Meet our Advisory Board Member: Judy Whitcomb, SPHR, SHRM-SCP the Senior Vice President, HR and Learning and OD with Vi.

Brittany Hink

Human Resources IQ has a great group of Advisory Board Members that our team individually selected. Each individual brings a different point-of-view and expertise area that provides insights, experience and fresh ideas to our team. Our Advisory Board Members are an important element to Human Resources IQ and I want to introduce each individual to our members! The first Board Member I had the pleasure to chat with is Judy Whitcomb. I had the chance to chat with her about her background and her eagerness to join her current organization. She has a creative side and is extremely encouraging on all developments with HRIQ and I am thrilled to have her as an Advisor!
I invite you all to meet Judy Whitcomb, SPHR, SHRM-SCP the Senior Vice President, HR and Learning and OD with Vi.
BH: You have worked at several well know organizations including nineteen years are United Airlines, what attracted you to Vi?
JW: What attracted me to Vi was the mission of the company to enhance the lives of older adults. There was a huge opportunity to build a world class and very strong learning culture at Vi and it gave me an opportunity to leverage my experiences from working in different organizations and roles. It was exciting to me to take my experience and work with my business partners at Vi to build a real learning culture. Given I had worked in a much larger organization during a good part of my career, this seemed very doable.
BH: VI has been recognized for many different accomplishments including a "Top 100 HR Organization" & "Top 125" Learning and Development Organization Worldwide since you took over as the Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Learning and Organizational Development. Tell me a little about how you got there? What was the biggest challenge you faced when tying learning and development to the organizational strategy?
JW: There was not a lot of infrastructure related to learning and development and only a handful of employees such as sales and executive chefs received training and development. Learning was decentralized and owned to the different functions, so it wasn’t tied to organizational strategy, business outcomes and objectives.
I think the main challenge was going from a fairly decentralized learning organization and HR organization to centralizing the strategy and aligning it with business outcomes and metrics. You can’t boil the ocean, you can’t do everything overnight. We also implemented a lot of technology. We put in place an online university. When I first started, people said ‘there is no way people are going to go on and take classes online, people don’t know how to use computers.’ I was very fortunate to have strong business partners across the organization. Rather than saying this is what I want, I engaged my business partners and included them as part of the process, as part of the owners for a learning culture.
Learning doesn’t just belong to the learning and HR departments; it belongs to the whole organization.
BH: That’s great that you included your business partners in building the learning and development strategy.
JW: All the work needed to be done could not be done by our small team here. The learning awards we receive are not learning department awards, rather Company awards. Our business partners are a big reason why we’ve been successful. When we go to the award ceremonies, we always have our business partners go to the awards with us. It is our business success… It's not about what we do. It's about what we do together.
Another thing that has helped our success is we are incredibly focused on communication and marketing focused success stories. For instance, we heavily leverage our Company newsletter to promote a learning culture. On any given month, at least half of the stories are related to employee development. Whether it is success stories on how somebody used Rosetta Stone to learn a second language or whether it is someone in our leadership program and how the leadership program has changed how they manage. That’s one of the areas that we put a lot of focus on. Marketing is a huge part and I think that is something that a lot of people don’t spend enough time on; marketing and communications.
BH: Do you think that focusing on marketing and communication within HR is easier within a smaller organization?
JW: No, I don’t think so, I think that holds true no matter where you go. I have colleagues that work at larger organizations and we work at a mid-sized organization, but I think Chief Learning Officers and Chief Human Resource Officers that get it understand the importance of marketing. Very much, like your appealing to emotions of consumers’ trends and behavior; it’s the same for employees or potential candidates. You are looking to shift attitudes, behaviors and opinions and it’s the same strategy. You have to segment your employees and look at what their needs are and what types of delivery channels, what works to deliver the message. It’s the same thing for learning, it’s not any different. You need to understand your channels and you need to understand your audiences that you are trying to appeal to.
In fact, right now we are working on a new employment brand campaign. We will be launching the latter part of this year and early next year. We have been working with a branding agency and we will be launching a new career site. The career site will highlight employees’ stories and the theme and brand will be Bring Life to Your Career. Vi is the Latin word for life so we will be taking employee stories whether they started out as a line cook and now they are an executive chef or we have a success story about a concierge that became a certified nursing assistant. She used our tuition program, was in our nurse leader program and is now an assistant director of nursing. So our goal is to really bring to life the value proposition we offer our employees as it relates to employee development.
BH: You mentioned understanding your audience. That leads into one of the questions that I have. We keep hearing the buzzword: millennials, millennials, millennials…. And now it is moving to Generation Z and how are they going to change the workforce? What are the differences going to be in the workforce? What are your thoughts on that?
JW: Well I think you’ve always got to think about all of your employees regardless of their generation and that’s part of an organization's review of their audience. That might mean some people have more of a propensity to take advantage of social media or some audiences may have more of a propensity to leverage classroom learning. I think that is something that you always have to consider. Generations, cultures, availability of technology and business needs.
I think you can over segment people. You have to be sensitive to both. In our learning, we look at delivering it in a variety of channels. Some people prefer online, some people prefer classroom learning, some people prefer reading and some people prefer virtual sessions. No matter what, as your developing any of your strategies or communications you have to think about the different audiences.
BH: For somebody looking to get to that senior level HR position, do you have any advice or recommendations?
JW: If you want to move into a senior level HR role, first of all-diversifying your HR experiences is really critical. I had great opportunities at United to work in a lot of different functions. I had a good mentor that recommended that I step out of human resources. I took her advice. Over the years, besides gaining experience in all facets of human resources and learning, I’ve held leadership roles in finance, marketing, operations and sales. This has given me a much different perspective as an HR Leader.
I think this has allowed me to think much differently about things. Everything isn’t human resources centric, its business centric. I think it builds credibility with the people you work with if you are able to have that frame of reference.
I was really lucky, I had people throughout my career at United that really looked out for me. Every job I had, was because somebody came and found me and said I think this would be a great opportunity. I think that as HR leaders we need to pay that back and really try to push people that we think are interested in moving to senior HR roles in the organization to go past their comfort zone. Get out of what they are working on today and give them different experiences because it really gives you a different perspective and then to spend time in the business. Business acumen is absolutely critical.
BH: I always like to ask something fun. Tell me something unique that people would not know about you.
JW: Prior to working here and a side hobby that I would like to get back into is screenplay writing. I like to write. I’ve written some screenplays. I kind of laugh every day; I run into different situations. They are either comedies or dramas and people are characters. I think that’s what helps me keep my perspective. I love stories and I think that is a great way to connect with people. I have a creative side of me that I really, really enjoy.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next Advisory Board Member introduction.