Interview with Becky Choi, Founder, groupforward, LLC

February 18th, 2014
Written by: Admin

This interview is part of a yearlong retrospective blog series commemorating TPO@20! — TPO’s 20th Birthday. These conversations with TPO partners, clients and executives focus on what has and hasn’t changed in “how we work” over the last two decades–and what we can learn for the next 20 years.  

This interview is with Becky Choi, Founder of groupforward, LLC, who has worked closely with TPO for a number of years.  

TPO: Becky, thanks for participating in the TPO@20! blog series.

Becky Choi: You are quite welcome! 

TPO: To get started, why don’t you tell us what you do.

Becky Choi: I’m the founder of a consulting firm called groupforward, which helps organizations build efficient, productive and high performing teams and develop strong leaders that achieve sustainable results.

TPO: Great. Do you have a particular area of expertise within groupforward?

Becky: Yes, I focus on helping leaders lead better and groups work better—through leadership development—by helping them understand and leverage their individual and group dynamics. I’ve been specializing in this area since 1991. 

TPO: OK, so you have something else in common with TPO, which has also been around since the early ‘90’s. What types of clients do you enjoy working with most?

Becky: I’ve found over the years that I’m drawn towards organizations that have a market-driven, results-oriented culture. I tend to bring the balance–working with them on the things they’re frustrated with, for example when the results-oriented culture conflicts with other priorities. 

TPO: What led you to focusing on organizational consulting and coaching?

Becky: I was working tor a trade association as assistant general counsel. I was going full tilt with my lawyer hat on. My natural tendency is to gravitate towards people stuff, so I actually created the role of VP of HR because of the dynamics and climate in the organization. It was a hard charging culture and–typical of that era–not much focus on HR strategy. There was actually someone with the title of “Confidential Secretary” who dealt with payroll, benefits, etc. 

TPO: Did you have any significant life or work milestones or special events in 1994?

Becky: That was the first time I had to balance work and life. I got married and had kids. It was sort of like, “Let’s do everything stressful all at once!” Balance was already a topic in the workplace. It ties back to the types of clients to which I’m drawn. They talk about balance, but the prevailing culture seems to be an unspoken message that you need to be available all the time. I find the word balance is misused. When I was with the association, balance was coming into vogue. It meant doing more with less and people working harder to getting it all done.

TPO: What do you remember about your boss at the time and how he or she was emblematic of the times? 

Becky: He was bright, but there was no transparency. This was typical of the times. It was about command and control, not having people skills. Today’s work environments are becoming much more open. 

TPO: Do you remember the first performance review you received?

Becky: Ha–yes. There was no specific feedback about what to do. You’d get comments like, “be more advocacy oriented,” and you’d think, “What?” Nobody gave specific feedback–unfortunately this is often still true today. I also remember the “halo and horns” effect: If you did something good right before the review it didn’t matter what you did the rest of the year. Same if you did something bad right before the review. 

TPO: What’s one work or career thing you know now that wish you’d known in 1994?

Becky: I’m not a 9 – 5 person. I wish I’d been more aware of my style and how it impacts people. That it’s not a bad thing or a personal failure; it’s just how I prefer to work. 

TPO: Do you recall technology being a factor in achieving or interfering with balance 20 years ago?

Becky: We all had email–it was a big deal. And cell phones. Once people had remote access they started checking in from home and from elsewhere. It had a huge impact that crept in over time. The real-time, always-on connectedness led to a constant sense of urgency. 

TPO: Was this a good thing, a bad thing or neutral?

Becky: So at the time, I was new wife and mother, feeling lots of pressure to do it all. Because of the culture I worked in–and continue to be drawn towards today–work/life balance is a nice aspirational goal, but it was counter to the culture. Executives sent emails all the time, which sent the message to employees that they need to be like that. If you were not available, you were not considered a team player. 

TPO: Is that still the same today?

Becky: Today, in general, if the work gets done on time, that’s fine, regardless of how and where you get it done. This aligns with the generational and gender shifts over the last decade or so–and their expectations of what being a good employee means. There is still tension over work-life balance and what it means. 

TPO: In terms of changes in your industry that have had a significant impact on “how you work,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Becky: We still need help with the people aspects of business, what many people call the “touchy feely” stuff — to make the business run more effectively. Many organizations are loath to take on “touchy feely” work because of what they think it is – singing kumbaya and hugging, or trust falls. But the work is much more than that if done purposefully and with intention. Now there are more business-like terms for it — whether you call it Human Capital Management (HCM) or Organizational Development (OD), it’s still paying attention to the leadership and team dynamics in the organization. 

Looking back 20 years, HCM and OD were typically used in response to a problem. Delving into the process of “how we work” was a distraction from the bottom line. Now companies view it more proactively. Back then, companies didn’t budget for it. Not that they didn’t respect it—they just didn’t understand it. Today my clients are more likely to have some budget for the work involving the people dynamics in the organization. As a result, the work is more recognized as a necessity than a luxury. What most of my clients realize is that it does not matter what the work is called, as long as the company and the people in it are working more effectively and the bottom line shows it.

TPO: Thinking back 20 years, what was your definition of Human Resources then and what is it now?

Becky: HR was transactional and social. It was about getting people paid and planning the Christmas party–of course today we’d call it a “holiday party.” Now, HR is more strategic–it’s about what you’re doing to develop people in order to achieve the organization’s vision. 

TPO: What’s something else that stands out as different today from the way you did business in 1994?

Becky: I like all of the information that’s available now. What I don’t like is that people make snap decisions about the information. Instant communications creates the expectation of immediacy–immediate reactions and decisions. This isn’t good for people like me in organizations who need time to digest and think about things from different perspectives. 

TPO: What impact has TPO had on your business?

Becky: I met (TPO Founder and Chair) Karen (Usher) in 2002 or 2003. I’ve gotten to know TPO intimately, and it has been instrumental in making my company what it is today. My contacts with their consultants have been fabulous. I’ll take a call from a TPO consultant who’s trying to solve a problem and wants to bounce something off of me. I’m their “thought partner.” TPO has constantly helped clients with the strategic side of HR–they know how to get a seat at the table, which is something many HR executives and consultants struggle with. TPO is professional and fun. We have shared values and approaches, which makes them easy to work with. Perhaps most importantly, they don’t stay stagnant. They look at themselves over time and shift the model when needed.

TPO: Well, that’s a wrap. Thank you so much for your support of TPO and for participating in the TPO@20! blog series.

Becky: Thank you–it was my pleasure. 

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