Workday Chief Human Resources Officer Ashley Goldsmith Emphasizes Credibility, Collaboration, and Communication in a Healthy Work Culture
Long before entering her distinctive role as senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Workday, Ashley Goldsmith began her career like most: as an uncertain, yet opportunistic college graduate eager to look for work in the intimidating and murky waters of “the real world.” With an open eye toward opportunity, she took a chance on a temp assignment at Home Depot: a temp assignment that became a management development internship that became an exciting 11-year run with the business working in the department she fell in love with—human resources.
“People are the part of the business you can’t live without,” she shares. “I think people are very complex and complicated, but I also think they are the most powerful part of a company.”
With this foundation laid in her early postgraduate days, Goldsmith’s philosophy has led her to executive HR positions at Ventana Medical Systems, the Tissue Diagnostics Division at F. Hoffmann-La Roche, Polycom, and most recently, Workday. Workday is a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources designed for the world’s largest organizations. They deliver financial management, human capital management, and analytics to companies ranging from medium-sized businesses to Fortune 50 enterprises. Since joining the team in September 2013, Goldsmith has brought a more strategic focus to HR with her years of expertise and she continues to advocate for central work culture practices of credibility, collaboration, and communication in her leadership role.
Earning Respect on the Frontlines
Goldsmith fondly remembers the excitement of her early work experience as an intern at Home Depot. As her first leap into the working world, she was able to learn the ins and outs of work culture from the frontlines and from across a variety of different areas of the business.
“That internship was so critical because it really sparked my interest in HR. I was fortunate enough there to work for a manager who was willing to share her knowledge on HR and management development. She gave me a great deal of feedback and she trusted me to take on very challenging assignments even when I was very young and inexperienced.”
After getting her feet wet in management development, Goldsmith entered a rotational fast track for college graduates to learn a variety of different business areas including marketing, IT, and store operations. She reflects on one particular experience during the first few weeks of her first managerial position at Home Depot—spending long hours working on a massive restocking project that was a memorably dusty and dirty endeavor.
“That hard work really earned me a lot of credibility with my peers and the store employees because I was clearly willing to roll up my sleeves and do what was necessary. We needed to work overnights for a couple of weeks, so in the morning I’d be coming out of the store just filthy because you are crawling under racking. It was pretty deep and dirty work. The day crew would see I’d been there all night and that I wasn’t just sitting back giving instructions. I was doing the work.”
Goldsmith’s time spent as Home Depot assistant store manager taught her valuable lessons about gaining trust and credibility with her peers: an experience she continues to carry with her up to her executive role as CHRO at Workday. She expresses the value of carrying this early lesson in respect, trust, and credibility with her as she advanced in her career.
“The time in the store was one of the most impactful job experiences of my entire career. It put in such focus and perspective of what really matters: the front line and the customer and how whatever is happening in your business is translating to the end result you are trying to achieve. What really matters is that those store employees are engaged, motivated, and knowledgeable so that they can create a great experience for the customer.”
In her later leadership roles in the office and away from the frontlines, Goldsmith keeps this lesson in her focus and understands the importance of the connection garnered between employee and customer.
Creating A Strategic Focus for HR
When Goldsmith first joined Workday, there were some gaps in HR that needed to be filled. One of her major objectives has been to find a more strategic focus for HR.
“When I joined, HR hadn’t been invested in at the same rate as other areas, but the leadership always had a deep belief of treating employees with respect. That built a very strong and successful culture. However, relying on great culture wouldn’t be enough to scale for significant growth.”
Being mindful of a company that has quickly grown from hundreds of employees to thousands, she has focused on ensuring the development of a collaborative team that fits the unique work culture at Workday by using Workday’s own human capital management technology for the more administrative work and to capture feedback, track progress and analyze results for strategic initiatives such as results-based selection (RBS) and hands-on training to prepare a great HR staff. RBS, for example, has specifically been used in the sales department. She explains that it is a process that integrates targeted interview questions that help managers to pull out capabilities and skillsets to determine how well a candidate would succeed in the given position. Instead of just “going with your gut” when making the final interview decision, RBS helps interviewers find those with capable skill sets that also fit the cultural aspect to extend Workday’s brand.
“Our sales managers felt so much more confident about the hires they were making and how they were looking at talent from a consistent approach.”
Goldsmith expresses the extremely positive feedback from both candidates and interviewers since using RBS for the past six months.
Leading With Culture
The unique work culture emphasized at Workday has been a pillar of the company since its founding in 2005. Co-founder and CEO Aneel Bhusri and Co-founder and Chairman Dave Duffield both recognized the importance of keeping people at the center of that culture from day one. Goldsmith stresses the power and rippling effect of a strong culture and its correlation with the success of a business.
