Podcast: Remote & Flexible Work – with Global Chief People Officer, Angela Jones

By Published On: December 15, 2021

Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple

In This Episode:

We speak with Angela Jones, who provides her thoughts as well on remote and flexible work, plus internal engagement, how to assess performance, and mentoring. She also speaks with us about what to do when entering a new role, particularly listening well and learning, while not feeling the need to be the smartest person in the room.

Who is Angela Jones?

Angela Jones serves ACCO Brands  as SVP and Global Chief People Officer, focusing on managing the Global Human Resources function and on executing people plans to enable accelerated business transformation. Prior to ACCO, she developed a strong background in transforming organizational cultures in the manufacturing and consumer products sectors at Compass Minerals, Rembrandt Enterprises, and ConAgra.
Angela also currently serves on the Advisory Board for Supply Chain Careers!

Mike Ogle: [00:01:37] Angela, we’re happy to have you with us today. Welcome.

Angela Jones: [00:01:40] It is my absolute pleasure to be here.

Mike Ogle: [00:01:43] How did you get started on your supply chain career journey? What were some of the greatest influences that got you started and helped you along the way?

Angela Jones: [00:01:52] I got started in supply chain coming out of Georgia Tech with a chemical engineering degree, and I had a choice to make. I had co-oped with DuPont, which is an amazing company, and really focused in on hardcore engineering. I got the job offer coming out of school. And then, I got a competing offer from Proctor and Gamble to go into operations management. And I was intrigued by the difference between doing a straight technical role and kind of a broader career that was focused on leadership, and understand the business more so than just pure technology. And so, I think that’s really what got me started in a path around supply chain was that early choice to take a broader career path versus doing hardcore engineering.

Once I got within Procter and Gamble, I really have to attribute their kind of development approach, which says, even if you want to specialize in a particular discipline like packaging or distribution didn’t matter what your specialty was, or even if you want it to be a pure play engineer, they really encouraged us to take different roles to learn the business and the supply chain from end to end. So, it was really important to do planning roles, manufacturing roles, distribution roles. And then I even have the opportunity to do supply chain technology-based roles for starting up a warehouse management system, for example, was one of my assignments, and then getting into putting in a planning system. I had so many different experiences throughout the supply chain. And that’s really how I became a supply chain professional.

Rodney Apple: [00:03:36] And what were some of the key learning experiences? You talked about transitioning from one function to another, you have to learn a lot of things, but what was your secret to success when taking on new roles and different functions?

Angela Jones: [00:03:50] For me, it comes down to three things. When I transitioned to a new role, first is, know the business. Even within the same company, you’re in a different function, you’re in a different business unit. You’ve got to know that business model, what makes that business work and not work and no matter what role you’re in, you have to know that side of business.

The second is know your people, because going into transitioning into a new role, the team that’s there, the people that you’re working with already know things. You’re going to have to learn from them, and getting to know them is going to help you understand the strength and weaknesses, of your most important assets, which is the people in the business.

And then the third thing is know your processes because the devil’s in the details. What you need to do, what happens upstream? What happens downstream, to the appropriate level of detail, because when you’re making choices to make changes in any parts of the supply chain, knowing those connect points matter.

Anytime I’m going into a new role, it’s know your business, know your people, know your processes. You make a decision that you’re going to listen for a little bit before you make any changes. Cause you’ve got to learn all those things and you do that listening, not doing right off the bat.

Rodney Apple: [00:05:08] If you had any roles that were a bit more challenging to transition into than others that come to mind.

