Sherri Enright, Executive Vice President, PeopleFirst at Domino’s Pizza, discusses her lifelong aspiration to become a lawyer, a career change that led to her dream job in HR, and how she’s helped to promote a fun, productive, and supportive atmosphere within her department.
At the heart of any self-help book or program, there is usually a basic premise that you’ve got to know what you want. And that trope, oft-repeated in various different ways, is one that’s persisted for quite a long time. The ancient Greeks had the aphorism “know thyself,” Socrates claimed that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and William Shakespeare wrote “to thine own self be true.”
The point is that this level of self-awareness has been considered crucial for ages. Yet in spite of this, it is one of life’s more elusive problems. In the 2010 U.S. Census study, for instance, it was revealed that only 27 percent of college graduates had a job related to their undergraduate major.
On the other hand, even someone with as clear a career plan as Sherri Enright can change course at a certain point. After achieving a goal of working in private practice and in-house as a lawyer, Enright found a role in HR that she loved even more. That same determination and positive approach from her childhood, however, have continued to guide and help her direct her PeopleFirst team at Domino’s Pizza.
An Early Plan to Deliver Success
As stated, Enright knew she wanted to be a lawyer from a very early age. However, unlike most kids, her “what do you want to be when you grow up” answer was unchanged after age five.
“My father was a lawyer and I grew up around lawyers, so as a young kid it seemed like a very interesting profession. At the time, the firm at which my father worked had no women in it, leading me to believe that there weren’t any women in law. Now this was in the late 60s, so I’m sure there actually were some women lawyers, but the perception to me was that there were none and I said ‘I’d like to be a lawyer and I’d like to be the first female lawyer at that firm.’ So from an early age, I really focused my entire high school and college schooling towards law school and the practice of law.
Although by the time she graduated from law school in 1988, women were making up almost 50% of the graduating classes, Enright nonetheless achieved what she’d set out to do and began practicing in Chicago, where she worked as an associate for seven years at the midsized firm Peterson and Ross.
After several years in Chicago, Enright returned to her native Kansas City and began working “of counsel” at larger litigation firm. .
“At the firm in Kansas City, I started to think that private practice may not be the best plan for me for the long run. While I still enjoyed the practice of law and wanted to be involved in the legal profession, I wanted to explore the world of in-house counsel at a corporation. It seemed like more of a team environment as everyone is pulling for a common cause. When you go to work in-house, you essentially have the whole company working towards the same goals.”
Having smoothly navigated the transition from private practice to general counsel, Enright’s next move was to Blue Cross Blue Shield in Kansas City (“BlueKC”), with the intention of continuing in the in-house legal department. All of that would change after a new CEO was named and he brought along his vision for a lawyer to lead HR.
“I loved my position as in-house counsel and really thought I would finish my career doing that. Therefore, it was quite a surprise to me when BlueKC’s CEO approached me about leading our HR Department. I think I actually laughed and said ‘I don’t know anything about HR.’ It’s probably not what he wanted to hear, but it turned out to be a great opportunity. I might not have known it at the time, but it was absolutely the right career move and I have loved every minute of it.”
That CEO became Enright’s long time mentor. He had come from another Blue Cross plan, who by happenstance, also had lawyer as head of HR and had seen the benefits of having that type of thinking and analytical approach to things in that role. It was during a time when it wasn’t particularly common to have an attorney heading up HR, as opposed to now when it is much more common. As Enright noted, “I think one of the biggest benefits was that I did not approach HR from a process standpoint, but a business standpoint.”
Enright said that especially during her first year at the company, she took a very hands-on approach to things so that she could ease her transition to HR and learn the function as fast as possible.
Having Pizza Sauce in Their Veins
After 12 years at BlueKC, Enright left and become Domino’s Pizza’s EVP, PeopleFirst in August of 2013, entering an organization with a culture and a philosophy that she feels closely aligns with her own.
“Right off the bat I talked to the existing EVP, who was retiring. She had a level of energy, excitement, love, and drive for the company that came through even on that call. When you walk into the Domino’s World Resource Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, its corporate global headquarters, you feel very welcome right away. It’s a very open, transparent, bright, fun atmosphere — there’s a pizza store right in the middle of our offices there!
