Retaining and Motivating Employees by Showing Them Their Work Matters

BY Dan Heilman | June 01, 2023

Whether you’re a human resources professional in the private or public sector, motivating employees goes hand in hand with keeping them. And neither task is an easy one.

A five-person panel recently went through the ups and downs of that process in a discussion titled “Retaining and Motivating Employees by Showing Them Their Work Matters” at From Day One's Minneapolis conference

It can be tricky to zero in on the intangible but important sense among employees that their work has meaning not only to the company but also the world at large. Part of that equation has to do with having employees buy in to your company’s mission, according to Laura Lorenz, vice president of human resources for 3M’s Transportation and Electronics Business Group.

“The focus is aspirational,” Lorenz said. “We’re the world’s largest provider of N95 masks, and during COVID we kept our prices the same. That was a source of pride for our people.”

In the public sector, keeping workers motivated and happy can be extra challenging. Toni Newborn, chief equity officer and director of human resources for the City of Saint Paul, said that tight budgets and the structure of the city government can be an obstacle.

“We have 15 operating departments that are essentially their own businesses, with 3,000 employees,” Newborn said. “Our challenge was that during COVID, our budget wouldn’t allow people to work from home. So we set up a fund to create stipends for people to make working remotely a little easier–for Internet, for day care. It was a gesture that government employers usually don’t offer.”

Ryan Faircloth, politics and government reporter at the Star Tribune, left, moderated the panel discussion (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)

A natural outgrowth of retention effort is a benefits package, and as surveys have shown, the one most sought after among employees is one that provides help in having and caring for a family.

“When people talk about work/life balance, what they usually mean is work/family balance,” said Jeni Mayorskaya, founder and CEO of Stork Club, a company that provides family and fertility-based benefits. “Twenty-five percent of women who give birth quit within a year. It will happen if they don’t get the support they need at work. They’ll put their family first.”

Another obstacle in the way of attracting and keeping employees can come from above, according to Hannah Yardley, chief people and culture officer for Achievers, a Toronto provider of employee voice and recognition solutions.

“I believe more than 40 percent of H.R. leaders don't think their leadership teams are ready to make change,” she said. “Leaders aren’t listening, and if you don’t take action, employees won’t trust you to make the changes they want.”

One method for finding out what employees want is by, yes, asking them. Newborn said that when Saint Paul put together an employee engagement survey not long ago, a city employee of some 45 years said it was the first one he’d ever seen. “We didn’t know how important it was for employees to take ownership of city policies,” she said.

One important thing to note is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to attracting and keeping workers.

“Like everything in H.R., there’s no one simple answer,” said Julie Kline, chief human resources officer for North Memorial Health. “There’s no, ‘Oh, just offer better benefits.’ With COVID, we needed to look at what would motivate our employees. And for them, it was providing a solid foundation. It doesn't sound exciting. But the reality for us was that we really had to look at how we could provide them with stability in their roles.”

Dan Heilman is a Minneapolis-based journalist.


