David Van Rooy: An interview by Bob Morris

Van RooyDavid Van Rooy is Senior Director, Talent Management for Walmart. He previously held roles in International Human Resources, and was responsible for the world’s largest performance management and employee engagement programs at Walmart, covering nearly 2.2 million employees globally. Before Walmart his most recent role was at Marriott International, where he led global HR operations and systems for several Centers of Expertise (COE) including compensation, benefits, workforce planning, performance management, associate engagement, and learning. He also held several Talent Management and Marketing roles of increasing responsibility at Burger King Corporation.

David received his doctoral degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Florida International University (FIU). He has published over 20 peer reviewed scientific business articles and book chapters. Most of these have been highly recognized and his work been covered by many national and international outlets including USA Today, CNN, Forbes, Inc., and Fox News, and HR Asia. This has been complemented by over 30 presentations at international conferences. In addition to performance management and employee engagement, he is a recognized expert in the fields of emotional intelligence and employee assessment and selection.

His book, Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies to Take You from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, was published by AMACOM (May 2014).

Author Note: In gratitude for the brave and unselfish service of our military men and women, David will be donating all of the author royalties he receives from the sale of Trajectory to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) in support of our military veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce. IVMF’s mission is to enhance American competitiveness and advance the employment situation of veterans and their families by collecting, synthesizing and sharing veteran-employment policy & practices, providing employment related expertise, capacity, training and education and delivering technical assistance to stakeholders in the veterans’ community. You can learn more about this great organization here
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Morris: Before discussing Trajectory, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Van Rooy: My parents. They provided me with a supportive, values-based childhood and demonstrated the value of hard work and integrity.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Van Rooy: I would have trouble pointing to a single person. I have been extremely fortunate to have amazing professors, bosses, and mentors throughout my career.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Van Rooy: At the first company I worked for out of graduate school I was presented with a neat opportunity to move from HR into Marketing. My time in marketing gave me direct exposure to a different part of the business, which I believe helps me to this day. Less than a year later, though, I had a chance to move to a new organization, but the role was back in HR. At that point I realized I had to decide which career path to take, and I decided that HR was where I wanted to be down the road. It’s sometimes hard to make these decisions at the time, but looking back on my career I have no doubt it was the right career choice for me.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Van Rooy: My Ph.D. is in a field called Industrial and Organizational Psychology, which includes heavy research and analytical components. This has helped me in understanding data that is so important with decision making, particularly as the amounts of it continue to increase.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Van Rooy: In college I took an organizational psychology class, and Bringing Out the Best in People by Aubrey Daniels was required reading. As an aspiring psychologist I was drawn to the message about motivating people through positive reinforcement. The alternative – negative reinforcement – can lead to behavioral change, but it is either short-lived or not as powerful as positive reinforcement.

Morris: Here are two of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Van Rooy: Absolutely! Many ideas that originally “failed” were simply ideas ahead of their time. Something that did not work in the past should not be forever discarded; instead, reevaluate when conditions change, and you may find that what was once dangerous or crazy is now brilliant.

Morris: Then from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Van Rooy: It’s easy to fall into a trap and continue doing what worked in the past, even if it is no longer worthwhile. Over time we tend to get better and more efficient at what we do, but it’s important to make sure that it is still important. For example, you may be able to create a monthly scorecard much quicker than when you started it, but unless it is still being used it does not really matter.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Van Rooy: It’s important that people have passion for what they do, and feel connected to the greater purpose. Stories have a powerful effect on us because we can relate to them, and as a result we remember them. It is this emotional connection that results in storytelling becoming such a powerful way to inspire others.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Trajectory. When and why did you decide to write it?

Van Rooy: As I mentioned earlier, I have been very fortunate in my career to learn from amazing people. I felt that I was uniquely positioned to write a career book that could help people based on these insights in combination with my background in organizational psychology. Career decisions are among the most important we make in our life, and there was a hole to fill with a useful framework that can help people in both charting their career and then steps to take in order to reach their goals. For Trajectory, it was about two years from when I first jotted down the title and chapters until the book was published.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Van Rooy: The biggest revelation to me occurred after it was released. Though I wrote the book with the intention of helping others, it’s very moving when you receive emails from people describing how they were impacted. People have made job changes, found themselves trying harder, doing more to help others, etc. This real-life impact has really resonated with me.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Van Rooy: I was happy that I was able to stay very true to the original. The day I had the idea for the book and title, I also wrote down the names of the chapters. Surprisingly, these all stuck and very little was changed from the fist day all the way to the final version.

Morris: In my opinion, listening is among the most important but least appreciated communication skills. In your opinion, how best to master that skill?

Van Rooy: Listening attentively is really important. I even reference an Epictetus quote in the book about how we have two ears and one mouth, which should be used in that proportion. Focus is key to listening. Do whatever you can do to drown out distractions. Turn off your computer monitor, get a conference room, put your phone away, etc. In addition, listen to understand. Too many people listen to respond, but it’s much more powerful to listen deeply and understand before responding.

