Sarah Smart talks about the hardest thing she has ever had to do as a leader, what her team went through and lessons learned during the pandemic
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Chris Hoyt, CXR 0:16
Well, hello, everybody. I’m Chris white president of CareerXroads and I’m bringing to you a new segment of our podcast that sits us down for just a few minutes with industry leaders, to hear them share a quick hit lessons learned in their careers and within the talent industry. Now, the segment interview is no more than 10 to 15 minutes and can be found on our website, podcast YouTube channel. And as the fast pace would indicate, we’re calling this series of eXpert Tease. Now, each of these has a focused topic that might include talent development, mobility, sourcing, ethics, or any number of other items of focus that we’re hearing from the industry at large are items of concern or that warrant some attention and dialogue. So if you’re with us live, we’re encouraging everyone to post questions within the chat area of the broadcast window. And if we’ve time at the end of the discussion, we’ll see how many we can squeeze it in now. The rest of the conversation or follow ups can be found within the public and open exchange hosted by Careerxroads at www.cxr.org/talenttalks. Now today’s chat is one related to countless conversations that we at CXR I’ve had with numerous leaders over the last year, working through unavoidable team furloughs as a talent leader and taking on the challenge, emotional challenge of trying to place as many of your team as possible, and the toll that takes on us as leaders. So with me today is Sarah Smart. She’s the VP of global recruitment at Hilton. I Sarah.
Sarah Smart, Hilton 1:39
Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me.
Chris Hoyt, CXR 1:41
Thanks, Sarah, you and the team at Hilton have really worked tirelessly to help not only your own people by partnering with other global companies, but the entire recruiting industry through work with recruiters recruiting recruiters calm during a time when as a result of the pandemic and the impact on our economies. keeping people employed recruiters employee has really been difficult for many. So I want to jump right in and ask you to share a little bit about that experience. And what I’m really interested in hearing is how you dealt with those challenges, and maybe even heartbreaks, as a true people leader. So can you share kind of the biggest challenge or a little bit of that story with everybody kind of what’s been going on in your world for the last few months?
Sarah Smart, Hilton 2:23
Sure. And and thanks, again, everyone for our joining and the opportunity to talk about this. This has been, for me personally, probably the biggest challenge that I have lived through as a leader and in many ways, almost not quite as a human being children become first. But it the past eight to nine months have been exceptionally challenging to lead in any industry, no matter where you sit, no matter what kind of role you’re sitting in. So just want to acknowledge that Hilton has, like many in the hospitality industry faced a, you know, a unique set of challenges as it relates to the pandemic. And, you know, in in March of 2021, it became very clear that not only would we not be recruiting, but that we would need to be putting out a large portion of our corporate workforce onto furlough and potentially our property workforce and for around the world. I was asked to make some really hard decisions to make decisions around people, I had to make decisions around potential needs, but I had no idea what they would be so operating in complete ambiguity around what the future state needs of the organization would be much less than near term or the short term. And then I was getting these heartbreaking calls from people that we had recruited into Hilton, who and they were sharing their stories around how happy they had been to work at the company for decades. You know, we have incredible tenure at the organization. And they’d never faced this before, and they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to find another job. And honestly, I started by staying up at night worried about my own team, I worried so much for them, and how I could use my resources and networks to do whatever it is that I could to help them be okay. No matter what. But then I started worrying so much about the rest of our Hilton team members. I mean, not only the investment that the company had made, you know, from just a financial standpoint, but the human investment that we had made and these individuals in that in their darkest time, there was no way that we were going to let them down. And that all kind of sat sat with me every single night. I’m not sure I was very fun to live with during that time. And some of those conversations when I had to tell my team when they were furloughed, and I talked to every single one of the individuals and then eventually when we had to make even harder decisions and I talked to every single one of those individuals. Those were the hardest conversations of my life for sure.
Chris Hoyt, CXR 4:59
We often talk about it, you know, as talent leaders and as recruiting practitioners, we often talk about the joy of making a job offer, right, we talk about the impact that we believe we get to have on other people’s lives by offering them a new role, or a new opportunity or their next chapter, but it kind of flies in the face of our DNA, to release people from the organization. And that’s tough. That’s tough. Were there any resources that you leaned on specifically to sort of sort of help with your headspace? Was it about, you know, you mentioned family maybe being a little bit challenged to live with? I mean, are you leaning on your family internally, or their peers or colleagues?
Sarah Smart, Hilton 5:39
So, you know, at Hilton, I’ve been incredibly lucky, I have a work family, I have work. They’re not just work best friends, they are best friends, there are people whose counsel I seek out no matter what is going on. And it was very, you know, to see this team come together, and we had such a very small HR team for that period of time. And everyone leaned on each other. And it wasn’t just about, hey, you have you have capacity? I need your help. I need your your mind. It was how are you doing? And it was real, how’re you doing conversations? And so these were, you know, I had the resource internally. And externally, I’ll just say like, you know, my, my friends have been very, very supportive. My family has been incredibly supportive. I have cried many, many tears and, you know, random roads. When I at one point, I just had to leave the house. You know, I and I’m, just as everyone has across the board, you know, the industry, we have all really been able to sorry, got friends coming in here. Because we all have, you know, we all have resources that we can pull upon. But there were times when I wasn’t sure if I could actually pull it out think that I needed to really lean on other people and just share how how sad I was.
Chris Hoyt, CXR 6:58
Well, what would be one thing, like if in my organization, if I’m a talent peer, colleague, and I’m getting ready to go through some rough announcements, right? What would be one lesson that you would give to me one tidbit one piece of advice to help me get through it not just from a, not just from helping to place my people standpoint, right. But just from an emotional standpoint and a headspace. Like, what’s one tip that you would give me to sort of keep my head above water during a challenging time like that.
Sarah Smart, Hilton 7:28
It can be pressed. Before every conversation, try to center yourself around, you know, whether you’re talking to an individual about their career, or whether you’re talking to a family member about what’s happening with you are whether you’re talking to an external partner that you need your help, you need their help, take a deep breath to share the challenge that is going on and really consider being present. Really try to stay focused on how that other person is feeling because you can give them strength. and that in turn, at least for me, gives me strength in terms of moving forward. So being able to lean into compassion was incredibly beneficial for me. I’m not gonna say I did it well, all the time. I definitely didn’t. But we definitely, we were able to have constructive conversations, even during the darkest times.
Chris Hoyt, CXR 8:21
I love that lead with heart and compassion. I love it. So Sarah, you know that I think you’re a rockstar leader. And you’re a regular contributor, the CXR member community, and of course, the industry at large. So I want to thank you so much for your time today. And certainly the example of your leadership. Thank you so much.
Sarah Smart, Hilton 8:39
Oh, my, my, my pleasure. I only wish I could do more.
Chris Hoyt, CXR 8:43
Well, you’re working on it. You’re working on it every day. Yeah. So next week, I’m going to be talking with Kay Larson. She is the principal researcher of executive search for Zillow, and she’s going to share with us some tactical tips and suggestions on how to write inclusive language within job stories, not job descriptions, job stories, using gender neutral pronoun pronouns. And I actually think we’re going to hear more details than just Hey, why don’t you hire a vendor to scan your job descriptions for 100 k? You know who you are. I’m anxious to hold that conversation with Kay and hope everyone will come back until then. I hope we see everybody online at www.cxr.org/talenttalks. Thank you everybody.
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