About our Guest
Alyson Gordon is the New Talent Strategies Assistant Vice President at Duke University Health System, where she focuses on the value of the employees through talent acquisition, career planning, and onboarding and retention efforts. With a holistic approach, Gordon focuses on the feelings of all involved while working with executives to achieve the desired work culture.
In this episode, Gordon explains her positive experiences with the individuals at Duke University Health System, as well as her journey to get to where she currently is today. Gordon goes into detail regarding how she has maintained a servant leadership role, where virtue and business specifically intersect in her career, and the positive impact that she has had on her clients’ lives. Finally, Gordon explains the “Peace Walk” with individuals at one of the hospitals; this event ultimately allowed all to understand that the organization always cares and that it is important that everyone has a space to be their best selves.
Alyson Gordon has experience in conflict resolution, change management, employee relations, HRIS management, leadership development and performance management. She has a strong work ethic and interpersonal skills which have allowed for Gordon to have progressive leadership opportunities as a transformational Human Resources Executive.
“[The “Peace Walk”] is a testament to what can happen when we can be brave enough to step out on faith and speak up because it builds a muscle so that next time something happens, we can ask ourselves, ‘How can the organization do this better?’ ” – Alyson Gordon
Hannah: Thanks for watching our podcast! Here at Spirit Consulting, our services include business strategy and human resources consulting. In HR we offer executive search executive coaching and work psychology consulting. Please visit us at spiritmco.com, where we fulfill our client’s dreams virtuously. Enjoy your show!
Chris: Welcome back to the Leading Virtuously Podcast. So excited to be able to have the brilliant and beautiful and wildly talented Alyson Gordon Alyson, who are you?
Alyson: Well, thanks so much for having me with you today, and I’m excited to tell you a little bit about my story. I am Alyson Parker, Gordon, and I currently lead the talent strategies for Duke University Health System.
So I serve as the assistant vice president there. And I’ve spent, all my years in HR, but in enjoying serving in this role, I’m also a mom and a wife and a Christian and a leader. And that’s a little bit.
Chris: That is excellent. Thank you. So new talent strategies, haven’t really heard it phrased that way.
Can you unpack a little bit of the scope?
Alyson: So Newfoundland strategies is essentially our funnel and we’ll call it When you think about like chutes and ladders in the organization, how do we not only bring people in and help them stay with us? So it does include talent acquisition.
And then also thinking about how we help people stay within the organization, internal mobility, career pathing, and succession planning onboarding efforts, retention efforts. And so what the early stage of our journey. A good bit of work to do right now in the talent acquisition space. But as we really scope out what’s ahead of us and what our organization needs and ultimately the people of our organization need, we know that we have to think differently about the way we approach talent in the organization so that everyone feels like they are valued and can contribute.
Chris: I heard you say in a, in another interview that you conducted. About not just looking at what our neighbor is doing. And so this is like a, off the cusp and, different role than what you see traditionally in health systems. So where are you drawing your insights and vision?
Alyson: Oh, that’s a good question.
I think it’s very common, especially in healthcare to just look at what the next person is doing and to just consider How do we make things a step better, one clip better. And so really right now, I think it’s just about people. How do we think about a frictionless process? How do we think about people’s feelings as we interact with them and what our process communicates to them?
And so one of the things that I use almost as a litmus test for things is like would it be good enough for my like mother, sister, brother, best friend. And if you work for an organization, if I work for Duke and I say, Duke is really great, but then when I meet someone and they say, oh, I went to Duke and I’m cringing about that.
That’s like the opposite of what you want. We want people, we want to be able to make those recommendations and to talk about our work. And our organization freely and without any hesitation or without with full confidence that’s going to be a good experience. And so that’s the guide, I do think that there are lots of lessons from organizations that do things well, like Disney world, when you think about.
Experience, it’s not about one aspect of the work, and it’s really holistic in the approach of how you think about people really intentionally the big things and the small things. And but it’s really about people and making sure people feel the way we want them to feel the way that our values
Chris: Duke is a massive organization and sometimes really large ships are hard to turn. You encountered some opposition in shifting the way that the business has been operating. And how have you worked through that?
Alyson: I will definitely say large organizations takes a lot more time to realize change the great thing about Duke.
