Stephanie McLaughlin: Promoting a Servant-Leader Culture

NETA World StaffInsights & Inspiration, Summer 2023 Insights & Inspiration


Stephanie W. McLaughlin is the Employee Development Manager for Hood Patterson & Dewar, Inc. (HP&D), where she recently led the development and implementation of HP&D’s employee development program that supports employees in offices in five states, including a large team of registered Professional Engineers (PEs), degreed engineers, and career test technicians. 

McLaughlin specializes in analyzing learners’ needs and then designing and developing components to meet those needs. She has experience creating development initiatives in the automobile, hospitality, and cloud computing industries, as well as curriculum initiatives for the Gwinnett County (Georgia) Public Schools. Stephanie earned a BS in technical and professional communications at Southern Polytechnic State University and an MBA from Georgia Institute of Technology as well as an education certificate from Brenau University.

NWJ: Describe your current role with your company and your daily responsibilities.

McLaughlin: I like to say I am 90% employee development and that marketing is my side hustle. However, I must admit that my day-to-day responsibilities ebb and flow as appropriate to meet the needs of our people. At the end of the day, our employees are my clients, and my job is to delight and support them. My days can vary significantly depending on the week. For example, here are the tasks I completed last week: 

  • Sent mentoring follow-up emails to a few mentors and mentees in our formal mentorship program; shared some positive feedback with the President of HP&D
  • Selected a mentor for a new employee and finalized his core competency book
  • Completed the employee development orientation for another new employee 
  • Met with the VP of Engineering to discuss a participant guide (PG) for a client training class; created the first 65 pages of the PG using InDesign
  • Attended a career fair at Kennesaw State University and talked to engineering students about summer internship opportunities 
  • Prepared for and facilitated a New Employee Boot Camp, which is a two-day class where we explore our history, culture, services, and what has helped us to be so successful over the last 75+ years
  • Helped to interview a potential summer intern
  • Wrote employee development content for the monthly newsletter 
  • Met with the Employee Development and Marketing teams to review the current projects and ongoing tasks 
  • Reviewed the social media calendar for April and sent my feedback
  • Reviewed a contract for a DJ for the annual employee appreciation party 
  • Reviewed the new PowerPoint templates for the company and sent my feedback to the designer
  • Coordinated with the voiceover artist who is recording narration for an NFPA 70E online training course that we are creating 

While most of these tasks are in support of employee development, quite a few also support marketing. I love that my days vary so much. Since employee development and marketing are relatively small teams (three full-time employees and one part-time employee in total), everyone gets the opportunity to directly contribute to our outcomes. I find that in my role here, I am able to leverage all of the skills that I have acquired throughout my 20+ year career, which is incredibly satisfying professionally. 

NWJ: In your opinion, does the electrical testing industry put enough emphasis on training? 

McLaughlin: I am fortunate to have worked in a variety of interesting industries, including hospitality, tech, automotive, and now electrical testing. Since HP&D is my only experience in the electrical testing industry, I can only speak to what we do, and I must say I am very impressed with the emphasis that is placed on training here. In fact, it was only because of this commitment to developing our people that I am here. My role was created to help HP&D formalize and expand its commitment to learning and development, including leadership, soft skills, safety, and technical training opportunities. 

We have an amazing safety team that creates the vital safety training courses our people need to work safely. We also have many subject matter experts (SMEs) who are willing to dedicate their time and effort to help us create and deliver technical training courses as needed. With my background, I have provided leadership, project management, sales, communications, and other soft skills training. 

At HP&D, we realize the importance of on-the-job training and have committed to providing all new employees with the support and time that they need to fully train in their new roles with on-the-job training for as long as necessary. 

Employee development is a long-term initiative, but it also leads to short-term benefits like increased loyalty and improved performance and engagement. We focus on making growth a priority because growth compounds and accelerates as you remain intentional about it. 

NWJ: What are the biggest challenges you face in advancing the professional development of your employees?

McLaughlin: Time. Like everyone, our biggest hindrance to professional development is a lack of time. Our people are so busy, which is truly a blessing; however, it can make setting aside time to learn and grow challenging at times. Thankfully, our people tend to be very dedicated and will prioritize learning whenever and however they can. 

NWJ: Retaining talent is tough these days. What advice do you have for organizations looking to help their people feel valued and invested in?

McLaughlin: Build an amazing culture. When people feel like they are a part of something special, when they feel connected and that what they are doing is important, they become more dedicated and committed to the shared vision of success. 

A company that promotes a servant-leader mentality and focuses on strong personal relationships, client success, and employee satisfaction is much better positioned for long-term success. Interestingly, when employees and clients are the focus, the numbers take care of themselves. Instead of management trying to control and measure all aspects of a project, employees are empowered to make autonomous decisions daily without fear of reprisal. An employee-owned company is best positioned to take advantage of this type of culture — a relationship management approach instead of a KPI-driven approach. 

NWJ: How do you assess what your employees need in terms of their professional development?

McLaughlin: We strongly believe that people must be involved in this process. We have embedded this discussion into the annual review process where employees are encouraged to create their own development plans, and supervisors are encouraged to support their people. 

Since we promote servant leadership, our supervisors are encouraged to lead by caring for the people on their teams. When you care for someone, you spend time getting to know them and learn about what they want for themselves as they continue to progress in their careers. With this information, supervisors can advocate for their team members by requesting training courses or by helping to coordinate on-the-job training when needed. Employees are also encouraged to reach out to the employee development team directly should they need support. 

Finally, we meet with senior leaders quarterly to discuss the employee development initiatives in progress and upcoming responsibilities so that we can ensure ongoing alignment in order to best meet the needs of our people. 

NWJ: How do you incentivize employees to participate and take responsibility for their own development?

McLaughlin: We strongly believe in compensating our people based on the value that they bring to the company and our clients. We provide very generous bonuses, especially to people who are bringing the most value. We have found that the people who continue to learn and grow tend to bring the most value. Because we are rewarding this behavior, it tends to be repeated. 

NWJ: Is there anything else you would like to share?

McLaughlin:There are so many good reasons to have a robust employee development program: increased employee retention, improved employee recruitment, and enhanced client satisfaction. I feel fortunate to be with an organization that truly values employee learning and development.