Talent Insights: Kylie Ensrud strives to cultivate resilience, meaningful connection and fearless authenticity

DataVizion Chief People Officer Kylie Ensrud shares her journey in talent management and what she’s learned along the way.

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 was pursuing my bachelor’s degree and for one of my projects I was assigned to lead a team-building session. It was a challenging task, but as I watched the employees engage, communicate and grow together, a spark ignited within me. I realized the immense potential of nurturing and developing talent. 

Over the years, my journey in talent management has been marked by transformation and growth. I’ve seen firsthand how investing in people can lead to incredible outcomes for both employees and organizations. The stories of inspiring leaders and transformative workplace cultures captivated me. I was drawn to the idea of nurturing and developing talent, of being the catalyst that helps individuals reach their fullest potential. 

As I evolved in my career, I also witnessed the evolution of the field itself. From traditional training methods to the integration of technology like AI and data analytics, the landscape of talent management has expanded remarkably. The most rewarding aspect of my journey has been watching the growth and success of the individuals I’ve mentored. Knowing that I’ve contributed to their professional journey is a feeling of fulfillment that’s hard to describe. 

Talent management is not just a career for me; it’s a journey of continuous learning, growth and, most important, making a difference in people’s lives.

The landscape of talent management has changed significantly over the years, with technology playing a bigger role and the workforce becoming more diverse and global. Yet, the core essence remains the same — it’s all about unlocking the potential within each individual. As I look back, I realize that what initially drew me to this field was the human element — the ability to connect, understand and empower people. Over the years, my experiences have only deepened that passion. Talent management is not just a career for me; it’s a journey of continuous learning, growth and, most important, making a difference in people’s lives.

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

I firmly believe that the foundation of a positive and inclusive company culture is built on several core values and principles:

  • Transparency and honesty: A transparent workplace is a trustful one. Open communication, honest feedback and clear expectations create a work environment where everyone feels informed and valued. This transparency extends to recognizing accomplishments and addressing challenges head-on. 
  • Continuous learning and growth: An environment that encourages continuous learning and growth is vital. This goes beyond skill development; it’s about fostering a mindset of curiosity, encouraging creative problem-solving, and supporting personal and professional development. 
  • Collaboration and teamwork: No one operates in isolation. Effective teamwork, grounded in mutual respect and shared goals, ensures that everyone feels they are a part of something bigger. Collaboration should be encouraged across different levels and departments to break down silos and promote a sense of unity. 
  • Accountability and responsibility: Creating a culture where individuals are accountable for their actions and understand their impact on the team and the company at large is crucial. This means taking responsibility for successes and failures alike and learning from both. 
  • Wellbeing: Recognizing the importance of mental and physical wellbeing is key. A culture that values work-life balance, provides support for mental health and understands the personal needs of its employees is not only more humane but also more productive.

These values are not just aspirational; they require active cultivation and commitment from every level of the organization. It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels valued, understood and connected — a place where people don’t just work, but they thrive and grow together.

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

One of the most significant challenges I’ve faced is adapting to the rapid technological advancements and the shifting landscape of workplace learning. The onset of remote work cultures and digital transformations presented a unique hurdle: how to effectively deliver engaging, impactful and accessible training to a diverse workforce. Navigating through this challenge required a strategic blend of innovation, adaptability and empathy.  

First, understanding that one size does not fit all in learning, I championed the development of a diverse content library. This included interactive e-learning modules, video tutorials and virtual reality scenarios, catering to various learning styles and ensuring that our training was both inclusive and engaging. 

Second, and most important, I prioritized continuous feedback and open communication channels with our employees. This approach enabled us to iterate and improve our learning initiatives in real-time, ensuring they remained relevant and valuable to our team’s evolving needs. 

Through these efforts, we not only maintained but enhanced our training effectiveness during a period of significant change. We saw a marked increase in employee satisfaction with training and, most notably, a direct positive impact on performance. This experience underscored the importance of being agile and employee-centric in the ever-evolving landscape of talent development.

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

Attracting and retaining top talent in competitive industries requires a strategic blend of innovative approaches and a deep understanding of what drives today’s workforce. Here are some strategies that have proven to be highly effective: 

  • Fostering a culture of continuous learning: We live in an era where change is the only constant. To attract top talent, it’s crucial to create an environment that encourages continuous learning and growth. This means not just providing opportunities for professional development but also fostering a culture where curiosity and innovation are valued. 
  • Offering competitive and flexible benefits: While salary is important, it’s not the only thing that matters. Offering a comprehensive benefits package that includes flexible working options, health and wellness programs, and opportunities for work-life balance can be a significant draw. 
  • Building a strong employer brand: Your organization’s reputation as an employer can be a major factor in attracting top talent. This involves not only how you’re perceived in the market but also the experiences of your current employees. An authentic and positive employer brand, both online and offline, can make a huge difference. 
  • Personalized career pathways: Talented individuals often look for roles where they can see a clear path for growth and advancement. Personalizing career development plans shows that you are invested in their future, not just in what they can offer now.

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

Balancing employee advocacy with business objectives is about creating a synergy where the growth and development of employees directly contribute to the success of the company. It’s about being a bridge that connects individual aspirations with organizational goals, fostering an environment where both thrive together.

