Six Things We Learned From Alumnus Chris Powell

Six Things We Learned From Alumnus Chris Powell

Chris PowellChris Powell

Chris Powell (BS90) has spent much of his career figuring out the best ways to balance the needs of people with those of an organization.

Now CEO of Talmetrix, a Cincinnati-based employee research and data company, Powell firmly believes that organizations are human systems -- not machines -- and they should be managed accordingly.

Powell passed on his philosophy, along with solid career advice and wisdom gleaned from 20 years in the trenches of human resources when he recently spoke to Mindy Douthit’s advanced Studies in Organizational Change class.

Here’s what we learned:

If you can’t write, learn how. “It’s important. And take communication classes,” Powell said. “I didn’t realize how important that would be. Emojis aren’t communicating. Especially when you’re explaining a process.”

Take good care of your employees. Then they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back. “Working with people makes human resources an art rather than a science, and it needs to be treated as such,” he said.

Be flexible. The Sept. 11 attacks occurred four months after Powell arrived at The ING Group, now Voya Financial in the U.S. His job instantly changed from scaling and integrating a business to downsizing by 30 percent within five months. “I didn’t have the experience to do that; we were talking high growth and then suddenly cost reduction. But I quickly learned it’s good to be adaptable in business and to master skill sets in different ways to be relevant. When I came out of school it was all about structure, designing to some endpoint, Now there is no endpoint, we’re always iterating, always changing. It doesn’t stop.”

Don't 'do' leadership.  At Scripps Networks, Powell focused on spin-offs, rapid growth, and international expansion while experimenting with his own philosophies on how to facilitate and support growth. “I discovered a lot of leadership development programs were teaching people how to ‘do’ leadership. But you don’t ‘do’ leaders; you are a leader. To create better leaders, we developed a mentoring program, as well as new management training and leadership training.

Don’t sleep during Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It will all come back to you. “Imagine if we had organizations where people feel safe and that they belong; then they’re well positioned to negotiate a change that’s coming,” Powell said “Remember we all play a role in creating other people’s safety and belonging. You will be the people who help companies become high performing, and you do that by balancing the needs of the people with needs of the organization.”

Own your career. Powell once let go a woman go; she claimed it was ageism, but Powell said, in fact, she hadn’t kept her skills relevant. The woman responded that no one had told her to change. “Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do this or that,” he said. “Lead it in your own way. Intelligence is good but relevance is better.”

Photo by Steve Drey


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 2/27/18