“We have a saying at Domino’s that once you join, you really get pizza sauce in your veins. When you walk in, you automatically feel that embrace of openness, fun, and success. I felt that excitement even before I’d interviewed and then as I went through the process, every single executive that I talked to was just in love with the company, the brand, the systems; you could just feel that it was a company that had a lot of momentum, where everybody enjoyed working together. I’ll never forget interviewing with Patrick Doyle, the CEO, and I asked him why he thought this was a great place to work, since everybody I’d talked to before then had said so. And he just looked at me and said ‘Sherri, it’s pretty easy — pizza’s fun!’ …This idea of being a local pizza shop in every neighborhood really is the feel that you get from the home office.”
In addition to the joyful work environment at the company, Enright also walked into a function that was already very high performing but needed to shift its focus slightly. She talked about how she went about making those changes to an already productive HR team.
“When I came on board, this was already a very high performing team in all areas and a strong partner to the business. Really, what I did was build upon that by setting forth my vision of how we could enhance the things that we were doing. For instance, we had an HR management system and there’s a lot of data in an HR management system. The example with something like turnover was that the team was turning out reports that were very thorough and detailed, but with no executive summary to say to the business partner ‘here are the things you should be looking at, here are the things that are good, here are the things that you might have some opportunity with.’
“The information has always been there; I just don’t think we’ve always used it as fully or as analytically as possible. We’re really trying to make analytical insights similar to the ones that our marketing team has come up with over the past several years. We want to be able to have the same helpful, insightful contribution with our human capital.”
Finding Your Five Areas of Greatest Strength
In terms of not only knowing what you want but also knowing yourself, Enright is straightforward about the fact that she is quite competitive. So when she went through Marcus Buckingham’s StrengthsFinder program, it was not at all surprising that competitiveness was her number one strength. It was in learning about her other core strengths, though, that she gained a better understanding of herself and how she can lead and identify core strengths in others.
“What I had figured out through my StrengthsFinder assessment was that I’m not competitive with others, but rather with myself. In terms of my early ambition to become a lawyer, I had set a goal for myself early on and I didn’t want to not meet that goal. My other four (in order) are:
- Individualization – This theme leads one to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person; instinctively observing each person’s style, motivation and how he/she thinks; drawing out the best in people.
- Positivity – This theme leads one to be generous with praise, quick to smile and always on the lookout for the positive in situations; enthusiasm is contagious and celebrate every achievement; making everything more exciting and more vital.
- Significance – This theme leads one to want to be heard, to stand out and be a part of something bigger; work is a way of life rather than a job and life is filled with goals, achievements and qualifications; keeping one reaching upward away from the mediocre to the exceptional.
- Ideation – This theme leads one to be fascinated by ideas and concepts, with the mind always looking for connections to link disparate phenomena; an idea is a new perspective on a familiar challenge; deriving energy from new ideas.
I took my team through the program recently and everyone came away saying ‘wow that was dead on!’ Beyond just learning about yourself, I think one of the greatest things about it is that as a leader, you can look at the strengths of your team and staff your projects accordingly. One of the chief takeaways from the Buckingham research is that you work much more effectively and much more efficiently when you’re working within your area of strength.”
“My biggest piece of advice is to be open to any opportunity that presents itself and place yourself in a position where you are recognized as one who wants to take on new opportunities. With respect to the CEO who put me in HR, I didn’t pursue that particular opportunity but what I did do was, when I was working with him on projects, say ‘I’ll do this or that’ and it may not have been directly related to the project, but I was willing to do any piece of it mainly to be helpful to the team and in doing that, I was able to demonstrate that I was someone who would be able to take on new things. Even if I didn’t know them, I would take the time to invest and learn what they were about and how to do them. The common theme I’ve found about being successful is to be open to opportunities, aware of opportunities, and to take them when they come.” ♦
Three Questions for Every Member of HR
Enright is quick to point out that it is not a company who is responsible for a given person’s career, but the individual themselves. That being said, one of her main core strengths (individualization) is in connecting with people and taking a real interest with them, so when she first arrived at Domino’s she met with every member of the HR staff and had a conversation where she asked them all three questions:
1: What Are We Doing Really Well That We Should Keep Doing?
2: What Are Some Things That We Should Change?
3: What Do You Want to Do Personally With Your Career?
“This gave me an idea, regardless of level or what they were currently doing, of what they wanted to do so that as I became aware of opportunities, I could remember that and seek them out as well, all while reminding them that their career was ultimately up to them.”
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