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Interviews
Office Snacks: Alex Link

In our Office Snacks series we interview members of our community to delve into their varied buffets of experience and come away with juicy insights and ideas.

Join us in our next instalment below as Alex Link—Lead Director, HRBP at CVS Health and regular contributor for us—shares his wisdom with us.

We’d love to get to know you better, where are you based?

I live and work out of the smallest state in the USA: Rhode Island. If you’ve never had the chance to visit, yes Rhode Island is in fact a state and not part of New York (a question I’ve received numerous times) and is home to beautiful beaches to visit in the summer, wicked nor’easters come winter, and amazing restaurants to dine at all year.  

How’d you get to where you are today?

I would say my curiosity, drive to continuously learn and zealous push to innovate, partnered with being lucky to have some strong mentors and an amazing leader who recognized my abilities and put me in positions to succeed, are probably what accelerated my ability to get into the HR leadership role I'm in today.  

I’ve zigzagged through numerous HR walks of life—the combination of which has left me uniquely positioned to be successful as an HRBP. I have experience in Labor Relations, Talent Acquisition, Talent Management and Learning and Development. Each role offered new experiences, new knowledge, and new abilities that I was able to bring forward into future roles.   

I think what’s helped me be most successful in my role as an HR Leader is my strong talent development background. Today’s labor market is incredibly competitive. Beyond this, the way we are thinking about work is fundamentally changing, with more organizations shifting away from jobs to prioritizing skills, and of course the heavy emergence of hybrid work.

My ability to help develop and lead a talent strategy has probably been the single most important thing that's helped me get to where I am today.  

How does your typical day look, do you have a set routine you stick to?

Part of the fun of working in HR is that every day brings something totally new and unique—“the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” could have been written directly with the HR Business Partner role in mind.

So, while I have a routine and usually plan set for each day, it pays we be highly flexible in my approach as I’ll never know what’s dropped on my desk until I’m in the throes of it.

The challenge with needing to be highly flexible is you need to put up some guardrails, otherwise your work life balance can quickly spiral out of control.

I have a 3 year old daughter, and a 4 month old son, and I’ve built my routines around being able to spend time with them.

This means at the start and end of every work day I have time blocked in my calendar to ensure I can drive my daughter to school in the morning and that I can break right around 5 PM to eat dinner with the kids and do bath time and bed. 

I’d much rather work later in the evening after the kids have gone to sleep than work late and skip my time with them.  

How do you describe your job to others?

This is a tough one—I’m not even sure most of my family and friends truly understand what I do.   

Most simply put, I have the privilege of leading a team of strategic partners to the business leaders we support.  

As HR Business partners, we are strategic thought partners to the leaders we partner with, acting as their trusted advisors to help develop business strategies and align talent-related solutions that will allow the business to succeed now and into the future. 

This often means partnering with various HR Centers of Excellences to ensure that my client groups get the appropriate partnership from all various HR teams across the organization (i.e., Talent Acquisition, Compensation, Talent Management, etc.). 

In my role as an HR Leader, I not only have the ability to partner with the business but also help position my team to meet the needs of the organizations we support. 

This includes providing my team with the coaching, development, and the support needed to grow and be successful within their roles and their careers.    

I think there’s a misconception around HR having all the answers or being a set of hands to delegate to.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

This is much easier—the amazing colleagues I’m lucky enough to work with on my team and beyond. I truly have a spectacular team of colleagues and leaders I work with.  

Beyond this, I'm very passionate about developing others—whether it’s the next wave of HR talent or colleagues and leaders across the organization. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing someone you’ve helped grow realize their aspirations.

What’s your biggest challenge as an HR leader?

The volume of change we’ve seen over the past couple of years. Change fatigue is real and, as HR leaders, we have the added complexity of needing to not just lead our own HR teams through change, but also help the teams we partner with navigate change.  

What do you think is the biggest misconception around HR?

I think there’s a misconception around HR having all the answers or being a set of hands to delegate to. One of my colleagues jokingly summed up her role as “answering 1000 questions a day."

The reality is that many employees (and even leaders) don’t realize the strategic role that we play and the value that we add to the business (all of course while answering numerous questions along the way). 

How has technology impacted the HR world?

One simple change that I’m fascinated with is the enablement of remote HR support via the emergence of strong remote collaboration tools.  

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was historically a very strong emphasis on HR support being geographically tied to the geography of the leadership team they support.  

I think that COVID-19 taught us all a strong lesson that colleagues and HR professionals can perform at a very high level working in a remote/hybrid environment.

Which are your most-loved tools that help you with your job?

I’m a big fan of Talent Marketplace solutions and how they can be leveraged to help develop colleagues and drive internal mobility. I’ve had great experiences with Fuel50, but there are some other great ones out there as well.

What’s been your most successful initiative to date and why?

I’ve had the opportunity to lead the design, development, and delivery of multiple emerging leadership programs, the latest of which is designed to develop our high potential mid-level leaders.  

I think there’s a key few reasons why we've had great success with these programs:

  1. The first is putting people first. We took a human-centered approach to developing the program, going as far as leveraging Human Centered Designers to support the research and design of the program and ensure that it solved for the right problems and truly met the leaders.
  2. Second, cohort-based development. There’s something magical about getting a room full of high-potential leaders together. The energy is palpable, they learn from each other, and they build relationships that will continue to benefit all of them as they move into upper echelons of leadership.
  3. Lastly, investing in developing strong leaders pays dividends. Strong people leaders have the ability to pay their own growth and development forward—they continue to positively impact your company culture, they develop their people and use their learnings to create better outcomes for your business. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It sounds cliché, but “don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.” The reality of our work is that it will always be waiting for us when we get to it the next day.

As a perfectionist and a zealot for taking care of the leaders I support, the reminder to let progress be good enough when it has to be is an important part of making sure I take care of myself and find balance too.

What do you think is the biggest challenge organizations face in the current labour market?

The war for talent. This problem is much bigger than just the tight labor market and rising wages, especially in certain niche industries.

We’re at a crossroads from a talent perspective. Employees are unique, complex beings with unique, complex needs.

Leaders need to understand these needs and build work environments and systems designed around them if they want to continue to attract, retain and develop the best and the biggest in their industries.

Lastly, and most importantly, what’s your favourite office snack?

Popcorn, bar none. 

First of all, if I'm going to snack, I want something I can snack on for a while (what’s the fun in snacking if my snack is gone in a minute).

Secondly, popcorn is highly versatile—it can be salty, sweet, cheesy, buttery, chocolatey. Perfect for any craving.   

What’s your favorite office snack?

Work in People and Culture? Want to share your ideas?

Applications to be interviewed are open to anyone (yes anyone!) so don’t hesitate to fill in the form for an opportunity to share your knowledge and ideas.

By Finn Bartram