Talent Insights: Daniel Gandarilla emphasizes influence without authority

Advocate Health SVP and CHRO – Executive Services Daniel Gandarilla shares his personal career story and lessons learned.

Talent Management’s “Talent Insights” series is dedicated to sharing the insights and expertise of influential talent executives. In this Q&A series, we garner strategic insights, innovative approaches and challenges overcome from C-suite talent and HR executives, chief talent officers, chief people officers and more who are shaping the future of talent management.

What initially drew you to a career in talent management, and how have your experiences in the field evolved over the years?

I have a personal passion for ensuring people maximize their individual performance and fulfill their potential. When I started in health care in 2012, I was very focused on using traditional annual cycles. Over the past 12 years, I have focused on moving from long, annual talent cycles to more frequent touchpoints that can help individuals and the organization with multiple data points gathered on a more routine basis (i.e., listening, feedback).

What core values and principles do you believe are essential for building a positive and inclusive company culture?

To me, it’s not so much any specific value but whether or not there is an organizational “commitment” to it. Culture is much more than values and principles. It is a commitment to more than putting words on a page. Instead, it is threading that culture commitment through in tools and decisions. It’s a commitment to using what you want to be as a lens through which an organization will frame key positions it will take. 

People often confuse personal values for organizational values. An organization must incorporate its values into its processes and decision-making, or else it is nothing more than words on a page. For example, at Atrium Health we reviewed our policies through the lens of values and culture commitments. If we stated we valued belonging, it was more than words on a page; it was a lens through which we saw the world. 

Culture is much more than values and principles. It is a commitment to more than putting words on a page.

Can you share a significant challenge you’ve faced as a talent leader and how you successfully navigated through it?

I’ve been fortunate to always be challenged in my roles with building something new and different, often against the historical flow of the organization. Most recently, I have worked on creating an executive center to help manage the lifecycle of executive talent within the organization. This includes onboarding, offboarding, recruiting, relations, development and total rewards. It has been one of the most significant challenges I have faced. It has required collaboration, diplomacy, lateral thinking and humility. I’ve navigated it by building relationships, asking a lot of questions, being patient and, through a lot of self-reflection, contemplating the value the work brings. I actually had to do a lot of internal reflection. One of the books that changed my life during this experience was “The Four Agreements.” It helped me to get a better understanding of perspective. 

What strategies have you found most effective in attracting and retaining top talent in competitive industries?

One of the easiest strategies has been connecting people with their “why.” When I was at Texas Health prior to my current role, our strategy was focused around care transformation, and we used the metaphor of “climbing a transformation mountain.” All new hires were asked to fill out a “ticket to climb,” ensuring they were prepared to safely join our ascent up the mountain. This ticket required them to think through how the work they would do every day would connect back to organizational strategy and transforming the organization. In the midst of all this change in the organization, we had limited regrettable turnover during this time. 

This personal connection to the work became a clear differentiator during the pandemic for all health care organizations. When I would round with nurses, what often kept them on their units — even during the worst times — was a commitment to their teammates. Staff came to care for the patients but stayed for the personal connection to their work and their teams. 

How do you balance advocating for employees’ needs while aligning with your company’s business objectives?

The short of it is: You will always have to accept that you cannot solve everything for everyone all at once. 

To me, it’s most important to know and understand your employees’ needs and how they vary across different segments of the workforce. Whether you are dividing your segments by generation, region or job, each of these plays an important role in addressing employee needs. When combining that with understanding the direction of the business, there are clear places to focus. However, not every individual has a solution ready for them, and you won’t solve for everyone. 

I recall when, recently, someone reached out to me about fertility benefits. The short answer was, “Thank you for reaching out; we will include this in our study we are going to do moving forward.” I couldn’t solve the need right then; it would need to be solved through the lens of the benefits review being done as a part of future work. These messages can be difficult to deliver, but not everything has an immediate solution. 

What leadership skills do you prioritize and cultivate as a senior talent leader to inspire your team and drive talent initiatives?

I emphasize influence without authority and leading in a network. It is impossible to get something done alone in a hierarchy. It takes people working the white space between roles to help get things done, whether strategically or operationally. Navigating these gaps to help understand who can do what and get certain things done really helps to solve for the complexity of organizations.

What game-changing advice would you offer if you could go back in time and mentor your younger self?

I would tell myself to find the hard things early on and lean into them. The more difficult experiences you have as you form your capabilities, the easier it is later in your career. I had many difficult experiences, and these are what I lean on now.

What do you feel is currently the single biggest challenge facing talent professionals and the industry as a whole?

The biggest challenge facing talent professionals is finding a way to leverage AI that can enhance the work we are doing. Of course, there needs to be a human element to it, but finding ways to do things differently and use technology to help preemptively solve for problems would change the game. Whether a chatbot for a manager to ask questions or generative AI to help employees and managers complete routine reviews, solutions for these problems would help bring significant value to organizations. We just haven’t gotten there yet, and part of this is our mindset. We must change our own mindsets in order to address these challenges and do this quickly.

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