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Ep. 62: Embracing empathy in people management

Stephanie Trindade | Vice President of Human Resources, Backstage

On this episode of Raising the Bar on Leadership, Stephanie discusses her unexpected career journey from criminal justice and working with at-risk youth to empathy-based people leadership.

Stephanie and host Aaron Levy delve into the significance of listening and understanding employees to create a positive and productive work environment, plus go over practical ways to get valuable information from employees, regardless of their level or role.

Answered on this Episode

  • What is a simple employee focus group, and how do I conduct one at my workplace?

  • Why is it important to talk to employees, no matter what level or role they have?

  • What place does data play in human resources assessments? 

  • How can I listen effectively in the workplace as a people professional?

Advice from Stephanie

  • Encourage better listening among managers through self-reflection. By prompting managers to consider how they would want to be treated in their employees' shoes, HR can help cultivate a more empathetic and responsive leadership style.

  • Promote psychological safety in the team by encouraging open expression of ideas and concerns without fear of judgment. Leaders can achieve this by actively seeking feedback, valuing diverse perspectives, and viewing mistakes as opportunities for growth.

  • "People are the heartbeat. And if you put that aside and that's not a priority for you, it's absolutely going to show on your organization. And a lot of times in revenue because the happier your workforce is just that alone will outperform competitors by 20%, just by having a happier workforce."

Connect with Stephanie: LinkedIn


Find This Conversation


Full Transcript

Raising the Bar on Leadership | Stephanie Trindade

[00:00:00] Aaron Levy: Today, we're lucky to have Stephanie Trindade, vice president of human resources at Backstage. Backstage helps creators connect with a talent and crew for film, television, commercials, branded content, theater, experiential marketing, and even more. While Stephanie is currently in the media space, her leadership experience spans a wide variety of industries from cannabis to banking, to construction, to retail.

In this episode, we talk about what's true about people and cultures. Across every industry. And it's a really fascinating conversation. It gets us back to the core of what people need and want. So I hope you take a listen and enjoy. 

Stephanie, it is so great to have you on. I'm excited to dive a little bit deeper into your really unique background.

I guess the first place I want to start is you have a BA in criminal justice and corrections. How did you get into the HR and people like, take me through, they just seem so separate. How did, how are they connected? 

[00:00:57] Stephanie Trindade: Again, thank you for having me. I appreciate it. [00:01:00] Yeah, it is an interesting transition when I look back as to, how do you end up where you're at?

, I originally got a criminal justice degree because I wanted to go into that field. I wanted to do like investigative work, like CIA, FBI, that type of stuff. I didn't want to be a police officer. I didn't want to do a lot of the natural transitions that you would take. So it was a little challenging as to what direction I was going to go.

I did work in the field for a couple of years working with at risk youth in a juvenile treatment center for about four or five years. And that became emotionally and mentally and physically exhausting. It just, it takes a toll on you. It was really hard to see some of those same kids come back.

And just, the horrible circumstances they were in. I just didn't want to keep doing that. That just wasn't the field I wanted to be in. There were other circumstances that played a role in why I didn't advance, but . I needed to get out and one of my friends was like, Hey, I have a manager position open at a retail store.

So [00:02:00] I was like, okay, I'll try that whatever to get me out of it. That's where I started to get into a little bit more of , the talent acquisition aspect of it. So the recruiting, the hiring, the training, Managing a store eventually was I could tell a little pieces of the human resources function that I enjoyed.

 It just transitioned into office management, which kind of moved in a lot of times office management has human resources aspects to it. Managing employee files and benefits, et cetera. And so just slowly just transitioned to each role that I moved into. Just grew bigger and bigger.

And then I became certified and. Here I am. 

[00:02:37] Aaron Levy: Do you ever just pick up your head and say, how the heck did I get here? 

[00:02:41] Stephanie Trindade: Yes. Yes. Cause especially like when I was in college, I originally wanted to be like an investigator. And so to see, being an HR professional, just, That transition is strange. And then along with all of the different industries I've been in, it's, there's really no cohesive line to it.

And [00:03:00] so even sometimes when I look back myself, I'm like, how did, how and why did I get here? Honestly, a lot of it for me was what didn't I like in my last job, but make sure not to have in my next job. And then, so it was slowly transition into kind of where I am now.


