The last time Profile spoke with Lauren Baer, the vice president of human resources and community investments had recently come out on the other end of a position it’s hard to imagine any HR professional enjoying.
Following a shift in strategy, QEP Resources underwent a rightsizing that included a downsizing of its workforce by approximately 60 percent over an eighteen-month period. The strategic and cultural realignment that has occurred since that difficult period for the company is immense, and even more so that it has been able to take place during a worldwide pandemic when so many of those at the company were forced to work from home. Imagine successfully navigating an obstacle course only to find that the prize was having to do it again blindfolded.
That’s where Baer’s tenacity comes in. “One of the things I’m most proud of in this entire process is really being able to stand strong on difficult topics and being able to have stamina,” Baer explains. “The last two years has been an incredibly challenging time to be a leader, but I’ve been able to stay strong and fight for things that are really important, and see people make decisions to do the right thing.”
Baer says the work QEP was able to put in prior to the pandemic has made it more resilient, more communicative, and more streamlined in essential ways. “Our company focused intensely on communication and opportunities for feedback to ensure we were adjusting throughout the year to meet the ever-changing needs of our workforce while also operating safely and executing with excellence,” the VP says. “Our culture also allowed us to be innovative and creative in how we engaged with each other as a company. We found ways to connect even in this isolated environment, and it directly and positively impacted how this challenging year progressed for us as a company.”
From the HR perspective, Baer has been on the frontlines of QEP’s COVID-19 response. She is leading the organization’s task force, providing her with the chance to directly positively affect all those under the QEP banner. “As an HR executive, I see myself as a business leader with the great opportunity to focus on human capital strategies,” Baer explains. “This year I was able to be at the front lines of addressing the pandemic with both the business performance perspective and the perspective of our people with all their various needs and circumstances.”
The VP says soliciting feedback from the QEP workforce was essential in understanding how to respond in kind. The blurring of the lines between workers’ professional and personal lives was one the task force took very seriously. “We are in meetings where we see people in their personal space, with their children and whatever they may be facing while also trying to do their job well,” Baer says. “I think HR was key to support this and recognize and acknowledge the personal and professional aspects of the situation.”
A Risk Worth Taking
Lauren Baer is the executive you want in times of crises, but her advice for those early in their HR journeys is just as compelling. The lateral move is so often seen as a harbinger of doom on a résumé, but Baer asks those on their journey to see a larger picture. “I can remember one time very specifically that I took a step back in order to move forward,” Baer explains. “I knew where my ultimate goal was, but I had to veer to get there. There’s always a risk, but for me, it was a risk worth taking.”
As a result, QEP began focusing on both the personal and professional lives more widely to not only ensure employees had what they needed to work, but also that QEP was also being mindful and attentive to employees’ personal health, well-being, and the demands at home. Baer says it would have made sense for a lot of organizations to pause on development and training, but QEP chose to press forward on these initiatives to “aggressively recognize that employees needed to continue to understand that the company was invested in them and their professional development and growth.”
The progressive push didn’t stop there. Baer was able to shake up the structure of QEP Cares, the organization’s community investments and partnerships program. The program, originally managed by a leader, has instead been employee-council led. “As we moved that process towards employee-led councils, we worked to drive engagement and involvement and decision making by those same people,” Baer explains. “We’ve had to drive this engagement virtually, but I’m so impressed with the ability of the people to think outside the box. The creativity has just been astounding.”
The program has been such a success that it was honored as one of the Civic 50 Colorado awards for the most community-minded companies. Through this program, Baer says inclusion and diversity has been able to take center stage both internally at QEP and with its extended community.
Baer encountered every sort of challenge imaginable in 2020, and resilience continues to be what defines Baer in any role she inhabits. “Major changes, transitions, and challenges are never clear-cut, and they don’t follow a straight line,” Baer says. “Authenticity and transparency in communication to the extent feasible is key. And resiliency, while a bit of a buzzword these days, is something I lean on. You will be knocked down at times, but you will ultimately be able to navigate the change if you learn the ways that you restore yourself and bounce back.”
Baer says that having a strong team, both professionally and personally, has helped her remain steadfast in her commitment to weathering any storm, come what may.