This episode was recorded on March 11, just before we here at StaffingHub started sheltering in place. Though much has changed in the past few weeks, Joyce’s wisdom in this episode is timeless and uplifting. We hope it brings you hope in these unprecedented times.
In this episode, Caitlin Delohery, Editor-in-Chief of StaffingHub, interviews Joyce Russell, President of the Adecco Group US Foundation and author of Put a Cherry on Top: Generosity in Life & Leadership, about facing conflict head on, the importance of emotional intelligence, and what she learned about staffing from her experience at the Olympics.
Hello, and welcome to the Staffing Show. I’m Caitlin Delohery, Editor in Chief of Staffing Hub, and today I’m talking to Joyce Russell, President of the Adecco Group US Foundation and former President of Adecco, the second largest provider of recruitment and staffing services in the United States.
Joyce is a panelist and participant at the World Economic Forum in Davos and Fortune’s most powerful women’s summits. She’s on the Board of Directors of the American Staffing Association and Dress for Success International. She’s a former board member of the committee of 200, a top women’s business organization that advances women leaders in business and she’s a recipient of the C200 Luminary Award for corporate innovation. Most recently Joyce has added author to that list of accomplishments with her new book, Put a Cherry on Top: Generosity in Life and Leadership, which has been called “a delightful and insightful gem” by Susan Packard, the co-founder of HGTV, and Billy Jean King says, “Joyce Russell’s fresh, funny, and wise insights about life and work will inspire and energize you,” and they certainly did for me. Thank you so much for joining us, Joyce.
Caitlin, it’s wonderful to be on the show today. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to jump in here.
Fantastic. To kick things off, can you read a passage from your powerhouse of a book and give listeners a little sneak peek of it if they haven’t read it already?
Caitlin, I thought I’d go to the end of the book and maybe tell you a little bit about the last two paragraphs and what they say.
Living a Cherry on Top life means approaching every situation and interaction with joy and optimism, and taking care to be attentive to all the little things that comprise the whole. The cherry on top is not just one thing. It’s the cumulative impact of being thoughtful, kind, and considerate, and having a spirit of helpfulness and generosity.
You see, we get to choose how we live our lives, how we treat others, and ultimately how we will be remembered. Don’t miss the moment to go above and beyond to bring joy and happiness to others. And remember, always put a cherry on top.
I love that passage so much and it’s such an important reminder, especially right now, and it really gets at something your book does so masterfully, which is focus on the joy and optimism of a job well done. And reading your book, it seems to me you understood that joy of hard work from a very young age, getting your start at your father’s farm. I love this story about you picking tomatoes and selling them at the farmer’s market. I was wondering if you could share a little about your career path from selling tomatoes to the staffing industry and how you got your start.
Yeah. I did a talk the other day and one of my first questions to the group was, how many of you majored in staffing?
You can imagine the room with 150 people in it and not one hand went up and that was me too. I didn’t major in staffing. I kind of happened into this amazing career with this amazing company.
I was supposed to marry my college sweetheart. On my way to get my wedding dress, my mother says, well, let’s stop at a temporary help company, and you can get some temporary work while you’re planning the wedding and probably in the next six months. So I walked into a staffing company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and I ended up working in that industry and with that company. And that kind of worked out and marrying Rob kind of didn’t. So, I got a great start in the staffing industry and ended up marrying a great man later on, David Russell.
But I happened into the industry and then happened obviously to working with this amazing staffing company called Adecco, which was a small staffing company in 1987. It was called Adia, and of course, Adia and Ecco merged later to become Adecco.
But I happened in as a branch manager in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a great team here, and we just had an amazing ride in the branch and in the area and the region and ultimately to run the company for 14 years, the general staffing business and then now on the wonderful foundation that I’m privileged to lead and truly is a cherry on top in my career with Adecco.
That’s great. So you’ve been in the staffing industry for over 30 years now and your book is just packed with great stories like this when you’ve started off with about being a generous and joy-driven leader. Can you share some of your favorite stories or one of your favorite stories focused on the kind of growth that Adecco has seen and what that story taught you?
Yeah, if you read in the book, my ancestors were in Florida. I’ve a long lineage of being a Floridian. So when I married David and moved to Charlotte, I didn’t know anybody here. It was more a small town in 1987, but one of the things that we always wanted to do at Adecco is own the market, own the best places to work. So the philosophy was, in my mind, if I could own the best places to work for Adecco, then we would own the business. And in those days there were two tiny little banks here, one called First Union and one called NCNB, which was North Carolina National Bank. And as you know, those companies are Wells Fargo today and Bank of America. So one of the lessons in the book is, what are the best places to work? You want to own those best places to work, then all the associates or your contractors want to work there.
