Kelsy Trigg of SAP on transferable skills, taking incremental steps and being brave

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Kelsy Trigg is the VP & Global Head of the HR Project Office at SAP, a Global Enterprise Technology company who delivers leading Human Capital and ERP systems to organizations throughout the world. Kelsy’s career spans a diverse set of roles across Consulting, Mergers & Acquisitions, Operations and HR. She is a passionate leader who believes in the power of transferable skills and being productively stubborn. Outside of work, you can find Kelsy running through the BC Mountains and mentoring MBA students from the Sauder School of Business.

You have had a very diverse career to date. Tell me about the journey that you took to get where you are today

If you told me at the beginning of my career that I’d be in an HR leadership position I would have never believed it. My educational background is in Computer Systems and while I love technology, I realized pretty quickly that in order to play to my strengths, I needed to focus on broader business skills. I didn’t have my career all planned out but I found my sweet spot in Project Management, Team Leadership and Consulting type roles. A key time in my career was when I started my own consulting business and became really aware of how important it is to be customer centric. This has stayed with me through all of my roles. After working as an independent consultant for a number of years, I had a great opportunity to join Business Objects as the Director of M&A for Customer Support, leading a small team and managing complex projects That role was instrumental in getting me to where I am now. While I’ve certainly had a diverse group of career experiences, there has been a consistent thread of leading diverse teams, helping people grow and delivering customer centric projects.

What is the most exciting thing going on right now in Enterprise Tech from your perspective?

I’m very excited about the pace of change in the market right now. There’s so much opportunity to leverage technology in ways we haven’t even considered yet. While lots of people are talking about things like AI and Blockchain, one of the most interesting things around Enterprise tech fall into how it is impacting people as consumers and human beings. As organizations, an important question to ask is how do we prepare people for the change that is coming. How do we build adaptability into our culture so that people can embrace changes instead of potentially being afraid? How do we incorporate consumer friendly Technology in organizations? When we see Technology as an enabler to help us lead more productive, happy lives, we shift the conversation to be more human centred. 

Was there ever a point in your career where you felt stuck or unsure as to what to do next?

While I haven’t felt stuck per se, there were certainly a number of big decisions that I’ve made which were overwhelming at the time. One of the pivotal ones was when I decided to go out on my own. I had a really good and steady job at the time so it wasn’t an easy decision. Luckily, I had a great manager and mentor who really believed in me and that gave me the confidence to go out and try it.

If I were to give advice to someone who is currently considering a big move, I’d say to keep an open mind to unexpected opportunities and think about the risks that you are willing to take. While I’m a goal oriented person, I didn’t know what the five year plan of my career was going to be at the time but I did know that I needed to try something different. In everything you do, think about the ways in which you can make a difference to someone else or an organization. Connect what you care about and what you can do for a customer base or a problem that you can help solve. There are unexpected opportunities that can be uncovered by reflecting on your strengths and looking broader than the functional expertise that you’ve historically had experience in.

You have a strong belief that people often underestimate their transferable skills. If someone is looking to make a big career shift, how would you advise them to go and do that?

What I’ve found in my career is that transferable skills often come down to key leadership skills. Whether that be if someone is a good listener, a coach of others or has the ability to really assess a problem, it is simple but important things like that which are most often transferable. When it comes to making big career shifts, the reality is that those kinds of things don’t usually happen overnight. There are steps you can take to start moving towards something else but radical shifts rarely happen in one shot. I looked for opportunities that I didn’t have any direct experience in but knew that I could add value in other ways. That enabled me to make a number of transitions across my career so far. Lastly, don’t be afraid of getting a “no”.  Ask for the opportunities that interest you and don’t worry about not getting them outright. Those experiences can actually be quite valuable because they can give you perspective on what you need to do to move forward.

What is your leadership philosophy? How must leadership scale across different levels of an organization?

My job as a leader is about creating the environment which enables others to excel. As someone who loves sports, I truly believe that people are capable of much more than they think they are and for me, I take such joy in seeing others succeed and do things they may think aren’t possible. I also believe that leadership is about being present and helping others come to their own conclusions around difficult problems or issues. Leaders need to give people the time and space that is required to come up with solutions or creative approaches to getting work done. Sometimes leaders are quick to “solve the problem”, but when you trust the people you work with, listen carefully to how you can help, and encourage creative problem solving, great things can happen.

When it comes to scaling leadership, there is a ripple effect that happens. Each of our behaviours impacts and influences others and modeling and encouraging great leadership goes a long ways. You never know who you might influence. It is of course about the personal relationships that you build with others and it’s also about how your message can be shared. A great example is this conversation we’re having. Because you’re going to share it, maybe it will spark a conversation, debate or thought! 

What would be your one piece of advice for someone in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

Put simply, figure out how you can feel like you make a difference. And importantly, be willing to put the work in! Just like in sport, it takes focus, grit and consistency to reach big goals. Focus on your strengths, and look for ways to leverage these to make a difference to others.

Aubrey Chapnick