blaser (15:29):
It does seem like a small business brings its own set of challenges that are in some cases much different than you would find in a larger business because of that closeness.
Lauren Williams (15:40):
Sometimes yes but even at larger organizations, unless you've built a culture of feedback, you still see the same dynamics where Executive A doesn't want to talk to Executive C but they play passive aggressive games, all of that. I mean it goes on everywhere.
Troy Blaser (15:57):
That makes sense. Have you had a chance to see a time when feedback has affected somebody that you've been working with?
Lauren Williams (16:04):
Yes. So, because I am pretty open about feedback as well. I've been able to see the timeliness between giving someone feedback and seeing them put things into immediate action. And years ago I had a close colleague say, Hey, can we grab lunch? I really want to talk to you about some things. And it was really to set up a candid conversation where she wanted to give me feedback and then also ask for feedback from where I stood. And so I was able to, I felt very safe doing that because once she was requesting it, and so it was a safe space to do that. And I genuinely appreciated the feedback she gave me because it was identifying a blind spot. And then for her, I said, why don't you try this? Because I don't like using the word "should" because it implies, I know better than you, but I like suggesting people try things. And sometimes that lands a little easier for them. Instead of saying, you should do that. She say, why don't you try approaching so-and-so with the conversation this way, because I've seen that work in my past. And so just giving them some different frame of reference, different perspective to approach a situation that they feel they haven't gotten much traction with to that point.
Troy Blaser (17:20):
I really liked that suggestion. So if I'm in a company that hasn't hired Workplace Harmony to come in and help us with these fierce conversations, what can I do as an employee to receive some useful feedback in my company?
Lauren Williams (17:37):
I think the best thing you can do is open that door. As an employee, you have power over your own situation to ask for feedback from peers, from colleagues, from your boss. If you get the sense that your boss isn't all that comfortable, then you might have to set the stage a little more and say, I'd really like some feedback on how you think I'm doing with my productivity or how you think I'm doing with my prioritization. Just so it's a little more structured and that they feel the door has been opened to give that. And if you feel like you're in a place that doesn't have a great feedback culture, don't be afraid to ask why, why haven't we embraced this? Why haven't we subscribed to a culture that does appreciate open, honest conversations, speaking the truth in love and sharing information with each other that that can help us.
Troy Blaser (18:27):
That makes a lot of sense. To really realize that I, as an employee, do have that power to go and seek out the feedback. And that's probably a time when it's going to be more readily given if I'm like you mentioned earlier, if I'm asking for it specifically,
Lauren Williams (18:43):
Exactly. They just feel so much more comfortable coming to you and opening that conversation.
Troy Blaser (18:48):
Yeah. So 2020 has been an amazingly unusual year. Certainly a lot of different challenging times, challenging things going on with COVID-19 and the pandemic worldwide, all kinds of things have changed in the work environment in a lot of different ways. How has that affected what you're doing and the kinds of thoughts and advice that you're giving to your clients this year?
Lauren Williams (19:16):
The thing that I have seen and done is a lot of pivots and changes. So applying what we're doing and helping leaders through stressful, challenging times, that meant looking at what we were doing for clients and providing what they needed now. Like they didn't need a lot of organizational restructure, but they needed guidance on how to deal with hanging onto their people, keeping morale up, moving to virtual settings, keeping people engaged and productive. And so we just really were there for them as a partner. And we like to guide a lot of leaders through change. So we even have a new program called PowerTrak that provides leaders with a 12-week program to walk through leading change in their organization. We basically give you the keys to the kingdom, all the tools, all the resources, and then you get dedicated coaches through that time to address any of the hiccups you run into with change.
Lauren Williams (20:13):
You have to remember there's people involved and each person, you and me, and others experience it very differently. And so we help leaders help their employees understand how do you experience change? How can I help you through it? And what does it look like when we come out on the other side? So we've really tried to be there for leaders and say as much as you need to be successful pre-COVID during COVID, how you come out post-COVID is going to be really important too. And oh, by the way, your employees are going to really remember how they were treated through this whole ordeal.
Troy Blaser (20:51):
Even just a reminder, there will be a post-COVID, it will come, things will get back to some kind of different normal, but it will be different than this year, right?
Lauren Williams (21:00):
Yes, yes, yes, yes, exactly. And what does that look like for you and your employees? What does that mean for everyone?
Troy Blaser (21:07):
That makes a lot of sense. I was very excited as I got ready for our discussion today to see that you have also started a podcast, we have that in common. Your podcast is called Caffeinated Convos and Horrible Bosses. Which I would say probably is a more interesting title than Simply Feedback, even though we're talking on Simply Feedback today, but great title. Tell us about what motivated you to start your podcast and what's the background of the title for that?
Lauren Williams (21:39):
Absolutely. So what motivated me was I felt like there's this common thread in all humans. Everyone has had a horrible boss. I don't care if it's when you were 15 or when you were 45 or when you were 65, everyone's had a horrible boss sometime in their life that they just have a story about. And I realized as I was like networking and meeting people, it kept coming up in conversation. And I was feeling this was right at the beginning of COVID I was feeling very disconnected from people. I was missing my conversations and my meetups. I thought, how can I keep connecting with everyone? Okay, I'm going to start a podcast. And it's just going to be a way to talk with people all the time. And I think the one thing we all have in common is a horrible boss and I love coffee, massive amounts of coffee, loads, and loads of coffee.