[00:03:15] Aaron Levy: And if you had to pull at the through line, what's your experience tell you that through line is between all those different things that you decide to go into? 

[00:03:23] Stephanie Trindade: I think the core was I wanted to help people.

In some aspect, even in when I was in criminal justice, that was some aspect of it that I wanted to be of help. I wanted my role to make a difference be important , when you do your job, you want to know that you're making some sort of impact and some sort of difference. And I think that was the thread all the way through.

 I think the people function is absolutely necessary in many different ways. Aspects and businesses because without people you don't have a business. So it's really key and important to me to make sure that those people are helped along the way. And if you help your people, you help your business.

So it's a [00:04:00] thread that runs through. 

[00:04:01] Aaron Levy: Yeah. I can see that one, especially when you talk about, it's like apparently obvious when you talk about working with at risk youth for four to five years, that's helping at , some of the more central levels. In our last conversation, you mentioned something that I just, I love, HR is the heartbeat of the company.

And I wanted to ask you at that time, and I just didn't get to it what does that mean to you? 

[00:04:20] Stephanie Trindade: Yeah. I mean, It's also kind of like a bridge between the company and the workforce, right? You have communication from the company aspect that you need to communicate with the workforce, but the workforce also has messages to the company.

For example, if you implement some sort of benefits, you're going to hear about it if they don't like it, right? Being the heart of the company is tapping into what's going on within the organization, knowing what your manager's frustrations are, knowing what, skills they need to work on, knowing what leadership is looking for and what their goals are and combining the two.

It's taking the temperature of the organization. I'm really big on relationship building and communication. And And I talk to [00:05:00] everyone. I talk to senior leaders down to entry level employees and asking them, how do you like working here? Why do you stay here? What are things you like to see different?

And once you communicate with all different levels of the organization, you truly get to have an understanding of what the company is about, what the culture is about. And that's the heartbeat. People are the heartbeat. And if you. Put that aside and that's not a priority for you. It's absolutely going to show on your organization.

And a lot of times in revenue because the happier your workforce is just that alone will outperform competitors by 20%, just by having a happier workforce. And so as an HR professional, I think it's valuable and important to know what's going on, know what's going on your team, know what's going on within the organization.

And that's the heartbeat. And without it, it can't survive. 

[00:05:49] Aaron Levy: I think it's really interesting that you tie this human aspect to it, which can also sometimes make HR feel touchy feely, like it's the heartbeat with this is actually what helps our [00:06:00] business win. And I've seen a lot. HR and people leaders being asked to say, what's the ROI or hate using that word, but like what's the data behind this.

And so I guess you've had just a broad breadth of experience in different types of organizations. How have you seen what you just said play out in terms of business success? Can you give me any examples or any insights to say, if I'm listening okay, great, sure. Yeah. It helps like 20%, but how do you know that?

[00:06:29] Stephanie Trindade: Oh, no, 100%. And it's not going to be the same at every single organization, right? Every industry is different and things play out differently. But if you are paying attention to your workforce on what they want and what they need, they're going to be happier, which means they're going to want to outperform.

And so it's things like turnover. You assess, are you having turnover in certain departments? Is it certain managers or certain leaders? In the past, I've done focus groups, but then it was a larger company. So there's more of a [00:07:00] population. But I'll, hear grumblings here and there.

So I'll do a focus group in a department and last questions. What do you like? What don't you like? And then to find out, Oh, it's a specific manager. And then we look at the data behind it. Oh yeah, a lot of these individuals have been quitting who reported into this manager over the past several years.

And so then you look into, looks like this manager needs some skill assessment. It looks like we need to provide them with additional skills or try and dive in and figure out what's going on. , it's more like a performance plan is how I prefer to do it okay, here's a problem.

Let's see how we can fix it. But then if we don't see any improvement, then obviously that's your problem. That should be a key to move on from that relationship. That's no longer working. But it's data like that, that you can piecemeal it all together find is this specific department not achieving their goals.

Why? Let's look into that. And so you ask the people, like, why are you guys struggling with this? My manager this or that or this or that. And then so you piecemeal it. And so I do encourage individuals to reach out to your human resources department and partner with them.

