Talent comes in all forms and sizes. This includes the diversity of the folks we work with and how we express ourselves in how we dress and speak. It takes a great leader to see potential, and a big challenge for a newly promoted leader to effectively lead a team from the moment an employee gets on board to the point of separation. In this episode, Katie Smith, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Credit Union of Southern California, goes in-depth into the challenges leaders face in the workplace and how understanding your workforce and the issues and struggles that impact their work is key to fostering an empowered culture. She talks about the importance of acknowledging generation gaps when screening candidates and managing teams to be inclusive. If you are tasked with the critical role of leading and hiring talent for your company’s success and growth, tune in and learn best practices from a Millennial HR leader.

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Leading Others: HR 101 For First-Time Leaders With Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a senior-level talented and experienced HR professional who drives strategies and initiatives with a passionate focus on creating meaningful employee experiences. She has many years of experience in various industries, consistently helping organizations transform HR to align and support organizational strategies and growth.

Katie has a Master of Science, Leadership, and Management from the University of La Verne. She is a Certified SHRM-SCP Professional. Katie is responsible for leading efforts to create and sustain a high-performance work culture that successfully attracts, retains, and engages the talent needed to achieve the organization’s mission.

Throughout her career, she had experience with handling complex and challenging HR issues and mastery of HR functions and competencies, including employee relations, performance management, policy development, risk management, safety and workers’ compensation, succession planning, culture development, sustainability, recruitment and staffing, rewards and recognition, compensation and benefits, and training and organizational development. Let’s hear Katie’s HR advice for the first time on the show.

Welcome to the show, Katie. How are you doing?

I’m doing great. Thanks. How are you?

I’m doing great. I dropped the kid off at daycare, so I’m ready to go. You and I have an interesting history. We both got certified. That’s why we met in the Gallup StrengthsFinder workshop. We have been friends ever since. Thank you so much for being on the show. As an HR leader, I think that your core values are awesome and how much you care about the folks you support.

Thank you for that. I do feel that HR has been undergoing a big transformation over the last few years. I strive to be focused on the experience side and less transactional.

You also have been the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Therapist, and everything else during the pandemic. HR has been a superhero during this time as well for organizations.

It’s a very different time.

Tell us a little bit about your story, how you got into HR, and a little bit about your journey.

I started going to college. I went to a junior college after high school. I was one of those people that was like, “I know everything I need to know about life and career.” I didn’t take college seriously. I came in and out of it for the first couple of years, but in my early twenties, I was like, “I don’t know as much as I think I know. Maybe I do need to be a little bit more serious.” Through that journey, I started thinking I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but I quickly found out that the last place you or anybody else needs me is in a classroom with children.

While I was in junior college, I had an impactful advisor who spent a lot of time with me unpacking and helped me find human resources. I had no idea what it was, but I spent a lot of time researching it, reaching out to other professionals, asking them about their day-to-day, and understanding what it was. I fell in love. It was almost like an instant connection for me. I got serious about school and powered through my AA.

I went on to get my Bachelor’s at Cal State Fullerton, and shortly thereafter, I got my Master’s at the University of La Verne. That was fun. To my COO at that time, I was talking about getting an MBA because everybody gets their MBA. That’s the thing you do. There was a lot of talk about HR having a seat at the table, what that means, and being able to talk to the global business perspective. He looked at me and said, “I know you well enough. You are going to hate getting your MBA. Why don’t you look and see what else is out there?”

I did it and found a Master’s of Science, Leadership, and Management. That whole undertone of the workplace being crafted and sustained is through the leaders. Diving into that was an awesome experience. I’m so thankful to him every day that he encouraged me to go a different route with my Master’s. That was pretty much it. After getting my Master’s and maintaining certifications and whatnot, that’s pretty much my story and how I ended up in HR doing what I’m doing.

You’ve gone up fast within your careers as far as titles are concerned. Can you tell us a little bit about that and then your experience with Imposter syndrome? You’re a Senior Vice President starting off and as you continue to move up. Even since I’ve known you in the past years, you’ve gotten even higher.

I did. I started pretty quickly in my career and did a lot of the “bouncing around.” I was there for a year or two years. I got my feet wet, did drinking from the fire hose, and then moved on. A lot of where I spent my time was in these tech startup companies. They were at various levels of that startup phase but I was rapidly immersed in everything HR-related. From an HR technical perspective, I know enough to be dangerous. The skillset that has helped propel my career from employer to employer is that decision-making and being able to lean into those strengths and target areas and run with them.