And one thing I’ve consistently found in my three and a half years here has been, people are really collaborative and they’re really open. So they may not necessarily know. How we’re going to reach our destination or have full confidence, but they’re like willing to try. They’re willing to trust you enough to take that next step or to give you a little room to try something.
And so I think it’s some give and take to say, let me show you what I’m capable of. Let me prove to you in some small ways what’s possible or what we can do. And build some trust. So that the next step that you maybe don’t believe in as much you say, I don’t know really what you’re referring to, but I know you enough to know.
I can trust you, but I think a lot of it has to do with that. It also has to do with time and patience. So when we think about change and I love to read and study change, but when we really think about change, it’s about influencing it’s about messaging and you have to allow enough time. For people to be accepting or open to your idea.
And I think so often we in large organizations, we announced this is happening and it’s happening to you. And here’s when it’s coming. And haven’t allowed enough time for people to join the journey. And so that’s one thing we’re trying to do differently. And so even as we think about new talent strategies, yeah, there are tons of things we could do today, but they would probably fail if we just tried to do them in a vacuum.
And taking our time to spend with people, listening, hearing, and making sure that we’re adjusting to meet their needs is really important. I think, for any change journey and especially when it’s in a large organization.
Chris: Got it. Thank you for sharing. So I know this isn’t been the traditional road for you.
Can you tell us a little bit about your own journey to this position?
Alyson: Sure. I’ve actually worked in healthcare like my whole life. My first real job was at 14. I was working in an OBGYN clinic, like filing papers and putting away lab reports. I didn’t know what half of that stuff was, but what I did experience in that clinic was a lot of joy and connection.
And you really felt like you were part of something bigger, building relationships with the patients as you check them in and helping the doctor, deliver messages or get things done. And they were stuck at the hospital or stuck in the clinic and, or finding something important for them.
That was really my first foray into healthcare. And so I was fortunate enough to get a job in healthcare after I graduated from college, but I got it in like an HR fellowship. They called it an HR resident. And so initially I thought I like people it’s healthcare they’re going to pay for my master’s was to see how this goes.
And yet here I am. So 15 years later, I’m still in HR and it’s been a really great journey. I started from that kind of like fellowship role and grew into leadership positions have worked actually, I spent a year working in Chicago. I worked in. The east coast of Florida, central Florida, and in system settings in market divisional settings and really just have spent a lot of time understanding the different specialties within HR and how to partner with executives.
To get culture work done. And so that’s what I really feel like my sweet spot is. I understand the business, I understand the needs to move at the pace of the business and not just use like HR speak, to get things done, but really to talk and communicate in a way that our stakeholders need us to meet them where they are and find those sweet spots where we can work on things together.
I did spend, let’s see about 12 or 13 years and mostly in that organization based out of Florida and then joined Duke in 2017, which has been really incredible. So I joined Duke as a chief HR officer for a community hospital here and then moved into this. This is the vice-president role about four months ago.
So the thing that’s cool about this opportunity is I am by no means a recruitment expert. What I bring to the table. And what I have to offer is my credibility in the organization, my leadership skills, my change management experience and credibility from being able to deliver. And I spent about a year in my career recruiting a long time ago and have managed recruitment, but haven’t been in the business.
As recently. And so I do think that gives me a unique opportunity to build bridges from what our customers need. And our clients are saying to us to what the talent acquisition function is experiencing every day. Cause that’s really easy to become siloed. I think when you have a center of excellence like that, where you say this is what we do when we do this thing, this one or two things really well.
But then you sometimes get disconnected from what’s happening in the business. And so in this role, I’m able to be that bridge, I think, to help bring us closer to that.
Chris: I know from our prior engagements and interactions and relationship that you’ve always, done wonderful at the relationship piece.
And as you mentioned, I know that I guess the other thing that I just know from having Duke as a client and being able to dive deep into many things pieces of the business that everyone always speaks incredibly highly about you does. So yeah, I’m excited to see you take over this role and where that’s going to transition as well.
But the thought that the other thing that was coming to mind was that, sometimes in, in human resources and talent acquisition in particular, it’s like, we’re always like the people that are serving other individuals, so then go off and then, be successful and have those accolades, et cetera.
