Tonia Hau: Leading Early in Career Talent

Developing early career talent is a struggle for most companies. Yet, some leaders, like Tonia Hau, seem to be able to do it with incredible ease. Learn from Tonia as she explains for a simple method for developing early-career employees.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

The Transcript - Leading Early in Career Talent

Welcome to the Next Generation Rockstars podcast. If you are trying to figure out how do you recruit and retain this next generation of rock star talent, well you are in the right place.

Amanda Hammett: 00:14
All right, so today's episode of the Next Generation Rockstars podcast has a very special interview. This is actually the leader of two of our gas from season one, two of our rock stars from season one. So today I interviewed Tonia Hau who is an account director at Communique-USA here in the Atlanta, Georgia area. And she talks about how wonderful it can be to be a leader of early in career talent. So everybody on her team has less than five years of business experience, less than five years, and she really pours into them and really develops them and turns them into some amazing employees that will go on to have phenomenal careers. So I hope that you get out your pen, your paper or you take lots of mental notes if you're listening to this while you drive into work because Tonia Hau is going to break it down for you on how to be a phenomenal, authentic and transparent leader for that early in career talent.

Amanda Hammett: 01:16
Hey there and welcome to this episode of the Next Generation Rockstars podcast. We have a really fantastic episode with you today. We have Tonia Hau who is with Communique-USA where she is an account director. Welcome to the show Tonia.

Tonia Hau: 01:30
Hi. Thanks for having me.

Amanda Hammett: 01:32
No worries. So I knew I had to talk to Tonia last season. So season one, I interviewed two of her direct reports in the latter part of the season. So if you haven't checked it out, definitely go back, check out that episode. But they raved about their leader, their manager who happens to be Tonia. So Tonia, tell the audience a little bit about yourself.

Tonia Hau: 01:58
Hi, yes, as you mentioned, I'm the account director at Communique-USA. I report to the vice president of client services, Stephanie Thompson, who is a fabulous leader. And models leadership well for me. Um, and she reports to Shawnee Godwin, our CEO, and president. And it's just, I've worked there for five years. It's a wonderful organization to work for. They focus a lot on work-life balance which makes my job a lot easier and more fulfilling. And I have two teenagers. I have one boy in college, she's getting ready to start his sophomore year and I have a daughter who is starting her senior year of high school, very recently engaged and going to be married. So yes.

Amanda Hammett: 02:53
What's going on in your personal life there? That's amazing. That is fantastic. So I just have a lot of questions for you honestly, because I think that when people get a leadership role for them whether it's the first time or it's their first time really managing, you know, early in career, those right out of college employees, they want to pull their hair out, they don't get it. And it really is a test of a lot of things. But empathy, listening, development leadership in general. So really, can you tell the audience a little bit about what is your specific or general ideas around leadership around developing talent? How do you see the world?

Tonia Hau: 03:43
Okay. I mean I was a little bit, not embarrassed, but just take him back that my direct reports have great things to say because it is always hard to know how you're being perceived by your direct report. And it was, they were incredibly generous and kind with their words and it was very humbling and I feel very honored. Honestly. I believe that leadership is not about something that you do, but I believe it's about really who someone is and how they just see the world and how they interact with people. So for me, I don't think it's anything that I'm doing. It's more of just my personality, my character and what I value and how that comes out in my leadership skills. I believe that very important, and being authentic and transparent, I believe you should highlight successes as well as failures.

Tonia Hau: 04:42
And I think the biggest thing that I value that I've valued in leaders above me and I've tried to make the best of leaders that I have had, such as Stephanie, who's a phenomenal leader and I'm trusting over suspicion I think is absolutely crucial. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, allowing people to make mistakes and giving them a safe place to make mistakes. I think that creates a very innovative culture that can try new things and learn from your mistakes. I think that's the only way to grow and be innovative. And so I very much know that my employees know that they can come to me and share with me anything that's going on and just try to be completely open and transparent with them. And I guess the only other thing I think that's really important is just surrounding myself with complementary talent.

Tonia Hau: 05:44
I look to build teams that complement each other with their strengths and their weaknesses. I think it's been very important for me. When I was interviewing my direct report that you interviewed, both of them have strong skillsets in areas that I'm extremely weekend and so I'm embarrassed in the leap does say that because I think that's what builds strong teams. They have, I am more of a big-picture strategic thinker when they have attention to detail like nobody you've ever seen. And so that actually was one of the things I was looking for and building my team because I know that it's essential to have a well-rounded team.

