Driving Employee Engagement Through True Connection

Town Hall Insights
San Francisco CHRO Community

Amy Leschke-Kahle

VP Performance Acceleration

The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP Company


Brian Sherman

Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer

Delta Dental


Sira Laurel

Director of Talent and Culture

Sherwood Food Distributors


Amy Dickinson

Senior Director Human Resources

VSP Global

APRIL 2023

In Evanta’s annual Leadership Perspective Survey, hundreds of CHROs revealed they feel as if they are working in paradox, increasingly being asked to reduce costs while driving growth and employee satisfaction at the same time. In this ever-changing economy, there isn’t a playbook for success, and many HR leaders are shifting their strategies to focus on connection and belonging to engage an already exhausted workforce.

To gain new ideas and validate strategies, CHROs in the San Francisco Community recently came together for a Town Hall to discuss their various approaches for fostering purpose and connection at their organizations. The program was moderated by Amy Leschke-Kahle, VP Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP Company, and San Francisco CHRO Governing Body Members were the discussion leaders: Brian Sherman, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer at Delta Dental; Sira Laurel, Director of Talent and Culture at Sherwood Food Distributors; and Amy Dickinson, Senior Director Human Resources at VSP Global.

During this engaging conversation, human resources leaders explored how to help employees utilize their individual strengths to do their best work, best practices for leveraging employee data and intelligence, and tactics for recognition, recruitment, and retention.

The “New Rules” for Employee Engagement

Amy Leschke-Kahle kicked off the program by outlining the current world of work and how CHROs can shift their approach to meet the needs of a burnt out workforce. CHROs are stewards of the organization’s talent and they need to assess the talent practices they put in place to see if they are truly getting a return on investment. She mentioned how the “old rules” of improving ROI - training, restructuring, benefits - no longer apply, and research from the Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP company, has identified three “new rules” that HR leaders should consider.

The first is “strengths over skills.” Organizations that focus on identifying and utilizing employee strengths over a set of skills are more likely to have a workforce with emotional connections to their roles. Amy refers to this as being “all-in” or fully engaged, and engaged employees are more likely to be productive and stay with the company.

The second rule is to focus on team membership over teamwork. Teamwork is defined as a group of people having equal contribution to a project or task, and in contrast, team membership acknowledges the strengths of each individual. Here, each member offers their strengths where they can provide the biggest contribution, and this shift in thinking gives the individual a greater sense of purpose and value.

The third rule is about frequency over complexity. Amy shared that there is a correlation between employees who are “all-in” and the amount of attention they receive from their manager. She noted that while “frequency” is relative, the data shows that a light touch, weekly check-in results in the biggest lift in engagement. She said employees tend to be more engaged when managers frequently ask these three questions: What are your priorities? How can I help? How are you feeling?

Key Takeaways from the Discussion

Participants split into small groups to further discuss how they can foster connection among the workforce. These are the key takeaways: 

  1. Demonstrate Stability to Put the Workforce at Ease: Workforce fatigue was a top area of discussion. With the economy in flux, one group shared that many employees are in a “threat state,” and as a first step, HR leaders need to showcase the stability of the organization to allow them to feel comfortable that their job is secure. For long-term stability, they emphasized that HR leaders need to prioritize developing career paths to help employees see a future with the company.

  2. Listen to the Workforce to Drive Employee Engagement: There was consensus among HR leaders that improving employee engagement is a top goal. One CHRO said, “It’s not about getting more from the workforce. It’s about getting them engaged, and the productivity and efficiencies will follow.” Another HR leader added that to achieve this, it’s critical to truly listen to the workforce to learn what matters most to them. 

Others chimed in with ways they are making a positive impact by listening to employees. Personalization was a hot topic, and others of note include providing flexibility and additional resources. One CHRO shared that they are now providing “wellness days” instead of sick days to acknowledge this difficult time for employees and show they care about them as humans.

Despite understanding the need to listen to employees, many HR leaders are challenged by a disconnect between the needs of the workforce and the C-suite, and it is tough to balance. Influencing the C-suite when they face resistance is one of their greatest obstacles.

  1. Leverage Data & Analytics: The best way to garner employee sentiment and collect information to influence the C-suite is through employee data. They may not have the most extensive resources, but one CHRO noted that they can still focus on low hanging fruit, like employee sentiment surveys that are fairly easy to conduct, to get actionable insights quickly.

Continue the Conversation

The San Francisco CHRO Community will be meeting in-person for a full day of connection and learning at the San Francisco CHRO Executive Summit on May 11.

Apply to join your local Evanta CHRO Community to connect with likeminded C-level executives and discuss the mission critical priorities impacting human resources leaders today. Take a look at the calendar to see when your CHRO community is gathering next, here.

by CHROs, for CHROs

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