Angela Jones: [00:05:15] Probably the trickiest transition I made was from a really large operations role into my first plant general manager role. It was interesting because size and scale, the plant that I was managing was actually smaller than the operations that I managed within the paper plant that I was in. Stepping in that plant GM role, the scope of responsibility, when you’re the person that really owns every decision that happens, you’re the person that corporate is looking at you if things don’t go well, for the people, their pay challenges, their labor challenges, the workforce and your management team is looking at you. Everything is on you. And I used to think that I was the queen of accountability. I am ultimately accountable. I’m going to make choices that matter most for the business. And I learned that when I got in that plant GM role, I didn’t really know what true accountability was because in other roles, my plant manager, for example, shielded us operations leaders from some of the external factors that we needed to focus on to do the job right. And so making that transition to that first true senior executive role where you’ve got internal key stakeholders and external key stakeholders that are controlling the work that you do, it’s a whole different level of responsibility and decision-making, and so that was probably the first really tough transition.

The second really tough transition was when I decided to transition out of operations, traditional supply chain management, into a senior HR role. Making that shift where I’m an operations leader, most things are in my direct control, into an HR role, even a very senior HR role, the HR positions are almost a hundred percent influence where it comes to the business. And so really learning to deliver in a hundred percent influence situation, it was a difficult transition. Maybe trickier than I thought it was going to be.

But I think I grew up as a leader, even more so in the HR role, because it is harder to lead through influence than when you’ve got control. And I never thought of myself as a leader that was either top down or autocratic or controlling. And so I always thought I’d had more of a participative leadership style, but you really learn when you’re in a enabling function, as opposed to business unit, that’s actually making money for the company, your degrees of freedom are different. You really have to understand the business when you’re in a role like HR or almost any other staff role where you have to gain the trust of the business leaders that ultimately are paying for the decisions that you’re making. No matter how important they are. So really learning to make a strong business case, compelling business case, is really important.

Mike Ogle: [00:08:27] What are some of the critical soft skills that you think are needed both for early career professionals and for experienced leaders?

Angela Jones: [00:08:35] When I think about that question around soft skills, a couple of things come to mind. The first is communication skills. And

communications is on a couple of aspects. The first is being able to get your point across verbally and written, that’s really important. And sometimes, us engineers, we’re all about the numbers and sometimes not as good at communicating. That was something I had to learn. The second thing around communications is being able to modify your message, depending on your audience, because it’s the one thing that’s really important. Especially as you rise to higher ranks in the organization. You still have to be able to communicate effectively with individuals on the shop floor, all the way up to the boardroom. And so you may be communicating on a similar topic, but the levers that you pull, the things that you highlight, are different depending on the audience and the outcome and that communication. And I think the third thing around communications is really to be abundant with your communication. So often in organizations, things don’t happen because people don’t know the things that they need to know. And sometimes managers will inadvertently not communicate things, not because they’re trying to be selfish with information, but because they just don’t feel that people need to know. My philosophy is communicate more frequently and more things, and then let individuals decide what they need and what they don’t need. Of course, never communicate anything that’s confidential or anything, but being abundant with too many communications is important.

The second soft skill probably gets down to being able to connect and collaborate across difference. These days, all of our work environments have gotten increasingly diverse in genders and ethnicities as organizations are more global, different cultures, different experiences, different ways of thinking. The more that you’re able to see things from other people’s points of views, the better decisions you’re going to be able to make. The better you’re going to engage a really diverse team and a diverse organization. The customer base has gotten more diverse as well. So being able to connect and collaborate across difference.

The final thing is recognizing that you don’t have to always be the smartest person in the room. Having the humility to understand that you actually might not be the smartest person in the room and being smart enough to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, or have a different set of skills so that you’re able to really bring new ideas to the table.

Rodney Apple: [00:11:07] Coming from someone that’s moved from operations, supply chain into HR, now you’re spanning across all the different functions of the business, what do you think companies need to do to make improvements in this tightening labor market?

Angela Jones: [00:11:20] I’ve been in this business for a few decades now, and this is one of the tightest labor markets that I’ve seen. We’ve talked about the war for talent for a while now, but this really is just unprecedented, all around the globe, which is really, really amazing. Platforms like LinkedIn have made it really easy for recruiters to reach out to passive job seekers, more so than at any point in our time. And so, it’s really important that if you’re trying to find talent, you’ve got to find ways to differentiate yourself in the market, and communicate that differentiation, because companies are now having to market themselves as if they’re a big brand. Companies that tend to have a better brand are gonna have people listening more to them than other companies that are less well-known. All

companies have to get better at differentiating themselves and communicating that differentiation to even get people to answer the phone call.

