Uncertain About Your Career Path? This HR Leader Shares How She Found Her Perfect Match

Uncertain About Your Career Path? This HR Leader Shares How She Found Her Perfect Match was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.

From a young age, Charissa Wagner knew she had a knack for writing and working with people, but her career path wasn’t an obvious one. Although she went to college to pursue a degree in communications with a minor in English, when graduation arrived, she still didn’t know how her academic expertise could successfully lead to full-time employment. However, her strong desire to make a positive impact acted as her professional North Star.

Wagner’s first job out of college was working as an assistant to the Chief Financial Officer of a family-owned transportation company, where she eagerly soaked up new skills and experiences. She didn’t hesitate to ask questions and quickly realized the company needed to implement formal human resource policies and processes.

“They were happy to give me the work, and I was happy to learn and grow,” she says. “In the few years I was there, I learned as much as I could about HR and knew that would be my career for life.”

This role was an eye-opening learning experience, and her youth didn’t deter her ambition or her determination to absorb as much knowledge as she could.

“This willingness to step up and engage with new challenges ultimately prepared me for a career in HR,” Wagner says.

Today, she is the Senior Vice President of People Operations, Development & Acquisition at Taylor Morrison (TM).

Here, Wagner shares why she’s stayed at the company for nearly two decades, how her team navigated the various challenges that arose with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the evolution of the TM employee experience.

What attracted you to Taylor Morrison, and how did you know it would be a good fit?

A former coworker told me about the position. They felt I would be a great fit with the culture and knew I had the experience to be good at the role. After meeting with the team and learning about the company, I was attracted to the industry and the people. What truly captured my interest was Sheryl Palmer. To have a woman CEO in an industry predominantly led by men was exciting, and I wanted to be part of a company that embraced diversity and challenged the industry norms.

You’ve been at the company for 15 years. What motivates you to stay, and how has the company supported your professional growth?

I never thought I’d stay at a company for this long, but I’ve had so many opportunities that I haven’t felt a need to leave. I like that we’re constantly evolving. When I first joined, we were under private ownership by a U.K.-based company. Since then, we’ve transitioned through various ownership structures, from private equity to going public, and we’ve seen multiple acquisitions that have expanded our presence into new states and bolstered our team.

Amid all this change, one thing has remained constant: our unwavering commitment to a people-first culture and our focus on growth and development. We offer many resources aimed at helping our team members achieve their career goals. From the comprehensive TM learning platform, granting access to thousands of online learning modules, to our specialized leadership training programs led by external experts, we prioritize skill enhancement. Events like Career Week are dedicated to nurturing our teams’ development, complemented by our annual talent review process and biannual performance and development feedback sessions. Our culture thrives on empowerment and support.

What are you responsible for as the SVP of People Operations, Development, and Acquisition? Why does the work excite you?

I oversee our People Operations, Talent Acquisition (TA), Learning and Development (L&D), and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) teams. My work is exciting because my team touches every part of the employee lifecycle. The People Operations team serves as true business partners who help coach and mentor leaders, guide team members, and ensure an environment that supports professional and personal development.

In tandem, the L&D department is instrumental in nurturing the skills and capabilities of our workforce, ensuring they remain at the forefront of industry trends and innovations.

Fueling the company’s growth is our TA team. They scout for exceptional talent that aligns with our vision and values. And our DEIB team champions initiatives that foster a workplace where all individuals’ unique perspectives and contributions are celebrated and valued.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced while at TM, and how did you overcome it? How did the experience help you grow in your role?

I prefer to see them as opportunities. We’ve experienced quite a few throughout my 15-year journey here. For example, we finalized our largest acquisition a month before COVID disrupted the country. Like many companies, we lacked a hybrid work setup. Overnight, we needed to transition most of our workforce to remote work while integrating over 800 new team members—many of whom were based in states where we previously lacked a presence. We came together as a team and navigated this difficult time because of our strong partnership and genuine concern for one another and our employees. Knowing that we weren’t navigating these challenges in isolation provided significant relief.

Also, understanding the unique strengths of each person on my team allowed us to tackle the obstacles we faced. This experience was a profound lesson in leadership. It reinforced the notion that, together, we can achieve almost anything, and it’s essential not to dwell on minor obstacles.

In what ways has the employee experience changed or evolved for the better during your tenure?

Every year, our commitment to enhancing our employee experience gets stronger. Our philosophy revolves around prioritizing our people, and under Sheryl’s leadership, we’ve always led with empathy. Yet, we acknowledge that the needs and desires of our employees are ever-changing. Therefore, we continually evolve to surpass these expectations.

A prime example of this evolution is our transition from annual performance evaluations, which consumed managers’ time and primarily dwelled on past performance, to biannual GIFT conversations. Unlike traditional reviews, these conversations encompass performance assessments while also providing a platform for employees to share their future career aspirations and receive support from their leaders. This shift reflects our dedication to nurturing the professional development and personal fulfillment of our team members.

What are two or three concrete ways the company culture has transformed over the years through the work of you and your team?

One way my team has helped transform our culture is through the implementation of our recognition platform, which we call Applause. This initiative stemmed from insights gathered through our employee engagement survey, revealing a strong desire among employees to give and receive recognition across teams, departments, and divisions. Recognizing discrepancies in how our leaders incentivized their team members, we created a company-wide solution.

Applause empowers employees nationwide to acknowledge anyone they choose, while also equipping leaders with a point-based system for immediate recognition and rewards. Team members can redeem their recognition points for a variety of desirable gifts.

You’ve been a member of Knoetic’s Chief People Officers Headquarters community since 2022. What professional insights or lessons have you taken from this experience, and how have you incorporated them into your work at Taylor Morrison?

Networking is a significant professional differentiator. My relationship with Knoetic, along with other HR communities, is a testament to this belief. I recognize the value of connecting with peers in similar roles across diverse industries and geographical locations. Participating in these networks enables me to benchmark our practices, foster innovation within my field, and seek input from impartial sources before obtaining internal validation of ideas.

What’s a hidden talent of yours that people would be surprised to discover?

I don’t have a lot of talents, but I have an amazing knack for remembering song lyrics. All kinds of songs from different eras and musical genres—sometimes I even wonder how I know the words.

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?

Currently, I’m reading The Housemaid’s Secret, the second book in a trilogy by Freida McFadden. I also just ordered The Elephant’s Dilemma: Break Free and Reimagine Your Future at Work and Coaching for Performance.  

My husband and I are watching Justified: City Primeval. We have different tastes, so it’s hard for us to find something we both will watch. I listen to a lot of podcasts: Maxwell Leadership, A Bit of Optimism, and Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. I’m also addicted to true crime podcasts.