And versus like maybe someone that’s like in a, either sales or marketing. Like a growth role where it’s top-line growth and then it’s oh, they did this, and the other thing, et cetera. We’re like HR is more of that support role support function. So just curious as to how you’ve been able to maintain that, where you’re like in that servant role, that’s helping all their people like unlocking those doors for other people to be successful.
Alyson: Yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with it, then that common language. So results are usually common language. Data tends to be a common language. And so you have to lead with those things that create connection. When I think about the example, even, in talent acquisition, sometimes you feel like you’re only as good as your last hire that no matter what you do, it’s not enough because there’s always more jobs to fill.
And so I think. In general, sometimes what we don’t do as well as tracking people’s success over time. So this person was hired, but what did they do in the organization and what did they contribute over the course of their three or five or 10 years with us? But also thinking about what did we avoid?
Was it cost that we have waited? Did we save something? Did we improve something? And I think focusing on whatever that is, that shared and measurable people talk a lot in HR about, wanting to have a seat at the table. And I think that. I’ve seen it happen a lot of different ways, but to me, You, if you get that seat you don’t just get it and sit back, you’re always part of a team and that team is always looking for everybody to contribute. And so I think there always has to be an opportunity for you to showcase the value you’re adding, whether it’s as a thought partner, whether it’s with results, whether it’s through relationships, whether it’s through solving complex problems.
It’s not something you really can sit back and allow yourself to be forgotten. I think you have to really stay close to the work and close to the business and close to the people running the business. So that in time of need and time of partnership. It’s an, you’re an obvious choice to say, how do we work through this together instead of being forgotten or pushed to the side because you’re not constantly there adding value or reminding people of what’s possible.
Chris: Thank you. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Alyson, this podcast is all about, virtuous business leadership. So where does business in virtue intersect for you?
Alyson: Man, it’s so in a lot of ways. And when I think about, my professional journey, I spent a long time in a faith-based organization.
And I think that it was a really great experience in helping me understand how business and you can come together. It also, in some ways created some crutches for me, because it has a framework that’s almost baked into your culture that you’re not always doing things on purpose. And so I think that I learned a lot of great things that have been reminders I’ve kept with me.
We say, we treat people with compassion because Jesus did. And so I think I’ve carried that with me. Thinking about the least of these, because there, at least of these that are part of our employee base too, and in my current role or with Duke, we’re academic research. And so there’s not that natural intersection of virtue in business, in the culture.
And so I think it’s taught me a lot about. Being intentional about how I want to show up being intentional about what I want to communicate to people, what I want them to think about me or think when they think of me based on my interactions with them. And it’s really important to me to show up in the workplace as a reflection of my belief system.
As a reflection of my own values and my own virtue. And no right or wrong to how that happens for an individual, but for me, I think it’s really great when you have to do that on purpose and be intentional about how you spend time with people through mentorship fixing their problems, listening to problems and raising awareness to.
Things that become every day, but are still problems that we’ve just gotten used to. So I think that’s what I’ve tried to use my voice and try to lean into, especially over the last year. How do I use my voice in my leadership? To represent the leaf, the bees, how do I become more courageous to challenge the status quo if it’s not always good for the whole.
And I think a lot about Jesus as a model and how. Sometimes he went quietly sometimes he had everyone’s attention, but there were never times where he did not stay true to his purpose on this earth or what he came to do or who he was. And so I think that’s a model for all of us to really think about is, Not necessarily following the status quo or corporate culture, but really leaning into our belief system and our faith to carry us through things that are not always the norm.
Chris: As I said before, The way that you show up has made an impact on a lot of people in a positive way. So yeah, I would definitely give you the thumbs up that it’s working and resonating with your peers and colleagues. And but I think that, in some of the way that you answered that, though, and I know you did talk about taking care of the least of these and being compassionate, but can you maybe even Take us even further by maybe giving a specific example of how like being intentional and being focused like in leading that way and maybe like the power and impact that has had in another’s, one of your clients lives.
Alyson: Yeah. I think the most obvious example that comes to my mind is from last year. And I think he can tell by looking at me, I’m a black woman and there have been a lot of things that have come up, I think in our country over the last year and culturally, that has. Been in front of our faces in a new way.
