Heidi has spent her career helping organizations tap into the power of their workforce. She is the former Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Cornerstone, a talent management technology company whose solutions are used by 75 million people around the world, and has held leadership roles at The Marcus Buckingham Company, ADP and PeopleSoft. In 2004 she co-founded Knowledge Infusion, a strategic HR consulting firm that was acquired by Appirio and eventually became the foundation for Appirio’s Workday cloud services practice. She has been recognized as a Top 100 HR Tech Influencer by HR Executive Magazine, and is a sought after expert on how leaders can promote gender equality.
Why are you so passionate about helping people-based businesses?
People are the heart and soul of any business, but no more so than in services. Tools and technology lack value on their own, it’s the people behind them that really make the difference. People-first businesses, whether products or services companies, are also just a lot more fun to be a part of and lead. When you look at employees as humans first, workers second, teams are a lot more trusting, collaborative, engaged and motivated. That’s when innovation flows!
You have a track record of creating strong, high-performing team cultures. What factors are important when it comes to creating a strong culture?
The first thing is to ensure people, leaders included, have a beginner’s mindset. If you approach everything as a student, rather than believing you know everything at the outset, you don’t close your mind off to new ideas. This was one of the reasons why Knowledge Infusion was so successful. We had industry expertise and a passion for our work, but we didn’t necessarily have a playbook for the kind of consulting we wanted to do. And that’s not a bad thing. The second thing is to create an environment where it’s safe to take risks. I tell my teams to actively seek those OSMs (oh shit moments) where you try things you haven’t done before and have no idea how it’s going to end. It’s in those moments that you grow and create breakthroughs for the business.
What advice would you give founders who are just getting started in a highly competitive ecosystem?
Don’t try to be all things to all people. When you expand your offerings too fast, suddenly it becomes more difficult to differentiate. The market doesn’t understand who you are or your unique value proposition. You still need to be opportunistic, but in a thoughtful way that allows you to identify the downstream trade offs. It helps to establish a set of guiding principles, a set of beliefs that act like guardrails to keep you on track when those shiny objects and short cuts seem tempting. And try to act bigger than you are — invest in marketing to establish your brand and build credibility early on. If you’re competing against the big guys, you have to look and act the part and B-level marketing will sink you.