We're not just here to piece it [00:08:00] all together. When you talk to multiple people, you're like, it sounds like there's one thread that's going through here. And it's the same person I'm hearing over and over again. That's your problem. That's your problem area. But if you don't talk to the people, you're not going to know that.

And so I do encourage individuals to reach out to your human resources department and partner with them. We're not just here to. fire you. We're not just here to lay you off. We're not just here to hand out your benefits. We're here to be a resource. And if you have frustrations, if you have concerns, let us know because we can't help you if we don't know about it.

 That can, roll into how the business is doing how it's performing because I've heard this multiple times from other individuals as well, but when you have so much drama at work, it creates a lack of speed. And that immediately alone puts you behind your competitors because they're moving forward.

They're innovative. They're coming up with new ideas. And when you're stuck dealing with drama and inefficient managers, that's going to cause an issue for your business. 

[00:08:55] Aaron Levy: It's super fascinating. There's so many things in here . . You said this even before we started talking about [00:09:00] the data behind it, which is I just talked to people and you might say what's the point of that?

But what you're saying is one, when you talk to people, you're able to be proactive about the problems in the business. And then the other thing is when you do hear about problems in the business, you then go and talk to people. So oftentimes I hear executive teams say, okay we need to just do this or we need to do this.

So let's put this policy in place. But what I'm hearing you say is before you jump to an action, You ask, you listen, you survey your people and find out what's really happening to get to the root of the problem versus just saying, okay, let's fix it in the quickest way we can. Cause you're getting thrown problems all the time.

[00:09:35] Stephanie Trindade: Oh, a hundred percent. And sometimes policies are needed. A hundred percent. But at the same time, let's figure out the root of the problem before you just dump a policy on it to try and fix it, right? There's a root somewhere. And so it's important to assess what's going on. And part of that is just listening to your workforce, listening to what their problems are and their concerns are.

And I have a really hard time working for companies who just don't value that, [00:10:00] that don't value the people function when the simplest solution is just listening to them. Of course, There's all other aspects that are important, communication and transparency and accountability. I value those very much and I will hold you accountable.

I don't care what your role is, you know, in my position, if you're, a CEO, or if you're an entry level employee, if you're not doing your job and you're not holding, being held accountable to your actions, that's something that I will address with you. But yeah, the whole heart and, Being soft with HR and all that.

There's dual sides to it. , we're dealing with human beings. . You need to have some compassion around it and understanding. But then there's also a line you have to draw, like enough's enough, where people can take advantage of that compassion sometimes. And so You want to provide support and guidance, but there's also accountability and rules and laws in place that you need to follow.

And so it is a dual edged sword, a little bit in the position where you want to be understanding, but you also need to lay the law down in a lot of ways. But at the same time, if you're [00:11:00] hearing, there's an issue with a manager. A lot of the times the company will decide with the manager when sometimes the manager's wrong, they're the one in the wrong.

And I think you and I had this conversation prior where I had a manager just want to come to me and say, they just wanted to fire someone. Cause they didn't show up to a meeting or something. There've been always been late. I'm like, okay what other conversations have you had around it? Oh, I haven't okay that's the first step is talking to your employee and saying, okay, we have a problem here, you're not showing up.

What's your attendance? Why is this happening? How can I help you and just listen and be there and see how you can resolve the issue. Now, if it becomes a habitual problem, then yes, there's gonna need to be some accountability and a corrective action or something along those lines. But if you don't talk to them first, we're not just moving to termination, right?

And so I turn to the manager and I say, this is now a you problem. This is something that you need to address and you need to figure out. And let's talk about manager skills and leadership skills and have that conversation. And so my point with that [00:12:00] story is I understand both sides of it. I understand that, the workforce also has their thoughts and opinions.

And so does the company. And so HR is in the middle. How 

[00:12:08] Aaron Levy: do you, as a manager, it's always hard. And even as an executive, , how do you toe that line? How do you know okay. It's time to make a decision one way or another, either this person's not a fit or the strategies as you're being compassionate, empathetic, and you're listening, , what are the triggers that tell you, okay, It's time to hold accountability, 

More strong, 

[00:12:28] Stephanie Trindade: more strongly is, having had conversations previous and the behavior doesn't change, to say, Hey, you're late.