“Motivated and inspired people do their best work. This turns into innovation in our products and into creating something very special for our customers. We put our employees at the center because great employees will create great experiences for our customers; it also really creates a place where people will have trust in their leadership and know they can have fun at work,” she explains.
By creating a high-energy, high-trust work environment, Workday is able to attract top talent in the hyper-competitive tech industry. With strong values of collaboration, communication, and customer needs, the HR team works to find talent that will match the Workday culture.
“We are a low-ego, high-innovation, high-integrity, high-fun type of environment. We want employees that can thrive in that environment and help keep us at this competitive advantage.”
Through her years of various HR experiences, Goldsmith has come to appreciate a work environment high in energy, honesty, and integrity. Mentors Dennis Donovan, former CHRO of Home Depot, and Paul Raines, CEO of Gamestop and former president of her division, helped to solidify her own personal leadership values by teaching her memorable lessons along her journey. In particular, working with Dennis Donovan showed her the value of recognizing talent and expanding potential.
“He threw me into roles that I thought were way too big for me. He threw me into the deep end and sure enough, what I learned is that I can swim. In each of those experiences, after the trepidation and the nervousness wore off, I realized I was capable of reaching that next level. He taught me a lot about what it is to challenge people so they can be their very best.”
Instead of being pigeonholed into the “young and inexperienced” category, time and time again, mentors along her journey have given her life-changing opportunities. In recognizing her own experience, she reciprocates that opportunity and seeks to empower and challenge her new hires. Collaboration is another element central to her leadership. With collaboration comes the humble, low-ego approach that she first learned early on from Paul Raines.
“As the president of the division I was in, he had a high-level job where it is easy to let your ego lead the way. His low-ego approach showed how it is important to lead with humility and put people first. He narrowed that chasm between leadership and employees. He always assumed the leadership position, but he remained very approachable and had respect for everyone no matter what their role.”
This people-first mentality is parallel to the core leadership Goldsmith stands by at Workday, where there is less emphasis on the hierarchy of power and more emphasis on what the team is doing and how individuals are contributing to that core vision.
“I try to take the best of these individuals I have worked with and try to be a more empowering, collaborative, results-oriented leader. I’ve learned over the years how important it is to lead with honesty and to promote that environment of open communication. Let that be the way that you earn trust from your employees. If your employees trust you and trust the organization, that’s everything to me. That’s what creates an empowered, productive, exciting, engaged company—that’s where I try to focus.”
From her earliest days paying her dues on the frontlines at Home Depot to her current executive HR responsibilities at a high-energy technology company, Goldsmith has remained a humble leader whose grounded vision keeps people at the forefront and continues to generate successful teams. ♦
Descriptive, Predictive, Prescriptive: Workday Insight Apps Offer New Technology For Smarter Business Decisions
Think of Google Maps and the services it offers. The descriptive function offers the route and how to get to your destination, the predictive function gives the estimated time of arrival, and the prescriptive function takes it a step further by offering other suggestions on which route might be fastest given traffic, accidents, etc.
“Isn’t that powerful?” Ashley Goldsmith explains, “To go from just ‘here’s the route, best of luck’—to here’s how you change your behavior and end up with the best result possible?”
As senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of an innovative technology company, Goldsmith has had the exciting opportunity to work side-by-side with the product team to help create Workday Insight Applications. Insight Apps take this same approach of offering descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive solutions, but instead of applying them to transportation like Google Maps, they use advanced analytics, complex algorithms, and machine learning to help businesses make strategic moves on where to take their organization.
“We are in the early stages of making use of incredible advanced analytics. It will be a long and exciting road. It is compelling and it is game changing in how HR and business get done.”
Insight Apps is a suite of applications designed to provide thoughtful answers to specific business questions. When building out the concept with the product team, Goldsmith explains that one notion they had in mind was the application having the ability to answer key executive questions.
“Think about how powerful that can be in a work environment – how you think about your workforce and what you should be doing. Instead of just telling a manager ‘attrition in your department is 17%,’ think about all the prescriptive recommendations you could make to lower your attrition. That in a manager’s hands is really powerful. It gives them a leg up in the way they lead and how they address the most important part of their business: their people.”
Goldsmith and her HR team at Workday actually use the Insight Applications the company provides, bringing valuable end-user feedback to the product team. These innovative technology solutions excite new possibility in the business world and it is clear the road to use these new advanced solutions is just beginning.
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