One of my favorite interviews I've ever done was with Yvette Donado, the chief administrative officer and senior vice president of people, process, and communications at Educational Testing Service (ETS). If you've ever sat face to face with the GRE, an AP exam, a CLEP test, PRAXIS, or the SAT then you've purchased an ETS product. Donado joined ETS in 2001 as the vice president of human resources. With a president at the helm who had business practices in mind, ETS turned to Donado, a graduate of the Harvard executive MBA program who also has certifications from Wharton, Cornell, and Boston University and experience as a human resources senior vice president with a booming technology start-up.
So what was her strategy upon entering ETS as an outsider?
Donado set out to determine who had the greatest “pain points.” She proposed to serve them first. “Win them over and now you have an advocate. Success breeds success. You will eventually win over those people who are threatened by you. [It is a process of] developing trust and being impeccable with your word,” she says.
Donado’s first principle for transitioning into a new leadership position was to seek to understand the culture of the organization before making any changes. Her aim was to “be respectful of what is.” She advises new executives not to “jump to make many changes before understanding the culture and environment you’ve entered. Listen very carefully. Make changes that people will readily see as good.” Her approach to engaging departments that underperform would make Dale Carnegie proud. “Instead of creating conflict, I negotiated … instead of attacking I went with [an attitude of] service,” Donado says.
Donado leads with an attitude of service and respect. The prudence she exhibited in her early days at ETS has paid off. She began by managing a staff of 30; she now leads more than 500 employees and oversees marketing, public affairs, quality assurance, philanthropy, human resources, process management, government and community relations, and facilities. As part of her facilities oversight, she assures the effective management of ETS’s Chauncey Conference Center located on its 370-acre Princeton campus.
Have you had a great experience with a transition? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
Read the full-length version of this article (originally published in Hispanic Executive) here.