#UnleashAmerica & the CHRO panel – the 21st Century Workforce

I love a good panel discussion. Strong panelists can play off each other, bringing out new insights that the moderator may not have expected. I’ve enjoyed being a part of these panels and leading them. So it is fitting that the first session I sat in on at Unleash was the CHRO panel, with CHROs from Tyson, Barry-Wehmiller & Zappos (I LOVE listening to Zappo’s share insights) and led by Holger Mueller. The main focus for employers in the 21st century? Becoming People-First.

Obviously, this is something that I’ve been talking about, that we’ve been talking about on #HRSocialHour for a while, but it seems the pandemic put this first and foremost for strong employers. And what I heard from these 3 employers is that if you weren’t doing it before the pandemic, you are very much late to the game and will need to play catch up — quickly!

First, crowdsourcing information has always been one of my favorite ways to learn and the pandemic brought that out full force. One of the best lines of the conference came in this panel “there is no HR certification for this.” Federal regulations and guidelines changed weekly during the beginning of the pandemic and companies needed agile HR professionals ready for the challenge as the changes were thrown at us. Unfortunately, many weren’t able to shift and employees suffered. And we saw people more willing to make changes that suited their personal needs than ever before. Let’s be clear: the pandemic put ALL employees in the driver’s seat for the first time, ever. And as such, there has been a shift to a more balanced approach to the employee-employer relationship.

We’ve seen a lot of talk about “return to work” which, yes, is my LEAST favorite phrase – most never stopped working. Language matters, so let’s call it what it is “return to the workplace.” Rachel McCoy from Zappos, shared “We are into welcoming people back when they are ready, not forcing them back.” We are seeing this right now with Apple and their “hybrid” requirement to return to the office. We need to give people a reason to return if you want it to be a truly hybrid environment. [Later in the conference, another speaker mentioned that they want folks in the office, but not to just answer email. Bring them in for work sessions, for meaningful meetings, but not to get on Teams.]

Kate Bischoff has been giving some awesome handbook lessons lately, and one of the biggest downfalls of the employee handbook is that we write policies to the lowest common denominator because we are expecting employees to mess up. So we try to anticipate and play the “what if” game to determine how to handle these, typically, one-off situations that don’t affect 99% of our staff. I LOVE that Zappos is changing that!! Imagine working in a company where the handbook tells you how to succeed and not just how to not-fail (because those are not the same, right?). Can you imagine the flexibility you have given employees when you stop penalizing them for attendance? Obviously, this forces employers to have actual conversations with their employees to determine why they might not be succeeding. This will force you to train your supervisors on how to have these conversations, to give timely, effective feedback that will help employees.

The last bits of wisdom come at a time when we are seeing union activity that hasn’t been seen before. When Amazon and Starbucks are seeing union organizing, and unions winning, many employers may be asking what can we do? First, the theme of the panel: focus on your employees! Employees go looking for a union when they feel like they need protection from their employer. You should strive to be an employer that employees do not need protection from. What a novel idea! As one who started work in a heavily unionized industry (airlines), I admit I have never had a very positive view of unions. But as employers refuse to move forward – even after the last 2 years, even after they see the old union-busting tactics not working – perhaps once again, unions have a place in our workplaces. The best way to combat it? Focus on your employees, become a more employee-centric employer, talk to your employees and find out what they want from an employer and figure out what you can do, must do, to meet them there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s