Bridgepoint Education SVP of HR Charlene Dackerman assists employees as she would customers
Many who are passionate about education value the potential within others. They understand that knowledge is power and that education adds value to people’s lives. The same often can be said of those in human resources (HR): They believe that people are the embodiment of a business or organization and that professional development is essential.
Charlene Dackerman is both an advocate for education and for people, which is why she is now the Senior Vice President of HR at Bridgepoint Education, a company dedicated to making learning more accessible, valuable and meaningful. Her value systems are evident in her service and devotion to her company, team and community.
A Straight Path
Dackerman’s career path developed organically, and being a Counselor for her undergraduate orientation program ignited a fire within her. “I have a passion,” she noted, “for helping, developing and working with others.”
Later, she went back to school to earn a master’s degree in Educational Administration, ultimately influencing and empowering others as a Dean, Director and eventually President in the higher education industry.
When Andrew Clark, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Bridgepoint Education, asked her to join him in a startup company dedicated to helping all people gain access to an affordable education, she jumped in head first.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
For Dackerman, developing a ground-up HR Department with her new group wasn’t too far into left field. “I [had been] running a small school,” she noted, “and when you run a small school, you do it all, including HR.”
Although she had the skills and the knowledge, Dackerman found the job challenging; she didn’t mind. “We worked so hard, we wanted it to be successful,” she said. “We were, and are, passionate about affordable education. We wanted to make sure it was a success, and we didn’t want to let each other down.”
“I found that I didn’t look up for three years,” Dackerman added. “I had to keep my head down and keep going to stay ahead of the curve.”
It is easy to understand this approach when you consider that she was charged with developing HR operations, employee relations, payroll, compensation and benefits, talent acquisition, and learning and development.
To help employees and the company, Dackerman and her team have been working on enhancing workforce planning for both current and future growth; developing a highly engaged, productive and stable workforce; nurturing accountability as well as collaboration; fostering operational and innovation excellence; and seeing through a long-term project called Develop U.
The latter effort, a one-of-a-kind employee development platform, has a multitude of functions. “The sections of the Develop U platform—learning, performance, career, succession and compensation—communicate to one another, providing an integrated and relevant experience for employees and managers alike.”
Because education isn’t just important for the customers of Bridgepoint Education and its academic institutions, Develop U provides employees with access to thousands of online courses as well as career development tools to create engagement and retention. The intent is to support leaders as they strengthen their succession benches by identifying and evaluating key talent. The platform is just one more in a long list of accomplishments Dackerman can add to her resume.
Following Good Examples
Over the course of her career, Dackerman has proven her ability to assist her team and to be a good leader. She was recognized for these accomplishments when she was awarded the San Diego Business Journal’s 2009 HR Professional of the Year award.
Her leadership style is focused on servant leadership and on being an employee advocate. “I am not one person at the top,” Dackerman said. “We need to serve, support and guide.”
As an employee advocate, she believes in giving her team members the breathing room to make decisions, supporting them when they make mistakes and mentoring them so they can learn and grow. “I have observed many styles of leadership in my career,” Dackerman shared, “and I know that great leaders vary their style depending on the people and situation in front of them. That being said, the best leadership moments happen when someone takes the lead and you can stand behind and let them shine.”
Dackerman’s service leadership philosophy may have something to do with the mentors who helped her along the way.
Clark, for example, has taught her a great deal. “From Andrew, I learned that people who are passionate about education can make a difference,” Dackerman said.
Another mentor, Robert Evans, taught her that she had to stand up for herself. “Early in my career, I had to fight to be heard and to get my point across, especially being a woman. He showed me that it was okay to express my opinions.”
And from Charlita Shelton, Dackerman learned the value of getting an advanced degree and networking. “She really pushed me to network. It is so powerful. I pass that on to my mentees and any young professionals coming up.”
Dackerman uses what she has learned from her mentors and the compassion that, for her, is innate to be a successful servant leader. She has taken her passion for education and for helping people and turned it into a lifestyle. And in her HR role with Bridgeport, Dackerman turns that passion into action every single day. She is not only leading her team in the office, but out in the community they call home.
Jill Yarberry-Laybourn is a freelance writer based in Colorado.