Forging a People Strategy for the Digital Age

Within some companies, the differences are functional rather than generational, noted Michelle Beiter, VP of people operations at Safelite AutoGlass. At Safelite, agility and flexibility are embraced by operational teams, such as marketing and IT groups, while the company’s skilled contact-center associates are more comfortable with a hierarchical structure. “In our survey, year after year, we find that younger workers, particularly in skilled labor, want to know their career paths,” she explained. “They want to know that if they work hard, they can do this or go over here. So, you have to be careful. It’s not one size fits all.”

Ted 4As companies feel their way toward understanding and adapting to the needs of digital workers, a few early lessons have emerged. Several roundtable participants commented on the need to update training programs by adding multimedia and interactive features to accommodate the different learning styles typical of younger workers. “We’ve been having a lot of conversations about being conscious of the fact that we have four generations in the workplace,” said Brad Neilley, chief human resources officer at AvalonBay Communities. “The learning styles of baby boomers vs. millennials are very, very different.”

At Western & Southern Financial Group, HR SVP Kim Chiodi found that introducing shorter, more intense training programs and delivering them online works well for both time-pressed, long-tenured managers and younger professionals accustomed to learning in short bursts.

“People can’t afford to sit in a classroom for eight hours, and young professionals may have different attention [spans] than more seasoned folks,” she explained. “We’re doing a lot of modularization of our training programs to get them down to two hours or less and to make them more interactive.”

As critical as having the best talent may be, participants roundly agreed that cultural fit trumps performance when it comes to hiring and retention. “A Fortune 50 CEO once told me, ‘Digital and technology is the easy part; it’s people and the culture and fit that’s hard,’” said Bililies, who noted that pre-hire assessments can help companies screen for cultural fit.

At Western & Southern Financial, concern that the company’s culture was being diluted by an influx of new talent led to the company “memorializing” it. The resulting 10 principles it adopted are now shared up front with potential hires. “Some young professionals want the culture to be something different,” explained Chiodi, “but our company culture is what it is. We try very hard to select the people who will best fit the culture—and then you adapt. We don’t want you to be a different person than who you are, but we do want you to adapt to the culture. And if you can’t, there are lots of other places you can go to work.”

At a time when employees choose their employers just as much as employers select employees, culture is a two-way street, observed Tom Marth, VP of WorkDay. “Young people want opportunity, but they really care about culture,” he said. “I don’t remember talking about culture in my first job interview the way that kids do now. So it’s a challenge for organizations to, first, articulate your culture in a crisp, concise manner across your whole organization and, second, have what you articulate embraced by your whole organization.”

Ted 5A culture shaped by faith has become a competitive strength for Covenant Retirement Communities. “It’s a significant advantage to be able to bring life full circle for people,” reported Michelle Kozloski, VP of HR. “When you walk in, you can really feel it. It’s a place where you can work, serve your spirituality and have a great career.”

Done effectively, a strong culture, effectively presented both internally and externally, can be a powerful recruiting tool. “Culture is a topic whose time has come,” asserted Bililies. “A lot of companies haven’t really looked in the mirror and thought about their culture. Maybe you’re in insurance, but when you actually think about what that insurance does—you save families, save communities. When you look at it through that lens, you get a whole different reaction from the people you’re recruiting.”