With much of the country's workforce in the throes of a complete reassessment of their work lives and personal lives, all need to recognize that "we're in a completely different world than we lived in 2.5 years ago," according to Lorna Hagen, chief people officer at Guild Education.
Hagen was the general session speaker on Monday at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2022 in Denver. She was joined by moderator Nick Schacht, SHRM-SCP, SHRM's chief global development officer, in the session "Talent Strategy and Culture: Alignment Has Never Been More Critical."
"We're going through a full-blown reassessment right now as employees are looking at themselves as 'me,' as a full-time person related to work, social, family, etc.," Hagen said. "This applies to the workplace more than anything else. So many employees today, thinking back to how things were, are expressing, 'This doesn't work for me anymore.' "
The same goes for employers. "What got us here won't get us there" is a guiding principle, Hagen said.
It's about people, process and technology, she noted. "With technology, there's a sense that automation will take over," she said. "Not quite. We need to look at our employees and determine how to upskill them and reassess what they have and what they need to succeed in their jobs—not just automate it all. Employee retention is crucial because it costs less to keep them or to move them around within the company than to lose them."
Hagen said all people decisions are business decisions and all business decisions are people decisions. "Intellectual capital—not computers and automation—is our most valuable asset," she said.
Equally so, "the employee experience is so important when it comes to keeping our workers happy, because if they aren't, they go right to sites like Glassdoor to comment," she said. "It's all about how you make your employees 'feel,' making sure that they are 'heard.' You need to convey to them, 'You matter,' 'You matter here,' and 'Here's why.' "
Creating 'Apertures of Opportunities'
Hagen leads a growing company that has increased from 300 to 1,400 employees in three years. Guild Education, which helps companies manage their education offerings, puts learning first. "It's our mission," she said. "We want to create learning paths—apertures of opportunities—for the employees of our clients."
One example is Chipotle, she noted. "There, the employees can go from making burritos to making more than $100,000 a year as a manager through the paths we helped them to lay out."
The Ladder Is Not Always Pointed Upward
Hagen said mobility within the company is not always "up" or "out." It can be "across, down or on, and the ladder doesn't always have to be going up, it can be going all around."
Provide employees pay, purpose and a pathway in their careers, she recommended.
Schacht added, "Leaders support their teams. It's not the other way around."
And when employees do leave, it's not always that "the grass is greener," Hagen said. "They can leave, learn new things, and then come back as 'boomerang' employees and provide even greater value to your company."
Hagen stressed that companies must give their managers the tools they need to help their employees' "whole lives." Here, the manager serves as a coach.
This is important because SHRM research three years ago discovered that 60 percent of employees who leave do so because of their managers, Schacht said. More recent information shows that it can be as high as 85 percent who leave for that reason, he added.
Additionally, HR departments need to realize how important marketing is for them to be successful. "You can't just create career paths, hang them on the wall and hope they attract your employees," Hagen said. "You need to get them 'in' and onto the pathways. You have to sell them by finding storytellers in your company who can share what these careers involve and why they are important."
Open, Transparent and Clear
Regarding her own company, Hagen spoke about the importance of onboarding as a component of an employee retention plan.
"For us, it's a five, full-day process where we go over everything about the company and our mission, culture and values," she said. "It's not some half-day event on their first day."
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Understanding Employee Onboarding]
Coming out of the pandemic, Guild Education also had to determine if its employees would work remotely.
"We are a remote-first company—and when employees come to the office, it's not just to sit in on Zoom meetings," she said. "We have heads-up and heads-down time. More of it is heads-down because studies show workers are much more productive when they are not bogged down in meetings and can work on their own.
"Communication must be open, transparent and clear," she added. "Employees know that they can go to their boss and tell them that they are not working on the things that they do best, and the managers can strive to make that better."
When HR Is a Department of One
For those who work as an HR department of one, "don't get distracted by all the information that is put out there about the profession," Hagen said. "It's more important to sit down with senior leadership and determine what is important to them and then to plan out a way to achieve it.
"And don't be distracted by compliance. Let the legal team take care of that. Your job is to get your leaders to say, 'Yes,' and you should be creative in the ways to make that happen. You need to be a business enabler, get to profits through people."
Hagen was a bit exasperated about employers that say their people are their most valuable asset but then can't afford to spend money on them for training and learning.
That's a management model that won't work today.
Paul Bergeron is a freelance reporter who lives in Herndon, Va.