And so last summer I was really challenged to think about how do we support people that are hurting? How do we support people that are angry? How do we connect with people that don’t understand what’s happening? How do we come together? How do we heal? And I think so often people like me have felt like.
We don’t always have permission to take up space or like we’re not always wanted. And so what I found myself doing was using my voice. And so instead of looking to other people for solutions and answers how did you use your voice and say, what. There’s there. We can’t ignore it. What’s happening around us.
I think we have this tendency to separate. We say, leave your personal things at home. But we also know that people are whole people. And really being brave enough to say to our leadership team, I think that we have to acknowledge what people are feeling and what’s happening. It doesn’t mean we can fix everything for them.
That’s like the most humane thing we can do is to help people feel seen help people feel heard and to stand up against injustice. And so using my voice in that space and actually partnering with our one of our tablets and we let a peace walk and it was intended again, just to bring people together and to let people be seen.
And so I don’t think that’s something I would have been brave enough to do two or three years ago. But I think again, thinking about. How do we stand up for people and how do we stand up for equality and justice? I think it’s important for us to recognize. And I think there are lots of examples, thinking about Samaritans and different examples in the Bible where it, there was maybe division of, because of who people were, what their background was.
And yet we’re also taught, that we are one in the body of Christ. And so I think that There really are opportunities for us to think about how we come together and how we can fill lead with love and compassion and help people feel seen. So that’s the thing that probably comes to my mind.
Chris: Peace walk. What is that’s beautiful. What did that look like?
Alyson: So we had, we actually invited our hospital. So we have about 2000 plays at that particular hospital and said, we’re going to have a peace walk. And we weren’t sure how many people would come in. And we have these little signs that people could ride on and say, I walk for.
So if you wanted to walk for peace that you want him to walk for your family, for your children. I have three boys. And so for me, I said, I’m writing for my three sons and my husband. And we had a prayer, we read a poem and we just said a few words because we just wanted people to know that we care.
And that we want to be better as an organization about making sure that people are are seen and that they have space to be themselves and to be their best selves when they come to work. So it was pretty cool. And then they did one for the health system and had a thousand people come. So that was, I think he can inspire people to change and inspire people to action, to with your leadership.
And again, it just takes a little bit of courage, cause I can’t even take credit for the idea. The idea was from our chaplain who is a white female. And so I’m really grateful to her for her partnership. But it was like my voice and my influence in her ideas and partnership and. Really just allowing space for us to connect with people.
Chris: Has that ever been done before at at Duke?
Alyson: A first of its kind, I’m going to go ahead and guess not the last, but the first time. And yeah, I think it’s a testament to what happens with me. Can, be brave enough to step out on faith and to speak up because I think that it builds a muscle so that the next time something happens, it can be for a totally different reason.
But the next time that you feel like, you know what, this doesn’t Align with my values or the, or what the organization says, our values are, how does he use your voice and stand up to say, how do we do this better? How can we think about this differently? And I think lead with that courage that is modeled for us in the word.
Chris: Yeah, I’m just, I’m curious as to. How does one go about that? So it sounds as you mentioned, like before there were, you mentioned that you may not have had that courage previously. And so you maybe had the inspiration to say we need to do something, but then you were just like, oh, the fear was like, ah, I might be thought differently.
I don’t know what that’s going to look like. And then you don’t do it. In this particular instance, you were like, Nope, we need to do it. And you took that step. So just curious as to help me understand in that journey is for the sake of like other people listening to this, what are some things that like, what was just going through your mind about like in proposing it and wanting to champion it and to push that forward?
Alyson: So I just had a really heavy burden on my heart that Just, I just had a heavy burden for people and I was praying God, what is my role? What can I do? I think it was just a really long time for everybody. And so you feel people see me in this leadership role in this executive role, and they’re probably looking at me like, will you do something?
And so I felt I’m willing, but I don’t necessarily know what to do. And so I really feel like it was important to not necessarily rush to jump into something, but to be prayerful and be thoughtful and to stay open cause I think all of that was not my design. I think it was what we were led and inspired to do.
