Do you describe yourself as a Strategic People Leader? If not, you probably should. In this episode, we dig into what that role entails. Along with Adam Weber
, we have Jill Felska,
Director of People and Culture at Limelight Health, on the show to help shed light on some common terms that are misunderstood. These terms aren’t new rather their potentially overused.
If you’re still unsure of what it means to be a Strategic People Leader and how that role embraces a new era of Human Resouces, then take a listen. We guarantee it will help you think differently.
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Welcome back to Insights and Employee Engagement podcast from Emplify. We hope you enjoyed getting to know Adam. I think many readers can relate to his analogy of feeling like a kid in lounges.
Our hope is that as we move forward in the series, you feel less like that kid and more equipped when it comes to creating more cultural alignment before we get into the topic at hand. I wanted to let you know that you can download the Emplify 20/20 Engagement Trends report at emplify.com slash trends or E M P L i f y dot com slash trends. You'll have access to all of the trends discussed in the series and more. All right. Our last episode, we introduce you to Adam Weber, our chief people officer, as well as the concept of having a strategic people leader. I got some feedback on this one and many of our listeners felt empowered when they heard their function described this way and as you should. The role is important. Without the people, there's no business. Without the people, there's no mission. You get the idea. So let's dig into what it means to work in this function and share why we are seeing this new title emerge.
I think a lot of it just represents the shift that's taking place with how people view human resources as an industry as a whole. When you look back 20, 30 years ago, we viewed HR as an administrative function of the business doing core processing things like payroll and benefits. And a lot of that really gets to how you actually viewed your employees. You know, if you veer employees, a cog who just shows up to work and you're just trying to make sure they don't quit, that's one thing. But I view the chief people officer role as more of covering the strategic side of the business, of the strategic function of our people, our most valuable asset. And so to get the most out of that asset, we need to make sure that they're both engaged in and motivated to bring their best self to work every day. And so that's I think that's probably the fundamental difference. It's the how do you view your people? And then and then your work that comes from that really stems and how you view the role.
We've been talking about the evolution of traditional HR functions since the inception of the show. Is it a concept we still can't grasp or are we all just calling the same thing something different? Let's talk to Jill Felska. She is the director of People and Culture at Limelight Health. She did not start out in nature yet today. She's focused on one main thing, creating a happier, more engaged workforce. Sounds familiar, right? Before we answer the question above, I asked Jill to share with us what she thinks the role of traditional HR is and how it's evolved.
Traditional HR as I've seen it. I like to joke that I haven't come up with a better name for it yet, but I call a lot of the complaints focus pieces and the paperwork pieces at heart HR and then some of the stuff that has to do more with engagement and culture. Soft HR, I need a better term for it. But really what got me interested in this industry was a bad experience that I had early on with an HR professional in my career and feeling like she had the interest of the company in mind, but not the interest of the person. And the reality is, is the way that companies are built these days. That is the traditional kind of structure for an organization, is that HR is really there to support the company from a legal perspective and also sometimes the executives, the high level executives. And what I became enamored with is if we're building organizations where we are employing people and wanting them to give their all to our company, to our mission, to what we're doing, how are we also creating HR as a safe space that not only protects the company, but also protects the people and is somewhere that they can go and genuinely feel comfortable and safe opening up, because when they have in the past or when others have in the past, it's been a good experience. So that's really what made me interested and what sort of has driven my experiences and how I thought about HR and the way that it's changing over the last decade.
My hope is you noticed a pattern between what Adam and Jill shared. The function of HR is evolving to encompass more. It's not about compliance only, nor is it only about giving employees a place to feel hurt. The role of a strategic people leader is a new era for HR. But what does that entail exactly?
Adam, I'd say first and foremost, it's being an atmosphere setter in our office. It is also representing the people side of the business, that strategic function to the executive team. All things related to motivation, morale, professional development, all of those things all fall, fall under this category, including things like internal communications too. But what does it feel like when we show up or how do we resolve conflict in our office? All of those things in addition to some of the core HR functions. You would assume as well.
And how can a CEO equip their organization to embrace this new era?
