Lydia Chodnicki loves figuring out what matters and why. That's how she has moved from managing numbers to managing people. Lydia is soft-spoken, pauses to think before she responds and exudes calm and competence. She's the kind of person you want to escape from a loud party with to have a long, meaningful conversation. She lives in a small rural town outside of Baltimore, where there's no internet and she regularly gets snowed in during the winter. But she enjoys the beauty and peacefulness of the country.
A Numbers Person
Lydia works as the Director of Payroll for Education Affiliates, which offers post-secondary education, with both online and on-campus courses. They have 48 locations and about 3,500 employees, most of them part time. She began her career in accounting and describes herself as a numbers person. She appreciates the structure, rules and joy of getting the right answer. It's part of what she loves about payroll. But she also started wondering about processes and more effective ways to do the work. "Today, there is so much more we can understand from the data," she says. For example, from looking at overtime data, she can begin to understand staffing needs and how to better manage scheduling and cash flow.
Learning Along the Way
It was also Lydia's curiosity about how to improve process that taught her to be a caring and effective manager. When she started managing a team, she began by asking people about their struggles with work and having conversations about how to do things differently. As she discovered new solutions, tools and more effective processes, Lydia worked with each location, in-person where possible, to teach her team to use new software and get comfortable with different approaches. The key was thinking of herself as their partner and keeping everyone informed about what was happening and why. She learned to manage people by staying focused on solving problems. "We are all trying to do the same thing," she says. It's about coming together to make the work happen, exploring new ideas through trial-and-error and learning together along the way.
From Managing Numbers to Managing People
Lydia keeps notes on each location and how people are doing so she can customize her approach as much as possible to help people succeed. She likes to do training for new employees so she can get to know them. When problems arise, she is more interested in figuring it out the solution than focusing on what went wrong or who to blame. "I work with such a smart group of people," she says. "I want everyone to feel heard and that they can talk to anyone."
As Lydia thought about how she has gone from enjoying the quiet certainty of numbers to managing a team of far less predictable people, she attributes much of it to life experience. After some reflection, she offered what she's learned:
- Appreciate the little things, but also keep the big picture in mind.
- Pick your battles. Know what matters and why. If it doesn't help what you are trying to accomplish, it may not be worth fighting for.
- Look for people's strengths and what they are good at doing. Then find ways to for them to succeed. Spend less time on weaknesses.
- Know your audience and what matters to them. This comes into play with everything. Understanding people helps you communicate more effectively
- Learn when to talk and when to listen.
And maybe it's this level of care and compassion for people that is what actually improves our processes and makes them work. It is certainly true for Lydia Chodnicki.
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