The Next Big Question


Episode 5
Hosted by: Drew Lazzara and Liz Ramey

Jacqueline Welch

SVP, CHRO, & Chief Diversity Officer

Freddie Mac

Prior to her role at Freddie Mac, Jacqueline served as senior vice president of human resources for Turner Broadcasting System and held senior leadership positions with Rock-Tenn Company and Accenture.

How Do You Prepare Your Organization to Get Comfortable with Uncertainty?


SEPTEMBER 2, 2020

This conversation on the Next Big Question features Jacqueline Welch, chief human resources officer and chief diversity officer at Freddie Mac. Jacqueline discusses the overlapping pandemics of a global health crisis and racial injustice. She reflects on what this moment has taught her about resilience and how organizations can embrace agility.

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Drew Lazzara (00:14):

Welcome to The Next Big Question, a weekly podcast with senior business leaders, sharing their vision for tomorrow, brought to you by Evanta, a Gartner company.

Liz Ramey (00:24):

Each episode features a conversation with C-suite executives about the future of their roles, organizations, and industries.

Drew Lazzara (00:33):

My name is Drew Lazzara.

Liz Ramey (00:35):

And I'm Liz Ramey. We're your co-hosts. So, Drew, what's The Next Big Question?

Drew Lazzara (00:40):

Well, Liz, this week, we're asking, how do you prepare your organization to get comfortable with uncertainty? To help us tackle this big question is Jacqueline Welch, who is the senior vice president, chief human resources officer and chief diversity officer at Freddie Mac. Prior to taking on this role, Jacqueline has served as the senior vice president of human resources for Turner Broadcasting System and has held senior leadership positions with Rock-Tenn Company and Accenture. Uncertainty is a term that covers a lot of ground. For businesses, uncertainty is anything unforeseen or unpredictable. By definition, uncertainty is hard to get comfortable with, but it's also perhaps the defining feature of 2020. 

Throughout her career, Jacqueline has always excelled at being the connection point between employees and leadership. So it's no surprise that her approach to getting comfortable with uncertainty focuses on the humanity of her workforce. In our conversation, Jacqueline discusses the overlapping pandemics of a global health crisis and racial injustice. She reflects on how this moment has framed her thinking about resilience and the ways organizations can embrace ambiguity by placing the needs of human beings first. 

Before our conversation with Jacqueline, we wanted to thank you for listening this week. To make sure you don't miss out on the next Next Big Question, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Take a moment to rate and review the show, so we can continue to grow and improve. Thanks, again, and enjoy. 

Well, Jacqueline Welch, thank you so much for being on The Next Big Question. Welcome to the show.

Jacqueline Welch (02:28):

Thank you very much for the invitation to join you. I'm delighted to be here.

Liz Ramey (02:32):

We are so happy that you're here with us. And we know from doing our research, getting to know you a little bit, that you have received so many accolades in your life, really highlighting your leadership and your path to being a business leader. We also want to get to know you a little bit on the personal side. So, I have a couple of questions that I'd like to ask just to get to know you personally. Is that okay?

Jacqueline Welch (02:56):

Works perfectly fine for me.

Liz Ramey (02:58):

So, the first question I have for you is -- what would you like to be known for?

Jacqueline Welch (03:04):

What a great question. So, it may sound a little morbid, but I actually enjoy reading obituaries. I think they are highly instructive, and they are amazing reminders to live until you die. One of my favorite obituaries said simply, 'He tried his damnedest.' And I just liked that for its simplicity and the subtle, not-so-subtle reminder that in everything you do, you ought to be endeavoring to do it at your best. So that's what I would like to be remembered for -- that in every instance, I tried to do my best.

Liz Ramey (03:50):

What's your proudest moment that you've had in your life outside of work?

