“Looking back, it’s been a whirlwind,” says Lindsay Caulder of her four-year tenure as senior vice president of human resources for World Acceptance. Responsible for anything and everything that has to do with people in the organization, Caulder oversees talent acquisition and management, learning, associate/employee relations, benefits, compensation, and payroll.
Integrated into this exhaustive list, Caulder also makes sure culture and communication building is a core function of everyone in the company, especially leadership. To that end, in the summer of 2018, Caulder initiated the Culture of Caring program. The goal was to respond to two questions: How are we being intentional in what we do? What is important to us?
World Acceptance, parent company of World Finance, operates in sixteen states to offer small loans to customers who might have trouble getting them elsewhere. To understand what the company’s internal culture building project should look like, Caulder surveyed all four thousand team members, asking for three adjectives that best described the company and its leaders. “Care” rose to the top among a large swath of respondents, along with the sentiment that the company felt like family. With these ideas as a foundation, the leadership team spearheaded plans, HR developed them, and the Culture of Caring program was born.
The program includes the World Acceptance Foundation, an internally grown fund with an independent board that awards financial support to team members who have experienced natural disasters. “This increases a sense of family and community,” Caulder says. “People feel joy and love serving their communities—both internally and externally.”
Along with the foundation, the company also now runs a time-off donation program and annual paid volunteer days and helps identify community needs that its branches and team members can help meet. This work accelerated with the COVID-19 crisis as branch locations seized opportunities to offer flowers to clients around Mother’s Day and team members kept sewing machines on their desks to stitch masks while answering phone calls.
“Support from the senior executive team has been critical, allowing for a roll out of programs without red tape, with quick movement, and without friction.”
When Caulder joined the company in 2016, she arrived with a quick desire to implement programming that encouraged employees to support each other and their communities. Before she could launch what became the Culture of Caring program two years later however, she needed to roll up her sleeves and prioritize other initiatives first. Her list of achievements is impressive. Starting with a benefit program overhaul, World Acceptance began to offer vision insurance and switched medical carriers for the first time in a dozen years under Caulder’s guidance.
She also hired an internal recruiter and prioritized internal recruitment infrastructure. That team, now four individuals, ensures new team members are a culture fit with key leadership abilities and skills, while saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It’s a different measurement of the right candidate,” Caulder says. Along with cost savings, the long-term impact has been increased retention and an ability to grow talent once a person has joined the company. “Our goal is to hire right and then develop,” the HR leader explains.
With this success in hiring comes a focus on shifting talent within the company. Such mobility strengthens World Acceptance through both experience-sharing and increased motivation and engagement.
Development, training, and continued learning at World have been transformed under Caulder’s initiatives as well. Expanding from a singular focus on compliance training, an internal team of learning specialists implemented operations training, increased leadership development and overhauled new manager training. “Because approximately 90 percent of managers are internal hires,” Caulder says, “it’s critical for them to get the right training to succeed in new roles.”
“I feel the responsibility for four thousand team members. How do I help them have a really great work experience?”
One of the biggest lifts of Caulder’s tenure has been a roll out of the entire Workday suite in July 2018. This has allowed for online integration of HR functions. The organization launched digital timecards, an online recruitment system and online learning programs. Applications and performance reviews have also moved online. After a year with the project in steady state, Caulder continues to see increased efficiency.
“I feel the responsibility for four thousand team members,” Caulder says. “How do I help them have a really great work experience?” Responding to this question and “a sense of responsibility to do good by them,” Caulder has initiated an annual engagement survey. “We keep taking the pulse on how employees feel. It’s so important,” she explains. As a result of the most recent engagement survey, the World Finance teams in South Carolina, New Mexico, Knoxville, Tennessee, and San Antonio have been recognized as top workplaces.
The HR team, twenty people with two directors, has been “right by my side through all of this. I couldn’t have done it all without them,” Caulder says. Along with a strong HR team, Caulder credits leadership with successful facilitation of such massive changes. “Support from the senior executive team has been critical, allowing for a roll out of programs without red tape, with quick movement, and without friction.” She exemplifies this agile behavior in talking about adopting Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday that includes closing all branch locations. While Caulder acknowledges it was a long time overdue, when the issue came to the forefront, it only took one afternoon for the senior executive team to decide to make the change, craft a rollout plan, and make the announcement.
In understanding her role as an HR leader, Caulder repeatedly returns to a motto she hears regularly from the CEO of World Acceptance: “Do good.”
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