Growing up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money for extras is a big part of what has driven Heather Peters throughout her wildly successful HR career.

When making decisions that impact people, she doesn’t forget what it felt like when an employer raised insurance premiums or halted pay increases, and that for some families that means having to choose between making the mortgage payment or repairing the car.

Before her current role as the chief human resources officer at Sikich, a professional services company, she served in executive-level human resources roles at Allan Myers, a civil construction company, Baker Tilly, and Yoh, a talent and outsourcing company. She has more than 20 years of human capital experience with deep expertise in HR operations, talent management, succession planning, change management, M&A integration and employee relations.

Regardless of the industry, she has had one priority—creating a culture where people can thrive.

“For me, it’s remembering everybody is going through stuff and people work for a reason,” she says. “Yes, they want to work to be happy, but they’re working to provide for themselves and for their families and that is viscerally real to me.”

With that experience in climbing the success ladder, Heather shares what she has learned about when and how to change jobs.

Staying Grounded

It would be easy for Heather to forget what it was like growing up in a family that had to make tough decisions and sacrifices.

She and her husband have enjoyed successful careers and given their daughter experiences Heather didn’t have as a child—including owning a horse. And horse ownership keeps her grounded and follows her into her executive work.

“At work, I’m the person making the decisions and helping coach others through how to do things,” she says. “When it comes to my job, I get called for advice and recommendations and my opinion.”

At the barn, there are teenagers who are better riders, better horsemen and horsewomen. When she is getting coached on riding, she knows she is not the most knowledgeable person in the room. And she pitches on the front-line helping her non-profit barn with anything from mucking stalls, to giving pony rides at fundraisers.

“I think that’s important, and it keeps me humble,” she says. “Yes, I’m at the top of my game here, but it doesn’t mean I’m anything that anybody else isn’t. Knowledge comes in a lot of different packages and titles don’t have anything to do with it.”

Heather and her horse, Welly

Heather and her horse, Welly

Knowing when to make a move

Moving up the career ladder has been about more than the title or the salary for Heather. The consistent theme behind each move has been connected to the values of the company and the individual leading the organization.

“At different points in my career when I realized I couldn’t bring my best self to work because the culture didn’t align with my values, I knew it was time to move on,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate that every time I’ve made that decision, I’ve landed at a place that has been exactly what I needed in that moment.”

Deciding to leave an organization can be painful. There’s a level of emotional attachment to the organization and the teams that become a huge part of one’s life.

These are the key factors she considers when making the decision to move on:

Leadership values no longer align with personal values.

Leadership no longer shares the same sentiments about employees.

External forces change how a business must operate.

“Companies evolve and change over time,” she says. “I made moves for career advancement, I also made moves at times where I felt the leader’s values changed or the culture of the company didn’t feel right to me.”

Processing next steps

Everyone wonders if they might be the problem.

If you’re worrying about that right now, Heather suggests asking yourself:

Is this me and how I’m dealing with the situation or has the situation changed and I’m the same?

Where have I felt successful and what was it about those places and people?

What was consistent at those places I felt successful?

What is different about those places than where I am now?

“Once you’ve thought it through and determined it’s not you, trust yourself,” she says. “Don’t second guess yourself or tell yourself you’re crazy.”