Morris: As I indicate in my review of the book for various Amazon websites, there are dozens of passages throughout your narrative that caught my eye. For those who have not as yet read the book, please respond to the questions posed.

First, Your Trajectory’s Foundation (Pages 9-10): What is the single worst mistake that people seem to make when engaged in establishing one? Please explain.

Van Rooy: It’s not a mistake so much as an oversight. Too many people don’t give themselves and their career the level of attention and thought that they clearly deserves. Few people seem to know exactly what job they want next; it’s even more rare for someone to know what job they want after that. If you haven’t thought a step or two ahead, it’s hard to really know what skills and career actions you need to take to get where you want to be.

Morris: A Matter of Mindset (14-17): Long ago, Henry Ford observed, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Is that what the “matter” is? Please explain.

Van Rooy: Your self-confidence and belief in yourself are essential to your success. If you believe you will fail you are quite likely to do just that. Conversely, believe that you will succeed and you immensely increase your chances of doing well.

Morris: Capitalizing on Feedback (42-45): How best to do that?

Van Rooy: There is a lot you need to do to effectively use feedback, but two of the most important are: First, be willing to ask for it – don’t wait for it to come to you; next, don’t take it personally. Use the feedback constructively, not as a personal attack against you.

Morris: The Psychology of Persistence (57-61): What are the most important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind?

Van Rooy: Many of the greatest breakthroughs and accomplishments in history were the result of someone not giving up. Very often you might just be one step away from something that once seemed so far away. There are many developments that you cannot control in life, but you can decide whether or not to persist. This is the most important aspect of persistence.

Morris: Reach for Your Summits, and, Goal Management (82-89): First, any advice when formulating what Jim Collins characterizes as a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? What is the most counter-productive form of goal mismanagement? How best to avoid it?

Van Rooy: Big goals are great. I advocate that people Think Big, Act Small, and Move Quick. Having a huge – but realistic – goal gives you a major target to go after. One serious mistake I see that people make is setting “comfortable” goals. These are important as milestone goals, but not for your “big” goal. Even if you don’t reach your big goal, you very likely will have gone a lot further than if you only set easy goals for yourself.

Morris: Stagnation in Concept, and, (Two) Types of Stagnation (131-143): What are the defining characteristics of organizational stagnation? And of individual stagnation?

Van Rooy: You can stagnate in terms of your unfulfilled potential (Intrapersonal Stagnation) and also in contrast with what others have achieved (Interpersonal Stagnation). The former occurs when you are no longer maintain the pace you once did, and your trajectory begins to dip. Interpersonal stagnation is based on how others around you are doing. You may maintain the exact same pace and trajectory, but if others are learning faster and putting in more effort you will notice that your trajectory will not be as positive in contrast to them.

Morris: Uncover the Positive (164-168): Why do so many people have such a difficult time doing this?

Van Rooy: As humans we are biologically wired to remember what is negative more than positive. It’s a survival issue: we need to know what to avoid in the future. This carries over and we find it easy to focus on the negative stuff. While there can be some benefit in doing so, you don’t want to overlook the value of focusing on the positive. The positives can carry you through by enabling you to persist. You probably achieved a great deal to get where you are, so don’t lose sight of your strengths; more importantly, take a moment every once in awhile to recognize yourself and others for accomplishments.

Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, with which one would you most want to share an evening of conversation if it were possible? Why?

Van Rooy: I would go with George Washington. He was the leader at the forefront of what became United States and knew that his decisions could help establish or undermine what could become a nation. It would be fascinating to learn how aware he was of the magnitude of his role in history, and his thought process when navigating through so much political turbulence, so many crises.

Morris: In your opinion, what specifically can new parents do to encourage and nourish a child’s imagination during the pre-K years?

Van Rooy: Spend time with them and simply allow them to be creative. With two young daughters I am amazed at the innate creativity they and their friends have. Instead of immediately telling them what something is, for instance, let them enjoy it and see what they come up with. It’s great to observe their curiosity and enthusiasm.

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read Trajectory and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. Where to begin?

Van Rooy: This may sound easy, but it’s very hard for most people to do: Sit down and map out the last 10 years of your career, then map out where you want to go during the next 10 years. And you need to do this with specific strategic career plans, not just vague steps like “get promoted.” When you do, you can trace the trajectory you are on, and then see the trajectory you need to follow to get where you want to be. In addition, this will allow you to identify the skills and experiences needed to reach your long-term goals.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Trajectory, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Van Rooy: With “small” companies there is perhaps nothing more important than building a strong team. This requires investing in people and their careers. Trajectory provides an accessible approach leaders can use to guide and mentor others. Whether it is with providing feedback, breaking through plateaus, or any of the other lessons, Trajectory will make it easier for these leaders to help others grow in their career.

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David cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Inc. link

David’s Amazon page link

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