The Value of Human Connection at Work With Camden Property Trust’s Cindy Scharringhausen

 Cindy Scharringhausen

Leadership & Management

This HR leader sees interpersonal connection as the most valuable asset for workplace culture — something that AI won’t replace anytime soon.

After the pandemic, many leaders see the need to rebuild connections between colleagues and departments.

Hybrid and remote work have frayed the social fabric of organizations that were built on everyday in-person interaction. In the current landscape, HR leaders that can foster stronger connections between employees across the organization are invaluable.

Cindy Scharringhausen, senior vice president, human resources at Camden Property Trust, spoke with us about the importance of building connection in 2024 as part of our “How I Got Here” series.

Another bonus that comes from focusing on human connection? It’s a job that artificial intelligence (AI) can’t replace.

What was the hook that first got you interested in workplace culture?

Scharringhausen: Coming from a large family of seven siblings, my upbringing naturally piqued my curiosity towards figuring out people — understanding what fosters positive dynamics and what doesn’t. This naturally drew me to focus on workplace culture.

The complex elements of a great culture have always intrigued me, and I am interested in trying to understand the dynamics of individuals. Growing up in a big family served as a personal training ground where I could hone my ability to grasp the uniqueness of each person and further fuel my passion for understanding and influencing people dynamics.

Meet inspiring leaders like Cindy at our next For All™ Summit May 7-9, 2024 in New Orleans

What has been the biggest challenge you faced in your career when trying to build a great workplace culture?

Scharringhausen: Creating a great workplace culture is a collective effort that extends beyond individual contributions. It is a long-term endeavor that requires sustained attention.

The primary challenge lies in ensuring that every team member understands their role in fostering the culture. The interactions among team members, including peers, hold equal significance in shaping the culture, alongside the actions of top leaders.

Overcoming this challenge involves emphasizing the understanding that actions speak louder than words and sharing a commitment to sustaining and continuously improving the workplace culture.

What is the No. 1 lesson you have learned about what it means to be a great workplace in a post-pandemic environment?

Scharringhausen: The big takeaway post-pandemic is the significance of fostering interpersonal connection in the evolving work landscape. The new emphasis lies in understanding how to forge these connections in a dynamic work environment.

Establishing genuine connections within teams and between team members and their supervisors is a key factor. It involves learning about their work experiences, expressing appreciation, and seeking to understand.

This requires intentionality and isn’t always easy, but the results lead to increased employee engagement.

How do you think AI will change your work? Are you excited for those changes?

Scharringhausen: I am excited about the potential of AI to augment and elevate customer support through initial assistance to both customers and employees.

While AI brings incredible capabilities to various aspects of business, I believe it cannot replace the essential human interaction that builds trust and fosters loyalty. As AI continues to play a more prominent role in business, it becomes imperative to establish and foster connections between individuals, teams, managers, and leaders.

For those overseeing teams, understanding the individual needs for engagement is crucial. Even if AI provides solutions, there is a need to prioritize coaching and mentorship for transfer of information, ensuring growth and development in the workplace.

What’s your favorite career advice you’ve ever received? Why?

Scharringhausen: Early in my career, I received sage advice from my mentor: to hire the best, most talented individuals out there and not be intimidated by their strengths and brilliance.

I’ve carried that advice with me throughout my career. You have to be confident in what you bring to the table before you can be confident in hiring people who may be smarter than you or may even be given opportunities in the organization that are not provided to you.

Hiring the best and the brightest, actively listening to them, and offering them growth opportunities helps cultivate an environment where they feel empowered to do their best. That’s my responsibility to Camden team members. Helping others achieve their goals is the best strategy I can think of, not only for the individual but also for the organization.

What’s a recent book or podcast you loved that you recommend to our community?

Scharringhausen: I would recommend “Nine Lies About Work” by Marcus Buckingham.

The book is thought provoking and truly relevant to getting a distinct perspective on what drives the employee’s experience and therefore positive or negative engagement. As a result of this book, we have eliminated the annual performance evaluation and replaced it with a model that is set to foster the relationship between the employee and their direct manager — creating more dialogue and connection than a formal once a year process.

What about your job makes you excited to come to work every day?

Scharringhausen: I love nurturing Camden’s strong commitment to our team members and sharing how that translates into an exceptional employee experience. This is the best job ever!

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about how workplaces operate in the world today, what would it be?

Scharringhausen: I wish that everyone could experience the empowerment and positivity that a great work culture provides.

Want to join the conversation? Email Ted Kitterman to learn more about participating in our profiles series.

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Connect with other leaders looking to build a great place to work for all by attending our 2024 For All™ Summit, May 7-9 in New Orleans.

Ted Kitterman