Three experts from the C-TEN share strategies to help navigate the ever-evolving talent landscape

By Debbie Bolla

According to new research from Gartner, one of the top five priorities for HR leaders in 2021 is the future of work, and having the right talent is a critical piece to the equation. Working environments have changed drastically causing some workforce trends to accelerate rapidly. Gartner points to four, including:

  • more employees working remotely;
  • increased use of employee data;
  • greater role of the employer as a social safety net; and
  • wider use of contingent workers.

What are the others? To find out, we spoke to a trio of CHROs to get a pulse of what’s happening at their organizations and in the industry. These experts -Linda Nedelcoff, EVP and chief corporate strategy, human resources and employee communications for CUNA Mutual Group; Aida J. Rosa, CHRO for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; and Ginny Angilello, SVP and CHRO for Covanta -are also members of the CHRO Today Executive Network (C-TEN), a networking and professional development society for top HR leaders. From hybrid models to must-have talent grabbers, find out strategies to leverage in order to get ahead in the ever-evolving landscape.

HRO Today: What are your organization’s most pressing talent issues?

Linda Nedelcoff, executive vice president, chief corporate strategy, human resources and employee communications, CUNA Mutual Group: We recognize the imperative to evolve the way we think about developing our workforce. In an increasingly competitive business landscape, rising complexity and the digital revolution are reshaping the mix of employees. A multigenerational workforce and a shorter shelf life for knowledge places an importance on reskilling and upskilling. Talent mobility enables a culture of career development and mobility, encouraging employees to seek new opportunities beyond their current role and team. It can offer personalized learning and development, creates a growth mindset, enhances employee empowerment and sense of belonging, and builds sustainable talent pools.

In this new hybrid working environment, we are exploring ways to seek out feedback more intentionally from our workforce around career growth and development. Utilizing the voice of our employees helps us design and deliver experiences that provide individual growth and have a positive company impact. As part of this, we recognize some of our employees and leaders perceive in-person interactions as essential for career opportunities. We are committed to creating an inclusive approach that supports “face time” in less traditional ways so that all employees (including those based outside where we have physical offices) can engage and invest in their growth and development.

In our organization, we know that a number of our employees have significant tenure and likely will consider retirement in the next few years. Anticipating these changes and designing an employee experience for the future of work is essential. We are on a journey to “Reimagining the Employee Experience” and many of our key learnings from the last year have provided us with the opportunity to test and learn new ways of working, centering around what we refer to as “moments that matter” for our employees.

Aida J. Rosa, CHRO, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance: There are a few factors that we are keeping our eye on, including employee retention and keeping employees engaged with limitations caused by COVID protocols. Competition is also a serious consideration. We are looking at competition with current salaries being offered while maintaining equity and how to sustain those higher rates once we get past this current state of hiring. And competition with organizations that are offering full-time work-from-home opportunities, especially when the bulk of our staff is front-facing and not able to fully do their jobs offsite.

HROT: What are your thoughts on the so-called Great Resignation? Fact or fiction, and why?

Nedelcoff: In our company, we aren’t currently experiencing higher than normal attrition, but we are keeping a close watch as things continue to evolve in the workplace. We believe The Great Resignation could be more a reflection of existing employee experiences in some companies and in some industries. We are very focused on designing experiences that meet the needs of employees across the life cycle. To do this, we are investing in listening to our employees, exploring approaches that position us well now and into the future, learning from customer experience insights, and engaging a cross-functional team to finalize the strategy and prioritize solutions. We believe communication is critical and we are working to provide updates and help to connect the dots as we evolve people processes and practices. And as we continue to bring in new talent, we understand the importance of taking a balanced approach that values hiring for existing skill or relevant experience with potential to grow and contribute more. This commitment to potential can be a differentiator for us as a company and provide exciting and meaningful career opportunities.

Rosa: Fact. The service industry has touted that the customer is always right and pre COVID, many customers leveraged that and at times treated employees poorly. Since COVID, many customers leveraged that and at times treated employees poorly, which is very draining for those working in this industry, therefore many are seeking a career change. This ties into people and company culture, which is why many companies are standing in support of their employees when they are mistreated and shifting their stance on the customer always being right.

Many colleges were offering free certifications and classes during the shutdown that allowed those who normally wouldn’t have been able to afford it or those who may have already been considering exploring career choices to do so to a greater extent. This in conjunction with the flexibility of working remotely has opened up more opportunities.

Anyone who was already unsatisfied with their manager or organization reprioritized what matters the most and holds more value during COVID. For many, that meant putting their families first as well as seizing the day. This year some of our departments have seen an increase in seasonal hires leaving earlier than normal so that they could take some time to travel before returning to their year-round employment or school. Some parents opted to just stay home with their kids or sought out work-from-home opportunities to spend more time with their families.

And don’t forget about COVID burnout. During the shutdown many employees were deemed essential and continued working. This created a strain as they had to take on additional work.

