Ep 254: The CHRO at a Nonprofit Organization with Tee Okasi-Nwozo

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Ep 254: The CHRO at a Nonprofit Organization with Tee Okasi-Nwozo

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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Episode 254: The CHRO at a Nonprofit Organization with Tee-Okasi Nwozo 


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.52] Welcome to the Workology podcast sponsored by Workology. Today’s podcast is part of a series on the Workology podcast focused on the role and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or CHRO. The CHRO is an executive or C-level role that deals with managing human resources as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. Now this series is powered by HUB International. Today I’m joined by Tee Okasi-Nwozo. She’s the Chief Human Capital Officer at DC Central Kitchen. Tee, welcome to the Workology podcast.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:01:08.43] Thank you. Thank you for having me here.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:10.50] Let’s start a little bit with your background. You’ve been in the people business for nearly 20 years. How did you start your role in human resources and how did it evolve to a Chief Human Capital Officer?

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:01:23.79] Great question. You know, I really like the word of a term evolve, because when I think about the different types of HR roles and experience that I’ve had, I think each role has, has paved a path or led to the next one, ultimately leading me to my current role as Chief Human Capital Officer at DC Central Kitchen. As far as my career evolution, if you will, I wanted to go a little further back to my very first full-time job post-college. I actually started out in operational management. I was a security operations manager responsible for managing security services for a company, obviously, that included, managing security personnel. But what this position also meant was, you know, it meant that I needed to also understand the business side of things. So in this role, I had exposure to the company’s, you know, P&L. I understood how the business worked. I understood the industry, who the competitors were. So I’d say this position really placed me in a space where I could see the direct link between people performance and business performance, right? Which I, which I thought was great. I immediately understood that if I needed to, to be able to excel in providing excellent not only customer service but client service, it was imperative to take the time and resources that were necessary to not only hire the right people for the role, but the work on engaging them, work on developing them and work on retaining them.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:03:03.30] But of course, after a year of being in on the operational side of things, I quickly learned that I preferred the people side of this business and was able to successfully transition to HR management within the same company. But I would say this initial role really crystallized the idea of the type of HR professional that I felt like I wanted to be. right? So for me, I knew that I wanted to be a to be viewed as a strategic business partner. And that has always boil down to being able to understand a business’s objectives, being able to understand the space or an industry that I’m operating in and based on that understanding, to be able to offer really strong HR ideas, HR practices and programs based on that understanding of not just the business, but with the challenges that, that I’m presented with.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:59.49] Right? So, of course, you know as an HR manager, I was able to learn traditional HR functions, but also strategic value-added functions, whether that was recruiting, onboarding, succession planning. That was really where I cultivated a depth of experience and technical know how in the human resources field. So as an HR manager with this depth of experience, I was able to position myself as an HR expert. Right. And typically, when clients are looking to engage in HR consultants, they’re looking for a certain level of expertise, which I was able to provide in this role. So that was how I was able to successfully navigate from operational management to HR management to this HR consultancy. And I would say that my experiences in HR consultants then really widened or expanded the breadth of my experience as far as, you know, given the exposure, the exposure that I needed to different types of businesses, different types of industries and perhaps unique takes on on the same HR challenges, right. So how do I drive employee engagement? How do I retain my staff? And so when the opportunity for the Chief Human Capital Officer role that DC Central Kitchen came up, I was able to highlight the strengths of both of these experiences and really convey the value add that I would bring to the organization. And of course, four and a half years later, in this role, I find myself being able to really leverage my experience both as a strategic business partner, as an HR practitioner, as well as an expert in my role internally. So, yeah.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:05:51.23] Well, I think that well, I know that you’re the first see CHRO in the podcast series that we’ve talked to that works for a nonprofit. And one of the things I wanted to ask you about is, is there a difference between people management in a nonprofit versus a profit arena? And if so, how does that work and what are they?

