Colleagues first: Ginger Scherbarth

Apr 17, 2022

Chief people officer at HEAPY (Dayton, OH), a nationally recognized leader in sustainable and resilient engineering design.

By Liisa Andreassen

Scherbarth describes herself as a genuine, results-oriented leader who is a highly strategic thinker who’s able to balance the “big picture” with the details required to make meaningful change. One of her key talents is developing an organization’s strategy and cascading the objectives and messaging so that the entire organization is pointed in the same direction; that’s just what she’s doing at HEAPY.

“When I started, HEAPY had just transitioned from a practice-centered structure to a formal C-suite, and I was hired as the first chief people officer,” Scherbarth says. “This demonstrated to our colleagues that they are our most valuable asset, which warranted a 'seat at the table' to advance our colleague-first vision.”

A conversation with Ginger Scherbarth.

The Zweig Letter: One of your chief responsibilities is to revitalize the HR department at HEAPY. What steps are you taking to do that?

Ginger Scherbarth: During my first year, we spent a lot of time building our internal infrastructure – setting a framework for operations, establishing a service-centered and collaborative culture, and developing solid, meaningful partnerships with vendors who support us. We were also dealing with the ramifications of COVID-19 and the impact the pandemic had on our day-to-day work and our colleagues’ wellbeing.

As we transitioned to a colleague-first organization, we redeveloped our purpose, vision, mission, and core values. We also used employee engagement survey to understand where we needed to improve. We discovered that we needed to get back to basics and help colleagues to understand what is expected of them and provide them with the materials and equipment needed to do their work. We took a deep dive and formed focus groups to evaluate and update job responsibilities for certain roles to ensure alignment. Our work also involves understanding each colleague’s dream for their career and personal life. We’re putting in plans this year to foster that journey, which is very exciting to me.

TZL: Have you had a particular mentor who has guided you – in school, in your career, or in general? Who were they and how did they help?

GS: During my days at LensCrafters Corporate Office, I oversaw the benefits programs for our associates and my mentor was our vice president of operations. His expectations were super high, but he had a sense of humor and sarcasm that resonated with me. He was known for fully preparing before every meeting, finding a tiny error in the middle of a hundred-page document, or questioning any statistic that seemed “fishy.” He taught me to bring my A game, anticipate questions, and be sure the problem I was solving was indeed the root cause and not a symptom.

TZL: How has COVID-19 permanently impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting?

GS: I was amazed at how quickly HEAPY was able to pivot and transition to fully remote work when the pandemic hit. You don’t want to waste a crisis, and we used the pandemic as an opportunity to develop a nimbler workforce and accelerate our adoption of new technology and workflows. It also allowed us to look at our workforce in a more flexible way and foster our colleague-first culture.

In this tough labor market, we’re all looking for ways to recruit and retain the best. We have found that we have a mix of colleagues who want to work in the office, some at home, and others hybrid. Right now, we’re maintaining flexibility and letting colleagues lead the way. Honestly, we’re trying to figure out how to keep our unique culture fully woven into who we are as a company. There’s nothing like the interaction of in-person connections, especially when you have a mentoring/learning environment such as ours, but flexibility and work-life balance are equally important.

TZL: What are some key traits needed to fit into the culture at HEAPY? How do you work to ensure that your new hires will be the right fit?

GS: Before we ever post a job opening, we meet with our leadership team to ensure we have a clear understanding of the role and skills necessary for a candidate to be successful. We have an excellent recruiter on staff who helps screen candidates for technical skills and culture fit.

We look for colleagues who will be inspired by our purpose, vision, mission, and core values. We prioritize candidates who demonstrate their drive to collaborate, show care for others, and drive results for our clients and communities. We also recently updated all our roles and job descriptions to reflect our updated purpose and values.

TZL: What are you most excited about in terms of the future of the firm’s HR? Why?

GS: When I started, HEAPY had just transitioned from a practice-centered structure to a formal C-suite, and I was hired as the first chief people officer. This demonstrated to our colleagues that they are our most valuable asset, which warranted a “seat at the table” to advance our colleague-first vision. Just one month after I started in my new role, we all went home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was interesting to be in a colleague-centered role and not be able to physically meet and interact with our people! But we found ways to foster the culture and a feeling of belonging, even though we weren’t together for more than a year.

Our CEO, Mark Brumfield, is incredibly visionary and I’m driven by his passion for building a sustainable, well, and more resilient society. My focus is helping colleagues understand how they align with that purpose and vision, giving everyone a reason to get out of bed in the morning: A paycheck is not enough!

TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”

GS: You might find it unusual that an HR person would answer this question, because we are typically considered a “cost center.” However, our department spends about half our time on what I’ll call “run the business” activities (performance reviews, benefits program management, etc.) and the other half on strategic initiatives. I believe that even our “run the business” activities produce company savings through retention, engagement, and cost-effective processes. Our strategic initiatives include using employee surveys to track and improve our colleague engagement and helping to ensure colleagues understand how what they do every day contributes to HEAPY reaching its objectives.

TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?

GS: My “clients” are our 200 colleagues. Other than the obvious answers such as honesty, integrity, listening, and following through on commitments, our team focuses on investing in our people and helping them reach their potential. We collaborate with all our leaders to support their objectives in meeting client needs and HEAPY objectives. We’re partners in every problem and champions for every success.

TZL: The firm was founded 75 years ago. In terms of culture, what do you believe has stayed the same and what has changed?

GS: For the past 77 years, we really tried to create a highly talented and capable workforce, which still informs our mission focused on real collaboration, real inspiration, and real performance. We’re not a commodity. We offer an exceptional service, and we focus on relationships with our clients. We are a leading-edge firm, especially when it comes to energy and sustainability, and that remains core to our culture today. Our colleagues have a strong sense of connection and meaningful relationships, and I am grateful that has remained unchanged throughout our history.

The pandemic has accelerated some cultural changes in the past year, leading to increased flexibility and collaboration across the organization. We’re also more focused on emotional intelligence and conscious leadership, which helps our colleagues find their path and engage in meaningful work. Finally, we are more proactive about improving diversity and inclusion at HEAPY and in our industry. We are looking for new and creative ways to engage young people in our industry and improve our hiring practices so that our workforce better reflects the communities we serve.

TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?

GS: We are “consultants” to the managers in helping them with growth and development of their people through coaching and training. We foster the sharing of feedback, provide direction on career path mapping, and collaborate in handling difficult colleague challenges. Our primary purpose is to support our colleagues, and this is encompassed by our value “show care.” We endeavor to coach our leaders to show care for those they supervise and support.

We have the HEAPY Leadership Development Program, a three-year program that incorporates conscious leadership practices to set the framework for future leaders of the company. We’re currently implementing CliftonStrengths to help our teams work toward their strengths and value diverse characteristics and skills among team members.

TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?

GS: Helping HEAPY fully transition to a colleague-first culture.

TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?

GS: We put a great deal of effort into helping our colleagues reach their personal and professional goals. We’re mapping a journey from our first interaction with a candidate to when they become a colleague to when they retire. We customize training and development opportunities to help colleagues achieve their goals, and we provide flexibility to help our colleagues reach their potential both inside and outside of work.

Our culture is unique. Part of our vision is to provide meaningful work that also fosters enduring relationships – for colleagues, our clients, and the surrounding community. Colleagues embrace a higher purpose and feel a deep connection to each other, which gives everyone energy and excitement about their work and how we can positively impact society. 

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