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In this installment of our “Career Corner” series, HR Leader sits down with Jeff Childs, CHRO of Ulta Beauty, Inc. Read on for insight from Childs on leadership and how his career came to be.

…never lose touch with who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t; strive to be the very best of what makes you, you.

HR Leader: Was human resources always a career that interested you? What have been some of your favorite parts of your job? What have been some challenges you’ve faced/overcome?

Jeff Childs (JC): The first 16 years of my career were anything but human resources. I started out in business sales support, then B2B (business-to-business) sales, marketing (channel management, product management and market management), along with elevated leadership roles in each of these areas. I led customer service, field operations and was also a lobbyist in Washington, D.C and at the state level. My first true HR role came as leading an enterprise leadership development and change management function. I went on to lead various aspects of HR, ultimately becoming a CHRO.

The very best part of my job is the opportunity help support and develop wonderful individuals to become the very best professionals they wish to be, and that their enterprise expects of them. Very fulfilling work, I must say.

In the 40+ years I have been a professional business person, I have faced many challenges. Specifically within the HR space, the challenge of closing an operation, eliminating a job and doing these things in a way that truly considers the personal impact on the associate will always be some of the toughest challenges that I have faced. Executing those challenging situations with true care and empathy was always the intended goal. Thankfully, those situations have been much more than offset by the chance to identify high-potential talent and to invest in them to unlock their potential, as well as to build strong values-based cultures that drive positive business performance.

HR Leader: Do you have any tips for professionals who aspire to become a CHRO?

JC: Start with a business leader mindset. Ensure you build your business acumen of various functional areas of any business and how the sum of the parts integrate to drive economic value. The role of an HR executive is to enable peak performance from the organization. Thus, learning and experiencing various aspects of human resources (e.g., employee relations, talent acquisition, comp and benefits, leadership and organization development (L&OD), etc.) along your journey is critically important, but it should be done within the context of how those HR functions unlock performance.

HR Leader: CHROs help shape the talent of an organization. What are your top tips for addressing talent needs and desires given the tight labor market?

JC: Top talent yearns to continuously learn and grow. First ask, “Is there leadership alignment on how to assess and calibrate on who your top talent is within the business?” Then ask, “Are you putting in place dynamic learning environments that enable that talent to reach their true potential?” That is what I challenge myself and my team with constantly. If you have highly engaged talent, your likelihood of superior business performance is quite good.

A second thought would be to have an explicit, consistent and aligned understanding of what leadership attributes represent a great leader in your business. With that in hand, consistently hiring, promoting and rewarding those who demonstrate or role model those attributes will build confidence and momentum to fuel your culture.

HR Leader: How has technology changed the role of HR? What are some important technologies that all firms should consider?

JC: The customer experience is now digital. Thus, being able to design and deliver the experience that customers want when they want it is crucial. Building digital knowledge and capability is a must for any business to thrive in the future. And, building digital knowledge of various technologies (e.g., AI, AR), processes (e.g., agile, new ways of working, etc.) and leveraging deep data analytics are essential.

HR Leader: What is the best career advice you ever received?

JC: While striving to grow and develop to achieve your career aspirations, never lose touch with who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t; strive to be the very best of what makes you, you.

HR Leader: What is one podcast you highly recommend?

JC: Harry Kraemer on Leadership – enjoy!

HR Leader: Required Reading – share some articles or authors for readers to check out.

JC: I’d like to recommend two authors to explore. Both have inspired my own leadership journey in a significant way.

  • Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and a social justice activist, and
  • Bob Marcus, founder of nVolv and a thought leader on effective leadership.

HR Leader: What is your favorite place to visit in Chicago?

JC: Chicago Cut

HR Leader: On my desk – 2-3 things you must keep at your desk when working in order to maximize productivity are…

JC: No question – my phone and my PC or iPad or both.

HR Leader: Anything else you’d like to add?

JC: As a greater HR community, let’s all strive to consistently share best practices with each other to advance the profession of Human Resources and the positive impact we can collectively make in the world.