Making Reskilling and Internal Mobility Part of the Whole Employee Life Cycle

BY Matthew Koehler | September 11, 2023

It’s not uncommon for an employee to feel replaceable, but the reality is more complicated. Employee turnover is a huge cost to U.S. companies alone, especially long time workers who have acquired institutional knowledge and skills. A conservative estimate from 2019 indicates that replacing an employee can cost anywhere from “one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.” The high attrition rate costs businesses a trillion dollars.

At a recent From Day One virtual event, several leaders discussed the role of HR in retaining employees, creating an environment that cultivates learning, growth, and talent, and how to bridge the generation gap amongst the workforce.

Cultivating an Engaged and Loyal Workforce

Opening the discussion, moderator Lydia Dishman, senior editor for growth at Fast Company, highlighted a LinkedIn statistic stating that “companies that develop their people and give them opportunities for internal mobility retain them for an average of 5.4 years, as opposed to the average of 2.9 at other organizations.” Leaders are tasked with figuring out how to keep employees longer.

“It’s important to figure out what already exists so that you can fill the gaps of what you need,” Dishman said.

Gary Blinth, head of executive search at Humana invoked public speaker and writer Stephen Covey’s famous mantra to “begin with the end in mind.” At Humana, they use platforms to help their sales associates inventory skills, something long-time employees stop doing after a while. Having this data, they use technology to better assess where those skills can be deployed across the company.

Building on the process of inventorying and deploying skills, Aimée Meher-Homji, VP of global talent acquisition at Nielsen, said they look at skills across time. “So what we’re looking at are these categories: emerging skills, machine learning, and AI.” They’re looking at the skills of the future and also those that might be expiring, she says.

Nicole Underwood, VP of the human resources business partner and operation stream at Getty Images said she tells her employees to always keep their resume up-to-date. “Because you never know. Right? And you should be tracking and knowing and understanding how you’re evolving in your career.” Getty Images also focused on identifying “critical skills,” and investing in mentoring that teaches employees “hot skills,” or skills in high demand.

The panelists from top left to right: moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, Kristy McCann of SkillCycle, Nicole Underwood of Getty Images, Gary Blinth of Humana, and Aimée Meher-Homji of Nielsen (photo by From Day One)

Assuming an employee has these hot skills, and has identified them, Dishman turned to Kristy McCann Flynn, co-founder and CEO of SkillCycle to elaborate on how to use inventory to show ROI on things like L&D and reskilling.

“I think that’s the biggest issue with a lot of systems that are out there...We run engagement surveys, and then nothing. They’re not connected to the goals, not connected to the roles, and not connected to feedback. They’re not connected to the company’s overall overarching organizational components,” McCann said.

McCann says that most of the workforce doesn’t receive the training and coaching it needs. “Coaching systems, mentoring systems, learning experience platforms, content systems – you name it – the data is not connected to the development. [When] the data is not connected to the development, it dies. [Providing] learning that’s connected to their goals and their roles, and the feedback that they’ve received, drives the ‘what’s in it for me factor,’” McCann added.

Underwood took a broader perspective, saying they don’t just hire for a role, they look at how new talent will fit into the whole organization. “Do they bring a skill set that we could then apply more broadly in the organization? Could they potentially shift over and work in another part? Could they provide insight into another area?”

“We have created a program called Next, which is very much focused on those very top talent people. We bring them together cross functionally, [and] they’re asked to solve a business problem that they investigate, put together a plan, and then fully present on how to solve that business problem,” Underwood said.

Communicating What’s Available Across Departments

“One of the things we’ve implemented here at Nielsen is having a global posting policy, where every single role is posted,” Meher-Homji said. “And it’s not just enough to get them to apply or to make sure that they can see the posting necessarily, but supporting them along the way as well.”

Nielsen’s strategy underlies another problem, though, that of applying for positions and hearing nothing back.

Blinth highlighted how this leads to discouragement and burnout. “What I’ve noticed is that some employees, if they apply to roles consistently and they do not make any traction in the interview process, then they’re going to be discouraged. And at some point in time, the question is going to be, why should I continue to apply? Right?” To mitigate this void loss, they reach out to HR and ask them directly if there are suitable candidates for open leadership roles within their part of the organization.

Responding to Blinth’s comments, Meher-Homji added, “The other thing that’s often a mess is sometimes we don’t look at our ERGs or BRGs. They are a rich resource for referrals. They’re willing to spread the word internally or externally. It’s important that you tap into those ERGs and BRGs.”

Underwood says they consult with their ERGs for a lot because they are highly involved across multiple avenues of our organization. “In fact, we’ve developed a mentoring program for our employees who identify with a specific ERG group, where they’re able to connect with a senior leader. So we’re investing in the talent in our ERGs.”

