In the words of Maggie Ricketts, “To be a business leader, you have to know about HR, you have to know how organizations and the people in them make things work.” While completing her BA, Ricketts didn’t have her mind set on a career in human resources, but her first role in retail management back in Canada, confirmed that she wanted to learn more about the HR profession. After networking with coworkers in recruiting, training and other HR roles, she realized that as an HR leader, she could be instrumental in solving problems that all businesses encounter.
To prepare for a career in human resources, she returned to school for a one-year intensive human resources program. This landed her a role as a compensation analyst. “Compensation analysis is really a cyclical job,” she says, “There's a time when you do surveys, there's a time when you do salary administration, there's a time when you change the grades. I wanted more customer interface, so I was always putting my hand up to ask what else I could take on.” The more projects she completed, the more she realized she wanted to gain more general human resources knowledge, rather than become a specialist.
Ricketts’ ultimate goal was to become an HR Director, a goal she achieved during her tenure at Starbucks. She is now the Head of People at Good Eggs, and her experience at large corporations in talent management and recruitment have given her a unique perspective on human resources.
HR Expert Maggie Ricketts shares with us how she grew her career, how to navigate layoffs with integrity and transitioning between specialist and generalist roles in human resources.
From HR Director to Specialist at Starbucks
Ricketts was promoted to HR Director at Starbucks, after working as the HR Manager for three years and completed her Masters in HR and OD. For her, Starbucks was, “The first company that I really saw people walk the talk around mission and culture, and that was really exciting.” The team at Starbucks was driven and always focused on setting stretch goals. Ricketts earned many opportunities to help achieve them. For example, she helped launch their market in the United Kingdom and played a role integrating companies that were acquired during her time at Starbucks.
For several years, Ricketts thrived in her role as HR Director at Starbucks before being approached by The EVP of HR and Legal and the SVP of HR to take on a new project - centralizing recruiting. Ricketts accepted this new challenge and became the Director of Corporate Recruiting, a role she held for three years. She says, “I said yes because I really admired those women, and I thought if they had confidence in me, then I should at least try it. All of a sudden my career path went in a different direction and I ended up being in recruiting for more time than I had been an HR generalist.” She quickly learned that the more the company grew, the more her roles became specialized and narrow.
Ricketts eventually moved on from Starbucks and continued on the specialist career track with recruiting roles at Luxottica Retail (Lenscrafters) and REI. Recently, she relocated to the Bay Area to continue working in talent acquisition. As she says, “In San Francisco, one day you're doing this, the next day you're doing something else. For me, I find it really satisfying because I'm back doing what I had said I wanted to do, being the head generalist [at Good Eggs] and helping the company through change.”
How to handle layoffs with respect and dignity
For many HR Generalists and Directors, navigating company layoffs is a difficult part of the role. Within Rickett’s first few months at Good Eggs, the company realized they weren’t growing the way they needed to be. While she was initially brought on to be Head of Talent (with a goal of opening new markets and expansion) this realization pushed her role in another direction. Ricketts says, “I knew I had to step up. You can imagine what [downsizing] was going to do to the team when they’d been focused on expansion.”
She transitioned to reporting directly to the CEO while putting together the plan for downsizing. In a larger company, you typically have a playbook or roadmap to use when creating this type of plan, says Ricketts. However, at Good Eggs, with a smaller team of about 300, she had to start from scratch. The one thing she believes is always important when downsizing is to handle layoffs with “respect and dignity,” a guiding principle she learned at Starbucks.
“As much as people are going to resent you, you know in your heart that you're doing it with integrity and to help the business survive. Even though you may be one of the people who stay, and you have to lead the downsizing effort, you have to do things in a way that is humane so that you can look at yourself in the mirror following this action and make it a priority for the business to help with recovery for those who remain,” says Ricketts.
Eventually, the company had to go through a second round of layoffs, closing some out-of-state locations. Ricketts says, “In the second round, we had to be way more transparent.” They needed to communicate that the company could be successful if they focused on a single market, and ensure that people believed in the future of the company. New leadership, a focused business strategy and a commitment to breaking barriers between our teams, Ricketts says there has been a big positive change in the way employees feel about the Good Eggs. They also leveraged Culture Amp as a tool to monitor engagement, make improvements to the workplace and bring people together as one team with one mission. Their trust and overall engagement significantly improved, and they’ve worked on hiring people who understand what we need to accomplish to sustain the business and achieve the long-term mission of Good Eggs.
Transitioning between generalist and specialist roles
Throughout Ricketts’ career, she’s moved between a specialist track in talent and recruiting, and an HR Generalist track. These are generally the two career paths for human resources professionals. Ricketts says, “You can be a specialist who's very deep in knowledge. There are management and individual contributor roles there, so that's one path. You can be a generalist where you have a broad kind of background in all areas of HR and tend to be more client-facing.” In either case, Ricketts has found the role of HR more satisfying when the leaders of the company have a people-focused mindset. She says, “I've been fortunate that the companies that I worked for are people-centric, they recognize that customers are best supported when employees are happy." Ricketts says this type of environment, “Creates an opportunity to bring in the type of HR strategies that I felt good about.”
When thinking about how to navigate a career Ricketts embraces the idea of a strengths-based approach to development. She explains that in this model, “Instead of just focusing on your opportunities, you leverage your strengths and then mitigate the areas where you're not as strong.” She has seen this approach has helped her transition between specialist and generalist roles, finding success in both. She also advocates this with those she is coaching.
Advice for getting started and sustaining a career in human resources
Ricketts has found community and helpful tools through The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and their local chapters. In San Francisco, she joined the Startup HR group, and another google group, Org Org. She says, “I love those two groups. Sometimes I just look at something in Org Org, and it just blows me away to think about the wide-range of services needed to create a great employee experience. Even though I've been in HR for a while I learned so much from that group and they are so helpful to one another, I really appreciate that.”
For people looking to get a start in human resources, some entry level roles may be available right out of school, especially if you’ve pursued internships. In many cities, especially within the Bay Area, an office manager position can also be a foot in the door. Ricketts says, “You can definitely start as an office manager and instead of adding to the role, you’re taking things away in order to specialize.” Office managers can often transition into in finance, operations, facilities, chief of staff - all based on projects and experiences they take on and learn through. Ricketts’ advice for following this track? “If you want to continue with a career in HR you have to get some additional education, there is so much technical work. Human resources is both an art and a science."
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