Jacqueline Welch (03:56):

So, I am a wife and mother, and I actually self-describe as a wife and mother who happens to work outside of the home. And, prior to having children, I think I would demure when people would call out your children or their children's achievements as their proudest moments. But now here I am -- a mom. And despite my consternation prior to, I do often think about just how proud I am of my children, not so much for their achievements, which there are many of them. They're 14 and 10 and are smart and sociable and all these kinds of things. My pride in them, though, comes from who they are becoming as people. And so most recently, I heard them disagreeing about something. I didn't catch all of it 'cause I eavesdrop without being obvious about it. So sometimes I only get the snippets, I don't get the full context. But the part that really just made me feel a swell of pride was the younger one, saying something along the lines of 'Well, you're going to have to explain that, James. You're going to have to explain how I offended you. That wasn't what I intended to do.' And I just had this moment of 'Wait, they understand this idea of offense.' And you know, rather than rolling with -- I'm angry and now you're angry -- there was this pause of, 'Well, you're going to have to explain that to me 'cause I didn't -- I obviously didn't mean to offend you. So how did I manage to do that?' And they were having this very calm exchange around -- you've offended me, and now, you need to explain it and own up to that. And I just felt like, wow, I think they're going to be okay. They're going to be okay with conflict and resolving conflict. And I was just so happy. It was like two days ago. So it's fresh. So that's partly why I'm like all over it. But yeah.

Liz Ramey (05:52):

You know, I have an eight-year-old son, and he'd been listening to the last couple months, a podcast designed for kids called Smash Boom Best. And they help set up arguments, right? So that, would you rather have the invisibility power or flying power, right? And so it kind of teaches you how to set up your argument -- and same thing. You know, I thought this is great. This is really going to help him set up his argument. And when he has conflict, he'll be able to think through it and resolve it. And now it's kind of turning around and biting me... because he's using it to resolve our conflict.

Jacqueline Welch (06:32):

It's true. There are those moments where you're like, 'Well, I did raise him to be this way, and here it is being turned back on me.' So, there's that.

Liz Ramey (06:39):

Oh my goodness. So funny.

Drew Lazzara (06:42):

Well, Jacqueline, thanks so much for sharing a bit about who you are and how you look at the world. And I actually think it's a great primer for our conversation today because we're here to talk about how you can prepare your organization to get comfortable with uncertainty. And I would imagine that parenthood is a great training ground for getting used to uncertainty, in a lot of different ways. And obviously this is a good time for this particular conversation as our society grapples with the global pandemic, while at the same time, we're also experiencing large numbers of people engaging in activism for racial justice across the country. And these are complex circumstances that make the future difficult to see and really hard to plan for from a business point of view. So, I'm really excited to hear how a human resources leader like yourself guides a company through that context. But, before we dive into that big question, I'd love to learn a bit more about how you became an HR executive?

Jacqueline Welch (07:38):

Such a delicious question. So, it requires going a little bit back in history when dinosaurs still were on the earth. So I was a pre-med major, of all things, and you know, I'm from a working class family. I always worked to finance my way through school. And the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I went to work for the local chapter of the Urban League in the employment department. And essentially what they did was they would be bridged between local residents and big corporations looking to hire local residents. And we did job readiness, and we helped people prepare for interviews and write resumes and all these kinds of things. Very small department -- a director, myself as an intern, and an admin. And the director had to take leave. And while she was gone, I was named the interim director of the department, which can only happen in a nonprofit 'cause here I am a college student, what do I know about being a director? But the value of sharing that piece is while the director was away, I got to touch all facets of the work of this department. And the first individual that I sourced and got ready and placed for a position. It was with yellow freight trucking company -- I'll never forget it. And once this gentleman completed successfully his 60-day probation, he came back to the office. And this was a gorgeous, tall, very masculine black man, and he was open-face crying. And he said to me, 'I want to thank you for giving me a way to provide for my family.' 

And even talking about it now, and it's 30 years ago, it still makes me lumpy in the throat. But it was the first time that I really, deeply in my marrow, recognized and appreciated the value of work to a person's self-worth and identity. And, I just thought, I want a career -- and it was called Personnel back then -- because remember dinosaurs were still roaming the earth. So I, at that point, like that was the moment where I thought -- I want to be part of this. I want to be part of people having dignity in their work and being able to provide for their family. So, I changed majors, and from that point forward sort of pursued HR, but I changed my major to an English major, which has no practical utility beyond being able to speak and write well, but so it is. But went on to work in retail as my first job out of school as a buyer with Lord & Taylor, which at the time was a division of the May Department Stores Company and earned a master of science in human resources part time at night. And then from there, went on to work for Towers Perrin, which at that time was sort of the premier consulting firm pertaining to issues related to human resources. So it was -- I did consulting for a total of seven years. So between three years in retail and seven years in consulting, it was a full 10 years before I actually became an HR person, which is kind of ironic. But the consulting certainly set me up, I think, for relative success. That's a long answer to your story, but I -- anytime I get asked, I always have to chuckle because it's not the most intuitive or straight line.

