Pam Spencer of Randstad USA Discusses Empowerment in Her Career

Randstad Technologies

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By Kara Zone

Kara Zone (KZ): Tell me about your career transition. What have you taken away from each role?

Pam Spencer (PS): I look for a challenge, and I like to learn; it is why I have moved through multiple roles.

I was originally driving toward an HR business partner role because that's what my college degree was in. I was working to get there and loved doing it. But as I was doing it, I realized it was not the best fit for me. It was a round peg, square hole situation. I realized where my strengths were, and where I was adding the most value. It turned out to be in IT.

With each role, I took away an additional understanding of the organization as a whole. I understood how each department and team worked, how they used our systems, and where they needed help and support.

HR helped me build my coaching skills and learn to emotionally detach from the drama of whatever the problem was. I am able to pick what needed to come first and what was a priority.

I was watching the news this morning. Michelle Obama was on, and she said because today is an international girl day, that as a woman, you learn where your voice works best. Through all those other opportunities, I learned that IT is where my voice works best.

KZ: Tell me about a challenge you have taken in your career.

PS: One challenge that comes to mind is moving into a role with PeopleSoft Financials. I moved into that role, interestingly enough, as a challenge, because my background is HR and HR systems. I was trying to grow my career and move to the next level. I had a manager that wasn't going anywhere, so moving into her role was just not going to be an opportunity.

We had an analyst manager role open up for our PeopleSoft Financials team. The company tried to fill it multiple times, but they couldn't seem to find the right person for the role.

So, I went to my boss and said, "You know what? I don't know financials, but I'm a quick learner. I know the company, and you're not going to run me off because you haven't run me off yet. Can I try?"

She was desperate enough to say yes, and I moved into that role. I was responsible for the team of business analysts who supported the PeopleSoft Financial systems. I was a working manager, so I was functioning as an analyst while also managing the team.

I think of the analysts as translators. We sit between the business and the development teams and make sure those two groups can speak coherently to each other.

We are the ones who have to speak business to the business and speak tech to the technical teams and use what we gain from each to help bring solutions to the table.

KZ: You discuss providing governance and coaching for a product delivery team; is that the bridge between IT and business people? What is the importance of governing and coaching?

PS: When I was managing the PeopleSoft Financials business analysts, we had a different organizational structure and working paradigm than we do today. At that time, the business analysts sat on one team and the developers sat on another team.

What we've done in the last year is started transitioning to an agile methodology. One of my key responsibilities today is as an agile coach to the new teams. I will say 98% of our team has never done agile before. I went through the training and became passionate about it. I now work with the teams one-on-one to help them understand what agile is, what we're trying to do, and why we're trying to do it.

I tell them regularly that this transition is like learning to write with your other hand.

It's frustrating, and it feels unnatural. It sometimes feels like you're doing it because you're being forced to do it, and you don't necessarily see the value. But imagine the opportunities once you become ambidextrous, and you have multiple tools to pull upon to get stuff done.

I don't know your familiarity level with agile, but agile's not as defined as other ways of working in IT. So it's about a framework and principles. It is a more challenging way of working for people who are used to black and white, pre-defined ways of doing things, but it has such wonderful benefits for the individuals and the organization.

KZ: Do you also give them ideas for agile? Or can you go back to the team and say, "Okay, I got this." Or, is that a completely different aspect?

PS: That's what I do. I went through all the teams and did an assessment of where they were from a maturity level. I was able to create an outline for them: "Here's what I think you're doing great. Here is where we have some opportunities. And here are potential recommendations to address that."

"Now you have to decide if those recommendations make sense for your team and how you're working. But let me explain the value in each of these. Here's what I think they might add. Here are the problems I think they could help you address."

But it is coaching. It's, "Let me show you all the choices, the pros and cons, and ultimately, you have to make the choice on how to do it yourself."

KZ: How do you implement empowerment into your everyday life with your career and your personal life?

PS: It's about giving people the information and the tools that they need. From work, we talk a lot about coaching. But in my personal life, it's something I can do by giving people a new perspective or giving them a dispassionate perspective. Again, I'm pulling back on that HR experience that I had.

It's interesting because I used to hear people say, "You know so much more than me. You always have the right words." I would explain to them, "You have those words too, you're just caught up in the emotions of what's going on right now. So you can't get to them. I'm not emotionally invested in your problem, so I can get to those words."

KZ: You network, and WITI (Women in Technology International) is a networking company. With Randstad, you're working, and you have your professional networking outreach. Does networking cross over into your everyday life, and how has it helped you in your career?

PS: It helped me in my professional life by creating new opportunities. I've been with Randstad for quite a while, but my networking helps me in my job every day, whether it's having resources in my area of expertise, or other consultants to call upon and get help. Networking helped me do my job better.

I do have a strong network within Randstad. Some of it comes from being around forever. But it helps me do my job by knowing who's who in the organization and having the history to reach out and call upon people.

On the personal side, I don't know that it's benefited me as much as my networking has given me an opportunity to help and give back to others. I've done a lot of helping people find jobs. What Randstad does helps enable that a lot. So, whether it's having people using our service or having us find them jobs in the company, I have been able to help others.

My HR skills help people as they're out looking for work. I give them tips, tricks, and interview skills. I review resumes. So yes, the value there on the personal side is more an opportunity for me to give back a little.

I've been doing a lot of training internally, particularly talking with this agile transformation that we've been doing.

The training piece of my job is one of my favorites. I always wanted to be a teacher without being a teacher, and this lets me do that.

KZ: Was there anyone from your past who encouraged you?

PS: In my career, certainly before Randstad and even in early Randstad days, I would say no. I had good mentors along the way, but they were mentors who wanted me to follow their path, which was fine for a while. I had great opportunities and challenges, but I figured out more about what I didn't want through them than what I did want.

It was only after I got into HR and had access to learning and development and experiences that I was able to see for myself where I needed to be.

But I also say, as an organization, Randstad has been incredible with helping encourage me to seek out what I wanted to do and giving me the opportunity to try a number of different things that I wouldn't have been able to do at another company because I didn't have the experience.
Randstad is great as an organization to encourage people to try new things and will give employees that have proven themselves in one area, an opportunity to try another area.

Even if they don't necessarily have experience in that area, they value Randstad experience as much as they value the specific career experience.

So that encouraged me to try things that I would've have been able to do before. Because I'm cross-pollinating experience from other departments, the company gets value out of that too.

The final thing I want to say is that my manager, whom I've had for a few years now, is an excellent support. She has been collaborative with me as she helps me create an environment that is the best for me.

That's how I got into the technology solutions principal role, where I am today. She and I created that role.
So yes, now I have somebody who's wonderful and encouraging.

Pam Spencer is a solutions-oriented professional with extensive experience in Project Management, Business Analysis, and Business/Technology integrations that drive business results.

Kara Zone is a professional writer, editor, and graphic designer. She is the managing editor of WITI.com and enjoys working remotely. She is a critical thinker and builds departmental systems for companies to use when structuring organizational systems.

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