I always say, if I was the fairy godmother and I was in your market, what 10 accounts would I make sure that you had in your portfolio? So I think that’s one of the great lessons in the book is about focusing on the right accounts and winning those right accounts.
And how did you know when you were starting off what those right accounts were like? Did you have mentors that guided you towards what would be a good lead or did you follow instinct sort of for that starting out in the industry? What did you do?
Caitlin, let me tell you how that happened. So if you read the farming story, right? My dad was a farmer. He comes home, and he says, hey girls, do any of you want the fields before Hunts and Heinz come in to make ketchup because he was a tomato farmer.
My older sister, Karen, nose in books studying, went on to med school, younger sister studying and very involved in our church. I said, dad, I want the field. So, I would go out on a Friday afternoon and I would pick tomatoes. I come back, I cheer the ballgame, go out with my boyfriend, curfew, get up at six o’clock on a Saturday morning and go to that stand.
I was standing behind a card table and a fish tackle box with my money in it and I’ve got 20 to 30 buckets of tomatoes in front of me. Here comes a person down and she comes in and starts picking tomatoes out of a bucket.
The next thing I noticed is a gentleman is right next to her, and he’s picking tomatoes out of the same bucket. Now I see another person come in my little stand area and that same person, three of them are around the same bucket and I’m looking and thinking: all the tomatoes are the same. I didn’t pick any special tomatoes in the bucket.
So, my thought was, I’ve got to get those buckets here in Charlotte. Those very best places that everybody thinks they want to pick from. So that’s where the philosophy and my insight came from was being 17 years old and seeing that from a farm stand.
That’s great. And it also really exemplifies how from a young age you have the emotional intelligence, the EQ, which you talk a little about a lot in the book, to make that observation and sort of extrapolate to how people behave and how people buy and how people work together, even. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of emotional intelligence and share two or three of your favorite lessons from the book?
Yeah, so I think your EQ has to be higher than your IQ as you move up the ladder in promotions. I sometimes talk about, your first promotion is pretty much a hundred percent your IQ, your technical skills. That second promotion is less about your IQ, but more about your EQ maybe 50%, but as you get up in those very high-level promotions, to run a company, it gets almost 90% your EQ, your ability to relate to other individuals.
So, I always say you really want to work that muscle and really build your EQ intelligence as well as your IQ intelligence. You really want to work on that piece and get stronger and stronger. You know, some of the lessons from the book, trying to think of the ones that I really want to share on this call, hang on, I’m going to look them over just for a second to see which one.
I think talent is the biggest rock in the jar is a huge one. You know, it was never about me. It was the ability to find talent, have them join our team, build a culture that always beats strategy and have the best team. You know, we were Branch of the Year and that was a team of us. We were Area of the Year and it was a team of us. We were Region of the Year and that was a team of us. And then we did accomplish amazing things running the business. So I think I have an innate ability to attract talent to our company and to our industry. And I was always very focused on their success. I can be a pretty tough coach, right? Because a coach cares about you. I would say if we’re coaching you and working with you, and I really, really like you. If I’m ignoring you, that might be more trouble.
So, I think talent is the biggest rock in the jar for all of us in getting the right people in the right seats and any tool in the company. One of the areas that I had to work on and I was not strong on, Caitlin, and I want to be honest on this call, was confrontation. It was something in personal growth that I had to work on. Learning to confront, learning to go to the fire when there was a problem. Go straight to it instead of an email or a phone call. Get to that person. Get to that client quickly. So I think that was an area of growth and I want people to know that as leaders we’re all growing all the time and learning. There are two chapters in the book that people always ask me to elaborate on when I’m doing a book talk.
One is a very interesting chapter called, Your Boss is Your Best Customer. I’ll talk about that in a minute. And the second one is, Never Let Anyone or Anything Change Who You Are. But I had a customer, had lunch with me one time, and he said, “hey, I want to be honest with you. I don’t like my boss, my new boss, I don’t like him.” I immediately said, “danger, danger, danger.” And I looked right across at this customer. I said, “if you don’t like your boss, I’ll bet she doesn’t like you either.”