A CEO needs to view their people as a strategic asset and be willing to engage in them in the work, the hard work it takes to build strategic people based cultures.
But at the root of it is this belief that it's not fluffy, that the work that we're doing actually has meaningful business outcomes. But if there's a leader, you don't fundamentally believe that, right? If the goal is just more of this mindset of we're going to run our people regardless of how they're doing or who they show up as, and that doesn't impact our business. It's really hard to put in place, you know, innovative programming that's going to move the needle in any significant way. And then I think there's no there's no strategic HR leader who who would thrive in that environment. They'll they'll go find it's such a sought after skill and profession. It's so emerging that the people who really want to push the envelope will work with leaders who do.
What I found interesting about both Joe and Adam is that they both have backgrounds specifically in running businesses. They have a strong acumen enabling them to have high level or strategic conversations with a CEO, helping to shift the compliance first to people first. Now with Adam, he's a co-founder of Emplify. So there's inherently a ton of trust built with Santiago, our CEO. But what about other organizations? How do you build the trust to help create a place where as a strategic people leader, you are able to drive towards that people first culture?
In every environment, though, trust is just a foundational component of being innovative, of trying, of trying new things. A feeling like you have the psychological safety to go to the CEO with a new idea or oftentimes no one in the work that we do. We're not always flagging the most fun aspects of the business, even though to others, maybe on the outside it's all this light culture. There's also a lot of really difficult, challenging situations that need hard work, that need implicit trust to be able to work through them while trust takes time to build and nurture.
It's helpful to understand why this shift is so important so that you can start to trying new things within your own organization and it takes a strong person to prioritize the business over yourself. How can leaders think differently when it comes to this functional area? It starts by breaking it down and getting in touch with what the reality for companies everywhere is.
We're in a talent focused market, meaning that talent has the advantage. There is more need for great high level talent, especially in technology, than there are actual people to fill the roles. And so we're in this time period where people are needing to think more critically, not just about what are the benefits and the salaries, but also how our managers treating people and what are the behaviors that we deem okay at our organization, which ultimately is the base for the culture. So we've got this shift now. We've got the compliance piece that is so important and needs to be there. But on top of that, that's used to be where things ended. It was like, OK, we've got our ducks in a row. We've got the complaints discovered, covered benefits, all of those things. And we're not going to spend any more money on HR because HR doesn't make us money. Where we are now seeing people turn is a realization around how important it is to retain your talents, not only for the feel good, fuzzy reason of it's the right thing to do and we want that to happen. But also because it's expensive, it is expensive when you lose your top talent, who has the knowledge of your industry, of your company? That is the relationships that have been built and formed and those bonds. It is expensive to lose those people from both a actual dollars and cents perspective and just the relational aspects of your company. And so what has happened is we are starting to see more and more companies invest not only in the compliance piece, but also in this culture focused HR And by that I mean bringing in people who are thinking about organizational development at a high level. That could be the relationships among the executive team. That could be how we are training our managers and thinking about how they engage with their employees and being proactive about those pieces that can even be as simple as someone who is a safe space for employees to come to and have conversations that we know early on when they're struggling instead of after they've given their resignation.
Now that we've got a solid foundation for thinking about this role, how it needs to evolve and in some ways how you can start to have these conversations. I want to demystify a couple of the terms that we've been using. One is business first when Adam talks about. Putting the business first or when Jill talks about having the expensive rehiring. What are we meaning?
If you work for a company with a noble purpose that's trying to do something significant to get there. It can't be a group of individuals with selfish ambition. It has to be a collection of people all moving toward that vision and to put the business first. It means that oftentimes in different situations, we all we all experience, you know, a bit of selfishness that emerges. But to remember that the thing that we're actually pursuing is the purpose of the business. It is not my own purpose. It is not this individual. It is a collection of people who are working together to make something happen.
For some reason, there seems to be this tension between putting people first versus the business first and when there's no one in the room putting people first. HR has often had to be the defender of people, leaving them very little room to put the business first and people first. There's this antiquated feeling that the executives are sitting behind closed doors and the employees just want to try and get a sneak peek of what's going on behind it. But when you're in an organization that trust each other as leaders, there's no question of business versus people.
