The Best Ideas to Engage and Retain Talent I Heard at NAHRES 2021

Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

christina zurek speaking at NAHRES 2021

I attended and spoke at the 2021 North American HR Executive Summit (NAHRES) in Orlando, Florida. It was a jam-packed day-and-a-half of sessions focused on a consistent theme: attracting, engaging and retaining talent.

It was inspirational to hear the creative, innovative ways employers of all sizes in all industries are making progress. If you’re looking for fresh ideas for your own organization, here are five of my favorites.

1. Create Employee Personas to Improve Employee Experience

There was a lot of discussion about how employees have different needs and how that can make it challenging to personalize your engagement strategies. Several speakers discussed the importance of creating personas to overcome this issue. The personas are based on typical employee segments and should be rooted in considerations like:

  • Personal motivation
  • Support needs
  • Tenure

These personas are valuable because they’ll help your company evaluate the typical employee experience of each persona to identify opportunities to add impact, meaning and connection to your brand. This is a common approach to use when evaluating customer experience (CX) so it wasn’t surprising to hear some of the largest consumer product companies in attendance were seeing success with this strategy.

Related: ITA Group experts talk customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX), the root causes of poor CX and how the pandemic has changed brand expectations.  

2. Recruit an Employee Advisory Group to Support Engagement & Inclusion Efforts

Organizations are striving to create more inclusive strategies for engaging and retaining their people and many have found success using employee advisory groups. These cross-functional teams are assembled from a variety of job functions, locations and demographics to offer more diverse perspectives. How companies leverage these groups can vary. Whether you approach this in a formal way or as an informal sounding board, employee feedback should be a critical touchpoint in your strategy development and execution.

Added bonus? Even if employees aren’t personally in the group, they’ll appreciate your efforts to include more perspectives in your decisions—a key way to build buy-in.

Related: Effective internal communications can improve employee engagement, communicate company values and create a positive work environment. Can yours do all that? Learn more.

3. Embrace HR’s Role as Cultural Architects

I’ve always believed that HR is the most well-equipped business function to own, communicate and nurture culture, and it was great to hear this reiterated at the event. A new term I heard that I especially liked was “cultural architect”—it’s how Tiffanie Boyd, U.S. SVP and Chief People Officer for McDonald’s, described HR’s role now that they’ve transformed from being an administrative function. She encouraged HR leaders in attendance to think about how to create a place where people love to work, and to embrace the “warm and fuzzy feelings” they should create for their people.

Related: Human resource management (HRM) has changed drastically in recent years. Learn about the evolution of HR, where HRM is going in the future and what we've learned along the way.

4. Use Employee Feedback to Craft a Unique & Authentic Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

Employee value proposition development was a hot topic through several sessions, but I especially enjoyed the practical walkthrough I heard from Vinitaa Jayson, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, North America at Procter & Gamble. Through their eight-month-long process, her team set out to articulate what they offered to employees. But it wasn’t just about telling them—they wanted employees to have a deeper understanding of what it means to each of them individually.

To do so, they applied some of the ideas I’ve already shared, including both persona development and employee advisory groups. Through their research, they uncovered how their EVP needed to address various employee needs at what she called “moments of truth”—those critical points in the employee journey that carry particular meaning and value.

As part of their process, they enlisted the support of employees around the globe to share their own P&G stories, which I highly recommend checking out for inspiration.

Related: Take an intentional, strategic approach to developing and executing your employer brand message. Learn more about how your organization's unique story makes it appealing to employees working with you today—and those you want to work with in the future.

5. Understand “The Great Resignation” Isn’t Really About Wages or How/Where Work Gets Done

Despite all we hear about employee demands for more pay and flexibility, that’s generally not what’s driving the turnover we’re seeing and expect to see more of. Going through an experience like a pandemic forces people to reevaluate their priorities.

And in that process, they’re asking themselves tough questions like:

  • Am I happy?
  • Is my work fulfilling?
  • Do I like who I work with?
  • Do the people I work with help raise me up to be my better self?
  • Should I put my time and energy somewhere else?        

While employers aren’t able to always directly impact the way an employee answers these questions, they are in a position to create a workplace that people love. They can inspire, motivate and appreciate the work of their people. And by doing that, they can create a culture that feeds employee well-being.

Optimize the Employee Experience for Impressive Results

This is our moment to support employees, understand them as individuals and encourage them to stay positive in a world of uncertainty.

Are you ready to create an optimal employee experience? Download our ebook to find out how to create and sustain a successful employee experience.

Christina Zurek

Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.