That’s what has helped me more than the HR knowledge itself. I hire people smarter than me every day. I learn a lot from the people that work for me every day. I don’t want to imply that in my 15 to 20 years in the workforce, I know everything there is to know when it comes to HR because it’s ever-evolving and I haven’t spent a whole lot of time boots-on-the-ground. Going from career to career, it has been looking for the right opportunity at the right time.

When you talk about Imposter syndrome, there’s a lot there to unpack. It’s like an onion. You start peeling it back, and it gets deeper and deeper. You start thinking about the systemic challenges that reinforce it, but my initial reaction to Imposter syndrome is almost like, “Fake it until you make it.” Many of us do that on some level or at least once in our life. You never handed the book that says, “Here’s how you’re the perfect spouse, mother, professional, and friend.”

We all are figuring it out to some extent. It’s important that we, as professionals or whatever category you’re associating yourself with at that time, that there’s a level of grace in helping each other. It’s this all-boats-rise mentality. Having your tribe and support system in whatever category you’re associating yourself with is critical to anyone’s success. We’re all figuring it out and coming at it from different angles and perspectives. There’s a lot of value in that.

Good HR is about understanding your workforce, planning for the future, and helping people get to where they want, whether it's with your organization or not. Click To Tweet

Would you say that’s what makes us unique as Millennial leaders? What’s it like to be a Millennial leader? As we were saying, you have your tribe. What are your thoughts on that?

Millennials as leaders are focusing on inclusivity. It has been such a hot topic over the last couple of years, focusing on DEI. There were a lot of buzzwords and a lot happening in the media. It hit a sweet spot for Millennials to step up and lead the way through some of these challenging and difficult times. When I think of the Millennial leader, you’re building on top of that with the pandemic, seeking purpose and fulfillment in our jobs and careers, and bringing all of that together. The pandemic helped us think about things differently, whether it’s life or work.

As a leader, it was an interesting time to bring all of that together and think about how you’re approaching leadership every day, knowing that you as well as others, are going through that same paradigm shift. It’s like, “What does this mean as we go forward?” It’s leading a little bit with your heart. It’s that empathy, listening to where everybody on your team is, meeting them where they’re at, and helping them through all that has taken place over the last couple of years.

Being more empathetic is a big key. It’s so cool to see someone, the head of HR, who has tattoos. You said it before when we chatted. You had differently colored hair. Has that changed what’s acceptable? I’ve seen it too. A lot of that is a different type of mentality from what we saw before. What does a C-Suite executive look like? What are your thoughts on that?

One of the easiest ways that employers can attract and retain top talent is by opening their minds to the concept of what that person needs to look like. That was challenged so much when we talked about inclusivity and people from different walks of life. Some of these things are the norm, like piercings, tattoos, hair colors, and nails. These are forms of self-expression that people want to be able to have every day. What a cool opportunity for an employer to embrace that authenticity and allow you to show up and be you.

I’m super fortunate that in the organizations that I’ve worked at, none of that was a huge hill to climb. Most of them have been pretty open to it. It’s making that case and helping them understand. One of the first things that I changed at my current employer was the dress code. I was like, “We need to update if we’re going to compete for top talent and get in the game. This is like table stakes.” I do very much believe in bringing your authentic self to work. This is one form of that.

I love that, Katie. I’m sorry to put you on the spot there, but that was so important as far as being inclusive. There’s not one type of look at what a leader looks like. We have seen a lot of that in the last few years of organizations being more open-minded, especially during the pandemic. With my research, I found with my Gen Z book that people felt they could be bringing their full selves to work while they’re working remotely because they can be more themselves. It’s going to be interesting to see as we come back what that looks like.

Being a leader as well as heading up a team in human resources is multifaceted, but this ability to be approachable and relatable is important to someone’s success. If you look like you are on an island and you can’t relate to people, they’re not going to open up to you. I think about so much of what good HR is about. It’s understanding your workforce, planning for the future, and helping them get to where they want, whether it’s with your organization or not. There’s an opportunity for employers to embrace this authenticity and self-expression in the workplace.

In human resources, it’s the human element which is so important. Another reason why I’m so stoked to have you on the show is because of exactly what you said about how we support and embrace people and try to help them. I was talking about Gen Z a little bit. Gen Z is born approximately from 1995 to 2012. What would you say their greatest strength is and what advice would you give to folks who are hiring them? I’m sure you’re getting them coming into your workplace. What are your thoughts there?

