A New Face for HR

Catherine Peterson leads by example and cultivates an efficient work environment

Photos by: Webb Chappell

While working in hotel management in New Zealand, Catherine Peterson discovered her true calling. During one of her rotations, she got the opportunity to work in human resources, and realized that was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. The transition was easy for her as her background had already imbued her with a strong customer service focus.

“Everything that I do today is what I learned during my career in hotel management. The candidate experience I provide to employees today is very similar to the customer experience I provided at the hotel,” Peterson says.

When an opening at Steward Health Care presented itself, she was selected to be in charge of talent acquisition and infrastructure.

“When I saw what they were doing with the ACO (accountable care organization) and the cutting edge work they were doing, I applied. And now, what I thought would grow has definitely been growing and it has been a very exciting time,” she says.

Today, as SVP of HR at Steward Health Care Network, Peterson leads the talent acquisition, training, and the human resources team nationally. Peterson and her team have come up with goals and strategies for this year in each of these key areas. The overarching goal is to be a valued business partner, change agent, and steward in each of the three focus areas.

“Within training, our focus is on creating and delivering impactful programs that drive employee performance, enhance customer satisfaction, and promote employee development. Within talent acquisition we provide the highest levels of service in quality candidates to our internal stakeholders in a timely and proactive manner while ensuring a superior candidate experience,” she says.

The other areas that she looks into are engagement and retention, and infrastructure. Engagement deals with development and implementation of initiatives that optimize employee experience, generating and supporting ongoing employee engagement, and making sure they think of Steward Health Care Network as the employer of choice.

“As we continue to grow, I want to make sure that we introduce support scalable initiatives that position us for growth and support ongoing development in our best HR practices. We want to secure the institutional knowledge that we have—it is critical as we continue to scale and grow. When people feel they can acclimate into an organization quicker and smoother, it helps increase our retention rates,” Peterson says.

“Within training, our focus is on creating and delivering impactful programs that drive employee performance, enhance customer satisfaction, and promote employee development.”

Peterson is currently working with talent acquisition and human resources on making onboarding more effective using a walk-transfer process. This will ensure that when the candidate becomes an employee, they still feel connected to the organization and experience a smooth transition. This method is fast-paced, promises high-touch responsiveness, and the candidate receives the same consistency through every aspect of human resources.

“We are transferring the touch that they get from talent acquisition specialist to the related HR business partner, and that’s making a change in terms of how they feel settled. It reduces the learning curve, as well as the normal anxiety that any person might have when they come to a new organization,” she says.

As a leader, Peterson believes that people are important and that creating a healthy culture is a team effort. Transparent communication is key, along with regular meetings and newsletters. Since the company has been going through mergers, the culture is constantly evolving, and it is important to train leaders who can understand the employment needs of the company.

While interviewing members for her team, she asks them what they want to achieve in that role and makes sure they get that. She also makes sure that her management style works for them and she is very transparent about her expectations.

“I provide a very realistic preview. There are some things I’m very particular about and I will tell candidates right up front about it. I make sure that the new hires get to be with other team members so that they can tell them candidly what it’s like to work as a part of my team. So that way that person’s making the decision on an equal footing just as I am if I’m going to offer them a job,” she says.

One thing that Peterson strongly believes in is treating people as adults who are accountable for their own actions. This way, individuals are much more productive and engaged.

“My team members have said that I am a good listener and I lead by example. I communicate often and I don’t hesitate to give praise. Since I also have a teaching background, I like to try and teach whenever I can. When we’re rolling out new initiatives, I provide training, so they are not lost. I certainly make sure that I’ve given enough information to support them, but I don’t micromanage and have them check in with me frequently,” she says.