PR’s Top Pros Talk… Women Leaders – Sukhi Sahni
Sukhi Sahni, Head of Corporate Communications for U.S Card and Retail Bank Divisions, Capital One
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: SUKHI SAHNI
DOUG: Sukhi, let’s start out with your advice for women like yourself who are already in leadership positions and for those who aspire to be.
SUKHI: I would say two things. One, just be fearless. Because I think having a good relationship with fear allows you to take risks. And that’s really, really important for all of us, especially for women. And secondly, find not just mentors, but sponsors who would be ready to support you when you’re not in the room itself. So be fearless and find that sponsor who allows you to make a pathway for yourself up the chain.
DOUG: That’s great advice. And also, at Capital One there’s been a significant increase in women taking on more senior level roles. Can you tell us about that? And if there’s a process behind it that others could take up?
SUKHI: I think just like many other organizations, it’s really critical to have the right talent that meets the needs and requirements of the business. At Capital One we have so many women from different backgrounds, really in senior leadership roles, driving everyday business decisions, but really making sure what’s needed for our customers and developing teams underneath them, investing in the communities as well. So, it is a big priority to make sure we have women leaders who’ve got a voice, who’ve got a seat at the table. And I would say it’s my extreme pleasure to actually work with many of them and learn from them on a day-to-day basis. Is there a process? I think we are really intentional about hiring really, really good talent, like a set talent that meets the need, but it also allows us to continue to innovate as a company as well. And I think we are just in a really good place with that.
DOUG: One of the things that you emphasize and talk about, what people love to talk about, what is working. You also talk about the learning opportunities from what isn’t working in communications these days. Can you share some of those ideas?
SUKHI: Yeah Doug, it’s so funny because we joke about it. As communicators, we are always such a yes person. We have leaders on our team who will actually force us to sometimes say no, because you know for a fact based on the data that you have, that you’re not going to make a big difference or communications might not be the right place to invest as well. Similarly, I think when you when you look at your work, over the last year and a half, now that we’ve been already working from home, it’s been really critical to have a good assessment of what’s working, what’s not. So, we we’ve changed quite a bit of we’re all sort of working behind the Zoom screens. We know that Zoom fatigue is real, but by just saying that is not going to be helpful. So, for example, know on my team, one of the things we do is we have walk and talk calls. We actually tell my team members and others to take some time off Zoom and actually just get a sense of belonging, whether you want to go outside, want to take a walk. But it’s OK to be on a phone versus all the time have to be on Zoom as well. So, it’s almost taking what’s not working with the Zoom fatigue and creating an opportunity as part of that too. So, I think having a solutions-oriented mindset is really, really critical. The other thing I would say is there’s just a lot of communication that’s happening right now. Most companies, most leaders are already overcommunicating, and I think there’s a need to do that. But making sure, what happens with that is when you have too much content coming your way, whether you’re a consumer or whether you’re an employee, it’s really hard to decipher what you want to focus on. So, be very thoughtful and intentional about what you want to put out there and how often should it go? Who does it go after? So, really the basics of marketing and communications and leveraging that for yourself on tough topics like diversity, inclusion, belonging, on tough topics like racial equity. So, while sharing that is really critical, making sure you’re doing it in a way that’s actually helping move the needle and creating the engagement that you need as well. And I think the last thing that we quickly realized was given everything that’s happening around us and the fact that, again, we’ve COVID a lot of us and working at home, just being more empathetic, I think, and empathy comes from a place of realism. So, not being empathetic for the sake of it, but truly bringing a real self. And I think it’s OK to pause for a second or attend to a young child or it could be a dog. Also realizing many, many employees work by themselves and live by themselves. So really being open and understanding of that I think is really critical. And a lot of these are just situations like some things work, some don’t, but I would say looking into what’s not working, but with a lens of creating solutions, it’s really, really critical.
DOUG: And I think being empathetic and having that mindset is also important for you as you look at how you can be a resource for your customers in this environment. Do you maybe have some examples that you can share?
SUKHI: You know, I think it’s obviously our frontline associates, they are the ones who are bearing the brunt of this every day. We have many retail branches and cafes. We have our ambassadors still engaging with many customers, too. So, they actually get to have that face-to-face conversation with many of our customers. And I think what we’ve done is, in our DNA we’ve always sort of had this customer-oriented approach at Capital One. So. really leaning into pause, to listen, to understand and then reacting to a situation. So, I think that training, and just like having that build in the culture of an organization has truly helped us over the last year and a half. And I think we continue to build that. Outside of sort of when you’re not directly thinking about it, or engaging with the customers, how do you bring that empathy to life in your day-to-day communications and marketing? When last year when COVID hit and again, like I said, Capital One is one of the first companies to start working from home. We made that decision keeping the safety of our employees and our frontline associates and our brand ambassadors in mind as well, making sure that they were in a safe space. But then for our customers, we quickly realized they’re probably not looking forward to hearing a message from Capital One about our credit cards, right? They would probably be looking forward for information about how to take care of their finances, what needs to be done, if somebody has lost their job, what are the forbearance opportunities we can offer? So, I think it’s, again, knowing what the needs of the customers are and then understanding those and making sure that comes to life and not just in the communications channels, but also how you communicate with them across a variety of different channels is critical. So, I think that helped us quite a bit.
DOUG: And you also talk about sort of speeding up the pace of innovation, which clearly COVID, the pandemic, social justice issues have done. But a large size company like Capital One, how do you make sure that innovation doesn’t have to take months? How do you get that buy-In, how do you move it forward? Because it can be a very challenging task.
SUKHI: It could be. And I think I go back to who we are as a company where our focus is. We are customer–oriented, we take our insights and data very seriously. So, we’re always looking for ways to make a difference in the life of our customers and our employees as well. So, it’s not like things completely changed once the pandemic hit. So, I think when it’s built into your DNA, then it’s built into your culture, innovations on what’s happening every day. So, it’s not like innovation just happened over the course. I think what we quickly realized was we were able to decipher the needs in the moment and then work backwards from that to make sure we were solving for the needs. And obviously, just like any other company, were we be able to solve for everything? Not really. It’s a journey, but having the awareness of what the needs of your customers are going to be, I think that’s critical. And just like any other corporation, you have to get the buy-in, and you have to make sure you’re doing the right way. Oftentimes innovation is tied into how quickly you go to market. I think it’s really critical to be thoughtful because one mistake could lead to an experience like you don’t want your customers to have as well. So, yes, innovation has been critical, but I think what I applaud my teammates and the broader companies, we’ve done this in a really thoughtful way, which is truly making an impact.
DOUG: Sukhi, you really provided some great advice, information, tips on how to be innovative and in this time, how to move women forward during Women’s History Month and beyond. Also, the importance of diversity, inclusion and belonging. Thanks so much for spending time with us.
SUKHI: Of course. Thank you for having me.