Unlike many Ontra employees, Cooper got his start in show business. While it may seem an unlikely jumping-off point for a career in human resources, that experience has proven invaluable in his role as an associate people partner. Though you missed the chance to see Cooper Taggard on a Broadway stage, you can find him engaging in meaningful conversations and building trusting relationships that help people thrive at Ontra.
From theater stage to Ontra, tell us about your career journey and how your career has evolved here.
Mine is an unconventional career story. I started as a professional dancer, actor, and singer working mainly in musical theater in New York. I was living in New York and working contracts across the U.S. and even internationally. The last show I was in was “An American in Paris.” We toured four months in China and Taiwan, and did a two-month run in Paris right before the pandemic.
It was an amazing experience and I worked with some incredible people. But it’s an unstable, hard profession, so I started a sales career in parallel as a survival job.
I ultimately discovered that sales did not align with who I am, so I started exploring a career transition. I’ve long followed thought leaders including Brené Brown and Adam Grant and how their work impacts organizations. That led me to the people space.
The opportunity with Ontra came in the form of a recruiting position, which was a natural extension of my sales experience. It was a great way to get my foot in the door but ultimately, I wanted to be in the people partnership space. The associate people partner position presented itself sooner than I expected and was lucky to fall into it.
Please describe your role as an associate people partner.
In some organizations, we’re known as a human resources business partner. We’re like ninjas behind the scenes, helping employees thrive at Ontra.
I’m people’s point of contact for all things people and HR related, as well as an advocate and coach for people at all levels across the organization. Whether talking with an individual contributor about career development or coaching a manager through a difficult conversation, my goal is to ensure that my constituency is happy, healthy, and growing at Ontra. On a day-to-day basis, we keep our finger on the pulse of how employees are feeling, their engagement levels, and if there are issues on teams that we can help mediate and work through.
A quote from Adam Grant that stands out for me is, “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others succeed.” And I get to do that at Ontra.
What skills from prior experiences do you utilize most as an associate people partner?
My career as an artist involved studying human behavior and looking at everything through an empathetic lens, which I call upon daily as a people partner and HR practitioner.
From my sales career, I use influence and the ability to turn a no into a yes. HR can be met with resistance. But blending our data-based approach and understanding of human behavior helps us overcome resistance.
From my time in recruiting, I learned how to build rapport and trust with people very quickly. My strong suit is relationships and conversations. I was also given a bird’s eye view into how organizations function and what managers are looking for when they are building out teams. That was extremely helpful in my transition into this role and on a daily basis.
As a member of the People team, what do you feel Ontra does well?
What’s unique about Ontra is that what we offer our customers is also what we offer our employees and is embedded into our employee lifecycle. We are truly invested in a better way to work. We offer people flexibility and autonomy over their day to day, something few organizations do.
That flexibility includes encouraging people to use our unlimited PTO policy, and trusting people to set flexible hours. If you need to go to the dentist or pick up your kids from school, you can. And our approach works – our values of Openness and Respect for Others deliver Results.
What advice would you give someone interested in a career in Human Resources?
Be open, be a sponge, be receptive to feedback, and read a lot. You need to understand what’s happening in the world because current events are impacting your employee base in some way.
It’s important to remember that everyone is going through something, even if they’re not telling you their story. To get people to open up, be transparent.
I share a bit about myself so people feel comfortable sharing about themselves. I also approach every conversation with the understanding that many people have preconceived notions and negative connotations of human resources. Being able to say and show that I’m here to be an advocate and to help my colleagues is how I’m trying to rebrand HR.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
My dog, Benny, has separation anxiety, so he kind of runs my life. Most weekends, we’re at the beach or going on a hike.
I’m also really into cooking. My 2022 New Year’s resolution was to become a better cook and I’m obsessed with Alison Roman. My coworkers are probably sick of me talking about her but I’ve been cooking my way through her cookbooks. Now I can roast a chicken really well, and that’s a good party trick.