Q&A Spotlight – Sally Cornet

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Sally Cornet led Human Resources teams at iconic, high-growth, global retail, financial services, technology, and customer experience organizations known for world-class HR practices for more than 15 years and is a recipient of the “Excellence in HR Award” from South Florida Business and Wealth Magazine. Sally joined McLean & Company in September 2021 as an Executive Counselor. In this Q&A, Sally talks about her background, what drew her to this role, and what challenges are top of mind for HR leaders.

How did you get your start in HR?

I am one of the rare individuals that intentionally selected HR as my career path. Many people “fall into HR,” but while I was in graduate school, working on my MBA, I found myself being very curious about the human dynamics that make individuals, teams, and organizations successful. My curiosity drew me to my career in Human Resources. I have had the pleasure to work for some amazing brands, primarily in HR business partner and Sr. HR leadership roles. The best three years of my career, however, were an intentional move to an operations role. What a great way to learn the language on that side of the table and see how HR can truly be a partner to the business!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My personal and professional mission has always been to enable people to thrive. I truly believe that when people are thriving in their lives and careers, the entire ecosystem around them benefits also. I am proud of my ability to identify talented individuals and help them shape careers that make the most of their abilities. My favorite example of this is watching my trainer at the gym naturally or unconsciously engage and lead his peers. His magnetism coupled with his keen intellect made him a brilliant leader. I was able to help him get started on a very successful career path in the fitness industry where he helps people thrive daily.

What does your role as Executive Counselor involve? 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 an HR leader and combine it with 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 a uniquely personal one. We get to know each other very well. Being a senior HR executive can be a lonely role, as your peers and the CEO 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 an HR executive, share lessons learned, and provide advice on how to proceed.

I was drawn to McLean & Company for years prior to joining the company as a customer and found incredible value in the support and tools. Ironically, McLean & Company’s mission statement is “To empower leaders to shape a workplace where everyone thrives.” What a joy to work for a company whose mission statement mirrors my own and magnifies my opportunity to impact organizations in a positive way.

What is top of mind for CHROs right now? What challenges are they facing?

  • Employee Retention and Talent Acquisition – Employers of all sizes from all industries are currently reeling from the impact of the pandemic and the Great Resignation. As HR teams strive to attract new employees and retain the ones they have, many are turning to a refresh of their employee value proposition (EVP). The reality is that the priorities of the workforce in general have changed, and to stay relevant, we all need to rethink our EVP.
  • Workforce Wellbeing – Dovetailing with the changing priorities of the workforce are the increasing employee expectations that their employers actively involve themselves in the wellbeing of their workforce. This looks and feels different in each company, but there is no doubt that this is a top priority and a major challenge at this time.
  • Succession Planning and Executive Succession Planning – Another result of the Great Resignation is the increasing sense of urgency around succession planning. As organizations find themselves faced with the replacement of key talent, the gaps in their succession planning programs become quite evident. Now is the time to prioritize this and get it right.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

My all-time favorite quote is something that my mom always says, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I have learned that when I spend too much time thinking about what I am going to do next, I completely miss what I am doing now. And that is just not healthy nor effective. Before I start my day, which is always packed full of work, sports, or social activities, I sit outside in silence and peace watching the wildlife in the lake outside of my home in South Florida. That enables me to be present for my work colleagues; my husband, son, and family; my dog; my golf buddies; my friends; and myself. And that makes life happy and healthy for me.

What advice do you have for someone starting out as an HR leader?

  • Learn the art of influence. Get really good at it. As an HR leader, your job is to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of the employees. This role often involves trying to “sell” ideas or help other people – generally strong leaders with definite points of view – to see different perspectives. You won’t have direct authority over those leaders. The only people you will ever have direct authority over in your HR career are the people on your HR team. As such, the ability to influence becomes critical.
  • Before offering your opinion on something or making a commitment, always ask at least three questions. Any three questions. This gives you a moment to ensure you understand the totality of the situation and are not providing guidance from a myopic perspective.
  • Don’t play the “Legal Card” unless you must. Nobody is properly influenced by the “We are going to get sued, so we can’t do that” argument. Look for the impact on employee engagement, retention, team dynamics, etc., to find your “why.” This speaks to leaders outside of HR and moves the HR function beyond compliance.

To learn more about our Executive Services and how McLean & Company can partner with you to build out meaningful and executable strategies for your HR priorities, please visit us at McLean Executive Services or contact Jon Campbell at jcampbell@mcleanco.com.

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