Dr. Maren Dollwet Waggoner: Director of HR & Talent Management at Ticketmaster

Without further ado, I would like to introduce you to Maren Dollwet Waggoner. She is not only one of the most accomplished, sharp, and resilient professionals I know, but is also likely the kindest person you will ever meet.  Maren's academic background includes a Masters in I/O Pyschology, as well as a PhD in Organizational Behavior from Claremont Graduate University.  Today she lectures as an adjunct professor at CGU and serves as the Director of HR & Talent Management at Ticketmaster.  I feel fortunate to not only consider Maren an inspiring role model but also a good friend.  I am especially appreciative of her taking the time to share her wisdom with us in this interview.  We touched on extremely timely topics--changes undergoing performance management, data analytics, her advice for aspiring HR professionals, and much more.


Your Host,

Jocelyn Courtney

TSL (Talent Science Lab): Please describe what you do in your current role.  What do you enjoy most about your work? 

MDG (Dr. Maren Dollwet Waggoner): What do I enjoy most about my work? One is the diversity of the tasks and projects I get to work on.  I think in the field of Talent Management there's a lot to do- everything from the employee life cycle, like helping our recruiters with hiring, help managers formulate job descriptions and structure teams, compensation, looking at market data, coming up with pay recommendations, deciding on promotions, 1:1 coaching, and conducting learning and development.  I also do trainings like in conflict resolution, team cohesion, and leadership.  I work on everything from hiring to unfortunately, letting people go, and everything in between.

It's really cool.   And I think what I love most is that I get to be an HR business partner and an organizational development consultant.


TSL: What are some of the experiences or skills that have prepared you for your current role? How do you draw on these experiences or skills in your work? 

MDG: The one that comes to mind first is the analytical-- the data analysis and the story behind it.  What we learn at CGU really is a unique skill especially in the HR realm to have.  If you're in general HR, most people do not have that skill.  Even in collecting the right data and how to make sense of it, analyze it and present it--that cycle.  Knowing that comes in very handy.  For example, we just implemented the HR system, Workday, and it has customizable dashboards that collects data in real-time. I'm actively helping build out those dashboards and deciding what data we should collect, based on what I know how data should be presented and what will be most useful to senior leaders.

            I think the other thing that comes to mind is the ability to think at a macro-organizational level.  That's something our program teaches really well.  It's easy to lose sight of the macro in the HR field.  This is essential, especially in Talent Management realm, because it's all connected.  Like which leader you place where and what their job description is, affects everything else.


TSL: What are some innovative practices that you have observed or implemented in the area of talent management? 

MDG: Moving away from performance ratings--that's something we did at DirectTV and now at Ticketmaster.  We're constantly looking at the best companies and what they're doing, benchmarking, and conducting internal needs assessments to see if our process is effective.  We want to know what people like, what they don't like, and based on that data to make recommendations about what the performance management system should look like-- quarterly check-ins, coaching culture, abolishing performance ratings, and focusing on the quality of dialogue.

            I can also speak to a few other special initiatives at Ticketmaster.  One is launching an initiative with women and technology.  We want to be known as an organization where women leaders in technology want to come.  So we have been having our high potential internal women out recruiting, doing campus visits and speaking in the community, helping out brand ambassadors.  In return, we also want to make sure that we're giving them career opportunities- mentorship, and making sure they're on track for promotion.


TSL: I know we see fewer women in leadership roles.  From where you sit, do you know why that is?

MDG: I think it depends on the company, but generally we don't have the proper work-life balance programs in place.  For example, I think childcare onsite could be really important.  I think the other thing is that what gets measured gets tracked.  So I know that for Ticketmaster, for any type of employee data we collect, we look at demographics.  So are there any differences between males and females, do we see a difference by generation, etc., and we really want to make sure that no group is less satisfied than another.  And if they are, we want to dive into that.  And actually in our most recent engagement survey we did find that females are equally as engaged as males, which is good.  Another metric to look at is promotion rate, as well as in talent review data, and how many female high potentials we have compared to high potential males.  I think that even by putting metrics behind something gets it into people's minds.  Not that we're going for any quotas or anything, but just to pay attention to it.


TSL: Are you the one creating and rolling out these surveys?

MDG: No, actually we have someone at the corporate level who is in charge of all of the employee engagement surveys, and she works with an analytics team to do the analysis.  Then as the HR business partner, I work with my teams to make meaning of that data and create action plans.


TSL: What kinds of research or data do you use in your talent management practice? What kinds of research or data do you wish you could have – one that would be useful to you but is not currently available? 

MDG: I definitely think data is becoming more important and leaders do what to see that, but the challenge is in getting the data right, and making sure you're defining and tracking things equally.  For example, an issue we ran into recently is what we define as 'regrettable loss...' 

            We have to be consistent in our definitions.  We in the field of Talent Managers have to be leaders in what we define as best practice and influencing leaders to see that.  Leaders want data, but they might not necessarily know what it's referring to.  So we have to enter a consultative, educating space.  And not overwhelm them.  Like with that Workday example I mentioned earlier, we had a consultant who was an I/O psychologist who was awesome but just got carried away.  He was tracking way too much data that our leaders wouldn't even know what to do with.  The other challenge, then, is knowing how to present the right data in just the right amount to tell the right story.  And that's where we can be really influential.  So what's important is identifying what data is important to the company.  For any company that would be: 1) who we're getting into the company (hiring trends), 2) who's staying (employee promotion, engagement data), and 3) who's exiting (regrettable/non-regrettable, demographics).

            The biggest piece of advice I can give around data and story-telling is show your stakeholders your drafts and get feedback.  Unless people get actively involved, they won't accept it.  I learned that the hard way.


TSL: What advice might you give to an aspiring professional who would like to develop a career as a talent management professional?

MDG: Trust in your skill set of what you've learned.  Know that you know so much more than many in the field.  You can do so much with your skill set, and don't doubt yourself.  Just got for it, whether it's talent management or data analytics.  You're equipped with all the right knowledge and people will look to you as a thought partner.  The biggest success I've had is when I stepped into that role without questioning it.  Step into that role and don't shy away from it.