But not because of our own doing I really believe that way because it would have been really easy for me to just say again, someone else, someone, cause I’m always feel like I’m on the, in the room. So it’s like somebody with more tenure, someone with authority, more power, not the HR person, not the HR people again. So it was like anybody. With with more power, more influence in but sometimes that’s just not the way things are planned and it’s like, God said, no, I’m going to use you. You’re here and I’m going to use you. And so I think prayerful and I think it’s staying open and not ignoring the way that You know the burdens we have on our heart or just our feelings and response to people.
I also think about when I think about the way I lead, sometimes we end up leading in these sticky situations and I really try to lead thinking about people and using my heart. Cause at the end of the day, people are people and we are also children of God. And so my role, while I maybe get a paycheck from an organization, My ultimate responsibility is to God.
And so how do I make sure that I honor him in my leadership and be patient and be graceful and be understanding. And I think it’s the same thing. It’s it’s not always what we want or the, it doesn’t always happen exactly the way we would prescribe, but I think we have to just stay open and stay connected to, to be led, to make the decisions that ultimately will be that much more important.
Chris: One of the, I think the thing that just struck the cord for me was when you said it’s like when we have the vision and when our heart is, we feel the pinch, the answer is go into self-reflection isn’t. If the answer’s yes, then go, there’s no reason to be looking around.
Okay. Maybe, or maybe no, I have. There has been something implanted within me. I have the passion and I have, I can see the way that it can be resolved. I see a solution. So then it’s there’s the golden opportunity to step forward. And then as you mentioned, you guys run this at that community hospital that then gets picked up by the health system and something even larger happens!
And it’s it’s greater and bigger than whatever our minds can be. It’s so amazing. And I think that that, like, when I think about me, I think that my gifts are in leadership. I really believe that my gifts are on leadership. And so often I feel like what can I do here?
What’s my role. And so it’s and I’m always asking, like, where is it that I can best be best served? I’ve talked about leaving an organization after being there a long time. That was a little bit heartbreaking for me because I. I was going to serve forever, in faith based healthcare, like what a perfect match, but yet here I am.
And I think that I’ve had an opportunity to not only deepen and grow my own faith, but to continue to serve. And so it’s like when those opportunities are, and if you’re always asking to be. When the opportunities or the need for you is there. I think that they show the situations will show themselves if you’re asking that to do that for you.
And so I think that was my big learning from last year is if you want to know where I need you, it’s right here. It’s we’re all called I think, to serve in different ways and different places. And sometimes, that might be at home or in your own business or working for somebody else, or we have different phases of life on that journey as well. And so those are the same things I reflect on, especially being a working mom, you’re like, is this where I need to be? Or should I be with my kids? Like, where’s the right place for me to serve. And so I think that I just continue to be shown where I can use my gift.
And where God makes up and fills in the rest where, I’m doubtful.
Chris: This is like redefining what ministries. You don’t have to define you. You don’t have to. All right. Now that I finally am in this non-profit organization that has this mission-based work, am I’m finally going to be able to do ministry where he’s like, when did Jesus ever like, all right, let’s pull together a board of directors meeting and we need to talk.
We need to plan, be able to do ministry. It’s Nope, it’s just there’s a need. There’s an issue people group that need to be loved. And just go love them.
So you also mentioned in a, in other interview that we can accomplish big goals by admitting that we have some imperfections as we’re journeying towards that road to perfection. Lead by example here, Alyson I’m putting you on the spot. So now in this new promotion that you’re serving in right now, curious, like what virtues or what virtue or virtues have you noticed that you need to grow in as you’re like into this new level?
Alyson: I think patience for sure. When can you ever have enough patience? But I think patients because the truth is, patients at home the there’s a, we have so many opportunities. I think we’re full of opportunities. We are rich with opportunities. And so sometimes you feel like, oh, we’re sitting on all this. Let’s get moving. Sometimes you feel like we have catching up to you because of maybe commitments made to the organization pre me or where the current level of performance is.
So I think patience is really important even to pace myself, because I want to make sure that I’m not giving a hundred percent of myself to work. And then my family gets zero or the leftover. So I think patience is an important part. Patience with myself, patience with others, patients with the process.
