Talent Insights: Jennifer Sutherland shares lessons learned from sales expertise to talent mastery 

The global leader of culture, learning and development at Trustwave shares her journey navigating through the evolution of training, culture and technology.

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 in sales for the first 10 years of my career. I remember my first sales job, I took extensive sales training and I thought my sales trainer had the coolest job in the world! Throughout my sales career, my leaders always asked me to be the one that would present topics in sales meetings and I just really enjoyed those opportunities. Then, I ultimately decided to transition to the implementation/post-sales side of things and switched to a training career. I’ve been an individual contributor, a training team of one, a sales trainer, a sales manager, a training manager and a leader of a large team that I grew from one direct report/team of 30 to eight direct reports and a team of 180 training professionals. I’ve been in a variety of industries.

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

To create a positive and inclusive company culture, there needs to be an environment based on respect, proactive clear communication and a focus on the employee experience. I would highlight the following values: transparency, highlighting diverse perspectives, collaboration and decisions based on humans and data, with empathy.

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

One of my biggest challenges was building a team that was prepared to meet client needs (as an outsourced function) but also represented our own company successfully. It was a balance of working with the client and using some of their training materials but also supplementing those resources with our own branded materials, embedding our own culture. I relied on my immediate team to help drive the learning culture we wanted to create. We highlighted successful experiences. We recognized employees that promoted the employee experience we wanted to showcase.

“To create a positive and inclusive company culture, there needs to be an environment based on respect, proactive clear communication and a focus on the employee experience.”

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

I’ve found using LinkedIn to promote thought-leadership and being a practitioner of the industry has been helpful. People want to work for people that know what they are doing – and for people that understand their roles. In competitive industries, the additional focus needs to be on recognizing the ongoing training needs and how those will be met. Companies that focus on professional development are able to attract and retain top talent who are high performers.

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

The main focus here is to truly understand the company’s business objectives and what that means for employees. If they are misaligned, training leaders need to understand how to have conversations with the right stakeholders to find the common ground. Business objectives shouldn’t be achieved at the expense of the employee experience.

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

I would note four leadership essentials that drive talent initiatives: defining the vision (communicating goals, measuring progress), aligning with others (collaborating across functions, soliciting input, anticipating/resolving problems), developing employees (actionable feedback, coaching performance, celebrating accomplishments) and championing the values of the organization (be accountable, acknowledge uncertainty, encourage learning).

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

I would suggest learning about AI early on. I would also recommend learning a few more technologies to become more of a generalist, instead of focusing on facilitation.

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

The first thing I’d say is the need to transition from longer, classroom training to shorter, TikTok style training. I love the change to the module, short micro-learning. Another is the tight market, which is leading to companies reducing staff. Whether the L&D team is directly impacted or not, they have to address the inevitable outcome of fewer people requiring to do more. It’s about finding the optimal way to train on a shoestring budget.

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?

It isn’t a vendor brand, but the recent brain science and learning science design research that has been shared that can be applied to training and learning has been invaluable.

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