Drew Lazzara (11:11):

No, but it's -- I think it seems like such a fortunate experience to have had that emotional connection to someone finding a job so early in your career. For about six years, I did staffing and recruiting, and we actually kind of specialized partly in doing kind of second chance people -- people who had had a criminal history or were having a tough time in the market because of their record and things like that. And to help those people find opportunities was a really powerful experience, too. And it's something that I think a lot of people don't consider just because everyone's got a thousand things happening in their own lives, but it was a big source of empathy for me to be able to see experiences that I had no access to in my own life. And to be able to find out what the meaning of work was for them in terms of dignity and value. I think that was a formative experience for me, too. So, I can see how it led you on this particular path.

Jacqueline Welch (12:03):

Yeah, and I really relish that you used the word empathy because in my view human resources professionals particularly have to have empathy in overflow, right? Because so much of who people are, they bring that complete profile to work. And if you're dealing with them, you've got to have a deep wellspring of empathy. That's a beautiful way to put it.

Drew Lazzara (12:30):

Well, and I imagine empathy will be a big part of what we talk about today. But, as a C-suite leader, thinking about uncertainty, a big part of your responsibilities, along with your peers in the C-suite, kind of creating that tone for how your organization is going to respond. So, I wanted to start by asking you a little bit about how you and your fellow C-suite leaders prepare the organization for uncertainty. When you think about the priorities that you set, when the future isn't as clear as you'd like it to be, how do you think about those priorities? How do you help other leaders set the tone for the entire organization in terms of what they're going to be emphasizing and what's most critical to start with and proceed from?

Jacqueline Welch (13:07):

It's such a great question and so beautifully layered and nuanced. So I would start by a little bit of a disclaimer and say, I try to influence my peers, the degree to which I'm successful, you'll have to ask them, right? But partly, I start from the position of, I think for the longest time intellectually, we have all accepted this notion of -- we have no control over tomorrow, right? Like we comport our lives with a little bit of hubris around -- yes, tomorrow is promised to no one. Carpe Diem and dah, dah, dah. But I think we're now living it because this is certainly the first time that I can recall as an adult having complete control over nothing. If in fact we ever had control over anything. So that's like another sort of prone while some therapist works through that with you. But so I think as a business leader, one of the things that I heavily focus on using the pandemic as an example is people will say 'when things return to normal.' And I will routinely say, 'I don't know that there is a normal after this.' There will be a new normal, we are evolving, but I think what we have to accept now as true is that we're always in a state of flux. We're always evolving, and normal really is a fiction in our heads, right? 

And you know, in talking to my children, I'll give you an example. You know, you recall they're 14 and 10. And, our ten-year-old was asking me about 9/11 and how long did it take for things to get back to normal? And I said, 'You know, honey, I don't know that it ever went back to quote normal.' And then, I tried to explain to him how once a time you could stroll into an airport and walk right to your gate. There was no security check. There was no interest in water. There was, I mean, there was none of this, and he kind of looked at me like, that's kind of insane. How did you know you were safe, right? But if you'd asked anybody on September 10th, would they have expected that they would have said no? So to bring it current, I go, we're in this pandemic. Rather than hold ourselves captive to this notion of 'returning to normal,' let's exist where we are and think about -- if the pandemic continues, how is what we're doing now, how do we sort of embed this as standard operating procedure? What will change? 

I've challenged my team all the time. Okay, we've been in this remote environment for four months. There are things that we no longer do as a result of -- oh, okay, now that that's not available to us, we realize it actually added no value. My talent acquisition team in a period of 48 weekend hours figured out how to onboard 20 new employees virtually, which took out a lot of stuff we'd been doing previously, just because that's how we did it. And now we realize, oh, we don't actually need to do that. The number of things that have gotten digitize and number of processes that we have collapsed as a result of being remote. So, that's a long answer, but really the top line for me is to normalize change, normalize incoming, that you have no control over, and observe, okay, this is happening, what's the response, and what's the shelf life of that response. As opposed to, this is a temporary thing.

