There are lots of articles about what businesses need to do in order to be successful. The articles talk about developing outstanding products, killer marketing strategies, and focusing on metrics and numbers. It’s true – all of these things are important. But you can’t do any of them without an exceptional workforce.
A few weeks ago, I saw a post titled “Engagement, Retention and Culture now the #1 Issues in Talent and HR.” On one hand, I wasn’t surprised, talent issues have been keeping CEOs up at night for years. But given some of the conversations about innovation and technology driving businesses today, I wasn’t expecting it. So I asked Josh Bersin if he would share his thoughts. And I’m delighted he said yes.
Josh Bersin founded Bersin & Associates (now Bersin by Deloitte) in 2004 to provide research and advisory services focused on corporate learning, leadership, talent management and HR technology. Today he is responsible for Bersin by Deloitte’s long-term strategy, research direction and market eminence. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and has been quoted on talent management topics in key media, including Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, BBC Radio, CBS Radio and National Public Radio.
In the report Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2015, you tell us that the number one talent issues are engagement, retention and culture. How does this compare to previous years?
[Josh] This year, for the first time in my career as an analyst, “the global leadership gap” was not the #1 issue facing businesses (although it is a very close second). The #1 issue, with 50% of companies rating it urgent and 87% rating it important, is ‘engagement, retention and culture.’
Leadership is still a major challenge, and disappointingly leadership gaps are as high this year as last year. In both cases, the difference between the problem and companies’ ability to address the problem (what we call the ‘capability gap’) increased significantly, which tells us that HR teams are slipping behind as the economy grows.
Culture and employment branding are big conversations given the growing challenges with recruiting. But they also have an impact on current employees. What are a couple of factors that companies need to consider when they think about culture and branding?
[Josh] You’re exactly right – today we should think about employees as ‘volunteers’ not ‘captive’ – so we have to continuously think about how we can engage and excite people day by day. This means many things:
- Executives have to put their people first, and take the time to get to know people by walking around;
- Managers have to become coaches first and managers second, and take time to listen for feedback;
- Project leaders and HR has to think about every new ‘program’ in the terms of an employee’s experience.
If you’re building a new training, compliance or onboarding program, for example, think about how it will make an employee’s work life better – not just what you want to get out of it. People are overwhelmed with ‘stuff’ at work (another trend we identified) so we have to roll out programs that are enjoyable, easy and make work life better.
I agree that organizations need to become more focused on employee engagement. Unfortunately, I also think the term “engagement” has become a corporate buzzword and it might not be taken as seriously as it should. For HR pros in that position, how do they tee up the engagement conversation and where is the best place to start?
[Josh] This is precisely the problem. The term ‘engagement’ is an old word supported with old-fashioned business solutions (annual engagement surveys). This approach no longer works, and in many cases it’s obsolete.
Your employment brand is now sitting out on Glassdoor or LinkedIn, so you as an HR manager have to interview, survey, or talk with people every day if you can – open up a “Glassdoor-like” experience in your own company so you can get information at the ground level about what is bothering (or pleasing) people. Then get creative: some companies let people bring their dogs to work (not for everyone of course); some give unlimited vacation; others offer free food or cafeteria benefit programs; free books and education; tuition reimbursement; volunteer programs; coaching. These are all relatively inexpensive programs that can have a huge impact on employee engagement, and thus customer service, retention and productivity. We call it building the ‘Simply Irresistible’ organization, and we have a whole model to help companies think this through.
Another finding in the report had to do with human resources and their ability to keep up with the fast-paced business world. If I were your chief human resources officer (CHRO), what are three professional development activities you would expect of me?
[Josh] Terrific question Sharlyn – this is an area I’m spending a lot of time on. Here are three things a CHRO or HR professional can do to get up to speed:
- Read The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist or another business magazine regularly, so you really know what’s going on in your industry and business and the economy;
- Go to at least 2 HR conferences each year, and see what others are doing – and take the time to talk with others who are doing innovative things in their HR team;
- Read articles, research, blogs and articles about our industry, things are changing all the time and people are always sharing new ideas.
Last question: There’s an increasing conversation about employee retention. The economy is in a place where more employees feel comfortable looking for new opportunities. If a business can only do one thing to improve their turnover, what would it be?
[Josh] I wish there was one thing. We’ve found there are five major elements:
- Meaningful work,
- Strong management,
- Flexible work environment,
- Opportunities for growth, and
- Trust and inspirational leadership.
But the #1 thing, if you wrap it all up, is for leaders at all levels to be motivated and incented to invest in their people. In today’s work environment we can’t sacrifice our people’s best interest on behalf of customers, because they will dis-engage or leave. If you don’t think ‘people first’ and act that way, then you’ll have an engagement problem.
It’s an exciting time in HR today – despite the flood of technology and new tools for HR and analytics, it’s the focus on people that matters more than ever. This plays to our strengths in HR, and now more than ever I think we can up our game and add value to the businesslike never before.
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My thanks to Josh for sharing is expertise with us. If you want to take a deeper look at the study, you can download it here. Also be sure to check out Josh’s writing on Forbes.com, LinkedIn and Chief Learning Officer magazine.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby2