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Inspiring Conversations with Tracy Ward of Forward Talent Strategies

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tracy Ward.

Tracy, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
When I was growing up, I was extremely shy. This was intensified after a situation I witnessed as a young child. While at school one day, another parent told my mom to “go back to where you came from.” This was so shocking and made me want to stay in a protective shell and not call any attention to myself.

The benefit of being the recipient of this type of behavior, however, was to make me hyper-aware of my own behavior and to be sensitive to others who could be treated differently because of their demographics or other characteristics. Showing someone compassion and respect doesn’t cost a penny. Over the years, I realized that you can learn from people you admire – and those you don’t – and that we each have an opportunity to create our own style of leadership.

One of the biggest reasons I chose a career in HR was to influence organizations in cultivating positive company cultures. I wanted to be in a profession where I could make a difference – to create an environment where individuals who worked hard were rewarded and had opportunities to grow their career. It’s been fulfilling to be part of witnessing many firsts for employees – the first to graduate from college; become a manager; buy their first house. Knowing that I’ve been part of helping to create a platform to make that possible is motivating and drives me to want to do more.

Athletically, I was a late bloomer. As an adult, I picked up golf in my thirties, started running after I turned 40, running several half marathons a year, and I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon three times in the past few years (twice doing the rim-to-rim in one day). Taking care of myself physically has helped to be a great stress reliever and has definitely contributed to my mental and emotional health as well. My training runs or hikes are often almost meditative, and it’s nice to have concentrated quiet time and the opportunity to enjoy nature.

In 2018, it was during a time when I was training to hike the Grand Canyon when I started doing a lot of reflecting about what was next for me professionally. I had grown the HR team in my company to over 30+ people, and while I loved the company and the team that was built, I missed being more hands-on and witnessing the direct impact of my work. This eventually led me to start my own HR consulting company in 2019. I realized how much I enjoy problem-solving, strategizing and implementing solutions, and the intrinsic rewards of sharing my knowledge to serve multiple clients.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
A favorite quote of mine is “Comparison is the thief of joy” by Theodore Roosevelt. Starting my own HR consulting business was intimidating. Creating my own definition of success and being true and genuine to myself has been one of the most rewarding things I could do. It’s made me reflect on what’s most important – my family, relationships, and doing meaningful work.

Having a small business, you wear many hats, and while I’ve always enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that comes from learning new things, I found that I missed the sense of community I’d always had from being part of bigger organizations. To create that feeling of support and teamwork, I joined professional organizations and established informal peer networking communities to collaborate with others and create the camaraderie I’d enjoyed during my in-house roles. Sharing my vulnerability about the new venture has been an amazing way to reach out to others for support and create deeper connections. And it’s been fun to find ways to partner with other entrepreneurs and share our expertise by providing education to business leaders.

Foundational to a strong company culture is to create a safe space and feeling of belonging. This is critical to so many things – mental health, inclusion, and employee engagement. This past year has been a struggle for many individuals and companies. We are especially passionate about two areas that can have a tremendous impact on individual mental health and on company culture – 1) establishing a wellbeing program and 2) creating philanthropy initiatives. A well-being program shows employees that their physical, mental, social and emotional health is important, and providing education and resources around this can have a tremendous impact on them feeling safe at work to voice when they are having personal challenges. And finding ways to give back to the community is one of the best ways to bring people together to create fond memories and lasting bonds.

Impacting this sense of belonging is also why I’m on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee for ProVisors, one of my professional associations. I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the education, dialogue, inspiration and action around this topic.

We’ve been impressed with Forward Talent Strategies, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Forward Talent Strategies is a Human Resources Consulting firm that works with organizations to create and execute customized HR strategies. We are committed to putting people first and employ a values-based process that focuses on engagement, culture, and open communication. We help companies balance HR compliance requirements and risk mitigation with their employer brand and people strategies. Most of our clients have a California presence and have contracted with us in part because of our extensive knowledge of complex California employment laws and focus on building strong company cultures.

We often work with organizations that are experiencing growing pains and assess things such as how communication occurs within the organization, identifying what behaviors are expected and rewarded, understanding the goals of the company, and uncovering what employees need and want. Our approach is “Partnering for Your Success,” and we thrive in organizations that embrace us as an extension of their team.

Being intentional about crafting the employee experience allows a company to build a trusting relationship with a new employee as soon as they join. We intentionally craft how companies will welcome, onboard, and engage employees in the company’s mission and purpose. Creating clear expectations through policies, procedures, job descriptions and performance expectations and establishing communication channels at an individual and organizational level are critical to setting employees up for success.

In our engagements, we often address the different phases of the employee life cycle; as we say in HR, “from hire to retire.” Our goal is to make sure we are listening to what is important to employees, help leadership digest that feedback, and develop programs and practices that deliver on those expectations so they can retain their talent. Companies often spend great time and effort cultivating their brand to customers; we do the same inside the organization with employees. After all, happy employees will provide the best service to customers.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
My personal philanthropic focus tends to be on children, families and veterans. I’m currently volunteering with VetCTAP (Veterans Career Transition Assistance Program), which is an organization that supports service members and their spouses as they transition out of their military career. The program assists them with job skills training, and I help coach them on resume preparation and translating their military skills into civilian terms, to aid them in securing employment in the private sector. My son joined the army last year and I am so proud of his service. Our servicemembers give so much personally to protect our country, and it’s fulfilling to give back in a small way.

I also volunteer at Clearity Foundation, which is a wonderful organization that strives to improve the survival and quality of life of women with ovarian cancer. Clearity provides free services, including treatment decision support and psychosocial support, to patients and their caregivers.

Launching my own business has been one of the scariest and also most rewarding and fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with amazing clients, to be a strong role model for my kids, and to have the independence and autonomy to carve out time for family, friends, colleagues and to support my community.

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Image Credits
Stefanie Blue

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