Gen Z does a great job of challenging leaders and organizations to communicate differently. The thing that resonates or stands out the most to me is this instant communication and transparency. They grew up in a time and an era where the internet was a little bit more established than it was when we were younger. The amount of misinformation and information at their fingertips has shaped them. As they come into the workforce, we have to be cognizant of that.

In trying to push agendas, goals, or anything of that organization, you have to be mindful of how you’re communicating and connecting to that generation. Embracing things outside of emails and meetings, what else can we do? Can we embrace platforms with instant messaging, text messaging, and videos? It’s not just video meetings but pushing out TikToks or whatever it is that can share a message and force us to be succinct, creative, and reinforce that transparency to earn their trust.

It’s interesting you said pushing out TikToks. I’m curious if your organization does this. I saw it in one of the cities where I live. They had their city hall and created TikTok videos of random walking through the halls and dancing. I think it’s hilarious, but it’s a way for them to connect with the youth.

I’m obsessed with TikTok. I probably need to do one of your detox retreats because I will spend hours disconnecting down the TikTok hole. To your point, I do think that it is a real opportunity as an employer to brand yourself, lean into the employees and the expertise that’s in your halls, and allow them to be brand ambassadors in a fun, creative, and interesting way. We’re not where I would like us to be, but it is on our agenda and radar. I hope that we’re able to bring this to the forefront over the next year or so because I think it is important.

I’m going to transition more into some HR questions because I noticed when I was a first-time leader that I didn’t get much guidance, “This is how you interview.” What if there’s sexual harassment? We always get training on sexual harassment. The first question I have for the folks reading is this. What advice would you give when people are interviewing first-time managers or potential candidates? Are there any red flags they should look for? We will have the disclaimer here that you should talk to your in-house counsel and your policy and procedures. What have you seen from your experience on best practices for interviewing candidates?

It raises an important issue that HR professionals try to combat every day. The things at my organization we have been working towards is creating what we call CU lead, which is new leaders, whether they’re new to the organization or recently promoted. What is the need-to-know foundational information? We do it quarterly. It’s a whole day and we give them information. To your point, as a creator of the content that you’re trying to push out and fit it all into these little bite-sized segments is so difficult.

When you asked about interviewing best practices and those red flags, it’s a topic we could spend days on to highlight some of the big pieces in interviewing. There are so many different components to keep in mind. You’ve got the compliance piece, the talent selection piece, and the opportunity to build and grow your team. There are a lot of seemingly competing priorities. The biggest thing is acknowledging and checking your bias. As a hiring manager, be aware of what those are for you. We all have them at varying levels.

Employers need to embrace authenticity and self-expression in the workplace. Click To Tweet

Understanding that and identifying it helps you acknowledge it when it’s in the moment and push through that during the interview. Preparing standard questions and assessments for each applicant is huge. One of the things that I run into all the time is seasoned leaders who say, “I know how to interview. I trust my gut. I know how this goes. I like to ask questions at the moment.” I’m like, “That’s great, but there has to be a way in which we are assessing our applicants against a standard.”

They compare apples to apples.

You’re asking those same questions. You’re trying to assess what level of skill they fall within your actual question. Are they answering it sufficiently? Are they killing it and giving you confidence that they can do more? Real-time iteration is okay. It’s the opportunity to dig in and dive a little deeper into something. The goal is to apply those standard questions and assessments to all of your applicants.

Another best practice is getting additional perspectives whenever possible. What I mean by that is as a hiring manager, always be the only person ever interviewing the talent you hire can create that groupthink. You’re hiring more of yourself, but the key to doing this successfully is picking the one or the group of people and that they are consistent throughout the process as well. You want to make sure that those additional perspectives are weighing every applicant through the process the same way.

It’s like a panel. Google does that.

They can be a little intimidating for applicants. It’s always good to make sure that people are comfortable when you start, let them know what to expect, and keep it casual. I am a big fan and advocate of panels. You mentioned red flags. Those are hard because it depends on the role. Red flags can manifest themselves differently, but when I take a step back and think about it, a couple of things come up that might be more general.

One for me is how someone speaks about their previous employer, leaders, and coworkers. It can be super telling. Asking a question about that is good to understand how they present information to you and how they interpret situations or scenarios. There’s always a little nugget of information and truth in there. The organizations that I have worked with, for the most part, have been highly mission-driven. Find people who are passionately aligned to the organization and what you’re doing.