I think probably the best way to find talent that I’ve seen is tapping into the personal networks of your current talent base. Even when people decide to answer the call from a recruiter, what they’re going to do is see who in their network they can talk to, to see if they should actually talk to this company, what you know about this company. And so likewise, if you want the best chance of pulling talent away from another company, if you have someone that’s in your workforce that knows that individual, or is connected that an individual, and you can leverage that network and that connection. It’s going to give you the upper hand because then people can validate from all the noise that’s out there from potential employers.

Interestingly, I think in order to retain talent, I think the best thing is companies can do is really work on engagement, internal engagement, because the best thing is to never to have an employee feel like they have time to answer that phone call, to hear the pitch, from the person that’s reached out on LinkedIn or via email. Because if they never answered the call, then there’s a less likelihood that they’re going to leave. If they do answer the call, just because you’re curious, then you have to worry, are your offerings, from a total reward standpoint, from an opportunity and advancement standpoint, as competitive as those that are outside and around you. And usually there’s always someone paying more. There’s always someone that’s offering a promotion now. And so, the best thing to do is to really drive engagement and really great opportunity. So people say, thanks, but I don’t even have time to have a conversation with you.

Mike Ogle: [00:14:09] Is there a thing beyond compensation and advancement that you’ve seen come on lately, that surprised you say within the past five years?

Angela Jones: [00:14:20] It’s interesting. In the last year, the thing that’s getting people, giving people the most interest in walking away from their current company is the ability to be a hundred percent remote, and that’s been a bit surprising to me. I personally am looking forward to getting back to the office, and really diving in and collaborating and really engaging with my team members and my coworkers. Even though there’s been a lot of flexibility around being able to work from home. These days I’ve seen people saying I’m happy where I am, but if I can get in an environment where I can be more often remote, remote when I need to be, it’s really going to help me manage my personal responsibilities, and my work responsibilities. So, people having the ultimate flexibility to work where they want and when they want, is a really big driver for switching companies.

Mike Ogle: [00:15:16] That had to be really difficult as the old message was, well, you can’t possibly make this job work and be productive without us having the team together. And then when you’re forced to not do it, then you find out that, oh yeah. I guess you can.

Angela Jones: [00:15:32] Exactly. Now there’s still some things that are more difficult remote. A great brainstorming session, when you’re really trying to be innovative, is really difficult a hundred percent remote, even as technology tools have gotten better. And I think that’s going to be the key for organizations as they

think about what does hybrid work look like. What are those reasons why employees really need to be in the office that are real. When does it make sense that if it’s best for individuals on teams to work from the comfort and convenience of their own homes, really differentiating those different work occasions that will enable that. If companies can do that well, they’ll be able to strike a good balance, but it has been great to see, even in my company, there were diehard leaders who were absolutely adamant that there’s no way this can be done a hundred percent remote. When we were forced from a safety perspective to go a hundred percent remote, the question then became what needs to be true, for us to be effective working remote. It caused people to be very creative, around how to do it, including getting clearer about people’s responsibilities and deliverables. You didn’t rely on just bopping by someone’s office to keep them on task. So, managers got to have the opportunity to learn how to manage more effectively, which is a good outcome.

Mike Ogle: [00:17:20] How do you see the supply chain world changing in the next three to five years? And how should future leaders prepare themselves for those changes?