Ageism Ignores the Knowledge Older Workers Can Provide

Before ending the discussion, Dishman touched on the fact that Gen X and younger baby boomers now fill many senior leadership roles, and with them comes decades of institutional knowledge. She asked how HR can entice older employees to stay and keep learning.

Meher-Homji sees Gen X and younger baby boomers as an untapped resource. She’d love to see companies hiring back retirees because of what they can offer. “I know some companies are looking at hiring back retirees and then pairing them with incoming incoming talent and early talent.”

Blinth told the anecdote of Humana’s CEO announcing that at the beginning of the year, he was going back to school to learn AI. “When I saw him do that, I thought, if he could do it, with everything else going on, why can’t I? And I challenged my team to do that also. The more our  well-tenured employees have a sense of belonging, then they’re going to be more apt to give back and foster.”

That aspect of belonging, Dishman concluded, is “a through line for pretty much every initiative out there.”

Matt Koehler 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.


How HR Leaders Can Use Data and Insights to Influence the C-Suite

When it comes to people analytics, HR leaders know they need to get up to speed. According to an Oracle survey from 2021, less than 30% of HR professionals say they’re good or very good at making positive changes using people data. Yet HR is now a part of the C-suite in many organizations, and in most, the department officially has the attention of the executives and the boardroom.“I think CEOs intuitively know that you need to have somebody in the room who is focused on people,” said Courtney White, an HR leader at chemical company BASF. “At the same time, there has to be an appreciation for that intelligence in the room.”During From Day One’s August virtual conference on the changing profile of HR leaders, I moderated a discussion among four panelists titled “How HR Leaders Can Use Data and Insights to Influence the C-Suite.” The group agreed on this: HR has to learn to speak the C-suite’s language. That’s things like P&Ls, forecasts, budgets, skills, and efficiency. HR must learn the lingua franca of business.Given its newly expanded role in enterprise, HR is in a better position to do this now than in recent memory. Isobel Lincoln, the SVP of HR for the luxury retail and office developer Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, likes to invest time in learning other team’s goals. For example, the sales targets of the business development team. “HR can take a step back and look at things holistically and connect across different functions,” she said. White warned of HR’s tendency to focus on people to the neglect of business strategy. “We’ve got to balance some of the emotional intelligence with business intelligence too, because for most HR organizations, they’re non-revenue-generating.” But, he said, HR can learn to pitch the department as an investment, because it does generate a return.How? Rebecca Warren, the director of success for HR tech platform Eightfold, said do the math. If you don’t have the right numbers people on staff in the HR department—people analytics is still an emerging field—ask finance to help. “We can’t just show up at the table and say ‘I want to spend $500,000 on this tool because it’s going to do X.’ We don’t have anything to show, we don’t have a story. We’re not solving a problem,” she explained. The speakers, clockwise from upper left: moderator Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, Josh Merrill of Confirm, Rebecca Warren of Eightfold, Isobel LIncoln of URW, and Courtney White of BASF (Image by From Day One)For tools, processes, or programs you want to introduce, present them in terms of things like money or time saved, people hired, or even headaches removed. If hiring managers complain that candidates don’t move through the interview process quickly enough, pitch a new scheduling tool along with numbers predicting the results. Warren’s example was this: “Let’s just say we can shave off five days from that interview process, or even three. The cost will be 20 cents per candidate if we hire X number by the end of the year.”Executives also want to know the company is ready for tomorrow and the next day with the right skills in the workplace. This is another way HR is bound to make itself invaluable to the business, said Josh Merrill, the CEO of Confirm, which makes performance management software. Give business leaders a detailed picture of what their workforce is capable of, as Merrill recommended, by way of “organizational network analysis.” Rather than relying on self-reported skills analysis or manager-reported analysis—which, Merrill believes, can be too biased or too unreliable—ask workers whom they go to for help on specific tasks or topics. “If we were to ask the question, ‘Who do you go to for help and advice?’ We could very quickly see, for example, that 12 people go to [one employee] for help with copywriting.” This is how you identify skills the C-suite wants in the workforce now and in the future.HR’s Changing ReputationHR is now a much bigger part of business than it was just a few years ago. That’s an advantage, said Lincoln. “We’re not business owners, but I feel like we’re business brokers. We’re the one department that interacts with everybody, no matter what industry, company size, or location. That influence is really powerful.”But human resources hasn’t always had this reputation, and it still has some old ways it needs to shake off, said Warren. “[The department has] a responsibility to be visible inside the organization, not just as the ‘The Terminator,’ or ‘Oh, no, HR is coming,’ or ‘I’m going to tell HR.’ We need to become a trusted advisor. When we show up, we want people to say ‘They’re here because they’re going to listen, and they’re a partner with me.’”HR Is the Link Between the C-suite and the Company CultureAnother duty of the HR team is to liaise between the C-suite and the people. The C-suite may not be able to see the culture anymore, said White. “You’re the CEO of the organization, and you think you know what's going on, but do you really know? Are you still as relevant as you were when you were working on the shop floor, or when you were in the field? People tell you what they want you to hear versus what may be reality.”Merrill put it like this: “I think that the gap between HR and the C-suite is the story that we tell is not the experience that they’re living.”Warren encouraged HR leaders to become experts on what it’s like to be an employee in the business. “We can get really insulated and spend a lot of time inside our bubble, but we have to get uncomfortable, and we have to learn about things that maybe we don’t want to learn about, and we’ve got to pay attention to things that are happening—then bring those insights, data, and information back inside.”Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Quartz at Work, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife, among others.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | September 19, 2023