Developing Leaders for a New Era of Workforce Flexibility and Inclusion

Despite a fairly stable job market over the last several months and relatively low unemployment, 2023 ushered in a deluge of white collar layoffs. AI and automation are sending shockwaves through the economic landscape with many workers feeling uncertain about their future. And companies that hire for these positions are slow-walking their hiring process to really vet candidates. “We are still seeing a tough market. It’s still scarce for certain talents and certain capabilities as we came through Covid,” said Christina Schelling, Verizon's chief diversity officer.Schelling says the problem is that many companies are hiring for similar types of roles, which is unprecedented. “Every company needs data scientists now. Every company needs digital or cloud engineers now. I think for the types of skills that are needed to meet the needs of the different business strategies, it's still a really tough market,” Schelling added.Schelling, who has more than two decades in leadership roles, talent acquisition, and DEI training, and a job history that includes Estée Lauder, Prudential, and American Express, sat down with The Wall Street Journal's business editor, Jamie Heller, for a From Day One fireside chat in Brooklyn. On the agenda were hiring woes, the advent of ChatGPT and AI automation, hybrid work, and DEI.I submitted my résumé to a robotOnline hiring is now the default and many applicants can't be blamed for feeling like robots are the new, indifferent gatekeepers. ChatGPT and Open AI, two immensely powerful and disruptive technologies, have made it easier for companies to sift through massive quantities of résumés quickly. Submitting an application online can feel no different than tossing your résumé and cover letter into the void.Schelling sees the new landscape of AI differently and says Verizon has been “leveraging that thinking and...muscle to care for employees.” But is the algorithm providing care to Verizon’s employees and those seeking employment there? They get 800,000 résumés and conduct at least 100,000 interviews a year.“We can't possibly get to the human piece of that without help from technology. When I think about our employees, and when they need benefits, or when they need help at different points in their lives, a lot of that help can be provided faster, and [with] better quality, in real time, with the help of chatbots.”Schelling says that “machine learning” speeds up the process of “getting to the right conversation with humans faster.” She assures that every résumé at least gets a look by their scanning equipment. And, most likely a human. “We do keep a human element to it…There are other organizations that take the human out more often than we do.”Jamie Heller, left, interviewed Christina Schelling, right, in the opening fireside chat session at the Brooklyn museum (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Schelling offers some advice for candidates feeling the woe of the hiring process: Understand the importance of the words and the experiences matching the job requirements and the posting. Applicants can learn to game the system – i.e. play by the algorithm’s rules. “It's not super complicated how it works…the more prepared and the more connected a candidate makes [their résumé and cover letter] the easier it is to kind of get to the right conversation.”The right conversations are ultimately taken on by Verizon’s “fairly large in-house recruiting team,” according to Schelling. Not all those interviews are the perfect fit for a job opening, but many lead to “informational conversations” that allows interviewers to get to know someone. Perhaps an applicant’s skills aren't an exact match but they have more to offer. “We want to hire for careers, not just jobs. So we probably talk to people more than other organizations.”The New Normal: Hybrid WorkOnce an applicant gets in the door, depending on their role in the company, they can expect the new normal of hybrid work. Many of these workers are no longer willing to spend a traditional work week in the office. As the pandemic continues receding in the rearview, working remotely – a special privilege in the past – is here to stay. Recognizing this trend, Verizon hasn’t established any “mandates” about coming back into the office.Heller raised the issue of many companies mandating employees returning to work. In fact, a lot of companies are now pushing employees back to work via the "stick" not the "carrot," threatening pay, bonuses, and other performance measures. Yet, the more "punitive" measures are having consequences in talent acquisition. Multitudes of quality workers prefer a hybrid schedule.Here, Schelling takes a philosophical approach to the question. “I think the world is still figuring it out. And what we did at the beginning of last year will be different from what we have learned and evolved to in the beginning of this year.” She says that if people want to come in to work more, “no one's going to tell [them] not to come in.”“We've described hybrid at this point to be at least one day in the office monthly,” Schelling said, but they encourage their leaders to figure out what works and create reasons for people to come in. “Whether it's a learning experience, whether it's a team event, whether it's a volunteering event, whether it's just, you know, we've got a lot of work, quarterly close, let's come in and just be together.”Schelling sees the hybrid setup as offering the best in terms of personal and professional success. “Our whole mantra is we don't want to be a mandate, we want to be a magnet.” A New Millennium of DEITouching on the three year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, Schelling delved into corporate America’s navigation of these issues and said she’s “optimistic how [those] crises and social and civil experiences pushed for more accountability within the corporate space,” but said that corporate America wasn't “done.”DEI – diversity, equity, and inclusion (umbrella of another acronym, ESG – environmental impact, social responsibility, and corporate governance), is 21st century standard in company culture. Having leaders who understand “why diversity and equity [are] important to the workplace” is a key part of training. It's “not a stand alone course” employees can opt into anymore, ”it's part of the setup and the expectation,” and according to Schelling it's what Verizon believes “is the right model for...leadership.”“DEI, the idea of human rights…has now rolled into ESG [and] has been around in different shapes and forms in most of the bigger organizations for many years. So now it's part of the ecosystem and the expectation, and then there's the public accountability, which I quite like.”Just a few years ago, questions of inclusion practices were not part of corporate and customer vernacular, Schelling pointed out, but now they are. “I think that with the economic pressures with the challenges and workforce availability, we recognize now that diverse talent is a significant unlock. And it's not something that falls by the wayside. It's something that is even more prioritized.”Matthew Koheler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.

Matthew Koehler | August 07, 2023

From Recruitment to Advancement: How to Keep Momentum Going on Diversity and Inclusion

