Tiffany Castagno - It’s not about you. It’s about people.

Welcome to the HR Leadership Podcast.

Our final guest for this season of the HR Leadership Podcast is Tiffany Castagno: the Curator of Culture, and a transformative HR consultant.

We’re so grateful for her joining Joseph and Gabe in this chat, and it was the perfect way to round off the season.

Tiffany has worked in HR for over 14 years, at what she quite beautifully describes as “the intersection of people and process”.

Her mission is to bring culture, engagement, retention, and great leaders to organizations.

She helps and supports leaders as they scale and build their Infrastructure, while defining a company culture that works for everyone.

Tiffany’s experience and warmth made this talk such a pleasure, and we came away richer for it.

Don’t miss out on this one – but before you dive in, take a moment to get to know Tiffany and what she’s all about.

About Tiffany

[Follow Tiffany on LinkedIn]

Originally from Milwaukee and now based in Pittsburgh, Tiffany has over 14 years of experience in Human Resources, and a true passion for helping others to succeed.

Tiffany’s rich insights come from the sheer variety of skills and experiences she has built over her career – from senior HR positions at firms like FedEx, to building the HR infrastructure and process at startups and established organizations.

Now, she is the CEO and Founder of CEPHR – an HR consulting firm that supports small to mid-sized businesses, non-profits, startups, and new founders.

CEPHR helps organizations to build out their infrastructure and strategies, with a strong focus on company culture.

Tiffany founded CEPHR on the principles of togetherness, integrity, diversity, mentorship, and community. And she believes in these things, to her very core. 

She continues to be a mentor, and enjoys volunteering her time in the community. She’s on the Board of Directors of Ascender – a community for entrepreneurs offering free educational programming, mentorship, expert coaching, incubation, and a collaborative coworking space – and acts as a Director of Open Field, a nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh and Cameroon, helping to improve the lives and futures of youth through sport. 

But her passions don’t stop there.

Tiffany co-authored a children's book, Can a Zebra Change Its Stripes? – which helps children learn about diversity in an age appropriate way, with examples they can understand.

Tiffany really wants to make the world better and fairer for everyone – and the proof is in her actions. She’s out there, helping business leaders (and the leaders of tomorrow) become the best versions of themselves.

After talking to her, Gabe and Joseph came away feeling inspired – so listen in, and get inspired, too!

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Here are some of the big points we discussed during this episode:

  • Culture: top-down leadership versus bottom-up leadership

  • The biggest mistakes startups make when it comes to employer branding

  • The current HR and DEI landscape in organizations right now

  • “No Ivy leagues!” How do you hire when your only network is your college?

  • Group discussion – diverse interview panels

  • Why company culture is so crucial to business success

The details…

Culture – where should the conversations start?

Gabe wants to know if a startup should look to its Chief People Officer to deliver company culture messaging, or whether training and conversations should start at the manager level first.

And this is a big question in companies with agile teams; self-sufficient, miniature startups-within-startups, who curate their own processes.

Should leaders be messing with that – or should the autonomy and productivity of the team take precedent?

“I believe that it needs to be a joint effort… the people team, your senior executive leaders, frontline managers – it's everyone coming together… Everyone is going to shape that culture.” 

However – Tiffany is quick to call out the dangers of isolated teams running with impunity, which most of us recognise as silos.

“You can't have these little silos or these little mini startups as you described – I really like that! – but you can't have these ‘pockets’... because then it's not connected…. We start to lose information along the way.”

It’s tough, because the “skunkworks” of a startup can be incredibly creative and productive spaces, where innovation is the only objective. Could that be lost?

Tiffany says that, of course different divisions within an organization will have their niche focus, and they should keep that – but it’s the frontline managers of these teams who ultimately suffer without open communication. And the conversation has to start at the top.

“You want your messages coming from the business, [not] just HR… Sometimes we see, like, ‘oh, HR told me to do that’, or ‘I didn't know HR was rolling this out’ – and you really just make yourself look bad when you do that, because employees see it… and then there's confusion about ‘who are we? What's our identity? What's the DNA of this organization?’”

Branding mistakes at startups and growing organizations

Joseph asks Tiffany about branding, particularly among employees, who should really be the most ardent brand ambassadors of any organizations. What are the biggest mistakes that startups and growing companies tend to make in this area?

“Sometimes, companies can't get out of their own way.”

The flagship website, the killer product or service, locked in pricing, huge growth… That might attract talent, but companies can’t rely on it. Even if the company is growing, it doesn't mean that the infrastructure is set. It doesn't mean you don’t need an HR partner, or a coach. 

“What I often see, particularly with startups, is people want to get their brand out there – they want to have their shiny product or service out there – so they pump all this money into marketing, or all of their advertising… But they're neglecting the people that are behind it. And people are your greatest brand ambassadors, they truly are, if you treat them right and they're happy…”

Tiffany references her earlier point about keeping everything connected, and avoiding silos, to keep consistent messaging for stronger company culture. This avoids cliquey, isolated teams.

“I’ve seen companies who kind of had to take a step back and reset, because they got too comfortable… You can't assume that you know it all…”

She also talks about social media as a powerful tool to get your employee your employer brand out there, enabling employees to share what a great workplace you have. It speaks for itself…

Today’s HR and DEI landscape

Joseph wants to know what HR and DEI look like in companies right now. And Tiffany offers this:

“I've seen this separation where we've kind of shoved DEI in the space of HR. There are people out there who believe that that's where it belongs, and in some cases, yes – we are at the intersection of people. But we all should own that. And so, I find it interesting that we have this world where, even given everything that's gone on, we're not leveraging our HR people more strategically in the DEI space.”

And at this point, we’re reminded of our conversation with Karine Bah Tahé on dismantling DEI tokenism, when Tiffany talks about inactivity.

“I think everybody started running towards ‘DEI, DEI!’ when things like the George Floyd murder happened, and… there's been more focus and a hyper sensitivity and awareness on that. But the action has to come.”

Does your company's outward portrayal of diversity line up with how you're living your values? Is that how people are experiencing your company?

If you tell me that this is a place where I'm welcome and where you want me to belong, but then you don't give me autonomy, you don't give me the authority to do my job, and you hold me back every step of the way… I can't rise in the ranks. That is problematic.”

Some companies are still moving on from performative DEI, to really taking action.

A final thought – Building diversity without a diverse network

Gabe makes a joke that eqtble is proud to say “NO IVY LEAGUES!”, but he has a serious question to ask with it: how companies and hiring managers get started in hiring more diverse folks, when their network is predominantly their college, their socioeconomic group, or predominantly white and male?

“Ask your employees. If you don't know where to find diverse candidates, they will give you some ideas.”

Hiring managers should be looking outside their own circles – talking to the board, polling their clients, and looking out into their own communities. And community is what Tiffany is all about. Building relationships is one of her core values, and she lives it as a volunteer and advocate within her wider community.

Tiffany’s insights prompted a conversation between Tiffany, Joseph, and Gabe on diverse interview panels, and seeking to build them based not just on demographic and ethnic diversity, but on the diversity of experience. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the episode, so stick around for it.

And that’s a wrap on season one!

We can’t thank Tiffany enough for her time – and because Joseph had a long list of questions left to ask, we’re sure she’ll return for season two of the HR Leadership Podcast.

In the meantime, make sure you check her out on LinkedIn – and subscribe below to get the jump on season two as soon as it's released.