Lauren Williams (22:29):
So they needed to be caffeinated convos. It turned into like wine convos and all different kinds of drinks. I don't judge, tea, coffee. I usually have a huge thing of coffee. So that's where the name came from. And it's interesting because the podcast has really taken on a life of its own. I envisioned it as sort of a tongue in cheek. Tell me about your horrible boss story. We'll laugh and then we'll drink our coffee. It's turned into, I want to tell you about my horrible boss and then what I learned from them. And now what I apply today as a leader or employee or founder, and it's really taken this interesting turn of almost leadership lessons, which is something I didn't expect, but I love.
Troy Blaser (23:15):
That's awesome. Yeah a way to turn it from just a gossip session about all of our horrible bosses into something that's a little bit more productive or positive or lessons to be taken from that, right?
Lauren Williams (23:27):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So yeah, I mean, everyone's had one, everyone has a story. They may not, you know, want to call them by name, which is fine. We use the rule that you should always put a schwa in front of their name. So my horrible boss was Schwamela and my very first episode about Schwamela. I'm a hundred percent convinced she'll literally never hear it ever. So there was no problem in describing all her horrible boss traits.
Troy Blaser (23:56):
I'm sure by now she's probably straightened it out. Or if she hasn't, she'll listen to that episode and think, "Oh, that's me, I've got some changes to make." That's her way of getting feedback, right?
Lauren Williams (24:09):
That would be the hope. I always tell people one, your horrible boss isn't listening and two, If they are, they usually have such a lack of awareness, they would never think it's them.
Troy Blaser (24:19):
That's probably true. But hopefully for the rest of us listening, we have a chance to say, do I recognize myself in this? Do I need to make some changes as a potentially horrible boss? Hopefully not.
Lauren Williams (24:33):
Well, I had someone message me and like, I love your podcast. So and so used to be my employee. And I'm like, Oh, they were a guest. You were probably their great boss. You know, you should have listened to it. And I'm sitting there and like we're messaging back and forth. And I'm like, oh no, what if he was the worst boss? And I'm saying he should listen to it. And I'm waiting to hear. And he's like, I'm not the best boss, but I'm not the worst either. Like oh good!
Troy Blaser (24:59):
Hopefully it never does come back to really bite you in the back.
Lauren Williams (25:05):
I know. I'll just deny, deny, deny.
Troy Blaser (25:08):
That's fantastic. So good luck to you in that. I hope it continues to grow and, and I hope you get to try a wide variety of caffeinated beverages. Well, so Lauren, as you keep our listeners in mind and maybe without giving away your secret sauce necessarily, but do you have some specific advice that you could give to our audience? People maybe who are looking to transition to a different career path, kind of like you did, you started in the finance side and realized that wasn't for you and had to make a transition to a different career path. Do you have some tips or some advice for people who might be in the same situation?
Lauren Williams (25:46):
I do. And it may be a little unorthodox, but it served me well. I find that when people want to make a transition, they like to do it by consensus. So they like to talk to friends and family and colleagues. And I'm thinking of doing this and they're almost waiting to get like a vote of yes you should do that. You know, what's best for you. So listen to your gut. And if you have an interest in a new career, the other thing I think is the best thing you can do is find someone in that career, get a meeting with them, get a coffee connection with them to learn. Like what's the best part of your job. What's the worst part of your job? What does a great day look like? What does a horrible day look like? Because you need to know every single job has the good, the bad and the ugly. There's not a golden job out there. That's like, oh every single day is the best ever, that doesn't exist. So talk to someone in that position and then get to know them and who knows, maybe they can become a mentor. Maybe they can help you through your search. Maybe they can introduce you to people. But don't look for consensus of should I do this thing? Make sure internally you feel right about doing the thing and then just do it.
Troy Blaser (26:51):
There you go. There's that word should again, right? We don't need to go looking for that. Just trust your gut.
Lauren Williams (26:58):
Troy Blaser (26:58):
Well, Lauren, I really enjoyed our conversation today. If people want to know more about what you're doing or they want to continue the conversation with you, what should they do?
Lauren Williams (27:08):
There's a couple of ways. I really like people to connect with me on LinkedIn. It's Lauren Williams. Since there's like a billion of us, just look for chief boss lady, cause I think I'm the only one still. And they can also find me on Facebook and they can follow Workplace Harmony on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. And any of the places where you see me just reach out and connect. I love meeting new people. I love having new guests on my show. I love talking with leaders about the problems in their business and their challenges. So please reach out any of those ways are fine. You can also go to my website, HarmonyWorkplace.com, and you can submit a request there and sign up for our newsletter, which is "3 Minutes To Boost Employee Experience". I have no time. So I had to make something that was less than three minutes to read. And that's what I promise all of my readers,
Troy Blaser (27:57):
No time, because you're going a hundred miles an hour, right? And don't forget to check out the podcast, Caffeinated Convos and Horrible Bosses. You can find out what Lauren is drinking this week. If it's still coffee or a different beverage.
Lauren Williams (28:15):
Thank you so much, Troy. This was so much fun. I really appreciate you having me.