In the INAP Executive Spotlight series, we interview senior leaders across the organization, hearing candid reflections about their careers, what they love about their work and big lessons learned along the way.
Next in the series is Jackie Coats, Senior Vice President, Human Resources. In this role, she puts her passion for helping employees and leaders unlock their potential and accomplish goals to good use.
In our conversation, Coats discussed what drew her to this role at INAP, how she’s working with the other senior leaders to build a strong company culture and much more. Jackie brings her enthusiasm to the forefront of everything she does. Read on to learn more.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
You joined INAP in May as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources. What excites you most about this new role?
The people at INAP are what attracted me to this role. I’d been consulting on my own and wasn’t in the market for going back to a regular full-time gig. I had the opportunity to come on as a contractor for INAP earlier this year. Every single person that I interacted with was smart, helpful and aligned with taking the business forward. The opportunity to be part of this team was a key driver in accepting the role. And as the company has now moved from public to private, I have the chance to build people functions that support the organization.
You came into this role during the COVID-19 pandemic. How does this impact company culture and what’s being done to connect with employees during this time?
The good thing is that our President and CEO Mike Sicoli genuinely cares about every single employee. It’s refreshing that he doesn’t delegate that to me alone as head of HR. All the senior leaders give a lot of thought to not only the productivity aspect of these times, as it’s important to keep a business running, but the emotional and personal impact that employees have undergone as a result of being remote. We’ve increased support tools and we’ve done surveys to check in with individual employees to take the pulse of the organization. We’ve connected leaders and given them tips on how to stay in sync with their teams. We’ve encouraged video one-on-ones in team meetings and all hands, etc. It’s something we definitely won’t stop beyond the pandemic. Knowing how our employees are feeling is important.
With all the social unrest going on in the world, diversity and inclusion is really important. Can you tell us about the steps INAP is taking in those areas?
We finalized the selection of a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant partner, and they have an amazing approach and lots of tools and partnerships that will help guide us. We’ll be doing work as a senior team, both together and individually, which I think is vital. We’ll also be doing an assessment of the organization to really get a baseline of where we stand. This consultant partner will help us identify areas where we need to focus.
It’s obvious from looking at the organization that we need to support the growth and professional development of our women and people of color, because as you go up in the organization, there’s fewer and fewer people in those categories. We’ll be working on development activities and support for those individuals. We’ll take a hard look at our policies and practices to consider how we promote, hire and transfer.
What changes have you see related to diversity and inclusion over your career? What do you still want to see?
What I have learned over the years is that grassroots-type exercises really are more valuable than big, government-mandated exercises. I’ve seen a lot of success with mentoring programs where you identify individuals and what they’re trying to achieve from a development perspective, and you match them with a senior person who has that expertise. Both parties learn a tremendous amount.
The need to hire quickly is generally what drives the hesitancy to take the time to find a diverse palate of candidates. As an organization and as a society, it’s absolutely critical that we develop our minority applicants and employees and go the extra mile to find people that bring diversity to the organization, because it’s critical for our success. There is a lot of data that shows businesses that are diverse are more productive and more successful.
You’ve worked in HR for other tech companies prior to joining INAP. What do you like best about being in the industry?
I’m a big believer that when you have pride in your organization, and in the products and services offered, employees are loyal and engaged. For me, technology touches absolutely everything. The fact that we’re powering and supporting businesses that are making our economy go brings a great sense of pride. And learning that some of our customers are in the gaming industry, I can connect that to having a kid who does all that stuff, so I love that.
How you go about setting goals for your team?
You need to have an overall vision for where you want your department or function to go. I talk a lot to my team about what we’re trying to achieve and what success would look like. We’re looking to add value to the organization, not just from an administrative or transactional standpoint. Our goal is to become consultative to the business leaders and help leaders and managers make excellent people decisions, support the growth of their individuals, improve the productivity of their teams, break down communication barriers across departments, recognize high performers and key contributors. That’s the big picture in what we’re trying to do.
Did you take any detours to get to where you are today?
I have a fashion merchandising degree and started in retail as a manager right out of the gate after graduating from college. Right away, I gravitated towards leadership and management. I realized that I had good transferrable skills, like hiring, coaching and training. I ended up taking a personnel training coordinator job at Lowe’s Home Centers, which tied the retail in with the HR function, and immediately saw a huge path of opportunity for me.
Of all the qualities you possess, which ones have the greatest influence on your success?
Enthusiasm. I bring a lot of positivity and enthusiasm for things that I believe in. My function should enable success, not get in the way. I have a quick ability to identify things that are getting in the way for people, and if they’re open to hearing it, I’m pretty good at helping them adjust their style to help them grow.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your career?
It’s important to surround yourself with people who possess talent and skills that you don’t have. I’ve learned to appreciate that you don’t have to have it all. You have to know what you need and you have to be able to find people to build a team with complementary skills. Bringing those complementary skills out in each of them has really helped me find success, for me and my teams.
Is there anything you would do differently now if you were just starting out?
I would’ve spent more time learning about data and metrics, and how to utilize them. Most business rely on data to help inform decisions and the people function is no different. Productivity, employee satisfaction and demographics are all KPIs that leaders need to know. Knowing the KPIs for your business helps to eliminate subjective decision making.