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Make Your Organization a Place Worth Staying

December 16, 2021 Leadership
mary slaughter
By Mary Slaughter LinkedIn

Although the last two years have seemed like a time warp, the end of the calendar year still typically serves a dual purpose — reflecting on what has passed and envisioning what is to come.

For most of my career, the phrase “work-life” balance has been an aspirational goal. As I recall, this phrase emerged when work became more digital and could readily follow us anywhere. For decades, both individuals and organizations made a point of trying to separate work and life, typically grounded in time management techniques.

One unintended consequence of the global pandemic is that work-life balance has morphed into work-life integration. It is no longer just a quantitative exercise of allocating and tracking time. It now has become a qualitative assessment of how we spend our time. For white collar workers, the separation of work and life has all but evaporated and new principles have emerged.

If you read any of the 2021 human capital studies from the large consulting firms, you’ll note how the focus on employee experience has skyrocketed. Expressions of mission, purpose, values, inclusion and other behavioral guideposts remain essential, as they clarify the desired state. But, the lived experience that employees encounter is rapidly becoming the glue that binds people together. Employees have become much more attuned to actions versus the promises traditionally referred to as an employee value proposition.

It’s the “say vs.do” gap. Talent attraction is based on what organizations sayTalent retention is based on what organizations do.

Much like meaningful interpersonal relationships, attraction is fueled by potential — what we hope will become our reality in the future. Conversely, retention is driven not by promises but by what is actually happening. Long-standing phrases like “walk the talk” and “all talk, no action” represent this conundrum.

Social science would point us towards the research area of cognitive coherence, where meaning is derived when all the pieces of information fit together in a seamless way. The opposite of coherence is decoherence — when ideas or actions seem misaligned, making it challenging to make sense of all the individual components.

When decoherence emerges, the natural human response is to seek clarity and ask questions. And in this instance, the talent retention question becomes: Is the reality of my lived experience the same as the potential that was promised to me?

Employee experience is impacted by a wide array of factors beyond compensation, including technology enablement, physical work space, people policies, and interpersonal behaviors. In today’s labor market, employees are expressing strong preferences for human factors such as personal meaning, career growth, a sense of fairness and work flexibility.

Having served as both a chief learning officer and a chief talent officer, I’m struck by how the focus on employee career development still lags other HR practices. Recently a colleague pointed out how much more LinkedIn knows about many of us than our own organizations do. Perhaps if we shifted our mindset to view all voluntary exits as “regrettable” then we might design greater transparency and mobility into our talent processes.

For the foreseeable future, we likely will continue to witness a material shift in the power dynamic between employee and employer. Compensation and benefits have become table stakes, while work-life integration, professional growth and personal meaning have accelerated to become major drivers of talent attraction and retention. 

As you design solutions to increase internal career mobility, three core principles should apply:

  • Transparency: Proactively promote open roles and the required skills, as well as the developmental support available to enable success.
  • Growth Mindset: Embrace learning curves, accept mistakes as part of learning, and encourage experimentation throughout careers.
  • Independence: Create risk-free processes that encourage employees to explore new roles without the fear of being penalized for moving away from a current role.

Because technology can be a significant enabler, I invited Kelley Steven-Waiss to share her perspectives on how career mobility impacts both employee experience and retention. As a former CHRO and now a Silicon Valley founder and CEO, Kelley is uniquely positioned to shape labor market trends and offer practical guidance to enterprises who are redefining their talent strategies. 

Kelley Steven-Waiss, founder and CEO of Hitch Works, Inc.
Kelley Steven-Waiss is the founder and CEO of Hitch Works Inc., the chair of the advisory board for the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and is on the board of FormFactor, Inc. She is also the co-author of "The Inside Gig: How Sharing Untapped Talent Across Boundaries Unleashes Organizational Capacity."

One of the misconceptions about technology obsolescence is that a digital solution can solve any employee experience issue.

We assume that the workforce (especially Gen Y and Z) want the “iPhone experience” at work, and therefore we don’t have to fix any of our organizational processes or adjust our mindset. This is simply not true, and technology in isolation is not the answer. Technology is an essential catalyst for enabling a new way to drive career mobility, understand employee sentiments, aspirations, and ultimately help with retention efforts by giving employees more insights about themselves and the career possibilities.

As we think about internal career mobility and employee experience in the future, we need to shift to a world where it’s all about people empowerment and engagement versus people management. It’s about changing our talent operating model and thinking about talent inside of organizations as leveraged by the company, and not individual managers.

Most importantly, it requires that we treat employees much like we do our customers — as individual consumers that we must constantly strive to earn their trust, understand their needs, arm with the right digital tools and retain. 

In a future that requires agility, employers must provide the environment where everyone is empowered, and technology gives the insights and career pathways for people to thrive.

About the Author

Mary Slaughter is the Global Head of Employee Experience at Morningstar, an investment research and management firm headquartered in Chicago, IL. Prior to joining Morningstar, she served as a managing director, People Advisory Services at EY.

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