Those who have taken a little bit of time to research the organization and understand foundationally what you do says a lot about the applicant and how they view this opportunity. Is this just a paycheck and a job for them that they need? Is this something that they’re going to be passionate about and aligned to? In my past careers and even this one, this is an important piece and component. I thought, “That’s a red flag for me if they don’t know anything about who we are and what we do.”

It’s funny. Before I interviewed for Imagineering, I didn’t know what Imagineering was. I googled it for my interview. I’m like, “They’re the ones who create the Disneyland and theme parks.” I thought they were on the engineering side but they do everything. I was like, “That is so cool.” It made me more nervous for my interview because I didn’t want to mess it up. They helped me connect to the mission.

I’m like, “I’ve been going to Disneyland since I was five. My favorite ride is the Haunted Mansion,” and stuff like that. I want to ask another question. Within the interviewing process, what about giving them a project? A lot of the time, people are good at BSing an interview. What are your thoughts there on giving them some type of work project to show that they can master it and understand their logic?

That’s great. It’s those standard questions on the assessments. However you define assessment, I’m a huge advocate for that. We have done things as simple as somebody who is applying for, let’s say, an administration job. One of the things that they have to do is be able to communicate effectively in writing. They have to be succinct, direct, and demonstrate their personality or that of the organization.

One of the things we have done is something as simple as, “Tell me how you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” It’s very broad. Most people know how to do that. The level of care and intention that they put and how explicit they get helps you get insight into how they can explain a company function. Also, how they’re going to let an applicant know how they should arrive at the interview and where they need to go. It’s that attention to detail.

We can get creative and fun with these assessments and how we are measuring it all the way to highly technical whiteboarding, “Here’s a problem. Let’s solve it as an engineer would.” They are incredibly useful and help you unpack how people think and how they approach problems and situations. That is critical information for how they’re going to perform in your job and, to your point, flush out some of the BS or persona they put on for the interview.

Much money and time go into finding those candidates, paying recruiters, and even interviewing. You’ve got a panel of people. If you look at their labor rate, that’s a lot of money if they’re interviewing 3 to 5 candidates. It’s so important because some people are good at sneaking through the cracks in the interview process. I see you’re laughing because you probably have seen something in your career where you’re like, “Why did we hire that person?” They interviewed well. My next question is this. What are your thoughts on performance reviews? Should they be annual? Should they be monthly? What are your thoughts there?

We should blow them up and start over. I see that when you look at the traditional application of performance review. The once-a-year is a tedious process. Nobody likes it and goes into this in the right headspace. They are important and there is a place for formal feedback opportunities, whether it’s feedback, feedforward, or bidirectional. I do think that they have a role. It’s how they’re executed. It needs to be reevaluated. One of our big projects in 2022 is to launch a new philosophy and review for 2023. We are deconstructing and reconstructing as we speak. This one is a hot topic for me.

It’s frustrating. As an employee, you get this annual performance review that your manager probably doesn’t want to do because they’re busy with other stuff. They bring stuff up throughout the year they didn’t tell you about, and they say, “You could improve doing this.” It’s like, “I would have if you told me about it eight months ago.” It seems very archaic.

How someone speaks about their previous leaders and coworkers can be super telling. You need to understand how they present information to you and how they interpret situations or scenarios. Click To Tweet

Gallup talks about these five critical conversations. These are pieces that we are trying to incorporate because it is about multiple and consistent touch points. Let’s say you start on one end of the spectrum. They’re hired or in a new position. That conversation is the job description, reviewing it, and setting expectations and the tone, but the most critical piece is when you talk about performance review and how you can break it down. It’s more into that consistent one-on-one, whether that’s biweekly, monthly, or quarterly. That, to me, is a real missing component for a lot of leaders.

It’s taking that time to have those mini-performance review opportunities. Check-in with them. How are they doing? Are they on track? How can you course correct? To your point, it’s addressing them in real-time and not at the end of the year looking back. Those kinds of one-on-ones can build. When you do the formal review, we’re looking at doing it biannually or twice a year. It’s a much more condensed version of the annual review. We’re looking at breaking it into two components. One is focusing on the goals and where they are from a metrics perspective on the goals of the department.

The other side is looking at their soft skills or their personal development and things like that. I don’t know that there’s any right answer for how often performance reviews should happen. It’s a balance of your organization, understanding it, and finding the right application for that organization. I do believe when Gallup talks about those five critical conversations and different touchpoints. They are all so important for the overall success of someone’s performance.