For sure patience, I think I also think about grace, you really, you don’t know what you don’t know and people don’t know what they don’t know. And what seems natural and normal to you is the same reason why it’s a gift for you. So I think being able to understand There’s a reason that you’re in that role because you have something to offer.
You have the vision, the offer, you have the commitment you have, the inspiration, you have the organization skills. And so I think grace for people that maybe need more time to catch up grace for people who don’t understand and grace for people that aren’t the right fit for the journey. I think those are the two that I really think about right now during this time.
Chris: So the. Crazy impatient Alyson shows up in your mind, this needs to be now let’s. Let’s go
What do you do with that? Maybe some people don’t have the same skills that you had, like coping skills that you have. So I’m just what your methods are to quiet that inner voice.
Alyson: I think one thing I’m really trying to build is the art of asking good open-ended questions. So instead of asking and telling people, it’s let’s discuss, so can you tell me more about this?
Can you help me understand more about this? What would be reasonable for me to get an update? And I think we have a tendency to feel like this is what I need. This is why I make it happen. Slowing down, cause you really have to slow downs and ask open-ended questions and to make sure they’re good.
And they’re not like trickery closed them in questions, but really a good like discovery. I want to know more. And so that is one of the ways that I’ve really tried to help myself slow down is to say, do you know everything? You need to know. What additional information would help you? And then that usually leads me some more discovery.
Like I said, I’m not the expert in tonic acquisition. So in a way that is also helping me, I don’t have all the answers. I literally don’t. So I have to depend on my team to help me So I think th the dependence on them, as well as, slowing down enough to ask questions really helps me understand.
There’s always more to learn. There’s always more to know, and if I can just stay open to that, stay open to learning. I think the learning leads to the doing as being learned it’ll, the learning will provide the insight that we need for the journey.
Chris: And I think that’s also interesting for organizations as well.
So now I’m not just necessarily speaking to an individual I’m talking to like people, groups that are making decisions in hiring, but I find that interesting that instead of just going with the traditional route of K let’s hire someone who is a recruiter that a recruiting manager, then blah, blah, blah, all the way up to, someone leading talent strategies.
Duke ended up, your boss ended up going with a different direction of someone that had been previously a chief human resources officer to take on this role. But then with that, because this wasn’t like, something that you had done your entire career, you’re just inherently interested, which as leaders, when we walk into environments, if we’re just going to basically say okay, this is what you got to do.
This is how you’re going to. The team may just be like, oh, holy God, I’m buying into this person. But conversely, like in this particular instance, if you just walking in and saying I just want to better understand what we’ve been doing. Help me just understand that is just like inherently shows them that.
One, they like you more, because you’re interested in no one wants to work with people that just, they’re just, they’re pretend they’re not really genuinely interested and just basically doing specific things in order to get you onto their side with, at the end of the day, they’re just going to influence you to change.
But when someone’s actually genuinely cares about you and cares about your opinion, that’s only going to want them to be able to. Obviously open up and share. And then also, secondly, as you then start to shift and pivot towards what do you think about if we went this way?
That just opens their hearts to wanting to change in that way? So thank you for sharing.
Alyson: No, you’re welcome. And I agree. I really believe in transparency. I think it’s an important part of building trust with people. So that’s literally exactly how I do it. It’s what do you think?
And then if we have to make a different decision than we, I always explain why sometimes the decisions aren’t ours, but they’re usually easier to take when we know the full story and we understand, the why is still important.
Chris: Beautiful. Alyson, how can people get ahold of you or your organization?
The work that you’re doing?
Alyson: Yeah, but easiest way to connect with me as on LinkedIn. So I do enjoy LinkedIn a bit it’s Alyson Parker Gordon, and I look forward to connecting people.
Chris: Wonderful. Thank you so much for being on the show today and look forward to continuing the dialogue and journey with you and also sending good thoughts and prayers your way for this new role as well.
And also that budding family.
Alyson: Thank you so much. It’s great to talk with you today.
Chris: Hey, Chris here.
Hope you enjoyed the episode where we discussed all things going bald, just joking, the Leading Virtuously Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode and the podcast, will you please subscribe on YouTube or apple podcasts or Spotify, or you can also share it with a friend that would be tubular. I hope you have an awesome day.