Make sure you're on time. Okay. Great. The second time it happens again. Hey, notice you were late again. Remember we talked about this let's just make sure you're on time. There's a lot of important things we need to discuss third time. Is there something holding you up? What's the issue, and have the conversations communicate.

Then there just reaches a point where you're like, Okay, enough's enough. This is just a blatant disregard for the policy, or for me, or whatever it is, and you need to hold them [00:13:00] accountable to it. Again, it also depends on what the issue is. If it's something more egregious that's immediate. If you're just disrespectful and make some sort of racist or sexist comment, I'm holding you accountable right away.

Just no room for that whatsoever. So it just depends on the situation. But it is also important to follow the rules. We have laws that we have to follow. A lot of the times the employee base gets upset with HR when it's out of our hands. That's the law. There's only certain things that we can can't do, right?

We have to do these things. But it's getting them to understand that's the other aspect too, is transparency and communication. Look, we have to do it this way because this is what the law states, and this is why this law was. Put in place in the first place was for your protection or for your safety.

And if you can explain these things to people, again, it's down to conversation, communication having those soft skills to make sure that you can communicate these things, they have a, they're much more understanding and not as, I don't want to say hostile, but frustrated or upset with you, if you just explain the why.

And a lot of times. [00:14:00] That gets missed. And I understand larger companies it's a little more challenging in that aspect, but it can still be done if you do it the right way. 

[00:14:07] Aaron Levy: One thing I'm super curious about is, so you've been in retail, construction, agriculture, wealth management, credit cards, cannabis, entertainment, I might be missing something in there.

I apologize. What, if anything, do you think Is constant about all these industries. What is the, common theme that you've seen amongst all these? 

[00:14:31] Stephanie Trindade: Yeah. So a lot of people obviously find it a little strange. I go from all these different type of industries and a lot of times, like when people are looking for HR professionals executive recruiters and those types of things, they want to have individuals who have the experience in that industry.

Like if you're in banking, you have to have HR banking experience, right? That's what they look for. And to me, I think it's irrelevant., you're dealing with people and that's what I found. In all industries I've worked in, people are all [00:15:00] the same. They want the same things. It doesn't matter if you're in cannabis.

It doesn't matter if you're in wealth management or construction. You want to feel valued. You want to feel appreciated. You want to be well compensated. You want to feel respected. You want to believe in the company you work for. You want to be taken care of by benefits. And then when all that's taken care of that's when you're all in perform.

And it doesn't matter what industry you're in. It comes down to people because at the end of the day, we all want the same things within our employment to a certain degree. Some people might be want care more about money. Some people care about title work life balance, but along those lines with all the different industries, it's.

That's, it's all the same. It's just people that's the function. And with human resources, as we all do with people day in and day out, and it doesn't matter the industry, you get the same scenarios, the same situations, the same frustrations the same complaints across the board. It's, it was all the same in all the industries I was in.

[00:15:54] Aaron Levy: I love it. I find it fascinating. It's, when people talk to us and we work [00:16:00] across a wide variety of industries and we're industry agnostic because we work with, as you said, people and human beings have been human beings for thousands of years. And it's what happens when you bring a collection of people together is you have unique challenges and dynamics that happen there.

The industry is just the construct that you're playing in. I I guess one of the things I'm wondering is when you first come into a new team what are , the first two parts of your playbook that you like to roll out? 

[00:16:26] Stephanie Trindade: First I'd like to meet everyone on the team and assess and understand who they are, what they do, what they value.

The first part that I would like to focus on is the talent acquisition onboarding piece. On top of I also like just get to know the teams and I do like focus groups, but it's more so if I get to know you meet and greet, meet the teams. I know in the past that I've met with the department heads and say, Hey, I want to have meetings with your teams, like a town hall or an all hands or whatever you want to call it.

And then I'll just talk to them, get to know them like, Hey, I'm your new head of HR just wanted to see if there was any, frustrations you had or things that you don't want to see [00:17:00] change things that you like, what do you like, what do you like working for your department head?