That’s very true, and to shift gears a little bit. I know you deal with this probably all the time. When you have two employees that are in conflict, and then the manager has to play mediator, what advice would you give for that? When you’re a first-time leader, they won’t teach you these things. A lot of times, it’s childish. They listen to the music too loud. We have all seen Office Space, “They stole my stapler.” What are your thoughts on that? What advice would you give?

You’re so right that that is not a skill that people train on. Much of it comes from experience because some of those examples are ridiculous. I’m trying to come up with that scenario to train on. It’s tough. These things are real problems to them like someone does steal their stapler. There has to be a level of meeting them where they’re at, “Here’s where we are. This is important to you. Let me understand it and solve it.” It was a relatively new concept for me, probably in the last few years. We worked with Pat Lencioni’s The Table Group, and they have this thing called Twice Around, Then Up.

You do it together. What that means is, “Did you talk to that person at least twice if your stapler went missing? Did you approach them and address it two times? If it’s not getting better, then you raise it to the manager.” The biggest part is that you bring that person with you. It’s like, “Bob, I need you to come with me. I would like us to go talk to my manager, Katie.” It’s that group conversation.

Teach managers how to set that expectation and ask that question, “You’re here talking about this issue. Have you talked to them about this?” Ask those questions and listen. There’s a lot of information that comes out when somebody is venting frustrations or complaining about somebody else. One of the biggest things we need to get better at is listening and asking the right questions. That’s a hard skillset to train on. That comes with role-playing, examples, and a lifetime of situations.

Hopefully, it’s stuff we learned in college or at least practiced. I remember when I was even a student. The students will come to me. They want to kick someone out of a group. I’m like, “What happened?” They said, “They didn’t answer a group text.” I said, “Did you try calling them?” They said, “No.” I said, “Call them.” A lot of the time, they’re having a personal issue.

I always say, “You have to have empathy because you don’t know what’s going on in their life.” Ninety percent of the time, it’s an empathy thing, “They’re working three jobs. The mom is sick.” Especially with COVID, you don’t know what’s happening with people. Even on this show, I’ve had people close to them pass away from COVID. You never know what’s going on in people’s lives when you get into conflict.

That’s so important. One of the things that immediately came to mind when you were talking about that was I read a book a few years ago, Radical Candor by Kim Scott. It’s about challenging directly but caring personally. To your point, you can care about people but you hold them accountable and have those direct conversations. It’s applicable both in the performance review topic as well as in managing conflict, but did you bring it up? Did you address it head-on? Most people are open to understanding how they’re being perceived by the group.

They need someone to take the opportunity and tell them. There could have been a million reasons why they didn’t respond. They weren’t responding or behaving appropriately. Let’s ask and have the conversation. Your role as a leader is to set those expectations of how you expect people to interact and engage with each other and the levels of professionalism that you want on your team. Hold people accountable and follow up on that. When you as a leader are clear about those expectations, it makes it then easy to manage, follow up, and revisit that.

It’s modeling it yourself. You can say, “I care about people,” but then you don’t.

It’s walking the walk.

It’s practicing what you preach. Mental health has been a big thing. It has always been but during the pandemic, we have seen these astronomical numbers of people that have been dealing with mental health challenges. Even in my Gen Z study, we found that depression and anxiety have gone up. Of the people we surveyed, 50% of them said it had gone up since they have been working remotely. Loneliness has gone up to 60%.

My question to you is this. From an HR perspective, what can employees do instead of handing them a stack of forms saying, “Figure it out.” A lot of managers aren’t even trained to deal with having folks on a team. If they’re dealing with mental health issues, what should they do? There are some legal things here and you will know that from an HR perspective. What advice would you give to those first-time managers that want to support their team from a mental health perspective?

There are so many different ways to tackle it. It’s even acknowledging that leaders, too, are having mental health issues and struggles. This is one thing in general that we talk about a lot at our organization. It’s important to talk about the employees and the individual contributors, but we have to also expand that and talk about the leaders too. They’re in it the same way.

You can care about people but hold them accountable. Click To Tweet

Mental health is something that impacts all of us. Talk about it. I hope that employers and other HR teams, whether they’re people ops, talent, or whatever name you want to call it, are opening the dialogue around mental health support and how we can help. Being in HR, we do have a ton of resources that are available to team members.