Angela Jones: [00:17:29] That is just a tremendous question. Supply chains have evolved quite a bit over the last decade and continue to evolve with e-commerce, the internet of things, the more global nature of supply chains, the ability for more competitors to come on the scene for most goods and services. So, it’s not just big players competing. It’s a lot of small players where there’s a low cost of entry. So, the nature of supply chains have morphed over the last decade. I think that’s going to just continue to escalate over the next three, five years, it’s going to continue to evolve. And so, when we think about. How we plan in our supply chains and where we source, companies are gonna have to be strategic, flexible, and agile in how they respond, to the external factors that are shaping what’s going on in supply chain right now. And so, I think what companies need to do and what leaders need to do is really stay aware of how things are evolving. So often, our plans are so set in stone, when we create a supply chain strategy, we’ve usually invested quite a bit and this is the way we want it to be for the next 10 to 20 years. And anymore, companies need to be able to, with speed and agility, make adjustments to that supply chain strategy based on what’s going on externally and even internally, with resources. When you get locked into a solution, and you’ve invested, especially if you’ve invested capital and other resources into that solution, it’s harder to pivot. Finding ways to be flexible, to be able to make a pivot when you need to, is going to be important.

COVID was a great example in regions where we were able to pivot in our supply chain, we were more successful in getting back to an almost normal environment. In regions where we didn’t have the capability to pivot, the recovery took the longer time, so we’ve learned quite a bit in our business around, what are the things that we can do differently and learn from our other regions to build in that same kind of flexibility so that we can pivot faster when needed.

Rodney Apple: [00:19:51] Working in HR, improving engagement can certainly help out with everything from performance to retention. What about on the evaluation side, assessment. Are there any tools or resources that you’ve used to just improve the evaluation, of the accuracy of the hire. I was just curious if there’s anything that you rely on to help with hiring.

Angela Jones: [00:20:12] Well, assessments are really tough. And I think that’s something in the land of HR that we’ve not gotten great at as a discipline. Cause when you think about how you assess if a candidate is a good fit for the role, you need to be very clear about what the true requirements are and how you know that people do actually have those experiences. What is it that you need to hear from candidates about the experiences they’ve had to have a good sense that what you see on the resume, and getting below the surface of an initial answer that yes, this person really does have this capability. So, it’s really difficult.

I think just really getting good at interviewing techniques to really see if people know their stuff, have really done what you’re being asked.

The other thing that I think is even more challenging is how you assess for culture fit. A lot of times people don’t want to hear about culture fit because, we should be open to difference. We don’t want to focus in on, does this person really fit in our culture? But I do think you have to balance understanding if an individual can come into the organization and at least adapt to how things are done in the environment. For example, if you really have a participative leadership style, where employees are truly engaged, and their voice matters and they get to offer up opinions and that’s how leaders lead. Clearly the leader gets to make the ultimate decision, but they’re more engaging for the work teams. If you bring an individual in that used to managing from a very top-down perspective and they come into the organization and are now delivering orders, which may be absolutely spot on, but all of a sudden, you’re no longer engaging that workforce. So, there’s a level of culture fit that’s really required. That’s really one of the biggest mistakes that’s made with a miss hire, it’s someone that just doesn’t operate in a way that is effective in your environment. So I think understanding those two or three key culture levers that are important to know that an individual can come in no matter how skilled they are, because at least in our organization, the what and the how matters, and so even when we do a performance reviews, you can have delivered amazing results, but you actually get dinged if you didn’t do it in a way that lived up to our values. So, you might actually go from an outstanding down to an excellent performer or an excellent performer down to a meets performer, because you didn’t manage living the values that we have as leaders here. Assessing against your culture, I think is a really important kind of assessment that’s needed when you come in. I think it’s even more important at senior levels because a lot of times at senior levels, the results are proven. There’s external evidence that this person has delivered results. So much of executive hires is really about assessing fit. And can this leader, even if you’re wanting to transform the organization, can this leader do it in a place that meets the organization where it is to propel it forward?

Mike Ogle: [00:23:33] What are some of the major challenges that you’ve seen people face in their supply chain careers and the lessons that you’ve learned out of those challenges?

