Adrina Walker: A Trailblazer in Human Resources Working for Employee Well-being and Organizational Growth

The 10 Most Influential HR Executives to Watch in 2024

Adrina Walker, the Assistant Vice President of Human Resources at The University of Vermont Health Network, is more than just an HR executive; she’s a passionate advocate for putting people first. With a distinguished career in Organizational Behavior, Leadership Development, Diversity, Equity, and Conscious Inclusion, she embodies a commitment to fostering a workplace where every individual thrives.

As a dynamic leader, Adrina oversees a wide array of responsibilities. She leads a dedicated team of HR professionals who are instrumental in driving strategic initiatives. Her focus extends to ensuring that the workplace remains harmonious and productive, where employees can perform at their best.

In the field of labor relations, Adrina plays a pivotal role in facilitating critical interactions between the organization and its workforce, ensuring a fair and constructive working environment. But her impact doesn’t stop there.

Adrina is deeply committed to empowering the growth of future leaders through Education & Executive Leadership Development. Her dedication to creating a motivated and committed workforce is evident in her approach to Employee Engagement. One of her standout qualities is her commitment to recognizing and celebrating excellence within the organization through various recognition programs. This not only boosts morale but also nurtures a culture of achievement.

Her love of Talent Development & Planning is instrumental in shaping her strategic vision ensuring that the workforce evolves in line with the organization’s goals. This makes Adrina an indispensable figure in the field of human resources and leadership.

Leap of Faith

The beginning of Adrina’s career was marked by a need to support her fellow employees, focusing on advocacy and efficiency. At that time, she was in education, and she didn’t initially realize that her career in HR was slowly starting to take shape. While she loved education, Adrina felt that education was a small piece within her larger purpose.

Adrina’s journey into HR represents a significant step of faith and trust. HR was not part of her career plans, but having a great sponsor/mentor who guided her in navigating career choices and options was instrumental. As a senior HR professional, this mentor shared how Adrina could transition to HR and bring her unique skills, talents, and abilities to support an evolving employee culture. Initially, Adrina found the idea amusing until she realized her mentor was serious. She took a leap of faith, trusting her mentor’s advice, with the assurance that if it didn’t work out in 6 months, she could make a change. Adrina states, “It has now been 10 years, and this career shift stands as one of the best steps of faith I’ve ever taken.”

Overcoming Roadblocks

Adrina shares that her professional journey has had its share of roadblocks that taught her valuable lessons. These roadblocks include:

  • Discrimination: She has encountered various forms of discrimination, including social, racial, and gender-based biases, which have presented challenges and opportunities for growth.
  • Access: Adrina has faced obstacles related to glass ceilings and glass cliffs, which can limit career progression and pose unique challenges for women in leadership roles.
  • Workplace Inequalities: She has observed workplace inequalities, such as the lack of mentorship, sponsorship, limited career mobility, and insufficient succession planning. These issues have highlighted the importance of addressing diversity and inclusion in the workplace and providing equal opportunities for all employees.

These roadblocks have not only been challenges but also sources of valuable lessons that have shaped her journey and perspective in her professional life. “Its because of these roadblocks,” Adrina shares, “that I am whole-heartly committed to shaping the world of HR into one that promotes equity, access, and partnership.”

Harnessing HR Technology

Adrina believes that modern technology provides a unique opportunity to foster deeper connections with teams and employees. HR technology has enabled innovation, transformation, and promotes proactive approaches in the workplace. She states, “Technology allows us to reach employees globally with one click. We can share connective interactions through screens, collaborate simultaneously, and streamline our processes to elevate our organizations.” In her view, the future of HR technology holds the key to the next evolution of HR.

Building Meaningful Connections

Adrina encourages everyone to be authentically and unapologetically yourself. She advises against molding or assimilating into cultures that don’t appreciate and accept you for who you are and what you bring to the table. By being genuinely authentic, you are provided a sense of freedom, allowing individuals to be truthful, forthright, and candid in their interactions.

“Authenticity creates a strong foundation for connection. When people see that one is true to themselves, they begin to value their integrity. On the other hand, when individuals try to fit into cultures that don’t support their true selves, they compromise their integrity inwardly by not being true to who they are and outwardly by expecting others within that culture to do the same.” This lack of authenticity erodes trust, credibility, and connection.  Being authentic is not only liberating but also essential for building meaningful and genuine connections with others.

Making Impact

Adrina has received numerous awards and recognition throughout her career, but the most meaningful recognition for her is seeing those she has mentored and sponsored go on to mentor and sponsor others. She values the random calls, texts, or social media posts where someone expresses their gratitude for their experiences with her. Her heart bursts with joy when she receives a spontaneous thank-you note or email, as these moments of genuine appreciation are what she treasures the most. “There is nothing more humbling to me than knowing someone, somewhere, is leading from their best HR passions because of a mentor or sponsor conversation we had years ago!” Paying it forward is essential to the sustainability of HR.

Balancing Personal and Professional Demands

On the topic of maintaining a balance between her personal and professional life, Adrina shares that she has given up on the concept of balance. She found it to be stressful and challenging to achieve. Instead, she focuses on harmonization. She asks herself how she can achieve harmony and what decisions or choices are necessary to ensure that her life plays a pleasing tune.

With a fast-paced and busy life, it’s crucial for her to keep tempo and ensure that all the elements in her life work together in a harmonious way. This approach allows her to find a sense of equilibrium and satisfaction in the midst of her many responsibilities and commitments. To do this, requires deep self-reflection and conscious mental health awareness. Knowing when to relax, when to say no, and when to say yes helps Adrina stay focused.

Sharing the Power of Motivation

Adrina believes that motivation is a highly individualized and contagious life factor. She emphasizes the importance of asking yourself what motivates and encourages you, especially during the challenging times. Remember those answers and draw upon them when you need too.  She encourages leaders to ask these and similar questions of their teams. Understanding an individual’s motivations is essential to fostering well-being, team work and productivity.

In cases where leaders do not freely ask these questions, Adrina advises individuals to advocate for themselves. Share what motivates and encourages them with their leaders, peers, and partners. Speaking up for oneself can be scary but necessary. It’s the adage, “You teach people how to treat you!”

“Feedback is key! Take the time to ask the hard questions, to advocate on the uncomfortable topics. Leadership is at its highest when leaders support their teams in ways that motivate them, makes them feel seen, and known.”

Philosophy of Success

For Adrina, there is a formula to success; create the vision, make the plan, action the plan, celebrate the wins, balance the adversity, and where necessary, bring others along for the ride!  For her, success is a daily commitment she makes to herself. This perspective is deeply rooted in how she was raised, with the values of taking things one step at a time, keeping the main thing the main thing, and believing that nothing is impossible.

Advice for the HR Professionals

Adrina’s message to aspiring HR professionals and business leaders is to follow their own path and savor every moment of the journey. She emphasizes that not every career follows a straight line; some, like her own, are agile and eventful, filled with unexpected twists. However, regardless of the path taken, each part of the journey contributes to one’s growth and development in the field of HR. Embracing the unpredictability and enjoying the ride is key to a fulfilling HR journey.