Bringing Empathy to the Table

Fjord Family

By Urmila Ramakrishnan for Hispanic Executive

Élida Cruz is big on empathy. Perhaps it was instilled within her while growing up in the barrios of Tucson, Arizona, in the seventies. There would be signs out on the front porch supporting the United Farm Workers and boycotting grapes and lettuce, and protesting for migrant rights. Her father, as a community organizer for the Catholic Church, advocated for Hispanic communities within the parish to make sure they got everything they needed. Cruz’s mother was an educator and English as a Second Language teacher, focused on supporting non-native English speakers integrate their native culture with their new environment.

“It was the seventies,” Cruz says with a laugh. “My parents were hippies and always focused on building bridges within communities. We were really involved with the United Farm Workers movement, and I think growing up in that environment and having compassion for people, empathy for where they came from, and the struggles they had, was just part of my upbringing and is an integral part of my life.”

Today, Cruz brings empathy to the table to develop and empower a global team as a design and innovation principal director at Fjord, part of Accenture Interactive. Being big on empathy and people is critical in managing eight different time zones, cultures and values. For Cruz, teams are everything, and it’s important for her to meet people where they are. By understanding their wants, needs, desires, goals, and situations, Cruz is able to develop them and help them grow. This creates a really strong and transparent relationship that results in exceeding goals and fostering a collaborative and creative dynamic, where people are recognized for their contributions.

Because of Cruz’s focus on people and collaboration, she’s able to create an environment that encourages open communication. “Great ideas come from anywhere, and when you have an open dialogue with team members across levels and take the time to understand their motivations, you can break down barriers and create great solutions,” Cruz says.

It’s something she has been working on throughout her career. Some of her most foundational moments happened early in her career at Razorfish back in the late nineties. She was given the opportunity to be the program manager of the largest client they had at the time, and it terrified her. Cruz says she didn’t feel like she had the right skills to do the job properly.

“It was a big, big role, and I freaked out at first,” Cruz says. “Then I realized: They’re asking me to do this. They believe I can do this, and I’m going to do it. It was probably the best decision I ever made because it pushed me and really challenged me to expand my skill set, thinking, and way of collaborating, and asking for help.”

Cruz brings that mentality and empathy to one of her biggest challenges—time zone differences. It’s the first and foremost challenge that Cruz faces while managing teams in eight different countries from the United Kingdom and Australia to North America. With that, it’s also really difficult for Cruz to be unable to see the person she is collaborating with. “To not see them face-to-face, person-to-person, and go to the white board with a problem can be challenging because that’s where you get the best ideas and that’s where you can really get a lot of work done,” Cruz says. To combat that, Cruz gets creative with videoconferencing and taking the time to meet one on one with all team members and build a strong rapport and relationship.

Because Cruz had great advocates and people who looked out for her early in her career, it’s crucial for her to pay that forward. It makes her happy. It makes her productive, and she knows she’ll do it in whatever role she has. Most recently, she’s been getting more involved with several groups within Accenture to support, mentor and share her perspective to help women and people of color empower and advocate for themselves.

“The pace of business is changing,” Cruz says. “Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that it’s creating liquid expectations for people, which is the expectation that you can get what you want when you want it. It’s very much driven by an individual’s needs, wants and desires. Business needs to adapt to this new normal and this new reality to create adaptable and human-centered products and services that break down traditional business models and silos so that they can innovate and stay current with what’s happening in the world.

“It’s about being fearless and bold to take risks and try new things. Our design process is constantly evolving. At Fjord, we put design at the heart by redesigning relationships people have with the world around them.” 

Élida Cruz on Bringing Out the Best in Your Team

Listen. Take the time to listen and ask questions.

Get to know your team and let them get to know you. Don’t be afraid to share who you are and always be your authentic self.

Be clear about your goals and ambitions. It’s not just on you to do everything yourself. You have to know how you can work with your team and others to achieve those goals. You need advocates. You need other people. You need to give back. Good teamwork is a two-way street.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself. Feel confident in your abilities, skill set, and that you can advocate for yourself when you need to.

To read the full article, please click here.  

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