CEO Conversations

Generosity-based approaches to weather the “Great Resignation”

Daily newsfeeds sound the alarm that we are in the midst of a talent crisis – the Great Resignation or perhaps Great Reassessment. Record numbers of people are resigning from their current role in search of greener pastures. In order to help business leaders navigate this tight labor market, we sat down with Valarie Mackey, the CEO of WrightNow Solutions to explore a generosity-mindset or a reimagination if you will, that might help executives discover the talent they need in unexpected places.

  • Tapping into the potential of your current employees and networks
  • Attracting and maintaining talent right out of college
  • Creating a culture of belonging

What’s the most important characteristic to look for?

The great resignation is a reaction. People want something different for their lives. They are highly motivated to make the change. Motivation is one of the strongest characteristics you can have in an employee. It reflects grit, agility, and an openness to learning.  And here’s the insight that I see from my business – this grit and agility is not actually something you learn in college or get from a book.

Where else should CEOs search for talent?  

If you recruit from the same places, the same colleges and use the same search firms over and over, you are going to get the same result.

You said the word “reimagine” and I think that’s what’s critical. It begins by reimagining where you find talent. If you recruit from the same places, the same colleges and use the same search firms over and over, you are going to get the same result and have more of a homogeneous workforce.

You have to ask yourself where else can I look for talent? You will find a lot of people ripe to be exceptional employees in places you have not considered before.

An often-overlooked resource is Workforce Development Programs – TechBridge, Goodwill Career Centers, City of Refuge, Urban League, Women in Technology, Generation, to name a few. The diversity in these programs is remarkable. Some people have a Bachelor’s Degree, some just a couple years of college, others perhaps didn’t have the access or opportunity to attend college at all. Some have twenty years of work experience others are earlier in their careers. You might find someone who has been in a marketing job or hospitality but has decided to shift to a technology field. I’ve seen hundreds of people come out of these programs ready to work, build a career, and provide tremendous value to a company. There are amazing career changers, veterans, and people from underrepresented populations that have the capability, these newly acquired skills (industry-issued certifications in most cases), and the motivation that we talked about earlier.

What retention rates have you seen when this talent is prepped for success?

We recommend an initial assessment that people go through to determine if a reskill training program will be effective. In particular, a deep-dive to determine if they have that grit, and learning agility I talked about. They are required to put in a significant amount of work, once you know someone has skin in the game, that they are willing to put the work into it, we find they can make it through a reskilling program and be highly successful.

A strong reskilling program may take them through four or five months of hard skills training like various software programs. But also take them through soft skills training that help prepare them for the corporate setting. Things like presentation skills, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence.

We see amazing talent coming out of these programs and perhaps most important to a CEO, we’ve seen the retention rate of 96% for these individuals even after a year of employment.

How can CEOs reimagine talent that may already lie within their own organization?

When you’re considering your roadmap for the future of your company and looking at the capabilities you have and don’t have, too many executives automatically build headcount externally. I think this is because when we think about staffing or even succession internally, we look only at the candidates that have the capacity to jump into the role immediately.  What about the person that doesn’t quite have all the skills but has the potential?  

Consider a model where a current employee shifts to spend 50% of their time training for a new role while maintaining their old responsibilities. They can shadow someone with the current responsibilities, so you have a combination of training and on-the-job experience. This may sound like a lot but when you bring in someone from the outside you don’t actually know their skills, they are not yet invested in your company, and you have to get them to that point where they are adding value. Don’t get me wrong, outside talent will always be an important component in the mix, but I’d encourage executives to take another look at the people who are already invested in your company, understand your culture and simply need additional technical skills.

You will see strong ROI for this type of strategy because reskilling an internal candidate is going to cost less than beginning someone on from the outside. The added benefit to this idea is that it demonstrates to your employees that you invest in career development, that you care about the people as well as the job.

Another approach is to create an apprenticeship cohort of outside and inside talent and onboard them together. You bring in high potential people from your call center, your warehouse, help desk, or administration along with external candidates who show promise. The goal for the end of the apprenticeship is not only new skills but also a clear understanding of where each person would best add value and thrive within the organization.

Another idea would be to offer specific high school internship programs. You would be surprised by the innovative skills that this next generation can bring even in an internship program. Design thinking is core in many high school programs and would be a great asset to bring to the workplace. And if you invest in these students in high school, the internships could continue through college and you have an experienced hire right after college or they may be ready to walk right in after high school graduation.

The generosity mindset shift is to stay open to the path that brings the right people to your company. Perhaps it’s a motivated candidate in a workforce development program or a college graduate from a school you’re unfamiliar with or a high school student who came up through your internship program or a person you can reskill vs restructuring out of the organization. This mindset shift helps you find that diverse, motivated talent you are looking for. There are different paths for different people and when we acknowledge that, we will have the ability to find the talent.

What’s the key to success when recruiting college students?

First of all, be willing to consider students other than those who have a 4.0. And when you recruit diverse students, take a few steps to help ensure they succeed. For instance, we work with first generation college students who may need more preparation and a bit of confidence building to help them successfully enter the workforce and acclimate to a corporate culture.

Students need help to understand power structures in companies, how to develop relationships, how to be multi-dimensional in relationships with people so that you can develop a better working relationship. We walk through how to deal with inevitable conflict at work, and handle it in a professional manner. We talk about effective communication, emails, calendar invites. We review techniques on how to structure communications to be succinct, and concise.

We talk through the experience of being a diverse candidate. We discuss the fact that although you may be the youngest person in the organization or the only one that went to the college you attended, or the only one without a college degree, the only Asian or black or LGBTQ does not make you broken or “less than” anyone else. We reinforce that they are being hired because they bring value and we help them understand how to show that value through their work. It begins by understanding themselves, who they are and what they bring to the organization – a shift in self-awareness to the corporate setting. We find this self-awareness helps everyone represent their values while integrating with the values of the company.

What’s the one thing CEOs need to get right?

We would be remiss unless we are honest about training current staff and getting a company ready to welcome diverse talent.

It’s crucial that companies create a culture of belonging, an inclusive environment.

This means being thoughtful about the policies you have in place, the rules in the organization should be inclusive for all types of people. It includes acknowledging that every company operates with bias because everybody has some biases. Including a thoughtful move to conscious inclusion and away from exclusionary practices is critical.

This work will benefit the people currently at the company as much as it will benefit those you are welcoming in. It’s reimagining the culture and what needs to shift to help everyone feel that they belong.  All of this begins with the leadership of the company. If you truly want to win this war on talent, tap into diverse, motivated talent. You need to be willing to make adjustments so that all these different people coming in from all these different places with different experiences feel like they belong. If you don’t do the work, then this talent strategy will not succeed because the talent won’t succeed.

Valarie Wright Mackey
CEO, WrightNow Solutions
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