Angela Jones: [00:23:41] The biggest challenge around supply chain careers is the dynamic nature of supply chains and the planning cycle associated with making good decisions within your supply chain. I’ll never forget the first time I was in an organization and on the team responsible for making the decision to outsource. We did the best analysis that we could, we did everything that we needed to do to set up the external vendors. We thought we had done the right analysis on lengthening the site supply chain and what’s that offsetting cost of inventory versus manufacturing it on site. In the 18 to 24 months that it took us to execute on that supply chain transition, which made perfect economic sense when we made the plan 18 months prior, the environment had changed, including our internal cost of doing business and all of a sudden, when we got ready to actually pull the trigger and close a facility down, the financial dynamics had shifted. Then we’re in a situation where, do we undo what we had done with that supply chain and hope it gets better and keep the plan up or do we proceed as we are now. And so, being able to manage that uncertainty and the dynamic nature of the change of supply chain and make the best decisions that you can, it’s a big challenge and I think it’s gotten more difficult to balance those types of decisions within the supply chain, no matter what part of the supply chain you’re managing. You’ve got to balance what’s going on now versus what you’re projecting in the future and being able to manage the risk. Part of that starts with understanding the risk tolerance of your organization. How much flexibility do you need to have in the return on investment that you’re making, if you’re making the change, to know that this potentially long-term decision is ultimately going to be the right one. It’s a really big challenge. And I think one of the most difficult ones that supply chain professionals will make no matter where you are, whether you’re investing in a new technology and is it the right one? It’s easier now that most technologies are cloud-based. You can reverse a decision faster than when you’re hard wiring it onsite, but balancing that dynamic nature and understanding risk are pretty big challenges.

Rodney Apple: [00:26:10] We’d love to hear your perspective on any additional programs companies can put into place to facilitate learning and development. Mentorship, I don’t know if you have formal programs there, is it more non-formal, but anything you can speak to there that you would recommend companies should look at to help with that all-important learning development.

Angela Jones: [00:26:30] I philosophically really like mentor programs. My challenge with mentor programs is that they are really hard to do well. I found that most people don’t understand how to be a mentor, what it means to be a mentor. Most organizations aren’t willing to invest in the capability building required to help managers be really strong mentors. A bad mentor can be worse than having no mentor at all. While I like mentorship programs, philosophically, an organization really needs to be willing to invest.

I think the best development for supply chain professionals is curating experiences that are going to allow supply chain professionals, especially emerging supply chain professionals to see different parts of the supply chain, to be able to understand how things fit together. Sometimes that experience might

be a lateral experience. Sometimes that experience might just be a project role, exposure to a different part of the supply chain through a project. Sometimes it may be promoting into a larger or different supply chain role. That’s the best way to develop supply chain professionals is to allow them hands-on experience managing within some aspect of this supply chain, because that’s how we get good at doing things is actually by doing things and translating what we think we know and understand about how the supply chain works and what’s needed for the businesses, having the opportunity to sit in the seat and make the decisions and lead the teams to deliver the outcomes. So curating experiences, I think is the best development.

Rodney Apple: [00:28:19] You mentioned curating experiences. Some companies have that very well thought out and they do invest in those types of initiatives, more on a formal basis. Leadership development programs, it’s a great way to accelerate learning, but it also helps attract talent, retain them as well because it shows the company serious. It is an investment of people’s time to get people from one experience to another. Have you had any experience with those types of programs as well?

Angela Jones: [00:28:46] I was lucky to grow up in a company like Proctor and Gamble whose entire business model is that no matter what role you’re in, think about an 18 to 36 months, somewhere in that window, you’re going to get a different experience. And, you’re going to do leadership development along the way. That’s why I believe that companies that are purposeful and intentional about that do have a track record of developing strong leaders in the supply chain. But it is a true investment. Sometimes I found that some companies hesitate to develop people because they worry that they’re making an implied promise about a next assignment and they don’t want to get themselves in a position to say, if I’m developing and you do this, you’re promised that. But what people sometimes don’t understand is especially in a really tight talent market, the business wants to grow, but our people want to grow also. We have to view business growth and employee growth, talent growth, as two sides of the same coin. We have to move employee development and growth if we’re going to expect that the business is going to grow and develop. Because otherwise, right now people will leave a company to get a new experience. We can just avoid that by planning to give people, our talent, that development experience.

