Retention Tops This Year’s Priorities for HR Departments of One

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. September 11, 2021
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 Jennifer Currence, SHRM-SCP, CEO of WithIN Leadership in Tampa, Fla.

LAS VEGAS — Those who work as HR departments of one wear innumerable hats. To tackle the organization's top priorities—the chief one being retention—HR must "just do" and not wait for permission to be an influencer in the organization, according to Jennifer Currence, SHRM-SCP, CEO of WithIN Leadership in Tampa, Fla.

Speaking Sept. 10 at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021 concurrent session "Top 5 Priorities for an HR Department of One," Currence examined the most important issues she gleaned from a survey of her 6,500 LinkedIn followers, starting with a countdown from the fifth top priority and working her way to the first.

5. Relationship management. This topic includes the ability to manage interactions within the organization—such as employee relations—as well as one's rapport with peers, executives and workers. Currence urged attendees to practice self-awareness to improve relationships. Know what your triggers and core values are. "Get feedback on blind spots," she said.

People must be aware of who they are to know what others need, she noted. As a part of developing self-awareness, work on listening skills. There are three stages of listening skills, she said:

  • Determining "what's in it for me?"
  • Being present in the conversation, by listening twice as long as the individual is speaking.
  • Finally, engaging in empathetic listening, by hearing what's not being said. This is how to develop relationships and build trust.
4. Business acumen. Currence recommended that HR professionals learn more about financial statements. Make friends with those in sales. Tap into HR's inner marketer. Understand the company's industry. Job shadow people in key jobs—not necessarily those in the C-suite but perhaps those on the front lines. That can help make a world of difference in recruiting efforts, she noted.

3. Organizational effectiveness and development. Don't be afraid to shake up the organizational structure, Currence said, but be aware that this will take "patient persistence" and won't happen overnight.

Ask questions: How is the business doing compared to last year? How will the company best reach its strategic goals? What's worked for individual members of the team in the past, including at other organizations? Use open-ended questions that start with "what" or "how" to encourage feedback.

Currence, who worked as an HR department of one for seven years, said the customer service team at a former employer reported to operations but worked most closely with sales. When she questioned why that was the case, she often heard, "We've always done it that way." She changed the organizational structure so that customer service reported to sales instead.

"I like taking the status quo and shaking it up," she said, encouraging attendees to do the same by constantly learning and listening empathetically.

She also noted the importance of having career development available within an organization through such activities as:

  • Webinars or lunch and learns.
  • Mentorship and coaching programs.
  • Cross-functional training.
  • Onboarding buddy programs.
  • Twice-monthly meetings with accountability partners.
2. Talent acquisition. Currence said she often hears employers say, "We can't find people. No one is looking for work."

She challenged attendees to question any limiting beliefs and look at what other HR professionals are doing to recruit, even if they operate in a different industry.

Currence asked for a show of hands of who had referral bonuses over $500, then $1,000, then $1,500, $2,000 and $5,000. A few hands were still up at $5,000. One attendee even had a referral bonus of $7,000.

If a company has a referral bonus of $500, maybe it can raise that, she suggested.

Currence encouraged HR professionals to identify the perfect candidate and find out what that person wants. Is it student loan repayment? A free iPhone? Free tuition?

She blamed ghosting—severing all communication with someone without any explanation or warning—partly on companies not preboarding effectively, leaving candidates who accepted jobs feeling like they've been left in the lurch. She urged HR to have two touch points per week with new hires before they start, whether with a phone call, a letter from the CEO, a basket of goodies or benefits paperwork. These small acts help the new hire stay excited about the job.

Studies show that effective onboarding leads to individuals being nearly 70 percent more likely to be with a company after three years, she said.

1. Employee engagement and retention. Employers are concerned about post-pandemic changes in employee expectations, according to Currence. Some employees want vaccine mandates, while others don't. Ask employees what they're thinking, she said. Don't try to read their minds.

She blamed people quitting on such factors as:

  • Senior leaders not putting as much energy into people as they do the business.
  • Employers not treating employees like adults.
  • Managers failing to coach.
  • Organizations not being transparent.
  • Companies not giving specific and personalized recognition.
Currence challenged attendees to ask 10 people next week, "What do you think?"

Finally, she urged attendees to create a work environment where employees have fun. Consider how you can move to a "thank-goodness-it's-Monday" type of culture, she said.

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