84% of CHRO’s say that their organizations are increasing investment in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives. But only 31% of employees say that their organization is committed to improving equity in the workplace, according to a Gallup poll conducted in the spring of 2022. Workplace diversity is experiencing a disconnect.“A lot of companies make very public commitments to diversity inclusion, especially in the Bay Area,” said Shawna Chen, a breaking news reporter for Axios. “But obviously, it's not as simple as enacting a program or two or doing training.”Chen moderated the panel, “From Recruitment to Advancement: How to Keep Momentum Going on Diversity and Inclusion,” at From Day One’s San Francisco conference. She was joined by corporate diversity experts, as they discussed what companies are struggling with when it comes to DEIB.“There's a focus on either diversity or inclusion over everything else, of thinking there's just one number that they need to get to,” said Meghna Majmudar, head of executive and leadership engagement at ReadySet, a database software company. “[And] thinking about internal stuff, about hiring only in terms of DEI and not thinking about what this means in terms of our experience. And a disconnect between leadership and what people are really thinking.”Making the connection between the internal and external means having a workforce that reflects the diversity in a company’s customer base. Majmudar acknowledged that leaders tend to come from more privileged backgrounds. They might not be aware that someone who has a different background doesn't have the same access to resources, and may focus on initiatives that employees do not care about.“Sometimes the approach can be more programmatic instead of strategic,” said Shai Poulard, global head of diversity, inclusion, and belonging at NerdWallet, a personal finance company. “The approach is always to roll out programs, whether it's a recruiting initiative or employee resource groups. Very rarely do you see leaders take it a step further and understand, how do I regard this as a function similar to finance?”In Poulard’s analogy, everyone at a company is a steward of finance. They own a budget. They’re efficient, ensuring spending benefits both the internal organization and consumers. Finance teams are rarely dismissed or viewed as a programmatic function. The disconnect with DEIB programs is that they’re often viewed as a ‘nice to have’ instead of something embedded into the organization.“For it to be an effective strategy, it needs to be integrated into the employee lifecycle from day one,” said Poulard, “from onboarding through someone making a decision to leave the company. They have to see people that look like them. They have to feel included.”“We are aspiring to ground our diversity-equity-inclusion work in our strategic plan and recognize that we have to begin with our employee base, our staff team,” said Chad Nico Hiu, senior vice president of strategy, equity, and impact at YMCA of San Francisco. “Sometimes in the polarized context of our society, issues show up. We have to not see [DEIB] as separate from what people are experiencing in their lives. What are the tactical ways we can create space for all of us to bring our authentic selves, especially when it's messy, conflictory, and challenging?”“It's also about understanding that [DEIB] would help in driving core business growth for the company, driving a key strategy for the company,” said Sumit Khandelwal, co-founder and CEO of Xoxoday, an engagement software platform. “When you start hiring people across different geographies, it becomes very apparent that the leaders understand the culture of different countries.” Embracing DEIB is vital in effectively communicating with a global marketplace.“What I’ve seen make a real difference is the specificity of behavior,” said Majmudar. “There were many clients at a financial services firm where they didn't want to give feedback to women because they're like, ‘but what if she cries?’ If you're thinking about her crying, you're focused on your comfort and not helping her be better at her job.”The leaders discussed how they are maintaining and enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts in their organizations (photo by David Coe for From Day One)Leaders can coach each other to handle vulnerability and allow humanity to exist at work. Leaders can also use their influence to impact and affect change, at all levels of the organization.“Become more comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Hiu. “Be comfortable with being more authentic in spaces where we may not feel authentically safe and surround ourselves with different perspectives.”“DEIB is a co-op,” said Poulard. “And how to do that is you systematize as much as you can.”Sometimes there's resistance to participation. Poulard’s team started integrating DEI concepts into other forms of training, like management. “So instead of saying we're rolling out ‘inclusive management training,’” she said, “it's expected at NerdWallet that you are an inclusive manager, and that's going to be embedded in the training.”Her team also started emphasizing allyship and what it means to the organization, both internally and to external stakeholders. NerdWallet employees (aka, “Nerds”) are told that allyship is a verb, not a noun, and missteps will be made. But that’s okay.“Let's get comfortable making those mistakes—fail fast, learn faster,” said Poulard. “We found by implementing those pieces, we've seen a change in engagement.”“One thing we can do is focus on symbols and signals,” said Antoinette Hamilton, global head of inclusion and diversity at Lam Research. “How do you incorporate and signify that it's okay to celebrate culture within your organization?”“We have to think about what belonging means outside the US context,” said Hamilton. “When we're on a Zoom call, sometimes my colleagues who are in other countries are very silent. So when I think about belonging, it's understanding and recognizing that that looks different in other places. And then my job as a leader is to be able to articulate and voice up for that.”There’s a US-centric way of operating, and then there's a global way of operating. Inclusion means nothing without equity, said Poulard, who advises meeting employees, colleagues, and consumers where they are.“If we're focusing on increasing representation and making sure our internal representation matches the communities that we serve,” she said, “we have inclusive practices, we are being equitable in our approach, then ideally everyone should feel that sense of belonging. If we build with the person with the most need in mind, everyone wins.”“It cannot be something which you speak about once in a while,” said Khandelwal. “It has to become the DNA of the organization.”“Before it was so much on the interpersonal,” said Majmudar. “Now we get to do the systemic change. We are asking fundamental questions about how we structure work and our societies. And that's very exciting.”Samantha Campos is a freelance journalist who’s written for regional publications in Hawaii and California, with forays into medical cannabis and food justice nonprofits. She currently resides in Oakland, California.