Amanda Hammett: 06:29
Oh, that is so interesting that you say that. But also I'd like to commend you on being incredibly self-aware. I think that that is something that can be missing the time at all levels, at all levels. It does not just say if it's across the board. So I commend you on that. That's really fantastic and I think that it's helped you build an incredible team. So that's great. Now let me get, let me ask you, and not to be rude, how long have you been in the working world, Tonia?

Tonia Hau: 07:04
I have been in the workforce for over 20 years. I took a little bit of time off to be at home with my kids when they were younger. And so then I had to get reestablished back, um, into the work environment. But overall over 20, probably about 25 years.

Amanda Hammett: 07:24
Okay. Perfect. All right. So I would imagine that in that time you have seen a young talent coming to the workforce in different waves. What have you noticed as the biggest influence millennials and Gen z's are bringing into the workforce or have brought into the workforce?

Tonia Hau: 07:44
Well, absolutely. Hands down. I can tell you this, just from having teenagers myself, I know for a fact they could run this house on their knowledge of technology with or without any assistance. So it's definitely the rise in technology being tech-savvy. And I really see how that's influenced our company with the offerings that they bring. Just, you know, assessing that are our software and our offerings and providing suggestions and improvements has been really helpful.

Amanda Hammett: 08:19
That's awesome. So have you, besides the tech, you know, have there been any shifts in, well you did mention the offerings, but you know what has really been the surprise that has come with these shifts? Has it been a positive surprise or negative, anything like that?

Tonia Hau: 08:37
No, I would, I mean, that's just my personality. I always try to look for the positive and I try to always look for learning opportunities. So I definitely think it's been helpful that our leader has provided the work-life balance. I think one thing that's very important to millennials is that their outside passions fuel them. And so I think the work-life balance that we provide is just been an easy actually beneficial for them.

Amanda Hammett: 09:07
Absolutely. And I'd like to say, I mean, just, I know Shawnee personally, I have met Stephanie, I don't even know how many times and hung out with her and they really, they don't just say it, they actually practice that every single day. And I love the rule that you guys have in place as far as answering client emails. What is it like after five or six o'clock? Don't expect a response. And I mean, how many other companies do that?

Amanda Hammett: 09:36
Right? Oh, go ahead.

Tonia Hau: 09:42
Oh, I was just going to say we're very fortunate and well handpicking the clients that work along well with that culture and that embrace that culture and appreciate it. I know a lot of our clients, um, if they're checking emails after or doing work after business hours, that it's predominantly to just get, you know, their inbox cleared out and just so they're not holding things up because they're in meetings all day. So typically they don't expect a response at that time. They're just trying to get things off of their plate. So it's been great.

Amanda Hammett: 10:17
That's awesome. So when you're looking at young talent in particular because you do lead a younger team, you know, what are some of the things that you're looking for? What are some of those foundational pieces that you want someone to come in? They may not have a lot of experience, but what is it that really says, okay, this person's got potential. This person can be a rock star.

Tonia Hau: 10:44
Absolutely. I think, um, you know, at that level we don't expect anyone to know everything or to have all the answers I think, which is hard for anyone, not just millennials. When you go come into a new role and instantly people are trying to prove themselves and show their value that you made the right choice in hiring them, which can really be, I try to sit them down immediately like day one and say, we don't expect you to know everything. We don't expect you to prove yourself or show your value. What you are here to do at this moment is to learn and observe. And so we, I think someone that has rockstar potential that we see a lot is someone who asks a lot of questions, who doesn't pretend to know at all and who is just a great observer, not trying to add value that just, we very much encourage them to observe more in the beginning. And to be proactive. They ask for more work when you're slow to ask for what you need if you don't have the resources that you need to do your job and just not to be afraid to ask a lot of questions. But one thing that is an absolute bonus for sure, it's a positive, encouraging spirit. Someone who just is very enthusiastic who is happy to be there, willing to be there and just willing to help out wherever they can and be a team player.

