How the Atlanta Braves Transformed HR Leadership – Adapting to Uncertain Times

DeRetta Rhodes

Executive Vice President, Chief People Capital Officer at Atlanta Braves
Woman leading a team in a conference room

Learning Objectives

Please join the Executive Vice President, Chief People Capital Officer from Atlanta Braves, DeRetta Rhodes in this Executive Interview where she will discuss how she transformed HR leadership to navigate her organization through a global pandemic.

Key Takeaways:

  • Has COVID changed your strategic approach to HR?

  • What have are your priorities given the world climate?

  • What have been your learnings in the last 9 months you would like to share?

"The biggest learning is flexibility and perseverance. The flexibility to be okay with the fact that if your goal planning that you did for that year has to change, that's okay."

DeRetta Rhodes

Executive Vice President, Chief People Capital Officer at Atlanta Braves


Hello everyone and welcome to the Connect HR leadership virtual summit hosted onquartz network. My name is Britt Erler QN Executive correspondent, thank you so much for joining us. I would like to welcome our executive speaker here with us today. DeRetta Rhodes, Executive Vice President, Chief people Capital Officer for the Atlanta Braves. Welcome to DeRetta. Hello. So glad to be here. Pleasure to have you here and really excited to dive into this conversation today to discuss how COVID-19 has drastically changed the HR landscape and what to expect going into this year alone. I’m sure like many other HR executives, your role has changed and expanded, especially in this new virtual environment. Talk to me a little bit more about what all you’ve experienced.So you know, it’s interesting when he started out last year, and we just kind of walked in not realizing that pretty much for most of the year, beginning in March fora lot of organizations, we were not going back to the office, if you think about that very critical time when across the United States, different offices were making decisions to close. And they were saying, oh, we’ll close it this time. And then we’ll wait and see. Well, for us, it became a wait and see what we have to operate from my perspective, in a spirit of basically change every single day. And not only just regular change, but cataclysmic change, like the differences between not only closing your office, but how do you deal with being an organization that was not virtual, that had to stand up virtual within 48 hours, and become virtual, and still be virtual, the change in healthcare and what we had to do very, very quickly and pivotwith not only our healthcare providers, but for our staff. And then another topic thatwe probably didn’t readily talk about, but we spoke to it in some ways is the concept of mindfulness. So literally everything else that we thought about doing when we started in 2020, drastically shifted in 2020, in 2020, in March. The other interesting part of that is that as you were dealing with just the climate of organizations, we’re also dealing with social and justices that we have to also address within organizations. So to say the least. And I say this to people all the time, it was a matter of disruption. And it was constant disruption and understanding how you managed to constant disruption. Of course, it was, you know, a rough year to say the least in as you mentioned a lot of different areas aside from COVID-19 itself. And now no one can be 100% prepared for especially a pandemic and the social and justices that we did see last year alone. But did your company have strategies in place to at least help you prepare for certain situations like this? So I think it’s I think that’s a great question. I think the we’re like most organizations we had, which you typically would have in place, right? I think what then had to happen. And I speak to this quite a bit around the difference between a wartime leader and a peacetime leader, we all of a sudden had to put in the fact that we were going through such a difficult time, we had to put that in quickly and start making decisions very quickly, almost on a dime. So I will say to you, to be honest, but there were some things we were absolutely prepared for. But for me to say, Oh, we were completely prepared. Now, that’s not the answer. And I don’t thinkthat there’s not a colleague or CEO out there with this listening to this have that type of experience, I think it really came back to, okay, we’ve got to pivot quickly. And this was the challenge, you had to pivot quickly. But every single day, it was

something new to pivot quickly on. And so, again, there were things that we were prepared, we were prepared for, right, we we had already stood up a lot of our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. And what we did is we just pivot those andhave those shifts or conversations that we started adding, specifically about social injustice and things of that nature. So we did that quickly. When when we started talking about the changes we had to make in the in the office and how we had to stand up an organization that it was now working from home. We did that quickly. And I would say to you that our organization and our staff, were very resilient duringthis timeframe. Because all of us, I mean, who’s to say none of us have gone through a pandemic and have had to put strategies in place for that. And so what I’m proud of is that we came together very quickly and was able to think about whatthat meant not only for staff, look for fans for our community. Now, what are the things that we could make sure that we showed up very, very strongly, and all of those areasand I’m so glad to hear that from Because obviously your industry is one that got hitthe hardest. So along with ours being in events and everything, being in person, it’s it’s been a really rough year and pivoting as quickly as you have, and also how we have, thankfully, you know, has worked out in our favor, but for a lot of companies ithasn’t, especially in the HR space, how has your approach changed due to everything that happened last year?So you know, I and I’ve talked to colleagues about this all the time, I don’t necessarily know if I could say to you that my approach changed, okay, what I would say to you is that my speed to set up so to speak, market, our speed to leadership or staff, I had to shift that. So whereas before it programmatically, I was looking at something that we would do for our leaders around, either speaking about resilience or getting healthcare information out, or whatever the case may be, I may have a project line to be able to do that. In this particular time, we didn’t have project line. So it really was about how quickly we could get how quickly and what was the speed of getting things done, and getting them done in such a way. I’llgive you an example. When we first started with COVID, nobody was talking about contact tracing. And all of a sudden, when we started dealing with the fact that the pandemic was upon us, we had people that were getting infected, we had to start thinking about how do we do? How do we do contact tracing in such a way that it is respectful, that is private, that is confidential, but it’s also making sure that the organization is safe. That was something I would say to you as an issue professional. I wasn’t doing that in my job before. And so we started thinking about those types of things that we had to adjust to very quickly. That’s an example where I probably can speak to you about contact tracing what that looks like the conversations, you have to have the communications protocol that has to go out. Whereas before, back in March, I couldn’t have had that conversation with you at all. And so when you speak about it hit HR professionals, probably the hardest, it did, because we were the ones that have that closest contact between leaders, and between staff and making sure that we’ve got all of those things in place. So we hadto really get educated on things very quickly, CDC guidelines that get educated on new new federal laws that dealt with Family Leave Act and what that looked like in