Samantha Campos | August 03, 2023

Trust and Inspire: How Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others

In the realm of old habits that die hard, there’s a management principle that has stuck through the 20th century and beyond, called “command and control.” It’s the top-down, military style approach to leadership. Stephen M. R. Covey, the best-selling author and leadership-development expert, compares command and control to stubborn ancient traditions like bloodletting, which remained in use well into the 19th century, despite being disproved scientifically and having hastened the death of George Washington, Scotland’s King Charles II, and countless others.“Old paradigms can live on indefinitely,” said Covey. “I think command and control today is like modern-day bloodletting, in that we’re just kind of persisting from an inaccurate, faulty paradigm that is no longer relevant.”Covey, speaking at a fireside chat that capped off From Day One’s conference in Salt Lake City, said that command and control served the world well enough when work was something that took place in factories, but it ceased being the right tool for the job with the emergence of knowledge work. He explores these ideas in his book Trust & Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others.The title describes what Covey proposes should be the new model. “‘Trust and inspire is the better way to lead a new world of work,” he said. To the world’s credit, the evolution away from command and control has been underway for a while now, albeit very slowly. “Over time, people said, ‘You know, but we’re not valuing people enough. We need to look at this better.’ And so they began to add things like emotional intelligence, and strengths and mission, and even trustworthiness,” Covey said. “And they became more enlightened. The problem was, we didn’t shift the paradigm. It just became a more enlightened version of command and control. True, enlightened command and control is better than the authoritarian, but it’s still not the kind of sea-change shift of trust and inspire, where you view people differently.” Stephen M.R. Covey signed books and chatted with attendees at From Day One’s conference in Salt Lake City, where his company is based (Photos by Sean Ryan for From Day One)Students of organizational leadership know that Covey’s late father, Stephen R. Covey, catalyzed the very paradigm shift that facilitated this enlightenment, through his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Influential People. Indeed, the elder Covey is even credited with popularizing the phrase “paradigm shift.” It’s compelling to see the younger Covey building upon and extending his father’s work. Covey says the pandemic cast a bright light on how starkly mismatched our day-to-day and workplace leadership realities are. “The pandemic accelerated this. Remote work, hybrid work, intentionally flexible work. Change and disruption and technology. People have choices and options they didn’t have before. The whole world has changed. And yet, our style of leadership has not kept pace,” he said.How does one become the kind of leader who trusts and inspires? To address this question, Covey distributed decks of cards summarizing the philosophy and steps to manifest it. Central to the process is incorporating the Five Fundamental Beliefs of a Trust and Inspire Leader. As he described them:No. 1: People have greatness inside them. “Leaders who incorporate this belief will unleash the potential of their employees, not control them,” Covey said. No. 2: People are whole people. “If I believe that, then my job is to inspire, not merely motivate,” Covey said. “If people were only economic beings, then motivation would be sufficient. Just carrot and stick–and that can work. But we’re leaving a lot of potential and value on the table.”No. 3: There is enough for everyone. “A leader needs to elevate caring above competing by instilling an abundance mentality,” Covey said.No. 4: Leadership is stewardship. “My job as a leader is to put service above self-interest,” Covey said. “It’s a stewardship, which is a job that comes with a trust, and that trust is to inspire.”No. 5: Enduring influence is created from the inside out. “My job as a leader is to go first. Someone has to. Inspiring leaders go first,” Covey added. A consistent impediment to becoming a trust-and-inspire leader is the mistaken belief that leadership requires certain personality traits.  “Some people want to do more than motivate, they want to inspire, and they say, ‘But I’m not inspiring!’ You’ve got to be charismatic to inspire,” Covey said. “Don’t confuse the two, because they are not the same. I know many people whom no one would call charismatic but who are remarkably inspiring, because of who they are, how they lead, how they connect, how they care. Inspiring others is a learnable skill.” Covey took a final swipe at the status quo by challenging the widely held belief that organizations should be measuring their success by levels of employee engagement.“We’ve been focusing on engagement for 20-plus years, it's been the Holy Grail, and engagement still is vital. But there’s something beyond engagement. It’s inspiration,” Covey said. “Inspired employees are not only 125% more productive than merely satisfied employees–and you might expect that because that is not a high bar. But inspired employees are even 56% more productive than fully engaged employees. There’s another frontier of engagement, and it’s to be inspired.”Ultimately, Covey sees a lot riding on his effort to bring this next generation of organizational leadership change to the fore. Indeed, he quoted Gandhi when explaining what’s at stake. “Gandhi said, ‘The difference between what we are doing, and what we are capable of doing, would solve most of the world's problems.’ So we're trying to tap into that. I think most organizations have that kind of capacity as well.” Judd Bagley is a marketing communications professional and freelance journalist.   

Judd Bagley | July 27, 2023