How to Make Employee Recognition Part of a Dynamic Approach to Benefits

Your company may not be recognizing good work as much as it should. Forty percent of employees say they receive recognition just a few times a year—or less—according to a 2022 Gallup report. But recognition works. Employees who are recognized for their work are five times more likely to be connected to the company culture and four times more likely to be engaged.In a From Day One panel conversation titled, “Maximizing Employee Recognition and Satisfaction with Comprehensive Benefits and More,” the speakers had a great deal to say about what kinds of recognition work—recognition of who your employees are and who they want to be, the benefits as well as policies that reward good work, and how to make a habit of reinforcing a sense of belonging on a daily basis. The panel, featuring leaders in HR and related fields, was part of From Day One’s July virtual conference on employee satisfaction, recognition, and retention.The Sentiment Survey, But Better The most common way of evaluating employee satisfaction is the employee sentiment survey. As the moderator, I asked the panelists: Is this the best way to understand how your workforce feels?Their answer was yes, when done the right way. Panelists agreed that frequency matters. Rob Catalano, chief engagement officer at employee-experience platform WorkTango, said sentiment surveys must be frequent enough to identify trends: An annual survey isn’t enough.“If you’re only checking in once a year, no one has accountability to act or do something differently. People aren’t going to change their behaviors if you’re going to check in 365 days down the road,” he said. The period chosen for annual surveys may also fall at a point that skews results, like shortly after pay raises are handed out. Start a habit of surveying regularly, then pair that with diagnostic feedback, asking plenty of whys.The group also recommended pairing up data about employee tenure and point-in-career to flag the types of people more or less likely to feel engaged—early career workers vs. later career workers, for example.Creative Ways to Recognize Workers for Who They Are Inside and Outside of WorkHospice care workers carry out an especially taxing job, and Diane Psaras, the chief HR officer at hospice care provider Vitas Healthcare, came with a long list of ways her company appreciates its employees, like writing letters of gratitude to the workers and their family members, “talking to them about the incredible work that their son, daughter, or spouse is doing at Vitas and thanking them for the support that they give that person day in and day out. That has been incredibly rewarding to the employees because they have seen that as the utmost respect, being recognized to their families,” Psaras said.The panelists spoke in a session titled, “Maximizing Employee Recognition and Satisfaction with Comprehensive Benefits and More”  (photo by From Day One)Vitas also instituted a program that lets peers and bosses recognize excellent work. “Since we started two years ago, we have had over 30,000 folks send in nominations and recognition for folks,” she said. Catalano also endorsed peer recognition since it’s often a worker’s closest peers that know the most about individual contributions, “catching people in the moment when they’re doing something that’s either living your company values or conducting the behaviors that are critical,” he said.Perhaps the most creative form of recognition is Vitas’s podcast, which Psaras hosts. She interviews care workers at the company about their jobs: “I’m asking questions that help to give them the foundation to tell their story and tell their perspective,” Psaras said. “How they and their team have fulfilled a dying patient’s wishes by taking them skydiving. True story—that happens!”Erald Minga, a VP of HR at digital marketing firm Media.Monks, makes a point to celebrate work anniversaries—especially important for remote workers, he said—and instituted an employee-of-the-month program. Excellent work is recognized with extra paid time off or a gift on the employee’s desk. Media.Monks also added a lifestyle savings account, from which employees can get reimbursed for perks like online therapy.Workers deserve recognition for who they are outside of the office as well, said Jeni Mayorskaya, the founder and CEO of family-building benefits company Stork Club, especially when their values align with the company’s. “One of our [employees] is very passionate about reproductive healthcare and also very passionate about justice. She actually got additional education and a certification, and now she’s very active in our community. Recognition is very meaningful,” Mayorskaya said. “This is where people see that the company sees them as a whole person.”In addition to evaluating engagement and satisfaction on a regular basis and rewarding recent behavior, panelists said that recognition must also be forward-looking.Reviews tend to be just that—an accounting of the past. That’s well and good when the purpose is to recognize the good work that an employee has already done. But to Amie Major, head of talent management for Verisk Analytics, that’s only half the job. She prompts managers to ask their direct reports about who they want to be in the future.“People think of reviews as evaluative, you’re just looking back and nobody really looks forward to it. In many cases this was happening maybe once a year, which we know is far from enough, so we made a ton of changes.” One is that managers are expected to have these conversations regularly—don’t wait for an annual review, work it into your daily interactions and one-on-ones. Another change is asking workers about what they want two years from now, said Major. “We prompt other conversations too, whether it’s about development, or ‘Have you asked your employee what their career goals are? Have you prioritized these employees because of a milestone or because they’re a person you’re trying to develop?’”The changes have been a success. “We’re seeing people participating in these conversations, but it’s just more than just a review, we’re trying to get to what employees care about,” said Major. “They’re more likely to see themselves here in two years’ time, or they’re more likely to believe that they have good career opportunities. We’re trying to try to drive retention, just weave it into everyday experience.” Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife, among others.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | September 10, 2023

