Marcia Avedon, SVP of HR, Communications and Corporate Affairs at Ingersoll Rand, says comfort zones are for the stagnant
By Stephanie Harris
Marcia Avedon is a firm believer in the notion that trying new things is how you push yourself to grow. In fact, her career is a prime example of how stepping outside of your comfort zone can lead to a great success story.
The Senior Vice President (SVP) of Human Resources (HR), Communications and Corporate Affairs for Ingersoll Rand, Avedon’s background lies in psychology. She holds a M.Phil. and a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from George Washington University, as well as a bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
While completing her education, Avedon honed her focus on the HR field and began her career as an HR Specialist in a consulting role. She eventually made the shift from consulting expert to business leader, and found her background in psychology to be extremely beneficial.
“The field of HR has changed a great deal over the past 30 years, and the skills that I had, coming out of that background, became more essential,” she said. “Now HR people think of themselves as coaches and advisors related to talent and organization effectiveness, whereas back then, HR was more administrative. As I made this career shift, the field was also shifting, which was a nice synergy between my background and what the field required.”
As Avedon moved into business leadership roles with large corporations, the first being Anheuser-Busch, she found herself having a more strategic impact on the organization as a whole—and she enjoyed it.
“What captured me in wanting to go that route was seeing the broader impact on people and organizations and having a long-term impact, versus being a consultant who works on a project with a defined timeline and doesn’t own that value creation for a longer period of time.”
In her first corporate role, Avedon says she still thought of herself as a consultant, but she found herself becoming more interested in the business and in making an impact over a longer period of time—both at the individual level and for the big-picture organization.
“I found that I love leading teams and organizations,” she said. “I was ready to change from an expert or individual contributor to a leader.”
And she has been successfully growing organizations and individuals ever since.
When Avedon joined Ingersoll Rand—a global diversified firm providing products, services and solutions to enhance the quality and comfort of air in homes and buildings, transport and protect food and perishables, and increase industrial productivity and efficiency—in 2007, the head HR position had been vacant for more than a year and the function was fragmented. Wanting to make a broad impact on the organization, Avedon worked to fully integrate the HR function and create a global leadership team that served as true business partners.
“I created a high-performing team around me, and we worked hard to align the HR goals with the business goals,” she said. “I started by identifying leadership for the function, and then focused on the talent within HR and business leaders. Next, we aligned the goals within our function and made sure we were focusing on the areas that would make the biggest impact on the business—both operationally and strategically—over the long term.”
Some areas of focus were more operational in order to enable the function to perform at a higher level. “One of our priorities was to improve the system and tools by which HR makes decisions. We invested a lot in the processes and tools,” Avedon said. “We’ve also worked hard to create a sense of community and a broader team globally, where people feel connected and are communicating regularly with each other. With technology today, it’s much easier to do that.”
Avedon has worked hard to make an impact on the Ingersoll Rand organization by integrating people on multiple levels, both from an operational and a strategic standpoint; ensuring common tools, systems and processes are in place; and facilitating a sense of community through communication. Most importantly, however, she has strived to foster terrific leaders and talent.
The most effective way to make a far-reaching impact on an organization is related to leadership, according to Avedon. “Rather than helping solve a particular problem or coach a particular leader, you’re able—within HR leadership roles—to actually build something much more systemic where many leaders are growing and developing, both individually and collectively, to advance the organization in some way—whether it’s their team, a department or the entire company.”
“When we talk about leadership development and our leadership development strategy,” Avedon said, “it is something that affects many people’s lives. A leader’s impact on the people they lead makes work much more engaging and rewarding in terms of how people feel about coming to work each day.”
Improving HR Capabilities
With an effective HR leadership team in place, Avedon has been able to focus her attention on improving capabilities and role clarity of the HR function so that each part of the team can meet the business requirements within the Ingersoll Rand organization.
“Like many companies, we have been working on an HR transformation that more clearly defines what is the role of an HR business partner who is directly supporting a business unit, and then what is the role of the specialists or centers of expertise,” Avedon said.
She and her team have looked critically at how much of the HR business partners’ time is really true to the intent of the role, versus how much time they are spending on administrative items, which distract from building capability and talent within the business.
“A few years ago, a lot of HR’s time was being consumed on things that were more administrative, which is why we invested in systems, tools and HR services,” Avedon said. “We have also made the intent of a role very clear, and we are trying to ensure people’s work is aligned with the intended role. It’s still a work in progress, but I think our business leaders would say they’re getting a different level of support from HR, and HR is now better able to work on their most important, pressing organizational priorities.”
In addition to clarifying HR roles and working to be more effective business partners, Avedon and staff have been working to improve other areas of the Ingersoll Rand culture, including employee engagement.
“What we need to improve in terms of employee engagement is tied closely to our three strategies for the company. We’re working on accelerating growth; operational excellence, which is the continuous improvement of lean thinking and removing non-value-added work in the company; and finally, creating a winning culture.”
What has impacted employee engagement the most, according to Avedon, has been holding every leader responsible for creating an engaging environment for their employees.
“The idea used to be that the company somehow magically created employee engagement, but now every leader at every level is expected to own the culture and make it more engaging for their employees every day,” Avedon said. “We ask every leader to have a personal plan to improve employee engagement.”
The company has provided training for leaders and is helping them to improve their accountability. Based on employee surveys, employee engagement within all of the business units and regions is improving, according to Avedon.
“We are now one of the top manufacturing companies in terms of global employee engagement,” she noted.
Just another example of how stepping outside of your comfort zone can lead to success.
Growing Through Diversity
How integrating a diversity and inclusion strategy has helped Ingersoll Rand grow on a global level
When Avedon joined Ingersoll Rand seven years ago, the company did not have a diversity and inclusion strategy, nor did it have dedicated resources working in this space. But as a global company trying to compete for talent across the world, diversity and inclusion became critical components to its business strategy. Admittedly, Avedon and her fellow leaders did not have a clear success formula for such strategies. They knew they did not want a “program” or compliance effort.
“One of the smartest things we did was create a cross-functional team of business leaders who were well regarded within the company, all from different parts of the organization and different functions, who seemed to have a passion around this notion of diversity and inclusion,” Avedon explained. “We asked them to help us create a multiyear strategy for the company linked to our business strategy.”
And so roughly 20 Ingersoll Rand leaders from across the globe put their heads together and began to examine what the best companies were doing and how diversity and inclusion drove value for these organizations.
“We found that the more global the company was, the more they had advanced in this area,” she said.
Based on their research, Avedon and her team developed a diversity and inclusion strategy that was tailored to Ingersoll Rand’s business strategy as well as globally relevant. It focused on three things: creating a progressive work environment in terms of policies and practices; diversity of the workforce and leadership in the broadest sense (race, gender, ethnicity, education, nationality, thinking styles, role, experiences, etc.); and creating an inclusive work culture that promotes full participation from all employees.
In subsequent years, Ingersoll Rand has implemented its diversity and inclusion strategy with councils and programs in all regions of the world. The company has been regarded as a leader in this area in publications like Diversity Careers magazine, which named it a Best Diversity Company.
“We addressed head-on some of the barriers that we inadvertently may have had in the way we worked, and we try to do diversity in a very inclusive way,” Avedon said. “We make sure it’s top of mind and integrated into other strategies of the company, and we do it in a way to make sure everyone has a voice in helping us be an even better company.”
Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois
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