If you even go back to what it means to have trusted relationships inside of your organization. Like really early on, Santiago and I had a breakthrough moment where we both are more entrepreneurs who both had big dreams, who are both pretty intense and early. You know, there would be these moments where we'd both have these strongly held opinions about direction. And we had this like I remember this conversation where he, like, drew up on the board and he actually just wrote the problem on the board. Right. And he was like and he pointed to it and he any kind of he sat right beside person, right beside each other and goes. The problem is that it is not you, right. We are we together are solving that. And so often when you have different opinions of people you work with. You start to think that the problem is the person. But we like we work on the business together where people who collaborate to work on the business and that that's kind of like gets to that same mindset. Like that's what it means is that when I have feedback to give, it's not. It is because we're all trying to put this noble purpose of the business ahead of each of our individual self-interests.
This takes us right into understanding the word culture on its face. We get it right. I mean, this isn't a new term in 2020. We've heard Adam share how strategic people leader helped set the atmosphere. And Jill mentioned that culture isn't just a feel good reason for doing things. So how does she exactly define what culture really means?
Culture is how things get done around here. It's the behaviors. It's the values. It's how people are communicating and making decisions on a day to day basis. It is not perks, which is what it is often misunderstood for. So we're human. We like to make things tangible. And so when culture became such a buzz word over the last decade, people were scrambling to find tangible examples of how they have culture within their organization. And so they would say we have a ping pong table and a beer keg and a slide. And those were in their minds how they could represent the type of company they were. And what I try and explain to people is perks and culture are different. And when you think about perks, you know, you could have a ping pong table. It culture side of having a ping pong table is whether or not people feel comfortable using it during the day to play because it's seen as a creative break that refreshes people or whether someone taking a break to play ping pong during the day would mean that they are absolutely a slacker and not contributing to the team. That's the culture. It's the belief around what the ping pong table is versus having a ping pong table. That's how it's you. So from that side. I also think there's some education to be done around what culture work actually means. It's a lot of tough conversation. It's holding space for people when they're at their lowest. It's been really challenging to the executive team in how they're doing things and what decisions they're making because of how it impacts and taking a look at what it means to be business first.
People always we've highlighted the role of the strategic people officer and the evolution of HR. We've defined business first and hopefully our walking away is the better understanding of what culture truly means. So as we wrap today's episode, I want to leave you with some insights from Adam sharing what it looks like when organizations are executing and the concepts shared.
Have always been so struck by are those those leaders who've tapped into this who understand that we can put programming in place, we can create atmosphere inside of our culture that really unlocks the performance of our team. I think through companies like SALES Loft who doubled last year, and yet we're still able to maintain that culture of engagement. We're. Really motivating and driving their onboarding people quickly and obviously just a really impressive rate, but without losing the core essence of what makes them who they are or some some of the other leaders that that I think of and are the ones who understand, especially from if you sit on the people's side of the business and people ops and you have to go to the CEO or go to the executive team with a new initiative that maybe is one that a business that's been around for 30 years has never thought of. Right. You're bringing something up for the first time. It's the strategic leaders who can connect the dots for other people on the executive team, on the type of R-N.Y. It can provide for the business and then prove it back. And so you start to transition this like we're not obviously talking about ping pong tables and Nerf guns. We're talking about legitimate business impact that is not only good for the business, but why I am inspired by it is that it is actually good for the employee as well. So it is a win for the business, but it is also a win for the person. And it's the right thing to do. It's the right way to run your business.
As we journey onwards, we'll be covering something mentioned briefly by Joe, the resignation you see in today's atmosphere. The reality is that there are plenty of jobs. And as leaders, it's easy to assume that your people are happy. I mean, they tell you that they're happy. They tell you that they're satisfied. Kikes satisfied. That's not really the word we want to hear, is it? The reality is that seventy two point seven percent of people, your people are currently open to a new career opportunity.
So what can you do about it? Well, join me next week and be sure to subscribe. Right. And review the podcast to never miss an episode.