How a career change to HR put this leader on the right path
When Carrie Wadman decided it was time for a career change eight years ago, she really wasn’t messing around. At the time, Wadman had been working toward a Ph.D. in English, after having served as a college instructor for a decade, teaching literature, composition and communications courses. But once Wadman earned her advanced degrees, she sensed that she would not be truly fulfilled in the academic arena.
“I was finishing up my doctorate and realized that I didn’t want to stay in a university setting long-term,” says Wadman, today director, HR Operations, at Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin (SEW). “I wanted to see what life was like outside of academia.”
So, she changed course and landed an entry-level, temporary, part-time job at insurer Northwestern Mutual, doing very basic work with the company’s learning and development team. One thing led to another and Wadman quickly realized that an HR career offered what she sought. Even better, her arrival at Goodwill Industries of SEW in 2016 made the decision doubly rewarding by giving her the opportunity to work in HR for a nonprofit whose primary mission is helping the community. Today, her prime responsibilities are the Employee Service Center (ESC), talent acquisition and HR compliance.
Since joining Goodwill Industries of SEW, Wadman has steadily taken on more challenging projects, not the least of which happened in the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Wadman’s manager, Nicol Britten, vice president of HR, Goodwill of SEW’s future was uncertain last spring.
“Our primary economic engine is our retail stores, and the stores had been closed for weeks due to COVID with no reopening date in sight,” Britten says, adding that the senior leadership team made the difficult decision to conduct a round of reductions via furloughs. Approximately 4,000 employees were suddenly and temporarily out of work and had no access to Goodwill’s internal systems; yet, they still desperately needed HR support.
To meet that specific challenge, Wadman led a project to start up the Employee Service Center, a centralized direct conduit to HR support originally slated to go live in 2022. Moving very quickly, the project team was consolidated within one week and had a case management system up and running within three weeks. Wadman’s group created an email address and phone number that delivered easy access into the case management system. Next, the new system tracked all correspondence and gave HR the ability to confirm that every request for assistance had been properly and promptly managed. Although most people reaching out to the ESC were on furlough or no longer with the company, the service was so strong that the team still received high ratings in customer satisfaction surveys.
“This project was difficult to accelerate on such a short timeline,” Britten says. “This work also required significant change management efforts, as the new support center had to be socialized to current and furloughed employees.”
Internal communication was a challenge in the months following the pandemic’s outbreak, but Wadman was able to help her team navigate these waters effectively by supporting Britten in managing direct mailings and mass communications to furloughed and former employees who did not have access to Goodwill’s intranet or email. Wadman also helped the interim internal communications manager ensure that all employees—active or furloughed—were aware of the ESC as an easy way to request HR support. That involved creating and distributing new communications letters, emails, articles and flyers, as well as leveraging the Goodwill intranet and HRIS to reach active employees.
In 2020, Wadman also led a project to outsource Goodwill’s employment verifications to a third-party vendor, which lightened the burden on internal staff. She also helped lead the HR team through two significant open enrollment changes: executing a remote open enrollment and moving to a new service delivery model. The result was a major success, with 97% of eligible employees enrolled for benefits—the highest percentage in the last five years.
“Clearly, Carrie was able to help Goodwill Industries of SEW overcome significant obstacles in the last year with her ingenuity, tenacity and forward-thinking strategic approaches to HR, all while providing inclusive support for employees,” says Jen Colletta, managing editor of Human Resource Executive. ”Her work illustrates the balance HR professionals strive for in advancing business objectives while keeping employee needs front and center. She is already rising through the ranks of HR at the organization and her record suggests she will continue to make a name for herself in the HR profession.”
For her part, Wadman says it’s been serendipitous that she found Goodwill Industries of SEW as her first serious HR career opportunity.
“I’ve benefited from working with very talented people, who were kind enough to give me the guidance and support that really helped me really get rolling down a positive path in my HR career,” she says. “The many wonderful supervisors I worked with were generous in sharing their skills and helping me learn and grow. They also gave me the responsibility I needed to level up to take the next step.
“So much depends on finding people who will invest in you as you’re growing and learning,” Wadman adds. “I’ve just been incredibly blessed here.”