A business case could easily be made for why Elizabeth Soroka owns more running shoes than heels. As vice president of human resources for AccuWeather, Soroka is tasked with solving a number of complex challenges for the global company, and she often finds solutions mid-run.
“I get into a stride where I can take a problem and dissect it,” says Soroka, who has completed more than fifty-five marathons. “I can run for miles and noodle over issues or new strategies and approaches. Effective solutions often become clearer as the minutes and miles go by.”
Throughout her career before joining AccuWeather, Soroka’s one constant was HR. As she acquired new experiences, her interest in the field only deepened, and she became particularly fascinated with compensation and people development.
As a former coach, Soroka loves helping people succeed, and HR provides the perfect outlet to do just that. “I’ve always been a coach by nature,” she says. “Whether it’s helping someone cross a finish line at a marathon, getting an A in a class, or negotiating a salary, there’s no better feeling than helping people reach their goals or discover their passions. We all have great potential; sometimes we just need help getting over our mental barriers.”
The position at AccuWeather attracted Soroka because it presented an opportunity for her to expand her HR efforts on a global scale. The company is headquartered in State College, Pennsylvania, with offices around the world. Since Soroka came on board in 2014, it has added locations in India, China, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
“It’s been a wonderful experience growing the global team, and I’ve enjoyed learning about different cultures, as well as HR and legal issues in other countries,” she says.
Soroka’s day-to-day concern is aligning AccuWeather’s business objectives with people’s growth goals. To that end, she has also been hard at work creating the company’s integrated culture program, a multipronged program designed to create the best possible team member experience. The program addresses diversity and inclusion, communications, operations, work environment, collaboration, innovation, and rewards and recognition and is made up of a cross section of managers and team members from various parts of the company for the greatest levels of representation, involvement, and buy-in.
“Whether it’s helping someone cross a finish line at a marathon, getting an A in a class, or negotiating a salary, there’s no better feeling than helping people reach their goals or discover their passions.”
“My responsibility is our team members, our greatest asset, and making sure we relate to them as people and not simply as employees,” Soroka says, pointing out the company’s annual years of service dinner as a prime example of what this means. “We have team members who have been with AccuWeather for as long as twenty to fifty years. Longevity is important for us, and we celebrate these milestones and applaud these team members’ commitment and contributions.”
The integrated culture program has been a success. According to Gallup survey numbers, AccuWeather team members report an increase in job satisfaction and feeling like their work is appreciated. The program has also led to a more diverse workforce, which Soroka says has contributed to the double-digit growth that the organization has experienced since she joined the team.
Soroka also reports that AccuWeather team members have reported an increase in feeling connected to the company’s mission. And no wonder—AccuWeather strives to save lives and prevent injuries and property damage. Soroka, too, says the mission keeps her engaged.
“We save lives and protect property every day, and it doesn’t get better than that,” she says. “Every team member contributes to our mission, and it’s up to me and my team to help them understand their role in moving us closer to our goals. Even our house cleaning staff needs to understand they help by keeping our people healthy. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, they have sterilized and sanitized daily, allowing our team members to feel comfortable coming in to do the forecasts and distribute them around the world.”
“Every team member contributes to our mission, and it’s up to me and my team to help them understand their role in moving us closer to our goals.”
Prior to the pandemic in early 2020, unemployment was low for years, and that made filling roles a constant challenge for Soroka and her small team. Keeping the culture at the top of its game is just one way they attract talented candidates. Soroka’s team is also working on updating AccuWeather’s talent management system to improve succession planning and clarify career paths.
“This system aligns to the nine-box grid and helps us identify our high-potential team members,” she says. “It pulls in performance review and other important data to inform business decisions and helps us keep tabs on what jobs we have today and what jobs are needed for tomorrow. Our goal is to help our best-performing team members see a valuable career path with us and stick around for a long time.”
The ultimate secret to Soroka’s HR success remains her natural inclination towards coaching, which makes it easier to help employees feel happy and successful every day.
“I consider myself a developer of people—it’s my job to remove barriers, teach skills, and provide the encouragement they need to reach optimal performance,” she says. “There are so many personalities within the company, which makes it equally fascinating and challenging. I find that approaching my role as a coach makes it easier for people to ask questions and ultimately feel more dedicated and engaged in their jobs.”