“To be successful in HR, you need to be a good listener,” says EDC Human Resources Manager Janet Dooley.
It’s a skill she’s honed working with people in extremely different environments—from an urban job-coaching center to the wilderness adventures of Outward Bound, to a global management consulting firm, to EDC project sites around the world.
Wherever people work, whatever work they do—they have a few things in common.
“People want to make a difference,” Dooley says. “They want to be respected for the work they do. They want to feel valued and be treated fairly. Those things transcend a person’s work context and history.”
What drew you to human resources?
A few things drew me to the field—mostly my interest in understanding the importance and impact of work in people’s lives. My dad was an engineer who worked for General Motors for over 40 years, and my mom was a high school guidance counselor. We lived with my grandmother, who was a professional seamstress. All three spent a lot of time working. I was also really interested in how groups come together. I studied organizational behavior at the University of Michigan and then moved to Boston.
How did you start with job coaching?
It was the September after graduation. I was living with six other people in West Roxbury and had extended the college experience as long as I was able—I needed a job. I found this fabulous resource called the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union. They offered a range of social and community services including job placement. They had an opening, and that was my start in job development. I worked there about five years.
How did you get involved with Outward Bound?
For vacation, I’d taken a sea kayak course at Outward Bound and thought I’d like to work there. The stars aligned, and nine months later I was working on a 30-foot wooden sailboat with 10 people I didn’t know, teaching them how to sail. I lived on Hurricane Island off the Maine Coast, and taught sailing and climbing to adolescents, adults, educators, and college students. In the winters, we’d move some boats down to Florida, where we would teach 14-day programs out of the Keys. I taught a two-month course with a group of college kids, starting off from Big Pine Key, moving through the Everglades, Central Florida, North Carolina, and ending in Baltimore. That’s one of the longer Outward Bound courses.
How did you return to the office world?
After about six years of OB, I entered the Master of Education program at Harvard. Following graduation, I worked for Accenture for 11 years, first as a change management consultant and later in their human resources function. When I decided to leave Accenture, my boss said, “You’re crazy to leave. You’re never going to be in an environment again where people are this smart and this passionate about what they do.” But I found that organization. It was EDC. I’ve been here since 2006.
You specialize in setting up international EDC offices—what is involved in doing that?
Outside of our U.S. domestic offices, more than 750 people around the world call themselves EDC. As far as start-up goes, our overseas managers, known as “chiefs of party,” are really the ones who pull everything together and balance all of the things that lead to successful project starts—the administrative requirements, the technical aspects, and operating sensitively within the cultural context. They do an incredible job.
From an HR point of view, we try to assist the project to put in place some of the things it takes to be a really good employer and to create an environment that’s healthy and rewarding. Like other centralized services at EDC, we strive to enable the work. We are ever mindful and attentive to funder dollars and compliance-related matters, program requirements, and local labor laws. We put solid policies and procedures in place, a salary scale that is competitive and fair, and health and medical benefits wherever possible.
What has your career taught you about people in the workplace?
I’ve learned to appreciate that context really matters. The organization, the situation, the dynamics of the group all develop over time and influence people’s behavior. You need to keep those things in mind to provide good counsel. You have to listen in a genuine way and provide real feedback. That’s the only way someone can grow. If people genuinely want to make a difference in their work—to do something bigger than themselves—we have to create opportunities so they can. That’s good for everybody. That’s good for the organization.