And so that was a wake-up call and we ended up having a great dialogue. How I said it was his responsibility. I’ve had 13, 15, 16 bosses and I always thought it was my responsibility to develop that relationship with the boss. And that’s a different way to think about things versus ‘I don’t like my boss.’
The second chapter that everyone wants me to talk about is this one, Don’t Let Anyone or Anything Change Who You Are. And I think there’s a huge conversation right now of being able to be your authentic self, and when you’re your authentic self, you bring your best self to work and do your best work. So I think that’s huge conversation in culture right now is that people get to be them. And I’ve had great bosses that didn’t ask me to be anybody but me.
Yeah. And I feel like that really dovetails with this idea about facing confrontation head-on, which means being really transparent. Even if things are hard, even if things don’t go the way that you think they should, if you are transparent with everyone on your team, everyone’s more able to be their authentic self, too.
Yeah. Once, someone gave me some advice. They said, Joyce, you’re always so optimistic and positive, but sometimes things are hard. We just need you to say to us, this is going to be hard.
And what I love about me is, I’m not perfect and I love to change. And I liked that feedback. So, now sometimes I say when things are hard, I’m honest. I said, this is going to be hard for all of us, including me and I’m honest about that versus just positive and optimistic all the time, which I am, too.
Yeah. And, speaking of hard, times are a little uncertain right now. And as we’re looking forward to the rest of 2020, can you share how you’re bringing that optimism and that willingness to face the difficulty of time both into your goal setting for 2020.
I have this saying, circle of influence versus circle of concern. What can I do about certain situations? And then I look for optimism and what I can control in that situation.
One of my goals for 2020 was being better about me working out, my well being. I had not done a good job of getting to the gym, going on those walks. And so I just said, I’m going to focus on personal well being, which takes dedication and stick-to-it and lots of discipline.
And so what I find when I go to the gym, to the classes at night, Caitlin, is they’re actually hard and you know things are hard, right? And so I keep thinking, I’m going to like it and it is still difficult. And so, when times are difficult, I just think we need to look for the best in everyone in every situation and having that cherry-on -top abundance mentality.
I like that a lot. And I think this may relate to you. You focused a lot on raising up the next generation of women leaders and of course, there are difficulties there, but you’ve really focused on your significant circle of influence. And so, can you talk a little about some of the actionable things staffing firms can do today to encourage the next generation of women in leadership roles?
Absolutely. I think the one thing that we all have to do as leaders is leave a legacy. I say, I’m planting trees of whose shade I will not sit under. I want to, like we’re doing on this talk today, give some lessons that took me 30 years to learn that someone could buy the book or listen to this amazing podcast and be better from it and not have to take 30 years to learn it.
We have the Adecco Group Foundation, and I’m very pleased to say that our middle pillar is all-around women’s equality and leadership. We joined the Paradigm for Parity. So I’m absolutely focused on in North America: how do we leave a legacy within Adecco’s female leaders as well as the American Staffing Association?
I will be the president of the board next year and thrilled to lead as a top female in the industry to leave a legacy with men and women in leadership because I believe in all leadership. But we don’t have parity in the industry at the highest levels right now, and I’d love to work hard on that throughout my career here and remember something else.
You need to put your handprint on the organization, by the people that you hire and that people that you mentor and most of all the people that you sponsor. Devote your time to develop that next generation of leaders.
Yeah, absolutely, and I think that really just points to the importance that you talk about so much in the book of relationships and building relationships across all differences, no matter what. The most important thing in the people business is focusing on the strength of your relationships and you also rightly speaking of relationships before you start recruiting externally, reach out to your own network for referrals because good people know other good people. You said at Staffing Hub Live last year, A’s hire A’s, B’s hire C’s and C’s hire loser, which is something that we’ve talked a lot about in the months since. I think it’s a great motto. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of referrals and building relationships in growing a people-first business like staffing and hiring those A-players who will bring on more A-players to your team?
Yeah. I also have another saying, hire slow and fire fast. People always laugh when I say that.
I have a couple of favorite interview questions, Caitlin, that I love to ask. And right now, the first question that I ask when somebody sits down to interview with me, I said, tell me a little bit about how you prepared for this interview with me. And then I’m quiet. Right? Was this day in this moment with me and with the Adecco Foundation so important that they did their homework before they sat down.
The other story that I love to ask when I was in the industry and hiring salespeople is, tell me a success story before the age of 18. I want to know, did it start early? Did she sell Girl Scount cookies? Did he play a band instrument?
