How ‘The Finisher’ relies on respect, trust to lead through influence

HR's Rising Stars: A former hospitality employee, Jennifer Singman of Kapsch TrafficCom says her past career prepared her for a future in HR.
By: | June 14, 2021

Jennifer Singman has had a diverse career: She has extensive experience in hospitality, worked as a culinary and hospitality instructor, led field services for a global chemical company and was a project manager for a culinary training program.

Advertisement

Throughout all of those experiences, she always felt the pull to HR. While teaching at a culinary school in North Carolina, she had the opportunity to take free courses, and, with her interest in corporate training, pursued a degree in HR management. She eventually went on to earn an MBA.

Jennifer Singman

“In all the jobs I had up until then, there was always a piece of HR in there,” she says. “From 11 years old, I knew I always wanted to work in the hotel business so I had always been people-focused.”

When an opportunity for a learning and development manager position came up at Kapsch TrafficCom—a provider of intelligent transportation systems that employs approximately 5,000 people—she took the “leap of faith,” even though it was out of her comfort zone.

“The technology world, the transportation world—I knew nothing about it. But I do now,” she says. “During the interview, I was saying, ‘I know I don’t have formal this and formal that.’ I was trying to make sure they understood I wasn’t coming fully baked where other people might be but I have these other qualities.”

Some of those qualities were deeply ingrained—her mother, a librarian, instilled in her strong organizational skills, she says—while others were developed throughout her career. For instance, her time in hospitality and event management left her with a strong appreciation for time management and deadlines.

That work also showed her the value of “leading through influence.”

Advertisement

“In the hotel business, I learned at the very beginning that when I would go to a new property, I always made nice with the maintenance guys. I bought them a steak and my ovens were all running,” she says.

Much of what she does at Kapsch, she says, is through influence.

“I’m an individual contributor so I don’t have the power to say, ‘You need to do this.’ But I’ve had people tease me in meetings saying, ‘Nobody says no to you,’ ” she says. “You build relationships based on respect and trust from the beginning. I treat everybody equally because I feel everybody’s important. So, I can go back and lean on those relationships where people want to help me.”

Colleagues at Kapsch have come to call Singman “The Finisher,” as she has a knack for taking projects across the finish line. She says she has a deep understanding of company structure—Kapsch TrafficCom North America is comprised of five former organizations—and its global reach, owing to the fact that she works on talent management and learning initiatives globally, as well as regional projects.

“I’ve become good at putting the right people together to get things done,” she says. “A lot of times, people will reach out to me not because they think I know the answer but because they know I know who does.”

That capability for connecting people was useful when her supervisor, Raven Lee, vice president of HR, asked her to take on leadership of a new engagement committee last year.

While COVID was driving the concern around engagement, it wasn’t the only factor.

“We were five different companies that were all bought at different times and there never really was that change management piece to get everybody on the same page,” Singman says. “We were a lot of different people doing nothing but work, so we had to find a way to help give some value.”

Singman helped recruit an office manager, an operator for a traffic management center and representatives from marketing with the goal of bringing in “different people, with different perspectives and different ideas.” Among the new engagement activities that resulted from the committee are an online trivia series and new rewards and recognition offerings.

“The silos are now down and we have one committee planning our activities, which is creating a shared culture throughout the organization,” says Lee. “This has truly been an initiative that leveraged our work-from-home arrangement to create something positive and rewarding for our employees.”

Singman was also responsible for reimagining the company’s end-of-year event into a virtual offering, and she worked with the same committee to stage an event that was tailored to remote workers while still appealing to Kapsch’s on-site employees, such as those in its manufacturing plant. Planning for that involved securing buy-in from the executive leadership team, heightening the committee’s connection to company leaders.

“Once we proved ourselves, the executive team turned around and said, ‘Hey, we can use the engagement committee for this or that,’ ” she says. “They’re now driving things to us.”

Singman has also led the North American rollout of a competency management platform, as the company shifts from traditional performance management to performance enablement, rooted in servant leadership. In an industry in which authoritarian-style leadership is common, Singman says, Kapsch is teaching its leaders instead how to “support their people and then get out of their way.” To that end, Singman has led interactive training workshops designed to help people leaders understand their own approaches to performance and then use situational learning to pivot them toward performance enablement. She’s also now working with the Latin American arm of the company to roll out a similar initiative there.

Singman is in the process of moving into a new role at Kapsch that will allow her to develop more of an HR generalist background, touching on payroll, benefits, compliance. Once that’s established, she’s eager to continue moving up.

“Ms. Singman is not only a Rising Star—she is clearly a bright and shining star within the HR profession,” says Rising Stars judge Ruth Stricklen Pullins, CHRO of Truman Medical Centers. “Without a doubt, her nomination illustrates that she is passionate about the people and organization she serves and is up for any challenge thrown her way.”

An avid reader, music lover and traveler—especially road trips—Singman says she’s looking to bring that same sense of excitement to the next chapter of her career. “I’m looking for an adventure. I can’t predict where I’m going to be in the next five years, but it’s going to be really interesting getting there.”

 

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

More from HRE