  • Understand and communicate the vision: It starts with a deep understanding of the company’s business objectives. I immerse myself in the company’s vision, goals and strategies. This knowledge allows me to effectively communicate these objectives to employees in a way that resonates with them, helping them see their role in the bigger picture. 
  • Employee engagement and feedback: I believe in the power of listening. Regularly engaging with employees through surveys, focus groups and one-on-one conversations is key. This provides insights into their needs, aspirations and concerns. It’s not just about hearing them but actively responding and showing that their input shapes decisions. 
  • Aligning learning with business goals: In learning and development, our initiatives should not only cater to the growth of employees but also align with the company’s direction. This means designing training programs that both enhance skills and contribute to achieving business goals. For instance, if digital transformation is a goal, we focus on upskilling employees in digital competencies. 
  • Advocacy through empowerment: Advocating for employees isn’t just about voicing their needs; it’s about empowering them. This includes creating opportunities for growth, offering resources for development and fostering a culture where employees feel valued and motivated. 
  • Building a culture of transparency and trust: By maintaining transparency about business objectives and how employee roles contribute to these goals, we build trust. Employees who trust their leaders are more likely to align their efforts with the company’s goals.
  • Championing a people-centric approach: Finally, it’s about championing a culture where employees feel they are the most valuable asset. When employees feel valued and supported, their alignment with business objectives becomes a natural extension of their work environment.

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

It’s about inspiring and nurturing individuals to realize their fullest potential, which, in turn, drives our organization’s success. Here are the leadership skills I prioritize and cultivate:

  • Empathy and emotional intelligence: Understanding the unique perspectives, emotions and motivations of each team member is crucial. It allows me to connect on a deeper level, foster trust and create an environment where everyone feels valued and understood.
  • Visionary thinking: I believe in leading by example and painting a vivid picture of our collective goals. It’s about inspiring the team with a clear, compelling vision and aligning their efforts toward achieving it. This not only drives progress but also keeps everyone motivated and focused on the bigger picture.
  • Adaptability and resilience: The business landscape is constantly evolving. I emphasize the importance of being adaptable, learning from setbacks and staying resilient. This not only helps in navigating challenges but also encourages a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.
  • Effective communication: Clear, transparent and consistent communication is the backbone of effective leadership. It’s not just about conveying ideas but also actively listening, encouraging open dialogues and ensuring that every voice is heard and valued.
  • Empowerment and delegation: True leadership is about empowering others. I focus on delegating responsibilities in a way that challenges my team members, builds their skills and boosts their confidence. This approach helps in developing future leaders and fosters a sense of ownership and accountability.
  • Inclusivity and diversity awareness: Creating an inclusive environment where diversity is celebrated and leveraged for different perspectives is key. It enriches our team’s creativity and problem-solving abilities, and it’s crucial for driving innovation.

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

If I could travel back in time to mentor my younger self, the game-changing advice I’d passionately share would be centered on these key principles:

  • Cultivate resilience: Life and careers are marathons, not sprints. You will encounter setbacks, failures and disappointments. Embrace them as part of your journey. Resilience is not about avoiding these hurdles but learning how to overcome them. Each challenge is a stepping stone toward your goals.
  • Build meaningful relationships: Success is rarely a solo endeavor. Foster genuine connections, not just for networking but for mutual growth and support. Be kind, empathetic and always willing to help others. Remember, the relationships you build will be your most valuable asset.
  • Prioritize your wellbeing: Your health, both mental and physical, is crucial. Never sacrifice your wellbeing for the sake of success. Balance is key. Take time for yourself, your hobbies and your loved ones. A well-rounded life is the bedrock of sustained success.
  • Be fearlessly authentic: Never shy away from being your true self. Authenticity resonates and inspires. It’s your unique perspective and approach that will set you apart. Embrace your individuality and use it as your strength.
  • Cultivate gratitude and positivity: A positive mindset coupled with gratitude can dramatically influence your life’s trajectory. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small, and always look for the silver lining in challenging situations.
  • Give back: As you climb the ladder, don’t forget to extend a helping hand to others. Sharing your knowledge, mentoring and making a difference in others’ lives enriches your own journey.
  • Stay curious and open-minded: The world is full of wonders and diverse perspectives. Stay curious about people, cultures and ideas. This openness will foster creativity and innovation, propelling you forward in ways you can’t imagine.

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

I deeply feel that the single biggest challenge facing talent professionals and the industry today is adapting to the rapid pace of technological change and its impact on the workforce. This challenge is multifaceted and profound. 

First, there’s the need to continuously update and develop new skill sets. As technology evolves, so do the skills required to harness it effectively. Talent professionals must not only identify these emerging skills but also find effective ways to cultivate them within their organizations. This requires a keen understanding of both current technological trends and effective adult learning principles. 

Second, there’s the challenge of digital transformation itself. Many industries are undergoing significant changes due to technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation. 

Last, the challenge extends to the very nature of work and how it’s structured. Remote work, flexible hours and project-based teams are becoming more common. Talent professionals need to navigate these new dynamics, ensuring that teams remain cohesive, engaged and productive, no matter how dispersed or diverse they are. Addressing these challenges requires a blend of strategic foresight, innovative thinking and a deep commitment to the growth and well-being of employees. It’s about creating a culture of continuous learning and adaptation, where change is not just anticipated but embraced as an opportunity for growth and development.

We’re always looking to showcase innovative tools and technologies. Can you share one tech product or platform that has significantly improved your work processes and why you find it valuable?

The tool I’m particularly enthusiastic about is Trello. What makes Trello stand out is its intuitive and visually appealing interface. It’s structured around boards, lists and cards, which can be used to organize and prioritize projects in a fun, flexible and rewarding way. It’s incredibly user-friendly, allowing even the least tech-savvy team members to jump in without a steep learning curve. But the real value for me is how Trello facilitates team collaboration and transparency. Every team member can see the progress on different tasks, understand their own responsibilities and appreciate how their work fits into the larger picture. This visibility fosters a greater sense of accountability and collective achievement among the team.

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