Championing Organizational Culture: One CHRO’s Journey

Leadership Profile
Written by Amanda Baldwin

Mindi Cox

Chief Marketing and People Officer

O.C. Tanner

JUNE 2023

In recent years, organizational culture has become recognized as essential to the business strategy, but for Chief Marketing and People Officer at O.C. Tanner Mindi Cox, this is not a new phenomenon. She has dedicated her 20+ year career at O.C. Tanner to understanding workplace culture, and she has spent the past 13+ years defining and adapting it to improve their employee experience. 

People and employee experience are essential to the business strategy. Organizations that haven’t paid attention to it have paid a high cost, and organizations that have paid attention to it are succeeding in ways that are really admirable.”

Mindi stated that HR leaders have moved past earning their seat at the table, and they are now “in a new stage of opportunity.” Here, Mindi shares her leadership journey and how she is leveraging her position in the C-suite to create fulfilling employee experiences.

Taking a Non-Traditional Path to HR

Mindi serendipitously found her way into human resources, as she began her career in various sales and marketing roles. During her tenure as a marketing writer, she frequently helped CHRO clients articulate the value they were getting from applying employee recognition programs within their companies, and this piqued her interest in HR. She recalls, “This was the early 2000s, and culture wasn't on everybody’s radar yet. These organizations were really at the forefront of recognizing the impact of employee experience for their business results, and it was fun to be in these conversations and see what really motivated these leaders.”

Mindi soon began raising her hand to provide communications support for HR activities, and this led her to being noticed in the department. In 2010, a new opportunity for a Vice President of Culture was opening, and a senior leader who was retiring recommended her for the position. Mindi expressed how this gave her the permission to enter HR.

I learned O.C. Tanner’s business, learned their clients, and now it was time I learned about their people.”

There was a learning curve with this being a new position, but Mindi jokes, “One of the gifts about a new role is there are zero expectations surrounding the position.” She spent years consistently running employee surveys and shaping what the culture should be, ultimately developing their first wellness program, providing additional benefits, and “falling in love with our people.” This experience laid the foundation for her to lead what they call the “People and Great Work” team, and eventually take on her current role as Chief Marketing and People Officer.

As she meets with CHRO peers today, Mindi is happy to learn that many others have diverse backgrounds, viewpoints and skill sets. She says, “This non-traditional career path into HR is traditional now.”

Driving Workplace Culture through Front-Line Leadership

Mindi is passionate about growing authentic workplace cultures. Through both research and experience, she has seen a significant difference in the performance of employees who are invested in the purpose of the organization and feel comfortable contributing their unique self to the workplace. 

To cultivate this type of environment, Mindi shared that they do “all the predictable things” - i.e., company meetings, town halls, listening surveys - but they differ in how they scale culture. They look at it from a micro level, starting with front-line leadership. 

This notion stems from numerous research studies that state that people leave their leaders not their companies, and they believe it is crucial to invest in this relationship. Mindi stressed that leaders at every level feel an abundance of pressure to be “everything for their teams,” and they must be supported through an outpouring of resources, clear expectations and a community of leaders so they can provide for employee needs.

I don’t believe there is a policy, benefit, or party I can plan that can make up for a horrible day-to-day experience with a leader. So, we have to invest in that relationship.”

Navigating the New Workplace Agreement

Mindi revealed that they were not immune to the past few years of business disruption, but their purpose-driven culture set them up to come out stronger. From crisis-mode to their current state of rapid growth and internal change, she is now focused on navigating the new workplace agreement. 

Mindi utilizes sentiment-based research from the O.C. Tanner Institute to help develop her strategy, and recent findings prompted her to move beyond employee satisfaction and engagement to creating “fulfilling” employee experiences.

They fortunately have many tenured employees with valuable organizational knowledge, but Mindy expressed it can be challenging to determine how to honor this knowledge while also moving the business forward to better serve their clients. She shared that they are embarking on organizational change, upskilling and restructuring efforts, being cognizant about how this is affecting employee fulfillment. To counter the effects, they are looking into how they can satisfy not only the practical needs of employees, but their emotional needs, as well.

Sustaining Curiosity and Vulnerability as an Executive Leader

Mindi credits her success to her enduring sense of curiosity. She says, “There is nothing that we have to do, because we’ve always done it that way,” and she continuously questions approaches to ensure they are putting talent and resources in the right direction.

In addition, she disclosed that it is essential to be vulnerable about the things that aren’t going so well to influence change. Having honest dialogue with her colleagues in the C-suite has helped them better align on initiatives, and in turn, get Board approval on impactful programs.

Mindi is encouraged by the current state of HR in organizations, and she is excited to see what’s to come in the future. Her passion has met her work, and she shared, “I can invest a lifetime in creating a positive outcome for people.”

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Special thanks to Mindy Cox and O.C. Tanner.

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