You have the right brokers. They help with that. To your point, it’s not like, “Here’s a stack of documents. Here’s a link. Follow it and figure it out.” We can help with that. As leaders, it’s creating a safe space for conversations to happen. That makes leaders very uncomfortable because I do think that there are those areas that you’ve got to stay away from or become slippery.

As a leader, be open to the conversation, be approachable, and then lean in on the experts and your HR team to help you navigate difficult conversations when it comes to medication or how their mental health is impacting their day-to-day life. You can be that safe spot initially, but you’ve got to know when to escalate those and loop in your HR team for sure.

I’ve heard from people that they have been able to get therapy during the pandemic. Is that also an option through healthcare providers? Do they typically offer therapy? Is that something that people could do?

It is becoming more prevalent across medical group offerings. Historically, that was not part of that medical coverage, but over the last few years, so much has happened that it’s starting to force that conversation around the benefits being offered. Some organizations still have to partner with a third party that bolts onto the standard medical, dental, and vision-type packages that address mental health, but those are available. Most organizations do have an Employee Assistance Group, an EAP, or a life assistance group. They have different names.

That always includes some form of confidential outreach for employees, whether that has to do with financial issues, family issues, divorce, or any life issue that could potentially impact you at your work. This is why these resources exist. It is to keep you at your best and support you through all the things life has to throw at you. There are a ton of resources. It’s just a matter of being able to ask for them and, as leaders, creating the environment that allows for that conversation to be supported.

I was talking to someone whose company provides them with therapy through their insurance provider. It has made this person’s life so much better during the pandemic. I got to see the impact. I wish more organizations could do it. It’s also people being willing to take the help that they need to get. Even as leaders, we need to be vulnerable and say, “I’m burnt out. I’m taking the day off.” I’ve said that before but as leaders, we need to emulate that.

There are mental health days. I’m a big advocate for taking those moments to pause, decompress, and disconnect. Even with my team acknowledging when they’re feeling stressed, that’s one of the things we do. I have a questionnaire that we go through when they first join my team, “How do I know when you’re stressed? What can I do to support you?” We talk about it before they’re in the moment but for some of them, it is that. They’re like, “I need to take a two-hour walk with my son and get grounded again.” Do it. You understand how people recharge and how they address stress at the moment because it’s inevitable. We all have moments of stress at times.

As leaders, it’s understanding what drives your employees and how you can support them and asking those questions when it’s not in the thick of it because sometimes, we don’t even know how we need help when we are feeling stressed and buried. As leaders, it’s important to have those conversations in a safe space. Those one-on-ones are a great opportunity to have them because they’re casual touchpoints. You can ask those types of questions, get to know who they are, and how to support them. That goes a long way as a leader in helping the mental health of your team.

Some people may not be open to that because they’re more private. They say, “I’m here whenever you need help.” On a completely unrelated question, what do we do when we have to let someone go? Luckily, I don’t think I’ve ever had to fire anyone before. What is your advice there? Documentation is important, but no one wants to let someone go.

Early on in my career, I was hired into an organization, and I supported mass layoffs. It was going through 400 meetings over the course of the year that I was there. There are ways that you can address somebody exiting the organization with thoughtful, intentional planning and preparation. You mentioned documentation. It’s a critical skill that people need to learn because it’s about how you document and, more importantly, what was the dialogue and conversation around that documentation that then escalated to the point of them leaving.

Your job at the point of termination should be easy, clean, and straightforward if you’ve done everything else right. That’s the hard part. In some cases, that’s the best-case scenario. In some cases, you don’t have that. If you’re a new manager, and this team member has been a certain way for years, and they have been allowed to get away with it for years, now you’ve got to address it. You don’t have all of that documentation and conversation to go off. You’re handed the situation to manage. I go back to challenging directly with care. If they know that it’s coming from a place of you care about them and want them to be successful, the conversations, even the termination, are manageable.

It’s also bringing in HR early too from the beginning.

We have standards and things established with those kinds of write-ups. Get us involved early because I do think it does help with navigating those conversations along the way but rarely are terminations, ugly or escalated, do happen. You have a pretty good pulse as to when those types of things turn ugly, but for the most part, they are always worse in your head. As leaders, it’s the preparation. It’s talking about it. This is where your HR team can be critical.

It’s something, to your point, that you as a leader maybe do once or never in your career. In HR, we support however many leaders. It’s hundreds or thousands depending on the organization where we do this every day. Talking about it with somebody, role-playing with somebody, getting it out of your head, and making it tangible helps so much and allows you to prepare and come into that meeting or that conversation with the right level-set.

