Lynn Doonan – Tenerity

HR leader cultivates flexible, collaborative post-pandemic culture

Lynn Doonan is nothing if not adaptive. As senior vice president of human resources at Tenerity, she’s been helping over 1,000 employees in more than a dozen countries adjust to the post-pandemic “new normal.”

“I don’t think the days of people going to an office 9-to-5, Monday to Friday, are ever going to return,” Doonan says. “So, if we’re going to be in a hybrid environment long-term, how do we make the most of that, where people have flexibility but also camaraderie?”

At Tenerity, a subscription-based marketing company that works with brands to create incremental revenue, customer engagement and retention through differentiated products, the typical workday revolves around Microsoft Teams. So, Doonan makes a point of calling people randomly on Teams to find out how they’re doing. It’s her post-pandemic equivalent to dropping by someone’s cubicle on the way to the restroom.

Lynn Doonan | Senior Vice President, Human Resources | Tenerity

Lynn Doonan | Senior Vice President, Human Resources | Tenerity

“I guess maybe that’s a little scarier now that I’m in HR,” laughs Doonan, an attorney by training who joined Tenerity as a vice president of legal before making the jump to human resources. “People are like, ‘Oh God, why is HR calling me out of the blue?’ But I think for most people, it’s pretty well received, because I do it so often.”

Doonan has a theory: You can find out a lot about how the company’s doing by having a heart-to-heart conversation with one person a day. She does all the classic check-ins, too—like meetings with her direct reports every week—but her informal Teams calls have become a way of reclaiming something nearly lost amid all the pandemic upheaval.

But Doonan also doesn’t want to see the pendulum swing too far away from face-to-face contact.

“I want people to look forward to their days at the office,” she says.

Cultivating collaborative culture

Those efforts are part of a larger goal: maintaining the company’s welcoming, flexible culture for new generations of employees. When Doonan came to Tenerity from a law firm, she loved becoming part of a company and instantly took to the corporate culture at Tenerity.

“I worry about culture, for certain, like will this continue for the people coming in now to be as phenomenal a place as it was for me when I was just starting out?” Doonan says. “And that’s really important to me.”

As the company celebrates its 50-year anniversary this year, Doonan can’t help but reflect on the life journey that it has made possible for her—from childless newlywed four years out of law school to mother of three and seasoned executive. She wants to see Tenerity continue to be that kind of workplace for the new people coming up—a place where entrepreneurialism is rewarded, opportunities abound and cross-department collaboration is the modus operandi.

Lynn Doonan | Senior Vice President, Human Resources | Tenerity

For example, she says interdepartmental task forces created to address opportunities for the company sometimes result in lateral opportunities for participants. People get to know each other across disciplines and then feel comfortable suggesting their colleague from another department for an opening within their own area.

Tenerity’s culture also made possible the pivot that its workforce had to execute when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Among other services, the company operates call centers for some of its clients. When COVID began to spread, it became impossible to operate those call centers in person. But Tenerity’s employees were determined not to let each other down.

“One thing about having employees who have been with a company for a while is that they’re invested,” Doonan says. “They’re invested in the actual operation of the business so that when something like this happens, everyone’s tendency is to rally. To be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, what do you need me to do? Do you need me to drive to a parking lot and have someone hand me a headset or a laptop through the window? No problem.’”

Multi-prong hiring strategy

When it comes time to bring in new people, Doonan adopts a multi-prong approach. First, she relies heavily on referrals and word-of-mouth recruiting, a tactic she’s able to deploy because Tenerity has so many satisfied employees, she says. As Doonan points out, you don’t tell your sister, neighbor or friend to apply for a job at a company you hate.

“It’s such a win-win,” she says. “Because we’re getting a referral from somebody we know and appreciate and think does a good job.”

Lynn Doonan | Senior Vice President, Human Resources | Tenerity

If that doesn’t yield a winning candidate, Doonan turns to LinkedIn, Indeed, Dice Jobs and the company’s website to search for applicants. She has also built connections with recruiting agencies, both to find the right candidate when there’s an opening and to fill gaps in her workforce.

“A significant part of our recruiting strategy is external recruiters,” Doonan says. “When you take the time to do repeat business with an agency, that agency starts to understand your culture.”

Taking the long-term view

A graduate of Boston College, where she studied English and philosophy, Doonan earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1994. After graduation, she joined Morgan, Lewis & Bockius as an associate attorney, staying there for two years. In 1996, she joined Hunton & Williams.

But a key turning point came in 1998, when she joined a predecessor company to Tenerity, as its legal counsel. She rose to group vice president in 2019.

“I think a big transition point for me was the move to a company from law firms,” Doonan says. “Being an outside advisor to a business, as opposed to being someone advising a company from the inside, is quite different. I think when I came in-house, that was quite a change for me. A great one, I will say.”

Lynn Doonan | Senior Vice President, Human Resources | Tenerity

Over the years with her current company, Doonan has grown as a person and as a professional, and she credits Tenerity’s leadership with taking a long-term view regarding the company’s workforce—an approach she now applies to her own job.

“There’s always been flexibility—there’s kind of the idea that we can meet those short-term needs of our employees; this wasn’t a place where if you had something going on in your life, you had to be like, ‘Well, I guess I have to quit,’” Doonan says. “It’s always been a conversation. And I’m always eternally grateful for the company and the people.”

View this feature in the Vol. IV 2023 Edition here.

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