Liz Ramey (16:30):

As you speak about normalizing change, I'm curious about how you as a member of the C-suite and HR leader prepare the enterprise to be resilient? In particular, during times like these, where we've seen a groundswell of social injustices being highlighted across our institutions, all while trying to manage through a global viral pandemic?

Jacqueline Welch (16:54):

There's two things I would say, specific to the ground swell of civil unrest associated with racial inequality and inequity. You know, Freddie Mac turns 50 years old this week. And I'm quite fond of 50 having turned 50 this year and myself, right? And so, for a very long time, the company has been rightly focused on creating a workplace where people can be their full selves and therefore deliver on the mission. So, one thing I think is important to say is any organization that's only now thinking about these issues is already behind the eight ball. And so, they would do well to sort of pull up and think about how one, how do we catch up? And then two, what does catch up look like? And then three, how do we staff an organization that will be focused on achieving these things that we now have a recognition that we're behind on? So, that's sort of a summary of how I think about inclusion and diversity specifically. 

To the point of resilience, it's really another really delicious, layered and nuanced question 'cause I think about resilience in two ways. I think about the resilience of our structures and our technology. We now know that we can successfully work remotely. So, I think there is this question around resiliency of technology structures, systems, and processes. That's a little bit more manageable. The real question is resiliency of individuals. And here is where work really is a human-to-human contact sport. One of the things that I've noticed in our environment, when meetings start now, there's this genuine interest around how are you? And not just how are you, fine. Or, how are you, the cat died, oh, sorry to hear that, moving on. But genuine how are you and how are you today? I know when I interact with my folks, I'm always asking the question around, do you have capacity? Is this something you can deliver on immediately or no? Set my expectations about what's reasonable on this deliverable. 

And so the resilience I think gets built by the inquiry. The asking of the question, what is available to you today with respect to your work? Do we need to configure things differently because you have a child that needs a little extra assistance with this virtual learning, or you have a individual in your home who needs to be attended to because they're sick or maybe you're sick. And so, I think in some ways the pandemic, and I'm thinking very specifically of the viral pandemic, has made us more human because we have to check in with people to again, determine where are you today? And what's your capacity to get the work done that's on our docket?

Liz Ramey (19:34):

Jacqueline, there is a big portion of the workforce that we see as frontline managers, and they have to kind of -- they really sit in the middle of really understanding that business strategy and what the needs and that those productivity needs are of the business. And, being able to have that really empathetic, personal conversation with the people that report to them. So, what are you doing at Freddie Mac to make sure that the importance of these frontline managers and their mental well-being and their growth stays at the front of what you're focused on? And make sure that this is an important effort?

Jacqueline Welch (20:21):

Yeah, that's another great question. So, it's interesting because I do feel as if the, both the viral pandemic and the racial pandemic are putting stress on our people managers hitherto unseen, right? Because when I think about the number of questions I get asked where the default answer is, talk to your immediate supervisor. You get this question around, I need time off, or what do I do about vacation? And these are not questions I can answer to the level of specificity that are being asked. You literally have to talk to your immediate supervisor, and this is a routine and routine and not a putoff, but it's the right answer, right? And so to your point, one is, ironically enough prior to COVID, we had developed a learning and development intervention specific to first-time people managers. And it was designed to cover the tactical, technical, functional elements of being a people manager, but then also the qualitative things, giving feedback in a timely way, giving feed forward so that people are set up for success, having both the formal informal performance check-ins et cetera. When I tell you this thing is brilliantly conceived and lovingly designed, and then COVID happened, and you go, so much for that because it was meant to be in-person, in cohort groups of 25. I mean, it was just beautiful, right? So, now it's shelved because we can't do it in the way that we want. So, we quickly reassembled and figured out what are the micro-learning versions of that content that we can deliver to our folks. I've partnered with our chief legal counsel. We're going to do a podcast-like delivery of micro content to these folks on these topics. 