That’s so helpful. Get HR involved earlier. The role-playing is big because you don’t want to make a mistake rather than going into it cold. The role-playing is huge. That’s a great tip. We’re in this Great Resignation still. What are your thoughts on what’s causing that? What advice would you give to organizations and employees?

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We are all feeling the Great Resignation. It was interesting. I don’t remember the source of where I heard this. It was about the shift of the mindset as the employer from the Great Resignation to the Great Realization. It so resonated with me from the employer’s perspective. When you’re thinking about your employees’ experience and their relationship with you as the employer, it is such an opportunity for employers to challenge the way they have thought about work, benefits, and packages differently.

I see left and right that there are companies out there throwing money at the situation, “We will pay you more.” They’re paying crazy wages for entry-level positions. Not every employer is going to be able to compete with that. To me, it comes down to paying fairly and competitively and reevaluating those total compensation packages. Get outside of the box and think about things. That’s where that inclusivity comes in.

Survey your workforce, understand what’s motivating them, driving them, and connecting them to your workplace. Who are the ones that you want to ensure you’re retaining, and then who do you want to attract? This is a real opportunity for employers to reevaluate a whole lot of stuff. To me, it’s not press-the-panic-button. Everyone is leaving, so you start throwing spaghetti at the wall. It’s a real opportunity to ask questions, seek understanding, learn, bring that back to the drawing board, and get creative.

Would you say culture has a big piece to play there?

I do think that culture is going to ultimately go out here. We have applicants all the time who have two offers. They’re looking at making $4 or $5 an hour or more somewhere else because we can’t compete with that. Through their experience with us and the interview process, they get a taste of who we are as an employer. They, more often than not, are taking opportunities to join our organization. It’s culture. When you’re talking about any generation, the pandemic has forced a lot of rethinking of what’s important to people, what they’re looking for from their employers and out of their life. It’s important to ask those questions and create the right environment that allows people to flourish and be flexible.

Within a culture, what’s that secret sauce that’s making them turn down the extra money? When you’re young, it’s tough to turn down extra money, especially living in Southern California.

That’s a good call-out. It does depend on the level. I do think that in some of our entry-level positions, we do not see that as much as management or higher-level positions because they understand the value of the culture over the dollar. Maybe they’re multiple-income households. It does play a very big difference when you are young, single, and trying to start your life. Cash is king at that point. I do think that’s an important call-out. Employers do need to be mindful of that and make sure that they are paying competitively.

In terms of the secret sauce for culture, there are a hundred different answers and ways that you can look at this, but it does have to be specific to your organization because I do think that there are some professions and industries that value different things, norms, and environments as it relates to their culture. For example, coming from tech, they want to do what they do. They want to be creative, be left alone, and do their thing.

They don’t necessarily want to be in a culture where it can be perceived as intrusive when they want to know everything about your life, your family, and that interpersonal connection. I do think you have to be mindful as an employer that the industry and the roles you’re trying to attract and retain align. With that said, culture is about an experience you want your employees to have with you, how people can help shape that as leaders, and understanding what it is about the culture.

I know where you’re going. Those are the underlying issues based on the survey and what makes it unique. Is it telecommuting, free food, or tuition reimbursement? A lot of people do things outside of their normal work. It’s having side gigs within the company, job rotation programs, and things like that.

That all goes back to understanding your workforce, as an employer, and what you’re capable of because the last thing you want to do as an employer is to offer something that’s misaligned. Bring in the food checks and free snacks, pat yourself on the back, and be like, “Look how cool we are. We’ve got an awesome culture.” People are like, “Pay me an extra $1 an hour. How about we cover more medical benefits?” You have to be aware and strategic in how you’re approaching those types of benefits, perks, and employer branding pieces.

What do you think the future of work is or where work is? I see you’re at home. I see your dog in the background hanging out. Do you see it being remote, in-person, or hybrid? I know that depends on the industry but what are your thoughts there?

Coming into the organization that I’m in now, historically, it has been all about the in-person. The pandemic was a huge shift for this organization. What the future holds? I don’t know. If I had a crystal ball to predict that, I could be a bazillionaire because we have so much yet to see. The pandemic was a pendulum. It went from one extreme to the other. We’ve got to find where it is going to settle. We can look at historical data and Gallup. They talk about how hybrid is the way to go. It’s the balance. It’s the 2 days in the office and 3 days at home. That’s ideal for employee engagement.