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:06:14.03] That’s a really interesting question, because, you know, I actually feel like there are more similarities and people management in both of these spaces than are their differences, right? Because if you, if you think about both spaces, both of these types of spaces, the bottom line is employees create value in these organizations. And so the role of human resources then is how to really create environments where there’s this value can be optimized now that the how might be a little bit different because of the way the spaces show up, perhaps because of the way success is managed in the two different arenas. And so but I think the general framework is the same for the most part. Right.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:06:58.44] So now in terms of speaking of the differences, if you will, when I think about my experience in the private sector, my role in HR strategic business partner was to design and implement people in organizational development strategies that were aligned with the company’s goals and strategic direction. So all of my efforts were really around looking for ways to maximize talent performance to in order to drive business performance, which we would measure by how profitable the business was. Right. So ultimately, that is the bottom line measure and the private sector and the for-profit space. Another metric we would look at in the private sector or the for-profit spaces is your ROI, right, the company’s return on investment or the benefit or the returns that, that we gain relative to our investment costs. So from an HR perspective, this might look like trying to figure out if it’s worth engaging in a specific recruitment strategy, whether it’s participating in career fairs, investing in a particular software or employee engagement program or training and development program, especially if it ultimately meant that we could hire, engage and retain the right people in the right roles so that, you know, the business performed well and ultimately increased that company’s profitability. So in the for-profit space, I would say that’s how people value in the company’s bottom line are connected. Now, in the nonprofit space, the measure and the metric of organizational success is quite different. In the nonprofit space, we measure success by the impact of the mission in the community we’re serving. So ultimately, as an HR executive at DC Central Kitchen, which is a nonprofit, I am responsible for designing and implementing HR strategies that align with and support the mission of the organization.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:09:02.60] So when we look at our talent strategies, we’re looking to ensure that we are identifying the right individuals that are committed to the mission, but also bring a variety of necessary skill sets to the workplace along those same lines. I’m concerned with what I’m focused on engagement and development efforts because I recognize the value that our employees bring to the organization. Right. And I think another distinction that I wanted to point out for, for some nonprofits, including DC Central Kitchen, is that when our human resources also expands to volunteer, so we see our volunteer resource as a very, very valuable part of our organization. And the last and final point, I wanted to make distinction I wanted to make that I think is really unique to DC Central Kitchen. Is this and it’s also really inspiring for me as a Chief Human Capital Officer for the organization. So our mission focuses on fighting hunger and poverty through culinary job training programs, as well as our job creation efforts. But beyond that, we also look to provide opportunities for individuals to identify and develop their strengths, but also apply those strengths as they navigate through their careers. So as part of our operating model, close to 60 percent of our staff are graduates of our culinary job training program. So for us, having a critical human capital component as a key part of our mission makes the role of human resources for us at the kitchen not only a business imperative in terms of driving key organization strategies and outcomes, but for us it’s mission critical. So we want all of our staff to be engaged, empowered and positioned to navigate through meaningful career pathways within the organization.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:11:07.13] Again, not just because that’s important for the business and the strategy and the mission of DC Central Kitchen, but it’s intrinsic to, to who we are.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:19.95] What skills and experiences do you believe are absolute requirements for the CHRO role, especially for thinking and maybe talking to people who are just getting started in the HR industry?

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:11:31.71] Yeah, you know, so I’d say besides being exposed and learning as much and as many of the different types of HR functions through one’s career. Right. So whether it’s as a specialist in terms of getting more in-depth knowledge on a certain thing or as a generalist in terms of general exposure to specific functions, I think that trajectory to senior HR leadership really would require business knowledge or business acumen, being able to understand the business or the space that that one is in, being able to understand the context and currency of the space that one is in, again, whether it’s non-profit or for profit. When I was involved in the, in the for-profit spaces an HR professional, I actually took some time to pursue an MBA. I’m not necessarily recommending that specific thing for folks that are looking to strengthen their business acumen. But, but that, that was sort of my choice of action. I really wanted to be able to strengthen my business knowledge, understand strategy, understand forecasting, financial management. And I thought that that was a really great way to, to complement my, my HR knowledge. But I think even in terms of how one does close that business knowledge gap, it’s, it’s a matter of, of learning on the job, using the opportunity within whatever organization you’re in to learn the business and the space in which you’re operating, understand trends, understand hot button topics and areas even more in-depth fully understanding the different functions and that that different departments, you know, play the role that they play within the organization.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:13:22.68] How this procurement work, how does what what what is the CFO concerned with? What does your P&L statement look like? Or whatever financial statements that your organization uses? Because it’s slightly different in the nonprofit space, taking the time to understand that the other skills and experience that, that say are necessary would be around HR analytics. Right. So for sure, you want to be tech-savvy. That’s, that’s the way of the world today. But in particular, being comfortable with data, being comfortable with, with knowing how to get the right information, knowing how to understand the story that the data presents and, and arrange the data and the way that it’s informative and helpful so that as an HR professional, you’re able to set strategy based on that information. The final piece I want to say is around change management. And I think that the role of HR and change management has, has never been so apparent as it has, I would say, in recent times. Right. Given the immense the great degree of changes that we’ve all had to face with just different elements with the pandemic for one. Right. And a lot of organizations are looking to HR leadership. Right. For that direction and that guidance and that navigation. So starting now to think about how to cultivate agility, flexibility, creative thinking and innovation, how to, to get comfortable with, with measured risks, again, better informed by data, informed by information and a keen understanding of the business, I think are really, really key requirements for those that are starting out in the industry with the ultimate goal of getting to a place where they have a seat at the table as HR leaders in their respective organizations.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:28.35] How does the CHRO role change maybe how company leadership works with HR or vice versa?