the shifts that were being made there. We here in the state of Georgia had to get really quickly with our Georgia DLL Department of Labor and how you had to do reporting. So it became a part where we couldn’t just spend time and say, we’re going to project time. So we’re going to put a calendar in place, we again had to make sure that we shifted very quickly so that we could both serve our staff and ourleaders in this time of so much uncertainty and change.And I think what’s really important to note there is it wasn’t only having to make changes in shifts in the professional space. But also personally, you know, knowing that everyone who’s now working at home, is going through a completely different circumstance, whether they have kids maybe that are being homeschooled, or they have animals in the background, or their living spaces not set up to work from home. So having to juggle and manage that and pivot knowing those things. And really having a sense of humanity, I think is what has made this whole ordeal so much more difficult. Now with these pivots and shifts that you’ve made, and now that we’re in this new virtual landscape, how have you made sure that the new strategies you put in place are aligned across all of your teams?I think that’s a great question. And I can’t tell you that I can say Oh, it is completely aligned, I think there are things that come up all the time that you’re having to address and adjust to. So if I were to say to you, if I talked about how, how our IT staff had to shift very quickly and end the call for again, an organization that was not prepare or used to be completely virtual. I mean, think about it. In the frame of baseball, it’s about fans, it’s about connectivity is about communities about people coming together and meeting. And all of a sudden, we’re not doing any of that. And the context with which our staff is used to doing that very thing. That was the biggest challenge. And so some of the things that we have to start thinking about, we’ve got a part of our organization, where they basically do engagement activities for the organization and these different things. And so they had to pivot very quicklywhere we were now doing recipe cook offs and, and trying to make sure that we make connections with people or it was your best vacation planned or whatever it was. So he was trying to figure out a way to make sure that although you’re not in the Because we still are engaging you virtually. The other thing, I think that was really important for me and my team is that we really needed to go back and work with our health care provider. What are those things that we needed to make sure that we’re outlining for individuals where it is? How you could get testing? Where are where it was? How could you make sure you’re still doing what you needed to do? Right, around any of your traditional health habits? And so we really had to think very powerfully around how do we continue to do that. One of the things that we did when we typically we have a face to face town hall meeting to bring everybody together, we had to go virtual. And some of my leaders did not like that. And by the way, some of our staff didn’t either. And so it got to the point of where we had to think about just like you and I are here Britt doing this talk, we had to think away things to think of ways that we could ensure that our staff could still have the connectivity with the executive leadership team. But they were still getting communication and getting messages. I would add to that is that the form of communicating, just change. And it wasn’t what we were used to, specifically in

this type of environment. And so we started my team and I started working with another Learning and Development Group, but we were sending out just things that you could think about with micro learning, and how do you do virtual meetings now?And how do we stand at the technology where you’re more comfortable to do that, if you hadn’t been before, so we would try to make sure that we were equipping both our leaders and our staff with tools that we have moved into this very differentworld of which we connect, and of which we communicate so that we can make suredoesn’t happen. Sodefinitely, it’s such a different experience, as you mentioned, because you know, you’re not just connecting through work, you’re connecting with people in your own home, you’re bringing them into your home and your personal life. So it’s very interesting to see that. And I think to, as you mentioned, still feeling connected withleadership. And this decisions that are being made throughout the company is so crucial, so that people don’t feel like they’re just sitting at home and that their work no longer matters in this new virtual space. And based on what you’ve seen and experienced as an executive and everything that you just mentioned, what are some of the learnings in the last nine months that you think are crucial for other HR executives to follow?I think the biggest learning is flexibility and perseverance. I think the flexibility to beokay, with the fact that if your plan, your your goal planning that you did or whatever it was for that year has to change. That’s okay. And I think the perseverance is just around just being patient with yourself and giving yourself grace, because you’re having to walk the organization through this. And so learning your own kind of coping skills with that. But those are the two things that I would say, are the things that I think are the most relevant, that helped support me when Itoo, was spiraling? Because I can tell you, there have been times where I too, was spiraling. It was like, Oh, my gosh, how are we going to be able to do this, or, you know, I can’t get into the proper labor about this, or I’m impacting people’s lives. And I really need to think through what that impact looks like.I couldn’t agree more. And I think that’s such a great piece of advice, because there’s been so many times last year this year that I was spiraling, and, you know, thinking to myself, am I doing a good enough job? You know, my role has expanded and, you know, it was constantly a struggle of what do I work on? First, you know, what’s going to make the most difference. And so really being able, as you mentioned, to take a step back and accept that, you know, your failure failures, teach you lessons, learn from them, and also being able to adapt, you know, quicklyin any situation and not being so set in stone. I think those are excellent lessons for people. And based on what you’ve seen in this may be very difficult, as I understand, but are there any trends that you foresee coming up end of this year and into 2022?I think that’s a great question. I do think you’re going to see several trends. I think one of the trends that you’re going to see is around this incredible, I think body of work of mindfulness, that I don’t know if all organizations have thought about that before. I mean, you think about what that looks like and how you’re going to be able