But the care and feeding of the first-line supervisor is everything in a pandemic environment or no. And I think most organizations historically overlook the importance of that connective tissue. The prevailing behavior in most organizations is -- we have a fantastic individual contributor and truly you're great at what you do. I know we'll promote you. We'll give you 10 people, and you'll sprinkle confetti on them, and they'll be just like you. But the difference between an individual contributor and a leader of people is vast, and we don't invest enough in helping people make that leap, and sort of shoring them up for higher levels of success. So, that's another long answer, but essentially it's, we doubled down on really giving our first line supervisors, the tools they need to be successful. 

And the other thing that was baked into your question, I can't let pass is this whole idea of mental well-being. At Freddie Mac, long before the pandemic, we had started on a journey of taking mental wellness out of the shadows and partnered with NAMI locally to really think about -- how do we make mental well-being part and parcel of total well-being. Talk about it in the same way we talk about financial preparedness, the same way we would be talking about your physical health, et cetera. So we were ahead of the curve. And even now in this pandemic environment, the epidemiologists are talking about a resurgence in the fall. And my personal belief and conviction is that there will be a second wave, but the wave will actually be mental wellness being an issue because I think people are starting to run low on resilience and grit. And so, we've already done the groundwork of working with our providers, our EAP providers, our mental well-being providers to make sure that we're staffed adequately. And in addition, inside of that staffing, to make sure that the counselors are diverse so that we have good representation of black and African-American counselors and ethnic counselors and gender diverse counselors, so that our folks have that as optionality. And we're doing everything we can to communicate to our people that this is a resource that is available to you. If you are having difficulty coping or you need a third-party, objective person to help you problem solve, these are the resources that are available to use. So we're doing, we're continuing on the journey of normalizing this conversation of mental well-being.

Liz Ramey (24:44):

That's fantastic. You hinted there about some tools that you've developed to help people talk through issues or struggles that they're having with their mental well-being. Can you also talk a bit about the activities and the tools that you've operationalized for your people managers to help them talk through kind of historically and culturally difficult topics, such as race and social inequities?

Jacqueline Welch (25:11):

Yeah. So that's a great centerpiece to talk about what Freddie Mac has and continues to do in response to the civil unrest. I mean, so it's interesting because you live your life forward and you understand it backwards. The common term being used now is organizations are talking about having these 'courageous conversations.' So I suppose we are by default having 'courageous conversations.' Our CEO was quick on the draw to put out a very definitive statement about what Freddie Mac stands for, as it relates to race. You know, it's in the DNA of our mission. You know, we're looking to put people in homes, and we don't do that in a discriminatory manner. So I think just by virtue of the mission, we have people who are focused on race and equity in housing as a default because it's part of the work that we do. 

But nevertheless, our CEO did not miss the opportunity to put out a definitive statement about -- here is where Freddie Mac stands relative to race and racial equity. Our division leaders followed right behind. It's one thing to get the message from on high. It's another thing to get the message from your immediate divisional leaders. And they all hit the ground running to convene, not only our black and African-American colleagues, but we have done that, but also creating a space and time for non-blacks and African-Americans to talk about -- what's our role here? How do we engage our folks? How do we check in and do so in a way that's respectful and value add? 

And so, one of the things that we're doing, and I don't know the author, it's important for me to say this, I get no kickback. But White Fragility is a book that we are in the process of making available to our VPs and above. And we're going to have structured discussions about the book and sort of the action items we can take at the personal level. So, we've done that. We've done all the things that you've read about, but again, for us, it's a continuation of a conversation we've been having for at least a 10 in a formal way for 10 of the 50 years that Freddie Mac has been in existence. So for us, it's a -- I don't want to say it's a non-event because that is strident -- but it's not the inflection event, right? It puts into the discussion more, but it's always ongoing. And, the last thing I would say about that is, we have a long history of doing the right thing as it relates to equality, in whatever point in the conversation. We can talk about specifics, but this is a company that's committed to equality in every, in every way.

Liz Ramey (27:53):

Actually just finished maybe two weeks ago, White Fragility.

Jacqueline Welch (27:56):

It's enjoying a resurgence. I tell you what, I mean, the book is like two or three years old, and now it's apparently hard to even get a copy.

