Dawne Ballard serves as Alkemy X's people and culture manager, spearheading Alkemy X's continued focus toward optimizing a successful hybrid world culture for its global team. She has a proven track record for cultivating comprehensive people operations programs for organizations across multiple industries, including DE&I programs.
Dawne leads our continuous efforts to provide the best support to our team - our incredibly talented people. Her work involves optimizing a positive, welcoming, and thriving hybrid workplace culture for our global team. Her focus is on cultivating comprehensive people operations practices, policies, and programs to deepen and strengthen connections throughout our team and across our working relationships internally and externally.
AX: What's the most rewarding aspect of your role as a People & Culture Manager?
DB: It’s the people! It is the collection of unique individuals that comprise a team, a department, an organization… that make it succeed. Feelings of being valued, needed, and relied on are critical to how we identify with work, and we tend to feel most engaged and most productive when we care about and identify with not only our work but the folks we work alongside. I know that my role within our team is critical to our overall success, just as every role is, and it’s a privilege to work with such phenomenal people, who are unbelievably talented.
AX: What's an initiative you have implemented to elevate employee satisfaction and engagement?
DB: Increasing and improving various forms of communication is an ongoing focus for us, and our People and Culture team helps to drive related initiatives. We craft weekly Newsletter content that provides reminders, learning and engagement opportunities, benefits highlights, resource spotlights, and beyond. While it can be complex to attach metrics to how deeply team members engage with this, we lean into organic methods of obtaining feedback to help us understand what topics, areas, and refreshers are needed, welcome, and helpful to our team. Thus far, the feedback has been stellar (we always welcome more, though!).
AX: How do you effectively navigate complex situations pertaining to workplace diversity and inclusion?
DB: Listening and learning are key here. If we aren’t listening, we’re not fully engaging - we’re not connecting with one another as fully as we could. Inclusion requires connection, and diversity can build as we nurture an increasingly inclusive environment. In other words, talk with people! Listen to them, learn from them, and be accountable to them! In building relationships with colleagues, I prioritize being honest and approachable and being myself. I’m most effective when I’m at my best, and that requires authenticity on my part.
AX: How do you sustain motivation and find inspiration within your role?
DB: Well, from a biological standpoint, it’s quite straightforward… humans experience a positive feeling when they’re helping one another, supporting someone, learning from another person, extending goodwill towards someone. Whether it’s related to work or not, interactions that regularly offer us the opportunity to support other people tend to feel rewarding, and roles in People Operations are built to do that!
People Ops is certainly not all sunshine and rainbows, however. When we have to make tough decisions, we often subconsciously weigh the outcome or the ‘reward’ while we’re within the difficult part of the decision-making process, or the communication of it. A lot of work in leadership - and certainly not exclusive to People Ops - is about consistently making those decisions consciously. Examining the causes, the possible paths forward, and then the best path forward. Looking toward the outcome of the decision-making process can be motivating in and of itself, as it functions as direct support for a colleague, or a team/department, and usually has a trickle-down effect throughout the whole team.
AX: What has been the biggest lesson or insight you've gained from your experience in people and culture management?
DB: Sometimes interaction alone can be the most nourishing/helpful way to support someone. Questions aren’t always top of mind during a meeting, and we don’t always remember to ask something when we’re managing various moving pieces/projects. Sometimes a simple ‘hello’ on Slack or Teams, or a coffee or park walk can be just the check-in that was needed. We often talk about what we feel is missing, from workplace culture pre-pandemic, and I think what we’re really talking about is what makes us hum, smile, and thrive throughout each day. For me, that’s serving as a primary layer of support for fostering and building connections throughout an organization.
AX: What initially drew you to pursue a career in Human Resources?
DB: I entered People Ops through a path of leadership roles in retail organizations. I recognized that I was feeling most fulfilled when I was supporting my teams with skills development, training, onboarding, well-being, coaching, and performance.
Though inclusion and diversity-related initiatives stem from the top of every team and expand from there, I am drawn towards supporting the trust-building that helps a team achieve the psychological safety that’s necessary for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to exist and grow within an organization. As I shifted my career into people-forward/people operations, DEIB became an increasingly clear component of where I wanted my work to travel, since it’s woven into the work that People Ops professionals do each day.
AX: How do you actively stay informed about the latest HR trends, best practices, and legal advancements?
DB: I’m grateful to have an incredible network of colleagues in People Operations. From conferences, grad school, and work experience, the growing field of People Ops professionals is remarkably connected. I regularly chat or talk with peers in the field in a variety of ways. Another phenomenal tool for folks in roles similar to mine is webinars. We are responsible for a vast range of details… anywhere from workplace culture, to well-being programs, to employment law, to government reporting compliance. Webinars, compliance updates, and peer connections are invaluable ways to source support when needed.
AX: What measures do you take to foster a supportive and inclusive work environment for your HR team?
DB: Every person on our team plays a role in shaping our work environment, and our People and Culture team, our leadership team members, and our Culture Committee members are integral to how we build, maintain, and evaluate the workplace culture that we strive for. Inclusion and support are critical to each individual’s experience, and one of the best ways for us to understand what we need to work on is via feedback. I regularly encourage and seek open communication about our work environment, and as we collectively work to further amplify those efforts throughout the year, I trust that we’ll strengthen our existing communication routines, which in my experience, are already strong… opportunity in this realm is never a bad thing!
AX: If you were not a people and culture manager what alternate professional path could you see yourself pursuing?
DB: In high school, my dream job was to be a middle school science teacher - definitely took a different path! I think I’d also be pretty happy in a role that had a regular outdoor component… trail ambassador, gardener, tree tech.
AX: If you were to create an HR-themed superhero, what special powers and traits would they possess?
DB: My People Ops superhero possesses patience, empathy, and an amazing ear. They are flexible, understanding, and energized by balancing the ever-evolving needs, goals, emotions… the humanity of a team of people who work together. They’re also probably a dog whisperer 🙂.