And then I was going to share that information with the department heads. So they also know. And let the team know that was going to be shared, but just everyone can remain anonymous. So I found that it was very helpful off the bat and then onboarding, I think is super important to make sure that's a smooth.

process because you're bringing new people into the organization within the first 90 days is the most challenging part. That's when employees tend to leave if they don't feel welcomed, if they don't feel appreciated. I think we've all probably worked for some employer when you first start and you just sink or swim figure it out and it's not a great feeling.

When you start with a new employer, you have an agenda, have meet and greets, talk to people. I do 30, 60, 90 day check ins with all of our new hires. How are you doing? It's not super formal. It's just, do you have what you need? Is the role what you thought it was going to be? How's your manager communication going?

Just checking in to make sure that they felt like this was the right decision for them and that they feel [00:18:00] welcomed into the organization, that they have access to resources, they may need to do their role. I find that's super important coming in an organization to make sure that's set up appropriately.

Because you're always going to be hiring new people. We can work on the backend of the people that already work there and their frustrations, but you're always going to be hiring new people. So that's a super important focus as they come in, that they have a good experience.

[00:18:23] Aaron Levy: It's everything's keeps coming back to this concept , which is. 

When people ask me, what's the most, if you could only teach a manager, one thing in the world, what would you teach them? I would say how to listen better. And everything that you've talked about from the first moment we started talking to now has been about truly listening to others. And I guess how do you get other people on your team?

How do you get the other managers? How do you get your organization to start to listen better? Cause it's not a skill that , we really practice much ever. 

[00:18:51] Stephanie Trindade: No, and that's challenging. It can be challenging coming into an organization and kind of having that approach and addressing that with managers because they can get [00:19:00] very standoffish sometimes like.

You don't know this company, you don't know what you're talking about. I've been here for X number of years. I know this is how things have always been done. And I always caution them and say, just because it's always been done this way, doesn't make it the right way. Doesn't make it the best way.

And so let's reassess , how do you think your team feels about your leadership and have conversations with them one on one see what kind of answers I get from them. If they're like, Oh, my team's fine. Or. Oh, I don't that's not the issue here or they get defensive or they put it off and I say, or do you hear yourself to hear what you're saying you're dismissing the thoughts and feelings of your team.

When. That's what drives them to understand what people want is important and to have to explain that to a manager to get them to say, Hey, if you know that this individual is looking for a title, that's what they care about is promotion and title. What are we going to do to get that person there you got to listen to hear them to see what they want, maybe the person next to them.

Wants work life balance and that's more important to them, but you're not going to know any of that as a [00:20:00] manager unless you talk to them and so it's having a Conversation with them and addressing and asking them questions and seeing what their answers are To see like how well do you know your team?

How well do you pay attention and then putting a mirror up and showing them? It doesn't look like you do you need to listen And then if they still push back, I'm like, you know what? Humor me then. Just try it. What can it hurt? Give it a whirl. Let's see what happens. And get back to me and see if it makes any impact.

 Those, very few and far between, but sometimes I'll get those, hardheaded individuals that think it's just ridiculous and I'm like, okay, we'll just do it for fun and see what happens and Nine times out of 10, it works out for them, according if they do it correctly, of course.

But yeah, it's not an easy step for everyone, but I think if you make. Incremental steps to making that change to be a listener to be supportive To be there and hold everyone accountable That's the other thing that people look to you as a leader Are you holding everyone on the team accountable including yourself if you make [00:21:00] a mistake you tell your team you own it Like not as that was my fault I'm going to fix it.

This is what I'm going to do and show a little humility in that process and it's, it all comes down to transparency as well. And companies that are transparent with their teams are the ones that are more successful.

[00:21:16] Aaron Levy: If you could give a people leader one tip they're listening to this and they say, okay, I'm going to go get my managers to listen better.

 I'm going to have them go on a listening tour of their team. What's one tip you would give people leaders to coach their managers to listen better? 

[00:21:31] Stephanie Trindade: I think to pose it as a little self reflection. In a way that you're the employee and you have a manager, what do you want your manager to know and have the roles be reversed?