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:15:36.25] Yeah, you know, I think elevating the CHRO role to a C-level position is definitely a strong first step. I think it presents the opportunity for whoever is in this role to establish and build a partnership of trust with the CEO or the business organizational leader. Now, there is a higher chance of establishing this type of close strategic partnership if this CHRO is successfully able to convey a general understanding of the business or the operational model for that organization. Now, I think the ideal relationship between the company, the CEO and CHRO is one in which it’s almost second nature to think about the people side of things when the CEO is thinking through any business or organizational strategy, almost in the same way that the CEO might consult with the CFO and or the Chief Development Officer in a nonprofit space to discuss the financial or funding impact, I think it’s very imperative that the CHRO, is able to use this opportunity to really position that seat in that position as one of strategic value.

Break: [00:16:59.41] Let’s take a reset.  This is the Workology podcast sponsored by Workology, and we’re talking about the CHRO role with Tee Okasi-Nwozo. Now, this podcast series is powered by HUB International.

Break: [00:17:14.62] This episode is sponsored by HUB International. Your full service employee benefits broker. HUB International helps you power forward with a tailored employee benefit strategy that evolves and adapts to new workforce challenges, personalized benefits, engage employees and manage costs. Visit HUBInternational.com today.

How HR Supports Organizations and Workforce Dynamics 


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:39.56] You’ve recently been working on Integrating Strengths Finder into your organization. Can you talk a little bit about this process and how this has worked, especially with all of us working remote?

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:17:52.47] Yeah, perhaps it’s helpful to maybe give a little bit of background about Strengthsfinder?

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:58.42] Yeah, absolutely.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:17:59.33] So let me just maybe start from there. So Stregthsfinder is a personal development tool that was developed and designed by Gallup. It’s used to identify the natural way that we show up when we are at our best selves. It’s used as a natural way to identify one’s strengths, which is the term they would use as far as how we execute or get things done, how we influence, how we process information and how we relate to people.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:18:29.94] And so this process really starts off with a 45-minute assessment where the individual taking the assessment is asked a number of basic behavioral questions. And based on those responses, the tool then provides a unique sequence of the 34 strength themes for that individual. Now we focus on the top five most dominant strength themes in a person’s strengths report because they represent who you are when you are at your best self.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:18:59.82] Right. So that’s the information that we use and we recognize this as a person’s strengths within DC Central Kitchen. So as far as how we’ve implemented strengths as an organization, we actually introduced Gallup’s Strengthsfinder over four and a half years ago, I think, when we were first and foremost looking to provide a shared share language across the entire organization that everyone could use to identify strengths, develop them, appreciate them, recognize them not only in themselves, but in one another. And we knew even when we kicked off strengths that we wanted to go beyond just identifying them. We knew that we wanted to reinforce the strengths frame and all of our people practices and systems. Right, so that it becomes second nature, top of mind when, when we’re talking about talent and we’re relating to one another. So we successfully integrated strengths into our performance reviews. It’s definitely a key part of our meetings. They’re used as icebreakers in different meetings, from leadership meetings to board meetings and even our all-hands-on staff meeting twice a year. So it’s really been a great time. So naturally, with workplace dynamics changing up or evolving a little bit, we’ve had to just take a step back to reassess how we re-engage, recognizing the changes that we’re obviously contending with.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:20:36.03] And so a big part of that is, is staff working remotely and us looking for ways to continue to foster engagement within the organization. So one of the things that we’re looking to, to kick start still fairly new so we’re still trying to work out the logistics, but we’re looking to introduce group sessions virtually where we would convene small groups of staff together and use that space to celebrate strengths, to encourage folks to spread and give people a space to really just celebrate each other and themselves and flex their strengths, if you will. So we’re really excited about that practice or initiative that we’re looking to roll out, hopefully before within the next few weeks. Obviously, we’re, we’re looking for this to continue into next year and beyond because, you know, it’s interesting having to adjust to this current normal, in a way, has introduced or created new ways or innovative ways that, that we can, we can do things differently. And so this is one such opportunity that this new dynamic has presented.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:21:52.26] And we’re looking forward to taking advantage of it in terms of introducing these strengths, group sessions, which we weren’t previously doing. So it’s cool.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:01.80] I think this is great, and I love I personally am a strengths finder kind of nud and I think many HR people are familiar with Gallup’s Strengthsfinder and I love how you’re applying it. And it’s something that maybe we haven’t done in a few years that we could bring back into our organizations and be able to leverage it in a, in a way like you’re talking about. What does success look like for you and the organization that you support? I’m asking this also because as a nonprofit versus a for-profit, success might look different. But what does, does that look like for you?

