Karla Thommen directs our People Operations and is a member of our First Team leadership group.

[Responses were edited for length and clarity.]

TPG is intentional about building leaders within the company. Tell us about some of the education and training you receive, as a member of our First Team?

In 2023, we focused on the efficiencies of flywheels and sub-flywheels within all TPG departments. The flywheel effect is when small wins build on each other over time to create momentum and growth. We identified major and minor types of work for increasing this momentum.

We also learned a lot about using radical candor. [Ed. note: Developed by Kim Scott, this is a communication method for “specific and sincere praise and kind and clear criticism.”] I hosted a book group at our Portland office for our mid-level managers and my People Operations team. This material resulted in shared learning experiences, a few “a-ha” moments, and shifted paradigms about proactively asking employees for feedback on how I’m doing as a manager. It’s been wonderful to open up these conversations!

We also worked with Assured Strategy, a coaching firm for growth-focused organizations, on emotional intelligence, people management, and on putting radical candor into use. It’s so exciting because not many companies train leadership in how to have fierce conversations, management courage, and how effective, transparent, and respectful talk can help leaders lead.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a company leader within the past few years?

Oh gosh . . . . It was definitely helping people navigate the return to office policy. The worldwide mental health crisis is very real and we here at TPG are not immune to it. We are working to be a company that has comprehensive awareness of mental health in the workplace, including stress, burnout, and so on. It’s such an amoebic, moveable, pliable thing – no one person is the same as any other in their struggles. We want to be caring and compassionate while also managing the needs of our clients; that is not always an easy scale to balance.

Another challenge has been keeping up with the volatility of the economy during the hiring process. I liken it to the housing market in recent years – we’re all competing for talent, and competitors are paying way above market to attract people. It’s tough for competition and it’s unsustainable.

How do you feel that TPG leads the way within our industry in employee management, leadership, recruitment and retainment, etc.?

Just when you think you’re in a silo and that there are so many things that could be improved upon, we hear from our peers that TPG is an anomaly because of how much we’re doing positively for our employees, communities, and clients. For example, we have been doing some intense work on our DEI initiatives across the company for several years now. And we were recently told by one of our DEI consultants that we’re doing more here at TPG than organizations who have dedicated, 10-person DEI teams!

We also lead the way in how we strive to be transparent in both our failures and our wins. And that has been inspiring for others – it’s rewarding to share our story when people reach out asking about how we became (and continue to be) an employer of choice. It’s about doing the right thing – for the employee, the client, and the organization. And it usually happens in that order. I belong to several networking groups with peers in other organizations. It has been a delight to have People Operations leaders, CEOs, and CFOs reach out to me to learn more about what we’re doing here at TPG. Likewise, I always learn something from them, as well. The dialogue is rewarding and inspiring.

What do you feel are your leadership strengths?

I am 100% a creator and advisor. I like the term “intrepreneur.” I love to take someone’s vision and architect it with solutions to make it happen. I enjoy looking for opportunities to strategically improve and looking at what’s not working. And as a former consultant, I like to come to the table with advice, questions, and maybe rumble when needed to get to ground truths and find an unsuspecting solution. I’m not afraid of constructive conflict! I compare it to a rock that you grind away to reveal the diamond inside.

What are the important leadership lessons you’ve learned during your time at TPG?

I have become so much better at hitting the pause button rather than jumping to conclusions. I’ve learned to seek for understanding, by asking questions and looking at situations from the human perspective – to understand an individual’s context for their ideas, decisions, and suggestions. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to have all the good ideas – which has been a hard lesson, considering my top strengths are being a creator and advisor!

I mentioned using radical candor earlier – an important lesson I learned about asking your employees for feedback is to not ask until you are ready to hear it. At first, it was hard to be honest with myself and to be OK with not being OK with hearing the feedback. Let’s face it: it’s a vulnerable position we’re putting ourselves into.

The radical candor author, Kim Scott, gives good advice to evaluate your readiness before asking your team for feedback. I sat with that discomfort for about four months, thought about why I was hesitant to receive the feedback, and then decided to exercise some management courage on myself and start asking. The first time I asked one of my team members, I got great feedback on something I could change that would help her productivity. I loved it! Now, about once a month, I encourage my teammates to give me candid feedback – like, “What have I done that’s gotten in your way?” or “Is there anything I’ve done or said that has bugged you?” I love getting feedback so I can adjust my behavior. I respond truthfully with, “Thank you for telling me.” Now I want to hear it, warts and all! In fact, I’m more interested in the warts – warts are opportunities!

Which TPG core value resonates with you most clearly, from a leadership perspective?

It’s to play well with others – with my team, other employees, with myself. I use it on a daily basis, up and down the organization.

Interested in connecting with Karla about leadership, People Operations, or radical candor? She is available at kthommen@tpgrp.com.