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Behind the Scenes Series: Meet Anne Buchanan

January 10, 2019
Written by
Alex Tyson
Photos and Design by
Courtesy of Anne Buchanan and She Shreds Staff

Welcome to the She Shreds Behind the Scenes Monthly Series. Each month we interview women behind the scenes in the guitar and music industry. For our first profile, we chat with Anne Buchanan, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Human Resources Officer at Guitar Center. 

She was a single mother working as an assistant in a human resources department. Her talent and intellect was obvious. Initially tasked with setting up conference rooms and ordering lunches, her bosses gave her more and more responsibilities.

Would she interview candidates? Yes.

Would she write job advertisements? Yes.

Would she tactfully handle difficult workplace conflicts with the utmost diplomacy? Yes.

Would she transform an organization to ensure thousands of employees could deliver their best performance while loving what they do? Duh.

Which is why today Anne Buchanan is the Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Human Resources Officer at Guitar Center. Responsible for formulating the company’s human resources strategy— no small feat, given the company’s almost 300 retail locations, $2.2 billion in annual revenue, and significant online presence — Buchanan took time out of her busy schedule to offer She Shreds readers insight into an array of topics.

Frank, funny, and thoughtful, read Buchanan’s take on how to tell a good manager from a bad one, what advice she wishes she could tell her past-self, what she loves most about working at Guitar Center, and what openings Guitar Center would love to hire for!

What are the values and principles that have guided you throughout your career?

Oh wow! I don’t know how many HR people you’ve interacted with in your career, but I’ve interacted with tons of them. You hear a lot about how HR people keep it close to the vest, and you don’t know what they’re thinking. I have seen that myself, but one of my guiding principles is to be honest. Not hurtful, but honest.

When people ask me how they’re doing, whether they’re my employee or someone else’s, I will tell them. I don’t like to catch people off guard. Being honest helps people reconcile what their next step will be and how they can move forward. As head of HR, there, of course, have been times where I’ve known about information that I can’t really talk about for one reason or another, and I’ll always protect that. But I want to build trust in the workforce and have people come to me.

I read a study recently about relationships in the workplace. The researcher found that unpredictable relationships were more detrimental to employee productivity than purely negative ones.

It’s so true. I’ve seen it. Having been on the periphery and middle of a lot of situations, I’ve seen that managers who are on a rollercoaster all the time are so much more damaging than just a bad manager. At least with bad managers, you know what to expect!

If you could give your past-self advice at the beginning of your career, what would you tell them?

I wouldn’t tell my past-self anything. Everything I’ve learned in every situation that I’ve been involved in, whether it was the right way or the wrong way has made me the HR person I am today. All of the learning has been super meaningful to me. I had to go through it and learn it.

That being said, if I had to tell myself anything, I would tell myself not to get so stressed out. I’ve learned to do that in my older years, but that would have been a good piece of advice for me back then.

How do you approach creating a comprehensive strategy for a company with over 300 stores and a ton of stakeholders? What is that process like?

It really is about keeping things simple. People like to naturally complicate things. At Guitar Center, when I started, my team kept asking me what our strategy is. Our strategy is the company’s strategy. For HR, it’s more planning around Guitar Center’s strategy versus creating our own strategy.  We need to create plans that connect to the company’s strategy and drive that strategy. So if we’re growing our lessons business, HR needs to be mindful of our planning to make sure we have lessons instructors built into candidate pipeline funnels. We ask how are we training those instructors. How are we onboarding them? How are we making sure they have a tight connection to the business? It’s less about creating a huge strategy and more about creating projects and plans that support the company’s strategy.

What are you most excited to work on?

I’m excited about everything! The other day someone asked me why I was always so happy, and they may think I’m kind of a dork, but look at all there is to do! It’s fun. I’m really excited about learning and development right now. I see so much opportunity there.

We’re working on our first female leadership institute and I’m super excited about that. We haven’t fully developed the content or candidate selection process yet, but we plan to introduce it next year. It should involve about 15 women in leadership positions, such as a manager, vice president, director, or person with a position of influence. It will be a 12-week course that will talk about leadership, performance management, business strategy, and communication, and how to build those skills so you can apply them in your role in the workforce and beyond.

It’s fun to have a lot of people on my team that thinks and breathes professional development all day long. We ask, “how do we create something meaningful and impactful for our associates?” I don’t really think of it as only for Guitar Center, I think about it for their life. I don’t expect people to be at Guitar Center forever. I make it my mission that should they move on from their careers, we’ve taught them something so meaningful that they’re going to take with them for the rest of their life.

Yeah, when you teach someone certain skills you really can change their life for the better.

Yeah, and when you teach someone something, you can never take that away. It’s really meaningful for me and I get really excited about that!

What job opportunities exist at Guitar Center currently?

I’d love for you to tell your readers about this! Before I go into that, though, I want to touch on the fact that there are so much passion and love for music in Guitar Center. Even if you aren’t a musician and don’t play an instrument—I don’t play one, but I’m not going to lie, playing one does add a different passion to what you’re doing every day. So we love to have musicians come through the system because they have a different emotional attachment to the business than the average person.

In terms of opportunities, we’re hiring for support center positions, store positions, really everything. We’ve been growing and opening new stores. If you go to our careers page, there are a ton of opportunities that we would love for readers of She Shreds to know about and apply for.

We really want to bring in people who are passionate about what they do, are resourceful and have a love for music. I can’t think of a department that’s not hiring.

Are there any books, training, or mentors that have been helpful to you throughout your career that you think back on and refer to today?

Wow, I’ve been fortunate to have great bosses in my career. I had bosses that were tough on me. They were not afraid to say, “this is what you did and this is how you can do it better.”  I’ve had them rewrite everything I’ve written.

While it’s easier to do something yourself sometimes, you don’t teach anyone that way. You don’t develop anyone that way. You don’t learn that way. To have bosses that took the time to sit down with me to say, “here’s what you wrote, here’s how you should have written it and here’s why” was so helpful.

I also had leaders that told me I was good and would go far in my career if I did this, that, and another thing. That helped me believe in myself and build confidence and propelled myself. That’s something I take with me everywhere I go, not just at work, even at home and in my personal life. I make sure that I give feedback all the time to my employees. Even if it’s time-consuming and could be easier to do it myself, I remember to give them feedback,  because that’s how they grow and develop. The more I can create opportunities for employees the more I can do to lift myself up.

Before I hop off with you, are there any departing words you’d like to leave with our readers?

Gosh, departing words. You know, I really hope readers check out our career opportunities because I’d love to meet them. And gosh, you know, I’d also say be aggressive! Go achieve your dreams. Don’t let anyone stand in your way.

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