Amanda Ono of Resolver on Building a Coaching Culture and Filling the White Space

Amanda Ono is the VP of People and Culture at Resolver, a cloud-based platform supporting leading organizations manage risk and security across the enterprise with a single solution. Amanda is an admired and respected leader in the Toronto Tech Community with over 15 years of leadership experience across recruitment, HR Consulting and Organizational Development. She is a passionate advocate for building and scaling coaching cultures.

Did you always aspire to be a talent leader in the tech industry?

I have always aspired to help other people do great work. While my career overall hasn't been of the traditional HR path, that ethos is what has guided the opportunities that I've taken. In retrospect, I'd say the diversity of those roles has been a key part of what's enabled me to grow into becoming a business-focused Talent leader. If I had taken the more linear path, I don't think I'd be in the same place as I'm in now. Funny enough, when Resolver was initially looking to bring on a Talent leader, I was very open about what I knew I could do well and what I didn't know. I was confident that I would be able to figure things out by pulling from a breadth of experiences, international exposure and different types of orgs. The benefit of a non-linear path is it gives you learning agility to adapt and be resourceful.

What are the important talent and HR trends out there that are most critical for leaders to think about in terms of being able to execute their business strategy?

Over the last five years, HR analytics is getting more into the forefront and becoming increasingly important. Being able to bring HR and business data together to make decisions is something that can’t be ignored for businesses today. Now, leaders from HR can quantify the impact of their programs and validate hypotheses at an unprecedented level, which in turn makes it easier to draw the bottom line impacts of the work of HR. HR has so much data and we are now figuring out how to really use it.

The other important trend is talent development and career mobility. The outcome of this is retention. Being able to keep great people by providing them with varied career opportunities does incredible things for driving a business forward. Career development and mobility doesn’t just need to be about moving upwards, it can also be about moving around teams to get broader experiences and skill sets. All of that facilitates the building of institutional knowledge, and, most importantly, it helps the entire organization get stronger because cross-functional learning travels across the company. What most companies don’t realize is that there are lots of transferable skills across different kinds of jobs or functions. Despite this reality, many have not taken the time to uncover what they are. That process requires a lot of internal collaboration between different areas of the company. We’re building a program internally now and it’s been months in development – the challenge is real!

Is there anything you wish you knew about being a senior leader before you became one yourself?

Moving into leadership roles requires one to place a great deal of trust in their people to execute tasks and get things done – understanding that delegation and loosening the reigns is a necessity but a big shift in identity. When you are an individual contributor, you manage your own results. When you are a manager, you manage the results of your team. When you are a Director you manage a process and when you become a VP, you manage a function. Each step up is a mindset shift, and this is something that many leaders (including myself) struggle with. As you move higher in leadership roles, you tend to take your hands off of the keyboard more and more; it is no longer your role to be in the weeds. Leadership revolves around enabling people to be successful. When the going gets tough, there’s an instinct to regress and do it yourself, but it prevents your team from getting better and ultimately limits your ability to make an impact. Letting go is hard, but when you get it right you get to focus on your highest value tasks.

You are incredibly passionate about coaching. How do you scale a coaching culture?

Scaling a coaching culture starts with getting alignment around what coaching means and looks like in practice at the leadership level. If you don't have that, you won't go anywhere. Each company as a different definition, so alignment is important. Beyond training the coaching capability, you need to understand the reinforcing mechanisms that will enable organizational-wide coaching. We've instituted something called a “Quarterly Performance Check” (QPC) where four times a year, employees get feedback (self/coach or peer) and have the opportunity to get together with their coach to talk about improvements. This is on-top of weekly or bi-weekly coaching conversations, but ensures carved out focused time. I find often there is the tendency to focus too much on building the capability (i.e., training) and not enough on how to operationalize it, which includes mechanisms and measurement.

As a whole, coaching needs to become ingrained in the culture so that it eventually happens both ways. Employees need to feel empowered and skilled to coach their managers on how to get better too! That is a major mindset shift though which takes time to wrap an organization around. Each employee, regardless of their position, needs to think of themselves as being accountable for ensuring the success of the company through coaching. Highlighting what someone is doing well through frequent praise gives confidence (managers need it too!), and defining where improvements can happen through constructive criticism gives a map for development. Coaching should be in all directions – up-down-across-sideways, and puts orgs into the mindset of continuous improvement. If done right, it’s the antidote for organizational complacency.

Tell me about an important lesson that you had to learn the hard way. How did it make you better?

When you are a leader, one of the first things you need to do is say to yourself that mistakes are okay. If you don’t do that, you won't be open to reflecting on how to get better. One mistake I made was confusing having a good relationship with communicating effectively. I've gotten into situations where I thought I was communicating effectively with another senior leader, while in reality, we were on completely different pages. We didn't take the time to engage in the right amount of healthy discussion, and conflict at the time, to ensure that we were aligned on what had to get done. As a result, there was a lot of wasted time and effort on a program that we were looking to roll out. My lesson here is classic: assume nothing. Confront lack of clarity with questions and confirmation of understanding until BOTH parties are aligned. Coming off as asking a “silly question” is far better than getting to “silly result”.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

Every organization out there has a certain amount of white space that needs to be filled by smart and capable people. There is lots to be gained by proactively searching for ways to fill that white space and solve those problems. Don't be afraid of empowering yourself to take on work or opportunities that fall outside of your role in order to get more exposure and grow. Take initiative, but don’t do it solely for the money. Take it on as a personal challenge. To be truly successful, you need to do things based on an internal drive to do great work or the curiosity to solve an interesting problem. That is the only way to find real fulfillment.

Aubrey Chapnick