Connect, Engage, Grow: Building the Human-Centric Workplace

Posted in Research Thoughts & Culture

Clearly, the world is much different than it was even just a few short years ago.

How can we reimagine the talent journey to help our people connect, engage, and grow in our new world of work?

Enboarder’s CEO, Brent Pearson, recently sat down with a rockstar panel of HR leaders to find out.

Things have changed a lot in the last three years. How do you think the talent journey has changed the employee experience?

“There are three quick things I would mention,” said Julianne Brown-Meola, Ph.D., head of talent management at John Deere:

1) Implementing nimble, iterative, simple processes with user experience at the core.

In the past, we might have had a talent calendar we adhered to, but now it’s about learning in the flow of work. Our engagement and experience measures are the moments that matter and everything is done along the employee journey, versus a strict calendar timeline we’re trying to follow.

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2) Managing the push and pull between choosing technology that serves your strategy and making sure you’re not just building a strategy to fit the technology.

There's not a perfect solution, or we'd all have it. So, it’s about knowing what you're trying to solve and going after it intelligently.

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3) Building our skills ecosystem.

It's not just about career pathing anymore – we're not just talking about seeking roles and job titles so much as we’re looking for those skills that affect our experience and how we serve the company and each other.

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We’re in a scarce talent market, and it’s not just a blip. How can we become a talent market in times of adversity, and how can we attract talent?

“It’s basically about creating the right culture,” said Kathleen McKenzie, Ph.D., talent lead at Chewy.

“When we create the right culture, our people want to be with us. They talk good about what we do at the organization, and they will refer their acquaintances to come work with us.

“It really begins from the moment we do the initial outreach and say, ‘Hey, we have this opportunity. What do you think about coming to work for us?’”

Kathleen stressed the importance of creating an environment for team members where they can feel safe to give suggestions and where they feel they can bring their whole selves to work.

“Then they will be more inclined to turn around and bring people who are looking for that same sense of community to be part of our organizations,” Kathleen added.

“As long as we treat our people with respect and fulfill their basic needs of connection and community, we will have a strategy to attract talent, retain them, and turn on the engine that will continue attracting new people.”

So, what makes succession and talent planning particularly challenging nowadays?

“Part of the difficulty is we’re all planning for roles that don’t exist,” added Julianne.

“We have to be future-focused, so we use future-focused success profiles and talk about what the profile of a successful leader will be in five years, versus what it is today. We have to challenge our assumptions.”

But how do we identify where the skills are going to be if we’re in such an uncertain and changing world?

Mike Thompson, director of leadership, development, and learning at Cepheid, pointed out that HR professionals need to be more proactive with their research and analysis of market trends and bring that analysis to their leadership.

“We need to be helping our leaders understand market changes and how to manage them in real time,” Mike said.

“In the time it takes us to bring in instructional designers and design a change management course, we can actually be having discussions with leaders about the change and what’s going on.”

Mike emphasized that having discussions as changes unfold is a great way to help leaders develop the skills they need in time as opposed to pulling together courses and talking about key issues solely from a conceptual perspective.

Most business leaders are used to analyzing business cases, ROIs, etc., but they still put talent in this warm and fuzzy category. How do we show leadership the data?

“Why is it that we expect our business leaders to understand market trends, understand data, and perform analyses, and yet we don’t do that ourselves?” Mike asked.

Mike stressed that, if we don’t want HR to be thought of as a soft or unimportant function, we need to be doing hard analysis on the upcoming trends and proactively bringing the results of our research to our leadership teams.

“It’s really important that we look at ourselves as not just talent development professionals, but business professionals who happen to work in talent development or HR.”

So, can we create a culture where people are free to truly bring their whole selves to work and connect, engage, and grow if it’s not driven from the top?

“I think we can, and we have to,” responded Kathleen.

She noted that leaders are being pulled in so many different directions that it’s hard for them to take a step back and focus on building up the culture of the workplace.

It’s up to us to stress the importance of building a human-focused work culture to our leadership and help them find these connections with their true selves. By helping our leaders focus on what gets them excited about being leaders and what gets them up in the morning, and bringing that passion to work, they will automatically enable a culture that people want to be a part of.”

So how can talent leaders become credible activists to the leadership within their own organizations?

“It’s about empowering people to feel safe to even bring up the topic,” continued Kathleen.

Kathleen emphasized that we might not see success in discussing the topic with leadership at first, but that doesn’t mean we should give up hope. We need to be sure we’re bringing up the topic in such a way that we’re explaining the benefit for our people and the organization as a whole.

Mike built on the “What’s in it for me?” angle. “We have to make a compelling case why being a talent activist is in the interest of our leaders.”
“Leaders have an impact on almost every key business metric from engagement and retention to productivity and efficiency. We need to help them see that.”
Mike also mentioned the positive impact he’s seen with previous companies by including financial incentives tied to HR initiatives for leaders.

Is our current way of working creating team-focused silos? I think connection within a team is probably as strong as it has been, but how is connection doing across the company or outside of the team?

“The largest contingent of our workforce was essential workers during COVID and had regular workdays,” mentioned Julianne. “But, for our remote workers, we learned that we had to be more intentional with modality and with time.”

“So, if we’re together, why are we together and what are we doing? Likewise, if we’re working remotely, why are we remote? It’s about being really thoughtful and prepared with our time.”
“As an HR organization, and as HR professionals, we need to facilitate this cross-team connection for our organizations,” added Kathleen. “We should be able to be connectors and get everybody, especially new people, into the organization. We should know the organization. We should be able to facilitate those events and channels in which people can build more relationships and stay connected. It's almost like that's always been one of our jobs, but now it's the main job.”

The world of work may have changed, but our mission hasn’t.

While it’s true that the way our people are working may have changed, they still need the same things from us: a sense of belonging, a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of connection.

By learning to become culture leaders in our organizations and helping our leadership do the same, we can help be the ones to usher in an environment where our people, and our businesses, can truly thrive.