Here's to the New You

POET promotes workforce development.

Laura McAreavey has never been much of a risk-taker.

As POET’s Treasury Manager, McAreavey is responsible for creating and implementing a formal treasury function while managing relationships to increase return on POET’s cash reserves. Risk taking isn’t really in McAreavey’s job description. Her conservative, conscientious approach to work has served her well over the 15 years she’s been with POET.

It never occurred to her that taking a few chances every now and then could help her professionally.

Today, McAreavey sees things a little differently.

“I have the confidence and the clarity now to know I can take a few risks. What’s the next thing I can tackle?”


POET believes continual workforce development is an important characteristic of a successful company. Spark was introduced to support this belief.

It’s a very different approach to traditional workforce development or career development, says Blake Wysong, POET’s Senior Vice President of CARE (POET’s Human Resources department). That is, it’s not intended to train people how to do the nitty gritty details of their particular job better. It’s more about growth as a person.

Laura Vostad, POET’s Director of Learning and Development, adds “Spark is focused on six characteristics POET has identified as being critical to effective leadership and that align with our value statements: conviction, courage, empathy, integrity, resourcefulness and servant-heart.”

“Spark is a way of thinking,” Wysong says. “It’s not something you go and do. Spark is about investing in yourself, taking your own initiative, engaging with others around you and learning about yourself. It’s about finding a network of people that will hold up a mirror so you can see yourself as others see you.”


Leaders, after all, aren’t defined by their position in a company. Just because someone is in a position where people report to them, doesn’t necessarily make them a leader. “It’s not about titles or responsibilities,” says POET President and COO Jeff Lautt.

Leaders are not born. They’re made. And they are found everywhere – both inside and outside of the boardroom.

“Management does not equal leadership. It’s not something that can be awarded or appointed. It can only be earned,” Wysong says. “At end of the day, it’s a choice of how each of us lives our lives.”

Stronger leaders create a better work environment and help drive POET forward, Lautt says. “I think it creates an atmosphere that allows people to grow and develop,” he says. “An organization full of leaders becomes a building block – one block right on top of another. That makes us stronger. That, in turn, allows us to make better decisions and move projects through quicker, which helps us achieve our strategic vision and allows us to achieve our goals and objectives year in and year out.”

Spark extends beyond POET’s walls, too.

“If you’re not in a good place in your family, your community, your church, your bowling league – whatever you do when you’re away from here – it would be really difficult to come to work and be someone different,” Wysong says. “That’s why we invest in the whole person. We want you to be a leader in life.”


Self-initiative is key when it comes to learning to be a stronger leader. “Learning opportunities can be thrown at you, but you have to be willing to learn about yourself, to push yourself,” Vostad says. “POET can provide training, resources, opportunities and support, but the individual has to want to learn and grow and have the motivation to pick the ball up and run.”

For McAreavey, that meant joining Toastmasters . “I hate public speaking , so I joined Toastmasters to challenge myself,” she says. “Now, I’ve gotten up to do presentations, and I have the confidence and the skillset to do it.” And learning to be a leader isn’t about attending some two-day leadership seminar, McAreavey continues. “You might leave feeling inspired, but when you get back to your desk, there’s a growing pile of work and about 400 unread emails.” Work, of course, takes precedence. What was learned in the classroom quickly gets forgotten.

With Spark, learning to be a leader is more self-directed and about experiences. “This is a way of life. We want to see people grow and flourish and become true leaders in all aspects of their lives,” says Lautt.

That’s not to say POET has eschewed all formal education programs. Formal learning is still an important part of the equation, Vostad says. “We learn through experience, relationships and formal training programs. The challenge is to use each of these aspects of learning in the right measure. If you are working to acquire new knowledge and skills, formal learning is key, whereas if you want to impact behaviors or emotional intelligence, it’s probably more important to also leverage experiences and ensure continuous feedback through relationship building. The recipe is different for each person and based on their personal aspirations.”

There are several ways people are learning and growing at POET every day. In some cases, teams of people are working through John Maxwell’s Five Levels of Leadership, DiSC or Situational Leadership. Others are working through specialized personal development experiences, like McAreavey.

“Having been a part of a focused development experience, I am definitely more confident in my ability to provide value, and I think I have a better understanding of the value I bring within the walls of POET,” she says. “I challenge myself in ways I never would have done before – both at work and at home. Risks are a challenge and an opportunity – not something to be afraid of.”

“People are getting more comfortable taking control of their development and initiating it,” Vostad says. “POET is committed to helping team members be better leaders in life. It is up to each individual to explore what that means for them, chart their path and have the courage and conviction to start their never-ending journey.”




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