Amanda Hammett: 12:19
Okay. I love all that and I think it's something [inaudible] okay. That you know, you see a lot of in, in other companies that it's like, oh, it's all about the resume. What's on the resume, what's on the resume? And at this point, they don't have a lot on their resume or at least not a lot that's really applicable. And it's really about getting those specific characteristics as specific traits that are going to translate well into your environment. And it sounds like, you know, you guys are looking for that inquisitive spirit, but also just that like, Hey, I'm going to be proactive. I'm going to go after things, whether it's, you know, in this specific area that is in my job or willing to, you know, spread myself out and help out where needed those are important things. Now, how do you spot that on a resume though?

Tonia Hau: 13:13
I mean, it's tough. I mean, a resume I think is for looking at the skillset and it's in the interview process where you assess the soft skills that are incredibly important. And so that's why it's important to have both really.

Amanda Hammett: 13:27
I agree with that. I do agree with that. So we've already kind of touched on this and maybe you have some other experiences outside of communique. But have you ever felt the pressure from higher-ups at any point in your career to focus more on numbers and metrics and KPIs and less on real people?

Tonia Hau: 13:51
I think that's a common pressure with every business. I don't think anyone, I mean every business focuses on profitability and growth. I think that's important. I mean, that's a common pressure, but again, we're just, I think I'm very fortunate to work a Communique that values people. And the work-life balance, I think as Shawnee mentions her joy economics, it's about making work as enjoyable and happy to go to as it is at home and your personal life. And it's a balancing act, but at get, at the end of the day, we're not, we don't want to sacrifice people or values for money or for profitability. I mean, it's equally important, but I think as a leader, it's just natural to me in the disc assessment of dominant influencers, steadiness and conscientious. I'm an influencer. So it just comes naturally to me to place emphasis on influencing others, openness, and relationships over tasks and profitability. So I do get, I have to get reined in every now and then on, on that. But for me, people always come first.

Amanda Hammett: 15:13
I think that's really, I think that's important. I think that unfortunately, sometimes we do tend to focus too much on the numbers and not enough on the people who drive those numbers. But I understand there's, there's a balance. it's delicate. Right? All right. So I, there was something that you said earlier that I really wanted to, to circle back to if you don't mind. You said trusting over suspicion and giving people a safe, a place to make mistakes. And I think that that's really beautiful and I think that it can be very scary for some leaders to do that. Because it's so, you know, making a mistake. In a lot of instances, people automatically assume that that's a terrible thing. It's a bad idea. I don't, that would reflect badly on me as a leader, you know? What do you have to say about that? What do you, what are your thoughts?

Tonia Hau: 16:09
Well, again it's about the types of mistakes obviously. Um, we prefer smaller mistakes over the larger, more costly mistake. Regardless, I mean, we, none of us are perfect. Everyone is going to make mistakes, especially when you're new in your career and to have an environment that is open to that, that you can come to immediately and say, Hey, I messed this up. I take full ownership. What do I need to do to fix it? In the end, is going to be more beneficial because the sooner I can get in and provide leadership and try to help navigate the process thereafter, the fewer mistakes and the less costly it is in the end. It's the people that work in the environment. And I know because I've worked in that environment and especially when I was younger, I'm trying to cover it up because you're so afraid of your boss finding out or someone finding out and you spend so much time and effort trying to fix it, that sometimes you just make it worse and it just goes down a path that it's almost to the point that you have no choice but a phone up to it. And I just, I think the sooner they feel safer to come to me, the better it is for everyone.

Amanda Hammett: 17:33
So how do you actually help them feel safe in that environment? That they can come to you? I mean, it's one thing to tell people, oh, it's okay to make a mistake, but I think that we've all been in situations before where we've been told sure can make mistakes. Nobody's perfect. Right? But the reality is not, doesn't always match up with that. So how do you make sure that you're direct reports actually feel that, hey, Tonia has got my back no matter what? How do you, how do you do that?

Tonia Hau: 18:05
I mean, I think it's by being authentic and vulnerable with them. I mean I will constantly when sharing examples of mistakes that I've made, whether it's in the past or current, I'm sharing with them, hey, you're not the only one. I've done this. Other people who've done this and just being very transparent about assuring them that they're not the only one that's ever made it, it's not the end of the world.

Amanda Hammett: 18:33
I think that that's really important that you do that. Um, that is the, I see the number one thing that young employees don't see is, you know, bosses that take responsibility or ownership of their own mistakes because then if they, if that is the example that you set one time you're done, you are done with that team because they all decided, okay, I've got to hide my mistakes. I've got to like run from it or whatever. And that's just you're setting yourself out to make it, you know, for a disaster. So I love that you do that.

