Mardi Walker has more than 20 years of experience as a CHRO in high-profile, growth-oriented companies in sports, media, entertainment, hospitality, manufacturing, and high-tech industries. She was also the first recipient of the HRPA’s Professional Leadership Award in recognition of her commitment to the HR profession. Mardi joined McLean & Company as an Executive Counselor in 2020.
Mardi Walker, Counselor to HR Executives
What are the top priorities for CHROs right now? What challenges do you see for them in this moment?
CHROs are tired. The pandemic put a lot on their shoulders, in addition to their regular workloads. It has taken more out of them than probably anyone realizes – including themselves! We noted in our 2021 HR Trends Report that, while it is not surprising to see increased stress levels in 2020, it is not without consequences. As stress levels increase effectiveness drops, and without the right coping mechanisms HR risks reaching a breaking point.
Based on my work with our Counselor members and conversations with many other CHROs, four big topics keep coming up:
- Hybrid/remote work: The shift to remote work and an acceleration in new ways of working started about a year ago. CHROs are evaluating how and when to shift back to the office and addressing the health and safety implications. Moreover, this is overlaid with the very real resilience, wellbeing, and mental health challenges which have arisen because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion: The pandemic and other recent social upheavals have accelerated the urgency of DEI work, which touches every aspect of HR. This is an important topic for employees and organizations alike.
- Succession planning: The coming retirement wave we’d heard about for more than a decade is now starting to happen in a significant way, and CHROs are working on tackling succession planning.
- Change management: The sheer pace of change is so fast it is incredible. Whether that change has to do with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice movements, or even “just” technology, people have so much change coming at them. CHROs are focused on simplifying and improving change management.
What advice would you give to someone beginning their journey as a CHRO?
It is about making sure you understand business and organizational strategies. Once you really understand those, you will get the HR strategies right. That is how you will gain more support in the organization.
Do not be afraid to ask questions! No one can know everything and being curious can really make a difference as well as help build relationships.
On a lighter note, if anyone suggests you or your HR team plan a party… push back! HR is a strategic role. I always liked to respond with, “That’s a great idea! Thank you for volunteering.”
What do you do in your current role? What drew you to it?
As an Executive Counselor, I work with senior HR leaders from a wide variety of industries and organizational sizes as a trusted advisor, coach, mentor, and sounding board. I can take my experience as a CHRO and marry it to McLean & Company resources to pull together tailored offerings that help HR leaders tackle challenges. I like to start by digging into their organizational strategic plan, talent-related challenges, HR pain points, and HR initiatives to build out a prioritized custom key initiative plan that the CHRO and I can partner on during their membership. It is a living document, and wow, it is so satisfying to mark an initiative as complete… and then add on a new one!
The Executive Counselor – CHRO relationship is really a very personal one. We get to know each other very well. Being a senior HR executive can be a very lonely role, as your peers and the CHRO look to you for support, guidance, and coaching but often you don’t have anyone in the organization to turn to in the same way. It can be especially tough to show vulnerability and reach out for support. That’s where I come in! It can be quite cathartic for HR executives to have a safe space to share and even vent. I draw on my own personal experience as a CHRO, share lessons learned, and provide advice on how to proceed.
I was a member of McLean & Company in a previous life, participated in several of the Signature conferences, and loved what the company had to offer. When this role came along it was a perfect match for me. I have so much knowledge to share and loved the idea of marrying that with McLean & Company’s comprehensive offerings for members.
What fuels you?
From a work perspective, I get the most satisfaction from seeing people grow and achieve their goals. It has a huge impact on me. We spend so much time at work, so making a difference is very motivating!
On a personal level, I have three lovely children and a fun husband who mean the world to me.
What do you do to take care of yourself?
Spending time with my family infuses me with great joy. I love to be outdoors and active. I find participating in sports clears my head and is a good way to socialize. Skiing is a huge passion of mine in the winter! I use my Peloton all the time and love it. In nicer weather I ride my bike, hike, and golf. I’ve also recently learned to play pickleball. Over and above that, I love to cook.
What books and TV shows are you into?
I love to watch any sport on TV, whether it's March Madness, the Masters Tournament for golf, or baseball. I get a big kick out of Ted Lasso. It’s not only a great show, but I also enjoy it on another level because of my background in the sports business.
I’m an avid reader, and for non-work-related books I find myself often reading books with strong female characters. My favorite book over the past year has been Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.