Culture, Collaboration, and Courage
Through transparency, honesty, and decisiveness, Megan Davidson champions Crowley employees and makes sure everyone is heard.
An early job in retail helped Megan Davidson find her calling in human resources. “As store manager, the recruiting and training parts of my job energized me most,” she says.
Davidson’s latest role in HR is her position as chief people officer at Crowley, the logistics, government, marine, and energy solutions firm based in Jacksonville, Florida. She entered the C-suite at Crowley in November 2021.
We spoke with Davidson about her career trajectory, agenda at Crowley, and strategies for nurturing talent in challenging times.
IL: You came to Crowley after 11 years at British Petroleum. What are the corporate culture differences between them?
The two companies share many similarities. But Crowley is able to be more purposeful and agile at all levels of the company. Decisions are made faster. Also, people at Crowley have more autonomy to put new ideas into action due to the environment that the leadership team has fostered over the years.
IL: Share an early experience that shaped you as a leader.
Shirley Bailey, who was HR business partner at Deutsche Bank when I joined that company in 2005, had a big influence on me. First, she took a chance on hiring me. I didn’t necessarily have all the required skills, but I was tenacious and had a strong work ethic. She gave a lot of her time, helping me to build my skill set. She also taught me a great deal about overcoming adversity and the power of attitude.
As I’ve stepped into bigger roles, I’ve tried to be just as generous with my time, and sponsor people who need extra support to accelerate their careers.
IL: What’s at the top of your agenda since you took on your new role?
This is a pivotal time at Crowley. We’re shifting our strategy, with new emphasis on sustainability, emerging energy sources, and digital transformation. The question is how to leverage and reshape our culture as needed to support our goals. We have to make sure our culture works to enable, not hinder, our success.
For example, we might need to move quickly to seize a new opportunity that aligns with our strategy. We’re a highly collaborative culture, and collaboration is good, but sometimes it can slow things down. To stay nimble, this may be one area where we need to consider making a shift.
IL: If we followed you around on a typical day, what would we find you doing?
I’m in meetings about three-quarters of the day. I spend a lot of time with my peers on the leadership team, working to understand the business context—what challenges they face and where they are trying to move the business. This enables me to adjust the people strategy as needed.
I meet with employees to understand how they experience work, what they love, where they encounter obstacles, and where the HR team can support them.
I meet with my team to create alignment and build capability. I also try to build in some white space—time to think, educate myself, talk with leaders at other organizations, and talk to third parties. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. But to recommend a people strategy that supports the organization, it’s important to step back and look above and farther out.
IL: How do you collect feedback from employees?
My team runs focus groups, but often I’ll just sit with different people at different levels of the organization to find out what they enjoy about the company and what gets in the way.
IL: As many companies struggle with the Great Resignation, how are you helping Crowley retain talent?
We haven’t seen the volatility that many organizations have. But we need to keep moving to stay ahead of things. We recently went through a review to make sure our pay and benefits are still competitive in the market. We’re studying what work will look like as people come back to the office, eyeing a hybrid model at least for this year but making sure we understand employees’ concerns and needs.
We’re getting employees energized about our new brand, including an increased focus on sustainability and a drive toward the future. Also, through our Crowley Cares Foundation, we encourage community involvement. In 2021, we rolled out a policy that gives each employee two paid days off a year to volunteer with organizations that matter to them.
IL: What qualities make you an effective leader?
The first is transparency. I’ve always tried to be honest—sharing what I know and what I don’t know, where I’m uncomfortable and where I need support. I’m collaborative; I seek opinions and perspectives. But once I have them, I’m decisive. I’m comfortable with change and I’m courageous. I’ve always felt my role in HR was to speak on behalf of employees who don’t feel they have a voice. I’ve continued to nurture that quality, making sure people hear the quiet voices and difficult messages.
IL: What’s the hardest part of your job?
It’s ensuring that leaders across all levels are aligned. Every decision made related to diversity and inclusion, to the work environment, to whether an employee feels developed—stems from leaders.
Getting leaders aligned is particularly challenging in a company like Crowley. For example, think of leaders who are out on vessels in the middle of the ocean. We need to ensure that leaders at all levels and in different work environments are all pulling in the same direction.
IL: With whom would you like to sit down for a chat?
That would be the lecturer and author Brené Brown. Her research shines a light on the need for authentic, vulnerable leaders who lead in their truth. I’d like to hear her thoughts on how leaders choose courage over comfort and make sure we’re not silent on the tougher topics.
IL: Beyond work, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend most of my free time with my daughters, who are 8 and 11 years old. Sometimes that’s doing a whole lot of nothing; sometimes it’s traveling. I also enjoy reading and gardening.n
Employees who meet with Megan Davidson often ask what they should do differently. “How can I make an impact on the job I’m in or the team I’m leading?” they ask.
“For me, the answer has always been ‘Get to know yourself better,'” Davidson says. “If you’re in tune with yourself, you’ll see where you’re excelling and where you’re falling down.”
One of the best paths to self-knowledge, Davidson says, is simply to contemplate how people react to you in different situations. Keeping a journal can help, too.
“Also, ask for advice from the people you might call your board of advisors,” she says. “Those are the ones who won’t tell you just positive things but will provide a balanced response.”