Amanda Hammett: 19:10
That's really tough. Thank You. Plus I think as a leader it's important for them to know that. I mean, I take responsibility for the team, so I will be the one to step up and take it the responsibility for any mistakes and let them know that that's on me. It's not on necessarily on them every time that they can, you know, share that with me. But I will take the full responsibility for the team and for the mistake if the team isn't on me. So I think for taking the, not really the broad, but just taking the ownership of that and then providing them action steps. Of how to improve, what to do next time, how to make sure that this doesn't happen again. What do we learn from this is incredibly important because to just tell someone they made a mistake, they can just sit and feel bad about themselves, but actually to give them action steps gives them ownership and power and show it shows them to embrace the learning opportunity.

Amanda Hammett: 20:12
I love that because it's, yes, you see a lot of times people and companies talk about learning opportunities, but actually, you know, showcasing that and highlighting it in a positive light versus you're going to get fired light in a world of.

Tonia Hau: 20:30
I mean, and there are mistakes that I, yeah, I can't help or take ownership of. And there have been those opportunities, unfortunately, that I have had to let people go. And that is very unfortunate and it's a very tough, difficult thing for any of us. Of course, no matter how many times you do it, it's still tough.

Amanda Hammett: 20:50
Oh, of course. So let's, let's switch gears a little bit more. Let's, let's get a little away from the [inaudible] failure and mistakes world. Talk a little bit more about educating and developing your people. I mean a lot of your teamwork. Let's talk a little bit first about your team right now. Is it all fresh out of college or what do we look like?

Tonia Hau: 21:15
Right. I think we're very well balanced, but we do have a lot of millennials and early in their career, I wouldn't say fresh out of college, but I would say in the first five years of their career. Yes.

Amanda Hammett: 21:30
I mean, I listen, I think those first five years are a critical mass. Like that is like the toughest, special time. And so I'm really pleased that they have a great leader in you because I think that sets up the rest of their career. So, all right. So let's talk about educating and developing that early in career. Do you know what, what do you see as the benefit first of all, like overall to actually spending that time or those resources developing talent?

Tonia Hau: 22:01
I think it's very crucial to our business. I mean, obviously, sort of cliche to say, but it's the, I mean, the feature is in the future is in their hands. Our future is in their hands. So it's important to develop them. And I start off all of our, one on one meetings by saying, look, I know that it's not likely that you're going to stay with this company for the rest of your life. But I do want to make this a very valuable time for you to learn and grow and I want you to go into your next position, whatever that might be with whatever company that might be saying, Aye. You know, I gained a ton of knowledge and great and honed and on my strengths and weaknesses and was able to use that in my next position. I mean, I think so.

Tonia Hau: 22:57
I said, I tried to take our one-on-ones as a time to less develop you as a person and what can we do to grow you in your career where you are and try to get them to think about their strengths, to think about their weaknesses and then provide action items and action steps to develop them. I think if we don't do that, we're gonna lose great talent. That has a lot of opportunities. I think when you have, you know, any turnover, you risk losing client relationships and losing client business and I mean, and I think it keeps us on our toes as an organization to fine-tune our skills and to grow in our business and grow our opportunities.

Amanda Hammett: 23:45
All right. I couldn't agree with any of that more. Basically. I do have one just quick clarifying question. Uh, how often do you do your one on ones with your team?

Tonia Hau: 23:55
I do them biweekly. Okay. and I mean it doesn't always happen based on, you know, but I at least try to touch base with them once a month.

Amanda Hammett: 24:03
Okay. And then are those usually what, how long?

Tonia Hau: 24:07
30 minutes. 30 such space. Right. And then, you know, and then we'll provide, like, you know, a yearly review, which is a little bit more in-depth than we're meeting.

Amanda Hammett: 24:19
Yeah, absolutely. Okay. But it seems like you cover a fair amount of ground in those 30-minute meetings, which, you know, 30 minutes out of your, you know, every week or every month. Not that much time, but you also are very hands-on with them should they need it. But it seems like you have a very open door, I guess, policy, where they could come to you and them, feel comfortable coming to you even outside of that 30 minutes.