Mike Ogle: [00:30:13] When I think about my parents’ generation and even my own, there was an expectation, we got to move, this is the only way that I’m going to advance. It’s time to pick up and go to another place. But I get a vibe from the students, as I talk with younger people, that, no thanks, I’ve been able to curate a group of friends and volunteer activities and other things that provide a stickiness where they want to stay in an area and they say, I don’t want to go to wherever it might be around the country. Have you seen any of that kind of flavor with the younger generation?

Angela Jones: [00:30:46] Oh, absolutely. There’s not as much a willingness to move solely for the sake of career. There’s no reason for talent to move if they don’t want to. And to your point, Mike, there are a lot of people that are unwilling to move and even those in my generation now, there are so many people who,

kids are either getting ready to go to college or have graduated from college. We have responsibilities for parents now that may be unable to move. Talent at all stages is saying, I need to be here and I love this company and what I’ve done for this company, but my family is most important right now. So, if I need to take my skills and go somewhere else, I will, if there’s just no flexibility to remain with the company. So, I do think companies, and this hybrid work environment, I think is something that will help with that. And being able to be more fully remote will help retain talent. We just got to think about working, how we work and where we work a little bit different to be able to retain talent, because it’s not that people aren’t loyal to companies it’s that family comes first. The pandemic has really taught people the frailty of life and a family’s gonna to come first. I think more so than ever.

Mike Ogle: [00:32:02] What is your philosophy on developing a broad career versus a focused one in a particular area of supply chain?

Angela Jones: [00:32:08] I do really believe because of how diverse supply chain is, being able to get a different set of experiences early, a broad set of experience early, and then you can narrow and focus in later if you find something that you’re really passionate about. It’s to your advantage to have a broader view. As a supply chain professional, you’re able to play in so many different places in the organization as well as just from a career standpoint, you’ll have just so many more choices. If you start narrow, it may be difficult to then be selected for a broader opportunity because you’ve specialized maybe too early. If young leaders aspire to be the head of supply chains somewhere, at some point in their career, the more experiences that you have within the supply chain, it’s going to position you to lead a global supply chain organization better.

I look at my own career. I would probably struggle if I had to do a procurement assignment, but I could lead a global supply chain organization because I’ve actually done roles in every other part of the supply chain and feel like I understand that fairly well from end to end. So I think if you’re gonna be in a more senior role, at least starting broad, having the different experiences in multiple segments is going to better position you for that larger leadership role.

Rodney Apple: [00:33:35] As we start to wrap up here, Angela, we always like to ask, what some of the best career advice that you’ve received from over the years, is there anything else you’d like to pass along to our audience before we close?

Angela Jones: [00:33:47] I think the best advice that I got as a supply chain professional, was when someone advised me to not go into HR because I’d be much more valuable if I stayed in supply chain proper and I, because of my long history in traditional supply chain roles that I wouldn’t be able to make the pivot and advance in a completely different discipline, that organizations don’t work that way. I thought about it. But what that advice helped me realize as a professional, was it’s not what someone else thinks you should do. It’s what do you want to do? What are you best at? What drives you? What are you passionate about? Because if you’re very clear about that, you can make anything else happen.

For me not taking the advice of a very wise and experienced and respected

leader, deciding that, that wasn’t great advice for me. I felt like I could add more value as an HR professional, helping organizations build capability within supply chain careers for the organization was where I could add the most value.

I would just tell anyone starting out in a specialty in supply chain to find out what you’re passionate about, what drives you, and go after that, because if you want it bad enough, you can figure out what needs to be true to get there. That philosophy has served me well.

Mike Ogle: [00:35:19] Angela, thank you for all your great insights about supply chain careers.

Angela Jones: [00:35:23] Mike, Rodney, it’s been my pleasure to spend this time with you talking about supply chain careers and I hope I’ve said something that might resonate with your audience as these supply chain professionals seek what’s next and what’s best for them.