Cause most managers are employees and they have their own managers. And so would you want your manager to treat you the way that you're treating your employees? Do you want to be treated this way and flip the script a little bit and have them do a little assessment first before you, you dive in, and if you're demanding certain things from your team, [00:22:00] does your manager demand things in that same way, or in that same aspect, or in that kind of tone, or do you have a leader who.

Rarely shows up to your meetings and just disregards time and has no respect for your time in your calendar and your schedule. And they just show up whenever maybe they just always cancel your meetings. Flip the script. You're like, how would you like it? If your manager did that to you and have them try and understand if there's something you want to share with your manager, you would appreciate if they listened.

And flip it in that way, I think would be the best way to start off. But really when you're having those meetings, just let them talk and just listen, it's like the easiest thing in the world to do yet the hardest for so many people is to just ask a couple of questions and let them talk and you will get so much information then you can compile it and you have a better vision of how to move forward.

And that's how I do things in human resources. I talked to all different departments, leaders, CEO, entry level employees. What do you love about this company? What don't you, what should we improve upon? And I can get a [00:23:00] collective view of where everyone's at. And that information is vital as to how to move forward in the business.

[00:23:06] Aaron Levy: I love that. And I love the last piece that you shared. It's we have two tips that we tell managers sometimes. It's mine is a little more blunt. It's ask a question and shut up and listen, give it 60 seconds. Just shut up for 60 seconds. It's all 60 seconds. Doesn't sound like a lot of time, but it is.

So just shut up for 60 seconds. One of our coaches more eloquently said it. She uses this acronym: WAIT. And so whenever you're listening, ask yourself, why am I talking? I like that. And it reminds you just to pause and wait. What you're sharing is simple, but it's not easy. It's incredibly hard.

And so I think it's just really useful to hear the different ways in which you go about helping other people listen and the ways in which you tactically structured listening into your work on a daily basis, whether it's 30, 60, 90 check ins, whether it's focus groups, whether it's just catching up with people, whether it's town halls, you shared like a myriad of [00:24:00] different ways that I think are incredibly useful for other people, leaders to hear and, think about how can I introduce a little bit more listening into my daily work?

[00:24:07] Stephanie Trindade: And it just takes one time, right? Like just, it can feel overwhelming. I have to sit and listen to everybody. I've had some HR professionals say, it feels like being a therapist. But you have boundaries and you put up walls, right? But at the same time, all you're doing is just asking a simple question.

How are you feeling? How's the job? How's this or that? And if you want to make it more formalized, you can if you want to have a scorecard based on specific questions, etc. You can formalize and get more data that way. I tend to do it in a less formal way because that's how I get more information as people are more relaxed.

Calm, they don't feel like hr is talking to them and they get all tense. I'm like, just like hey It's just me two people talking. How's it going? And people open up and you find out a lot more information that way than you would in the other way in my opinion I, people overshare with me sometimes. I know a lot of information.

But it's been helpful. [00:25:00] It helps if a leader comes to me like, Hey, I'm thinking of doing this. What do you think? I'm like, no, don't, you're going to upset everyone. Don't do that. Because I know I've heard people have overshared now people, obviously I tell them what conversations are confidential, depending on what the topic is, obviously, if it's something like sexual harassment, that's not going to remain confidential, but.

I will have to do something about that, but if it's like, hey, I need to vent or I need your advice. Great, and then they open up and you just hear all kinds of information. Then if you hear that from the second and the third and the fourth person, you know a lot HR knows a lot about your company for those CEOs out there.

HR knows a lot of information about your company more than you think and about the people and what they want and what they need. And if you truly care about your workforce, you're going to listen to them. 

[00:25:47] Aaron Levy: What a, what an insightful, it's just, it's so right. It's so right. The HR, the people team are the ear of the pulse of the organization. And a good ear is one that's open and listening. And I just, [00:26:00] I think this has just been a reminder for me and for hopefully everyone listening, take a moment, take a, one meeting, as you said, start simple and just practice listening.

This is such a good, useful reminder. So thank you for coming on. Thanks for sharing and thanks for simplifying it. Yeah, 

[00:26:16] Stephanie Trindade: absolutely. Anytime. I appreciate, having a form to share some of that and hopefully it helps somebody in the future. 


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