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The People Journey to Human First Leadership

November 24, 2023



The People Journey to Human First Leadership

The People Journey to Human First Leadership

Paul Wolfe is Author of “Human Beings First - Practices for Empathetic, Expressive Leadership” and a Human First Leadership advocate. Paul was the long-term CHRO of Indeed with a seasoned career in HR leadership. Paul shares how he transferred skills from Customer Service to Human Resources and built his expertise across different cultures and industries. He explains the value of transparency during periods of transformation and offers new career paths options as we transition from career ladders. Paul describes why flexibility is important for every employee and the difference human first leadership makes.


[02:35] Paul goes to college with a full scholarship but doesn’t like it which displeases his mother, a teacher.

[03:45] Paul leaves college, starts working, then joins American Express and finishes his degree in parallel.

[05:47]’s CEO and Founder ask Paul to move from Customer Service to Human Resources.

[06:30] Paul agrees to try the HR role for six months, transfers his skills and enjoys the new role.

[07:50] CitySearch and other companies go under Ticketmaster’s umbrella and Paul takes on an international role.

[09:54] Working three months in each country opens Paul’s eyes about work and other cultural differences.

[11:10] Paul’s philosophy as a CHRO: People get their work done well and clients are taken care of. Timing and surf/walk breaks are not a concern.

[12:03] Recognizing the realities of people working in other countries challenges our assumptions.

[12:50] Paul moves to initially to run both HR and Customer Service!

[14:05] Moving again within IAC, Paul helps Cornerstone build up an engineering group and go digital.

[16:10] Transparency is key during periods of change to explain what’s happening and why.

[18:04] During the pandemic, with almost no data to inform decisions, Paul increases transparency and discusses what information supports the latest direction.

[20:29] Organizations are living, growing beings with a culture generated by the environment that is everyone’s responsibility.

[22:09] At Conde Nast, Paul explores a non-tech industry and checks he is good at his job!

[24:39] As a storied, family-based corporation, Conde Nast gives Paul new insights about culture.

[26:35] Paul is offered the top HR job at Indeed, but he turns it down. He doesn’t want to move again.

[27:36] Six months later, Indeed still wants Paul to head up HR, agreeing he can stay in NYC.

[29:41] Indeed only uses Indeed to recruit, experiencing what its customers go through.

[30:36] Paul finds everyone focused on protecting Indeed’s culture.

[31:18] Growth is strong, the workforce expands from 1000 to 12,000 and attrition stays low.

[31:41] Paul’s first epiphany about human first leadership happens during a Zoom call in 2020.

[33:44] We are all the same before we become different.

[34:08] Paul does a “Dig” and discovers “Better” is the word driving his personal operating system.

[35:08] To make the world better, Paul leaves Indeed to write a book and spread the message.

[36:42] Employee flexibility is key. Paul believes in treating people like adults.

[37:48] If executives believe hybrid working is negatively impacting collaboration, how were they measuring collaboration effectiveness before?

[38:31] Why not be transparent: describe metrics, trial a plan, and review the data in six months?

[39:02] What about asking employees to discover the range of situations they are dealing with and using that information to develop policies?

[40:52] How much (better) were people really working when in the office at their desk?!

[41:31] Flexibility for employees who have to work onsite—giving them equitable options.

[42:18] Managers are not great at performance reviews, so making remote working a reward for performance is complicated.

[44:30] How leaders can help employees deal with ongoing changes, especially with many unknowns.

[45:38] Transparency about AI and its potential impact supports change management.

[46:35] Individual contributor career paths present new options for those who don’t like or aren’t good at managing, which has been developed in engineering but not other areas.

[48:52] Let’s create two different career paths—a leadership track and an individual contributor track.

[51:51] Engagement, upskilling, career development, and performance should be ongoing discussions.

[56:20] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: We are all human beings first. We are all dealing with a lot and self-care for leaders and everybody is important. What’s more, no one has all the answers. It’s okay—as a leader--to say I don’t know. It’s ok to be vulnerable. IF you have curated a good team, they are going to rally. The better solution comes from collective thoughts from different perspectives.


“I would always hope that I'm open enough that my perspective on something, my truth on something, can be changed by experiencing something or talking to somebody or hearing a different idea.”

“I think leaders in general, not just HR leaders, need to get more in the mindset of every organization is this kind of living and growing being. It needs nurturing, it needs care taking. You can call it culture. You can call it whatever you want to. But that's not HR leader's responsibility. It's everyone's responsibility.”

“The more that you create this transparency, you start to set the stage for psychological safety within an organization and generate ongoing two-way communication—employees to leaders, leaders to employees, employees to employees. And you end up with better ideas, better solutions to problems, and a more kind of engaged and informed group of people. “

“I've always run my HR organizations with this simple philosophy, treat people like adults more often, not they will act like adults. And the two to 5% that will never act like adults you deal with separately.”

“We all have different needs. So the idea of one size fits all is not right anymore. It's one size breaks all.”

“Let's figure out where your skill gaps are. We'll agree on those. Some of the stuff you're going to have to go get on your own and I'll point you in the right direction. I'll make sure that I give you interesting projects that love that start to tap into those areas that you don't have expertise in. And I'll block and tackle for you because a leader's job is to block and tackle most of the time.”

“My hope with performance, career, and engagement, it just becomes this ongoing conversation that happens.”

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