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:22:38.85] You know, this is a really awesome question. And so I think what I want to do is probably answer it from an HR perspective. So I earlier talked about how critical the work of human resources is for us as an organization, because one of the critical ways we, we or key ways that we measure our success is really our ability to create meaningful career pathways for members of our community, including our staff community, of whom close to 60 percent are graduates of our culinary job training program. Many of our staff are also from the communities, the very communities that we serve. So for me, success would involve just our ongoing work to ensure that we ultimately create a work environment where all of our staff are empowered to own and drive their careers across different levels of the organization. Of course, with your managers on hand as, as coaches, you know, there’s so much internal talent within the organization for us to tap into. And so as we continue to look for ways to expand our impact in the community, we are also part of that work is continuing to look for creative ways to ensure that these diverse talents and skill sets, voices, perspectives, experiences, etc. are not only heard, but they, they inform the work that we’re doing directly. So as we grow as an organization, we also expect that the opportunities for career growth would increase and all of that is promising. So again, success for me would, would look like a well-oiled machine or system that would support all of these elements employee empowerment and engagement, cultivating managers as coaches and success partners as I like to view them, creating more opportunities for both staff and community input, as well as more opportunities for career growth. So so that’s something that we continue to work towards and, and measure very closely so.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:50.37] How do you measure the return on investment of HR within your organization?

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:24:54.84] So so we track a number of things in HR to figure out how best to utilize our resources or where to focus on. The pieces around how well we are doing around creating meaningful career pathways is a big piece, and I’ve touched upon that a couple of times.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:25:13.44] But the other key HR performance metrics that I think I want to highlight, we capture these on a quarterly basis and we discuss them as a leadership team on our executive dashboard. They are turnover rate safety number of safety incidents. And of course, we have a diversity metrics for the organization as a whole. But we also look at diversity at the leadership level as well.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:25:39.66] Finally, once a year, we measure employee engagement using yet another Gallup tool, the Q12. It’s just I can’t say enough about just how, how great the Q12 is as a tool for being able to, to measure engagement on a consistent basis year after year. So those are the key ROI measures of HR within our organization.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:05.52] What’s the one thing you think HR leaders should be focusing on when it comes to training, growing, and learning about things outside of human resources?

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:26:14.25] Yeah, I think the way that HR leaders can really position themselves in a standout way is, is really immersing themselves again in the spaces that they operate in, whether it’s the business, whether it’s the issue area, if it’s for nonprofits. And again, being able to really understand how a business functions, how a business makes money, how four of the not on the nonprofit side, how the organization drives change in their communities, how they engage with the ecosystem in which they operate in, who are considered partners within this ecosystem, right, because I think that the credibility is is everything and being able to establish one’s position at the leadership level and ultimately we want to make sure that we are training, growing, and learning in a way that we’re we’re truly seen as strategic and trusted partners in the positions that we’re in. So the HR functions, I think by, by way of just doing your job and being in your career, you will always have that exposure to those types of things.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:27:44.19] And so the key pieces then is how you complement that, that that HR function of HR role and elevate it to a space where, you know, that the seat that you occupy at the table is a prominent one within, within the organization that the HR leaders.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:04.95] Tee, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I wanted to know where people could go to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:28:15.69] So I’m currently Chief Human Capital Officer at DC Central Kitchen. My, my LinkedIn page has, I believe, my, my full name listed and identified. For sure check out our website, DCCentralKitchen.org to learn more about the efforts that, again, are our talented team of staff and community members are involved in. And I believe that’s it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:45.27] Awesome, well, I’ll link to your LinkedIn profile as well so that we can make sure that the people are able to connect with you and learn about the work that you’re doing and then connect to learn more about DC Kitchen. So thank you so much.

Tee Okasi-Nwozo: [00:28:56.70] Thank you. This was great.

Closing: [00:28:58.92] It’s really interesting to delve into how the role of a CHRO works within the nonprofit sector as well as how ROI, return on investment, and success is defined through positioning talent as a powerful tool to drive the organizational mission. I appreciate Tee taking the time to talk with us and share her experiences with us today. Thank you for joining the Workology podcast sponsored by Workology. This podcast is part of our CHRO series, which is powered by HUB International. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time, visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes.

Closing: [00:29:41.27] Are you studying for your HRCI or SHRM exams? Join our free HR Certification Study Group on Facebook. Search for HR Certification Study Group, or go to HRCertificationStudyGroup.com. ACE your exams with the HR Certification Study Group.

Connect with Tee Okasi-Nwozo.



DC Central Kitchen

CHRO Job Description

HUB International

Episode 252: The Role of the CHRO in Change Management

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