to be more supportive for your staff and that standpoint. The other one that I would say, Well, we’ve, I think have given nonprofits the responsibility of this. But I think corporate responsibility and the whole thing around community and how your organization is tied back to community, I think you’re going to see a very different view of that moving forward just because organizations at this point didn’t have a choice but to do that, because at this point, it’s staring right at you right I also think one of the trends is, how do we do work now moving forward, like the leaders that wanted to physically see you and make sure you were working, because in their minds, the only way they knew you’re working is that they saw you, that had to go right out the window. And so and I think the understanding of productivity and efficacy around that has also shifted. So I think you’re going to see a shift with that. And I think you’re going to see leaders view it differently. The other area that I thinkyou’re going to see where it’s not just going to be kind of a start stop is going to be a continue is initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion, where you whereas before, I think you had organizations that talked about it, but may not have had things that were in place, but then you’re gonna start seeing sustainable programs that are tied to the business around diversity, equity and inclusion.Yes,I completely agree. We’re actually doing that right now at our own company, you’re very right. It’s something we always talked about. And we always try to always triedto be very inclusive, but now we’re working on really putting programs in place to make sure that happens. And it’s such an exciting time and a lot of different ways. And I’m really excited to see how our company grows with it. And as I’ve talked to a lot of other executives, not just in the HR space, but in supply chain, marketing, finance, they’re all really focused on that for all of their departments across the board. So it’s a really exciting time. And now as far as your priorities that you’ve seen, you know, professionally, and also personally, how had those changed for you?Oh, gosh, um, that’s a great question. I think, you know, as, as I’ve, as I, personally have dealt with this and have you things, I think for me, it has been around, also giving myself grace, but also putting rigor around programmatic things that we can do from an HR perspective. And what I mean by that programmatic rigor around how do you get people feedback, and they weren’t getting it before? Where I think that that’s a huge talk as you you speak around workplace environment, and what that looks like, rigor around understanding succession planning, and really helping individuals understand what their next steps are. And if they can’t get to those next steps, what are we providing as an organization to develop them? I think it’s not that I didn’t focus on that before, I think now, I have become more attached to whatthat is, because people are thinking differently when you’re at home, 24. Seven, youjust start thinking differently about your role and how you make impact. And I think those are the things that I am putting more rigor around, and then sustainability around that corporate responsibility to help people truly be their best selves at workwhen we talk about it. And now, I really want us to be much more intentional around how we do that.

Yes, definitely, I completely agree. And I think that’s a great idea for all execs to really start focusing on not only for the people within the organization, but for themselves, as well as any final pieces of advice that you have for other HR executives, and even other executives and other industries.You know, again, I’ve said it, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse. But I do think that for our executives, giving ourselves grace and giving our and giving others in our staff grace to as we go through this very challenging time. And even as we startoff with 2021. So the interesting thing, I think people thought, Oh, 2020 one’s going to get here, it’s all going to be erased. Well, no, that’s, that’s not how that works. And it really is the fact that we have to start easing our way back into what not is going to be the normal that we do before but what our new normal is going to be, what I would just say is leaders are doing that, as HR executives and professionals are doing that give yourself grace, as you’re having to make that shift. But have those difficult conversations have those tough conversations, so at least when you begin to have them, it makes it so much palatable, as you’re having to can continueto change, they continue to go into your new normal.Yes. And and I can just say from personal experience, you you give nothing but grace, and you’ve been very graceful to me, you know, this starts the year has beenrough for a lot of us, including myself. And so I think that’s such a crucial point, you know, to really treat everyone with respect, and know that not everyone is going through an easy time. So thank you so much. doretta. you’ve provided incredible insights to executives from all the different industries today. And I’m sending lots of good vibes and prayers for you and your companies way that hopefully we see a great turnaround towards the end of the year and into 2022. And thank you for everyone who has joined us today. There will be a discussion forum underneath thispresentation. If you have any final questions or comments for diretta thank you again, everyone for being here. Please stay safe, stay healthy and enjoy the rest of the summit.

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