Is that going to be the case in six months, a year, or a year and a half after things settle? I don’t know. I do know that as an employer that flexibility and adaptability are important. Understanding your workforce is critical. We are employing the hybrid approach because it’s the best of both worlds. Whether it remains to be the ideal for employee engagement long-term, it’s important for now as part of that transition out of the pandemic into a new normal. To your comment earlier on mental health and that connectivity, it’s seeing people every day.

I love that I get to spend a couple of days a week at home with my dog, but he is so over me and his face in the conversations. I’m talking to my pet all day long, rattling around in my house. There’s a great benefit to people connecting again and getting back in person at some frequency, whether it’s twice a week or once a month. I do think that human connection and bonds are important for the vast majority of people. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that it’s going to continue trending somewhere in the middle around this hybrid.

It could vary for each person. You could have hybrid but if you want to come in every day, that’s cool too. A lot of innovation happens. It can happen virtually but you run into someone in the break room, “Let’s go grab a lunch.” How many good conversations have you had over lunch with some of your colleagues in your career?

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If you’re familiar with Gallup and Q12, one of the questions is, “Is your best friend at work?” It’s hard to develop and find your best friend at work virtually. It’s not impossible but it’s different and difficult. If you’re an organization that has historically been in person, that’s a big jump to make and a big shift to find ways to connect with people that maybe you never meet in person. Some people are terrified by that. Some people are excited.

It’s funny, too, because looking at a hybrid approach, it would be cool to take Friday and Thursday work virtually from Vegas. I’m in a hotel room. I had a client that was doing that. I thought that was pretty fun, “We’re in Vegas. It’s a family member’s birthday.” She’s working virtually from one of the hotels in Vegas. As Millennials, we like to travel and experience things. That would be a huge attraction, and then also with Gen Z on experiencing new things.

It’s not just about where you’re working but about when you’re working. There are some jobs or responsibilities where they don’t have the flexibility to roll in at 9:00, 10:00, or noon. They’re set to a schedule because they’re customer-facing, for example. That can complicate this flex, but I do think employers need to start to think about things differently and figure out how they can accommodate that. For a hybrid to be successful, it has to be about doing their work differently. They can’t be doing the same things in the office that they’re doing at home, as an employer expect them to find value in coming into the office. It’s finding those opportunities to connect differently when you’re in person. If their day looks the same, it will probably not be as successful.

It’s a different work environment and a different approach. The last question for the day is this. What advice would you give to someone who got just promoted or is graduating college that you wish you knew earlier? They just entered the workforce. It doesn’t have to be college.

Somebody said this to me probably two jobs ago as I was transitioning. I was like, “I wish I had known that.” It’s knowing who you are. Identify yourself separate and apart from your work and figure out what your values are, what drives you, and what motivates you. When you know and understand that, you can then seek out the employer that’s going to align most closely. That is where you find fulfillment in what you’re doing every day.

If you don’t know that about yourself and if you don’t take the time to explore those concepts and hold yourself accountable to them, then you can get yourself caught up in that grind very easily, not know when to pull away or go all-in, or maybe get jaded, which happens to a lot of people. It’s knowing who you are and those values and aligning your interests with your skills. Those are important concepts that seem fluffy and older generations may not have valued them. As we look at Millennials, Gen Z-ers, and even future workforces, it has been figuring that out, bringing that balance to your life and continuity.

Would you say that the StrengthsFinder is a good tool that they could go out and find that out?

StrengthsFinder is a great resource. I also worked with a previous organization, Roadtrip Nation. They focus on aligning your interest and skills to a career. They have assessments and ways in which you can approach it very differently. Years ago, when they started, that was fluffy. It was on the cutting edge of it. It’s becoming more of the norm and the approach that people are taking. They’re also a great resource for young professionals looking to figure out what they want to do with their life.

Katie, we compressed all of HR into this episode. This is so important because a lot of this stuff they don’t train you about or teach you when you get promoted as a first-time manager. You take the sexual harassment training. That’s mandatory usually when you’re supervising people but a lot of these things like conflict, interviewing, and firing are important to understand so you don’t make mistakes. A lot of people maybe don’t want to be leaders anymore because they don’t understand the technical management side of the job. Thank you, Katie, so much for being here. Good luck with all the projects that you’re doing in the next year or so.

Thank you for having me.

Thank you so much. Have a great rest of the day. I’ll say goodbye to your dog. What’s your dog’s name?

His name is Butters.

Bye, Butters.

Thank you.


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