Ginny Angilello, SVP and CHRO, Covanta: How we bring office-based employees back to the office and how we shift to a more flexible model is critical to get it right. More than 90% of our headquartered employees have been working fully remote for more than one year. We want more people in the office, but we don’t want to lose employees either. We have developed a steering committee of our business leaders to align with the HR team on policy development and the move to the future of flexible work. Our leadership recognizes both needs: managing employee expectations of more flexibility and reopening the office to allow for more collaboration and development.

HROT: What offerings do you think are critical to attracting and retaining today’s talent?

Nedelcoff: There are several factors that come to mind.

  • Flexible/hybrid work options. The key is choice. We believe in providing employees with the ability to choose a workplace that best supports their ability to deliver strong results. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and transparent communication that acknowledges the importance of individual choice and that is supportive of company needs will help us to enjoy a more empowered work environment.
  • Work/life fit. The last year has illustrated the importance of wellness and has shown us the positive impact that comes when the company sees and invests in the “whole” employee. We saw clear benefits in providing solutions so our employees could better manage the demands of virtual school as well as care for their mental and physical well-being during a very difficult time. This recognition of critical experiences and moments that matter has helped to move us forward in our commitment to a reimagined employee experience.
  • Continuous learning opportunities. Employees want to have opportunities to grow and learn new things, building their skill sets and capabilities. In a distributed workforce, we must deliver inclusive solutions that employees can utilize.
  • Continued commitment to company purpose, promise, and values. Employees want to feel connected to the mission of the company and have a clear understanding of how the work they do makes a positive impact.

Rosa: Candidates will be taking a closer look at benefits. Insurance continues to be important, but not just for full-time workers, but mini plans for part-time staff as well. Even after years of hearing about medical health for all, many prioritized their health and need for insurance during this time. With the shift for more mental healthcare options, providing low-cost counseling for employees whenever possible would be great. Normally counselors are brought in if there is a death or traumatic event at the workplace, but how many organizations provided this to their employees, even if virtually, during the last 18 months?

Salary will play a larger role if other offerings are subpar. Providing time-off to employees so that they may recharge and spend time with their loved ones is a priority for many job seekers. Aside from offering it, organizations should also promote and encourage their employees to use it.

Development plans and succession planning are key. We need to provide employees with tools to grow their knowledge base and gain experience so that they may move up within the organization. This will help with retention, which is important as employee tenure has increasingly decreased. We went from folks working until they retired to working an average of three to five years among the younger generations. They want to feel challenged and like they are continually learning so they are more willing to leave positions for newer opportunities. This is where creating internal opportunities will help keep talent in house longer.

Angilello: Suffice it to say that our employees have demanded more from leadership in how we approach DEI and we have been working to develop meaningful changes in our approach. Even as we have had a CEO change and are going through a strategic business review, DEI remains at the forefront of our leadership and HR agenda. Last year, we developed a 10-year strategic road map with the goal of our diversity representation throughout the company aligning to U.S. representation overall, and specifically like the communities we serve. We aligned our strategy with the employee life cycle: recruitment, attraction, development, and retention, and developed both strategic goals and near-term goals in both quantitative and qualitative ways. Our CEO is a signatory on “CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion,” and we have dedicated a fellow to work on the “CEO Action for Racial Equity” for one year, in a mostly full-time role. We have seen the formation of three new ERGs in 2020 including “Black Professionals,” “LatinX,” and “Sustainability,” and we have committed to a partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus to engage with HBCUs on recruiting for internships and early career development programs, as well as sharing resources for training and learning in lean, six sigma, and safety excellence.

HROT: How has COVID-19 shaped talent acquisition?

Nedelcoff: COVID-19 has opened opportunities for talent outside of our physical locations. Access to a broader talent pool has helped our hiring managers to shift their thinking of the perceived importance of being in the office to work. Candidate experience has always been important, but COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of how we engage and stay in contact throughout the hiring process. It has also highlighted the importance of the onboarding experience and the need to find ways to engage new employees more effectively as they learn their new role and understand all parts of the company, especially in a virtual environment. A key strength for us has been our ability to leverage our company’s strong and visible commitment to employees during the pandemic as a part of our employee value proposition.

Rosa: I think that job seekers are more empowered to ask for what they feel they deserve when it comes to offer negotiations (think salary, having time-off front loaded, incentive plans). This means that organizations must be more proactive when deciding comp packages during the position approval stage. Again, it’s not always the money being offered but the people, culture, and how employees are valued. Communication and transparency are also key because that is how you earn and maintain trust. If your employees do not trust you, it will impact morale negatively. DEI was important before -after last summer, it moved up higher on the list. Across the board, many organizations hired DEI leaders and implemented philosophies along with clear strategic action plans.

Angilello: We have updated our recruiting practices in the last year for corporate jobs; we don’t require in-person interviews and for operations/facility roles, we do everything through Zoom until we are ready to make an offer. Then we make sure the candidate gets to a plant, either the one they will be working at or a similar one. Quarantine requirements in many states posed challenges, but as travel restrictions lift, I imagine many managers may want to revert to in-person interviews. However, there is real dollar savings and employee productivity associated with these types of process changes, and I expect us to carry this forward to our future.

Tags: September 2021, Talent Acquisition

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