Broadening Leadership's Focus to People, Place, and Purpose

“Human resources is an internal consultancy, dedicated to talent, and specifically leveraging talent as a strategic business differentiator, actually making us more competitive,” said Heather Rickard, SVP, global head of talent at Cushman & Wakefield. Once a transaction-oriented department focused on keeping the company staffed and operational, it has changed, evolved and expanded.Speaking in a fireside chat with Bryan Walsh, editor of Vox’s Future Perfect, at From Day One’s August Virtual Conference, Rickard explained that she saw the HR pendulum swing only three years ago. Covid upended how a lot of companies do business, specifically how HR does everything. Why? If a global shutdown has taught us anything, it’s that people matter. Businesses can change their strategies all day long, but without the right people, they’re sunk. “Talent is the only strategy that isn't repeatable,” she said. “When it's maximized, it's something that's rare. It's something that's special, and no competitor can replicate it,” said Rickard. A New ApproachOld metrics can create concern and worry for HR leaders. But those types of things ebb and flow. Rickard recommends instead focusing on important moments of the employee experience. Don’t try to manage everything but try to manage the moments that matter, like hiring. If you get something like that wrong, it’s not reversible, Walsh mentioned.Bryan Walsh, right, interviewed Heather Rickard of Cushman & Wakefield in the grand-finale virtual fireside chat (photo by From Day One)Still, the desire to acquire talent is strong. Covid impacted labor availability causing more rapid hiring. Client needs also shift so rapidly, and the talent can’t always keep up. Rickard says going too fast during the hiring process equals big tradeoffs. HR should shift to being strategic in the hiring moment.“Either spend the time selecting the right talent, or you will spend the time exiting the wrong talent,” she said. “Be really thoughtful about the selection process. It yields dividends.”Doubling down on the important moments is key. For example, when searching for potential hires, challenge the biases. Don’t look at the same type of people all the time, Rickard says. When interviewing, don’t go off script. Focus on the real job at hand to ensure the candidate can fulfill it. Other tools, like assessments, can help create a data profile that helps companies make the right choice. Band vs. VenueAnother important moment challenging many businesses is employees working from home or in the office. Rickard said that 77% of banking CEOs think everybody needs to be back in the office five days a week as soon as possible. Other industries have a hybrid approach. The question is: should businesses mandate returning to the office? Talented employees tend to reject blanket mandates because they don’t meet their needs. Businesses risk losing valuable talent if they don’t take the employees’ needs into consideration. What does Rickard recommend? Delegating to managers who better understand the work and the flexibilities on the team. Again, shift the approach to employee experience. She proposed a scenario: I have concert tickets at the most amazing venue you could imagine. Do you want to go? Most would first ask, “what band is playing?”“If you want people back in the office,” Rickard explained, “focus less on the venue, and more on the band, and the idea that we can solve problems better and we can collaborate and really enjoy each other frankly when we're in person.”     It all comes down to HR being the translator between C-suite and employees. CEOs want to know about financials, but employees value company culture. Retention, cost of turnover—those are measurable things. But many variables aren’t measurable. Like how working during the pandemic has made us become more personal. “My colleagues sat in my basement with me for two years,” she said. “They watched my kids come in and out. They got to see my dog.” Employees don’t just have a ‘work self’ any longer. So HR has to consider the holistic person and meet their needs so they can feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Carrie Snider is a Phoenix, Ariz.-based journalist and marketing copywriter. 

Carrie Snider | August 28, 2023