Tonia Hau: 24:50
Yes, absolutely. They texted me all the time.

Amanda Hammett: 24:55
So I'd also like to highlight one thing that you said in that last statement. And it's more at this talks more to the financial ramifications of developing your team or maybe not developing your team, but you actually mentioned the potential for when there's turnover, actually potentially also losing clients. I think that's huge and I don't think that people make that connection enough. So, okay. I'd like to, let's see, are there any other ways that you see how this financially benefits you guys in developing your team? Or is it mainly because you guys are pretty customer-facing? Is it mainly just that piece? Okay.

Tonia Hau: 25:40
I mean, I'm sure there are others. I just that's a big bulk of what we do is I'm nervous and account management. So that is the number one thing that comes to mind. I mean again, not developing talent. Ah, woodwork also, I mean lots of mistakes cost money, it costs clients money. So we try to be very hands-on and provide great, you know, development and mentorship to them to avoid as many client mistakes cause those can come back to bite us as well.

Amanda Hammett: 26:18
Oh goodness. Yes. And I mean your entire team is just client service. I mean that is all you guys do. So that would be, I think the biggest, the biggest piece of that. But I mean obviously you want to build up those skills in case, you know, you eventually have somebody move up into a different room, part of the company or you know, whatever you want them to have built those skills under you, which it sounds they're doing.

Tonia Hau: 26:44
Oh, absolutely. And there's the rare instance. I mean, but it does happen where we've had clients that just fell in love with our talent and our employees and have hired them on. And so then someone that was working for us is now our client. So it's great to have that positive rapport in that relationship already established.

Amanda Hammett: 27:11
That is great. That is great to have. I mean that's, of course, you hate to see them go, but at the same time, you know, you want them to have great careers and it's a logical next step. This is the logical next step.

Tonia Hau: 27:23
Absolutely.

Amanda Hammett: 27:24
So wonderful. All right, so let's, let's circle back a little bit and take a look at something from a different perspective. Tonia, what would advice would you give, I know that you have a son currently in college or, or maybe some of his friends, so let's talk to that to them specifically. What would you tell them to look for in their first boss or their first company? What would be the most important things for them to think about?

Tonia Hau: 27:55
I think they need to focus on, which I think really comes naturally to millennials anyway, is just development and growth opportunities. It's very important in your first career too. Just learn as much as you can and observe as much as you can. And so I think for them to look for those opportunities in companies that invest in their people and invest in that long term growth strategy. They companies that provide great leadership, um, look for ways to build on that. I think for them to identify their strengths and passions. And just again, it's kind of like what we're looking for in employees they should be looking for in companies and leadership or just, you know, positive and enthusiastic people that are happy to be there, that are very knowledgeable that they can learn a lot from.

Amanda Hammett: 28:55
Awesome. All right, so the last question and then I'm going to let you go. What, do you have a favorite leadership book?

Tonia Hau: 29:04
Oh, absolutely. I have two actually that I mean there's a lot that I've read, but too, I have, I'm courageous leadership by bill Hybels is one of my absolute favorites. He talks a lot about vision, creating fuel for leaders, um, and passion for followers. And so I think it's incredibly important for leaders to cast vision and cast it often and frequently. And the other is a next-generation leader by Andy Ali is my other favorite that he talks about the five cs mark and shape women and men for the future, which is courage, clarity, competence, coachability, and character.

Amanda Hammett: 29:58
[inaudible]. Yup, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, fantastic. Well, Tonia, it has been a real pleasure having you on the show. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences being that in the trenches like early in career leader. I think this is going to be some great takeaways for the entire audience.

Tonia Hau: 30:18
Oh, thank you so much and thank you so much for having me. It's been a true honor. I appreciate it.

Amanda Hammett: 30:22
Thanks so much for joining us for this episode of the Next Generation Rockstars where we have discussed all recruiting and retaining that next generation of talent. So I'm guessing that you probably learned a tremendous amount from this week's rock star leader. And if that is the case, don't keep me a secret, share this episode with the world, but really share it with your friends, with your colleagues, because they also need to learn how to recruit and retain this next generation of talent because these skills are crucial to business success moving forward. Now, of course, I want you to keep up to date every single week as we are dropping each and every episode. So be sure to subscribe to your favorite podcast platform of your choice, and you will see the next generation rockstars show up just for you.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.