Like show me some kind of dedication and success way early in their childhood. And then I love this question and it’s actually a hard question to even understand and I asked the third question cause I want to see how their listings skills are. And I asked this question, when have you last stepped out of your own lifestyle wishes and preferences to accommodate the wishes and preferences of someone else?
Because in the staffing industry, many times we’re inconvenienced with a very late order at 4:30 or 5:00 in the day. And I want to see early in their career, would they be inconvenienced for someone else, for something else, somebody else needs and be happy and joyous about it? You see, I think my mom named me, right, Joyce, because the first three letters are joy. And I think that she just got it right or my mom and dad, when they named me, to think about joy in everything that I do.
I love that. One of my favorite stories from the book, which I think is filled with joy and really exemplifies putting how Adecco put a cherry on top for you, is your experience at the Olympics. Can you tell that story for our listeners?
Oh my gosh, it was such an amazing time. So, Adecco staffed about 10,000 contractors for the Sydney 2000 Olympics and they awarded us two torch relay spots. And so I was so very fortunate when our president at that time, Debbie Pond-Heide said that I was going to be one of the torch runners.
Caitlin, I wasn’t a runner, so I had to begin running and I had to run with either a bag of sugar or a heavy can in my right arm because the torch weighed about five pounds. So I ran all over Charlotte with my hand up with a soup can over my head or a sack of sugar and I ran, ran, ran, ran, ran. And then we got to Sydney and I get an amazing spot.
I got day 99 on the Governor of New South Wales’ relay team, who that relay team, which I was on was the relay team that gave it over to Olivia Newton-John. So it was Devil Bay. I thought I’d have to run far and maybe up hills because Sydney has hills. I was downhill running. But my favorite part of that story is my 10-year-old son Coleman, my second boy, was running in the street next to me. You’ve got a secret service agent on your right and a high school student on your left. I’m running with the torch, and there’s Coleman with 100,000 people around me, yelling, THAT’S MY MOMMY, THAT’S MY MOMMY. And so it was just such an amazing, the pride that he had in me as a mother that Adecco has given me that experience. And I talk about the power of experiences that we need to give our colleagues.
It’s sometimes worth way more than money. And so, that experience that Adecco gave me, that torch hangs in my family room today and you get to keep the torch. You just pass the flame. And I brought that towards home with me in the United States. We went to all kinds of cancer hospitals and schools across America. The rings are rubbed off of them because I let all the children touch the torch. It’s not as valuable as other torches cause the rings are gone. But it makes me super happy that the rings are rubbed off from children across America.
Oh, I love that. I just feel like you are passing the torch on in a lot of ways to upcoming generations of leaders and also in your transition from Adecco to the Adecco Group Foundation, sort of taking your experience into another realm. Can you talk a little about how you prepared for that transition and about your work at the Adecco Group Foundation?
Yes, absolutely. I knew it’d be difficult after 30 years of working in the business to transition over to the foundation. I kind of broke myself a little bit. I went to a wonderful place in Calabasas, California called the Ostrom where you hike every day, 7 to 15 miles and you really kind of disconnect from this world. There is no sugar, there is no cell phone, there is no computer, there is nothing other than just the outdoors and this amazing experience to get away from the world. So I kind of broke myself with something that I’d never done before, challenged myself and then came back with vigor to really make a difference in the Adecco Group Foundation.
And that was founded about a year ago in January of 2019. We’ve got three pillars in the foundation.
The first pillar is something I feel passionate about is making the future work for everyone. As we know, artificial intelligence and robotics and a lot of the world of work is changing. So we’re focused on rescaling and upscaling in pillar number one.
The middle pillar we talked a little bit on this call, which is parity. And so I am very focused on that pillar, which is women’s equality and parity.
And the third pillar is giving back in our local communities. And so it’s just been an amazing experience to lead the foundation. I’m so proud of the work that we’re doing, and so proud that this is the cherry on top of my career in the industry.
Oh, thanks. That’s beautiful. Thank you so much. Thank you, Joyce, for joining us on the podcast and for sharing your wisdom, both in your book and in our conversation. We’ll put a link to Put a Cherry on Top on Staffing Hub, but for listeners who don’t want to wait and you shouldn’t, you can hop on Amazon right now and buy a book in the lovely hardback, which is in my hands right now, and in the Kindle version. Thank you so much, Joyce, for joining us. I really enjoyed it.
Caitlin, I can’t thank you enough for having us on the show today. It’s been an absolute joy.