01/13/2015 06:56 am ET Updated Mar 15, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Patti Clifford, Chief Talent Officer, Havas Creative Group

Patti joined Havas in 2012 and in January of 2013 assumed the role of Chief Talent Officer for Havas Creative, which encompasses being Global Chief Talent Officer for Havas Worldwide and Arnold Worldwide. In these roles, Patti is responsible for the strategic leadership of talent management initiatives, organizational culture and strategy, and working with leadership across agencies to create a great work environment.

Prior to joining the agency, Patti ran her own consulting business that specialized in providing small and mid-size firms with leadership development, performance management, change management, and executive coaching services.

In mid-2010, she completed a 20-year career at D&B (Dun & Bradstreet), where for the last nine years she held the position of SVP & Chief Human Resources Officer, in addition to leading the company's global internal communications function. In this role, she was responsible for leading a key component of the company's strategy, Winning Culture, which led to large improvements in employee engagement and customer satisfaction and industry recognition in Fortune Magazine's Most Admired Companies. She was a trusted partner to two CEOs, C-suite peers, and the management liaison to the Compensation & Benefits Committee of the Board of Directors.

Prior to serving as the Chief HR Officer, Patti served as VP of Winning Culture, VP & Assistant Corporate Secretary, AVP Event Marketing and as Chief of Staff. In addition, she spent the early part of her career working on Wall Street in institutional shareholder marketing and communications.

Patti is a graduate of the University of Scranton with a B.S. in Management. She currently serves as Vice-Chair of the President's Business Council and on the Kania School of Management Advisory Board. She also serves on several not-for-profit boards and volunteers her time at other not-for-profit organizations. Patti resides in New Jersey with her two sons and three Bichon Frises.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
There are many things that I would say have shaped the leader I am today. First, my family - I was born to first generation parents who had an incredible work ethic, didn't put any limits on what we could do, and most importantly were very loving and supportive. On the work front, I took on a role (Chief HR Officer at D&B) at a young age without the typical experience. This forced me to jump in the pool and figure out how to swim (vs. drown!). I learned the value of being curious, challenging the status quo, asking for help and making sure that I held the bar high on the talent on my team.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Havas Creative Group?
I had many interesting roles at D&B that allowed me great perspective on the workings of a complex global organization. For example, over the years, I had the opportunity to run the foundation, execute large corporate events, write proxy statements and do SEC filings, reengineer large functions, become an expert at change management, inculcate a focus on leadership as a driver of performance, lead a cultural transformation, and develop a world-class HR & Communications function. Post D&B I did consulting with private equity backed companies, and that enabled me to gain experience leading smaller organizations. All of these experiences helped me to matriculate into Havas and apply the global experience at the company level and the consulting experience at the agency level.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Havas Creative Group?
The highlight has to be the people. I love the constant flow of creativity, energy and possibility that is palpable every day. I have also found the changing industry dynamics in regard to digital, content and data to be fascinating. Most challenging is probably the lack of experience leaders have with good talent management and development - but that's why I'm here - to help them get better at knowing how to invest in their teams in such a way that improves development, retention and performance.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in leadership development?
It's a key strategic driver for any company. Make sure you understand the business, that you have a point of view and that you are willing to get up every day and be truly passionate about creating an environment that is motivating and rewarding for employees. You have to be able to do it regardless of all the barriers that get in your way (man made!) or that happen in the regular ebb and flow of business. It's all worth it when you see the environment changing and evolving to the benefit of the employee.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I got divorced my kids were only 6 and 9 (they are now 17 and 20). At first I wasn't sure how I would be successful at a C-level role while still being present and engaged with my kids and running a household. I learned the art of balancing priorities and realizing that I couldn't and didn't need to do everything myself, which was difficult for someone who likes to be in control!) I have a great support network with my family and I've had wonderful childcare partners, which over the years evolved from day-care to nannies to au pairs. One of my bosses shared a great piece of advice that the key to performing and having balance was focusing on the "need to do's" versus "nice to do's". When I find myself feeling overwhelmed, I ask that simple question, "need to do or nice to do?" and it usually helps lessen my workload and get things back in balance.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
My observation is that there are still too many women who don't fully share their "voice" within their organization. I am pretty sure that each day women have many innovations, solutions and interesting perspectives that don't get "put on the table" out of fear that the timing or environment isn't right, or they don't have enough confidence in themselves to believe that it's a good idea.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentors believe in you and see things in you before you do in yourself. I have had wonderful mentors in my professional life who have pushed me, coaxed me, and at times directed me to take risks that seemed scary at first but ended up being incredibly rewarding experiences. In recent years, I've been fortunate that through my non-profit Board work and other interests, I've been able to gain mentors who don't see me primarily from a company or work perspective but rather more as a whole person. As we evolve as leaders, I think it's quite essential to bring new influences into your life so that you can keep growing and challenging yourself.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I've always admired Madeleine Albright, the first woman Secretary of State. The US Senate confirmed her in a 99-0 vote - now that's respect! She's has a tremendously interesting life and dealt with many personal situations, yet persevered. I appreciate her perspective on her divorce, finding her voice, and motherhood. I also like the fact she seems to have always been proud to be a woman. I've always thought that her trademark signature of wearing appropriate pins as a political or artistic statement of her mood, or to send a diplomatic message was very clever. Finally, I think one of her popular quotes is quite powerful:
"I also think it is important for women to help one another. I have a saying: There is a special place in hell for women who don't."

What do you want Havas Creative Group to accomplish in the next year?
I want us to experience extraordinary growth as a result of our people leaders having fully committed to nurturing and optimizing our amazingly talented employees.