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

BY Carrie Snider | August 28, 2023

“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 Approach

Old 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. Venue

Another 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. 


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