Drew Lazzara (28:03):

Jacqueline, I want to circle a little bit of back to this kind of relationship between the business and employees as transmitted by some of these frontline managers. And one of the things I feel like is a really big change now is the collision of people's home life with their work life in a way that wasn't as visible as it was before. And, there's also just so much stress that people are living with on a constant basis. And that tends to be the thing that makes uncertainty the most, I guess, potent force for the negative in your life and in your business. So, what have you learned about that relationship between the work life and the home life for your employees? Has there anything that struck you or surprised you about the way people have blended those two things, and does that blending make you approach how you lead people differently?

Jacqueline Welch (28:51):

So, you are speaking to someone... One of my least favorite terms in the existence of human language is 'work-life balance.' I just fundamentally have a problem with it. Primarily because in my view, it equates life and work as equals. And I personally, I may get a lot of fulfillment out of work. A lot of my identity is tied to my work, but my work is a facet of my whole life. It's not equal to my life. And so 'work-life balance' in my view sort of centers the conversation in not a good way. So, having said that, it's too big an ocean for me to boil down myself. So, I've got to swim in it, even though I'm like, this water sucks. This is the wrong conversation. 

Having said that, one of the things I've come to appreciate now, four months into this, to the viral pandemic and six to eight weeks into the racial one is this idea of work-life balance is contingent on where you are in your life. Case in point, just this week, I was having a conversation with one of my middle-aged, cis-gendered male peers. And he said, 'Well, you know, how are you doing? Because I'm personally feeling like this is the least stressed I've been in the last 20 years of my career.' And you know, this is an imminently decent man. And it's important to say that. There was nothing malicious about him, just a good guy. And I have to say, well, partly, you know, at your age, I'm assuming that you are my age, maybe slightly north of that, your hard work in parentheses is behind you. You've built your career. You have older children. Yeah, so you're not experiencing the stressors of somebody who maybe is 10 years your junior, with younger children, further in the beginning of their career than you are, trying to establish themselves. Had a plan of action that's been colossally disrupted by this thing called COVID, plus protest in the streets. So you're in a different place. And he accepted the point. 

And I'm saying it here because this view of work-life balance is not a monolith. It literally looks different to every person for whom it's a conversation. Our children are 10 and 14. They don't need my attention when they’re working on their school work in quite the same way they probably would have if they were five and eight. And I can't imagine what it would be like to have a baby at home now or toddler while trying to do this job. My husband and I are at places in our life where we have a large enough home where everybody has a workstation, in parentheses, someplace that they can spread out and get what they need to get done without being on top of each other. That's not the case in every scenario. 

So as a leader, the thing that I'm most attempted to attentive to is to not make these broad assumptions about what work-life balance looks like for most people. I have people that cannot wait to come back to the physical office because they'll be able to work and focus in a way that they can at home for any number of reasons. I've got other people who were like, look, you call me when the vaccine's ready and most Americans have taken it and survived. And I'd be that person. I'm like, let's do it in alpha order, W, call me when T's are done and let me know how they're doing. But that's, I'm in a very different place. And so as a leader, I go back to my earlier comments around, I think the pandemics have made us more human because we have to check in at the person level. And we cannot default to these broad, sweeping policies with the idea or the imagination that one size will fit all. That's clearly not the case.

Liz Ramey (32:47):

You really focus on putting a spotlight on each individual of the organization and seeing each person as a unique being. But in your position, you also have to look at the workforce as a whole. So, as we look into the future into 2021 and beyond, how have the current circumstances influenced your thinking around workforce planning?

Jacqueline Welch (33:13):

Yeah, that's a great example or a great question. You know, I'll give you a couple of examples. Like, so I'm fond of saying, we've had this, in my view, successful experiment, global experiment in remote work, right? So our last day, our being Freddie Mac, the last day we were in the office was Friday the 13th. Make of that what you will. I am now superstitious. I will say that. And if anybody had asked pre pandemic, is there a circumstance under which Freddie Mac would have a fully remote workforce? I think the answer would have been unequivocally and loudly, no. Who would do that? The risk associated with it. These are jobs that have to be done inside of an office, but yet here we are, four months into it, and lo and behold it is absolutely possible. And to my earlier comments, we've not skipped a beat in terms of delivering on our mission. This is true for most organizations. I've not read of one yet that has folded because of remote work. 

So, what that says to me is that the aperture for having to reconceive where work gets done is now broadly open. And we all have to really think critically around, yeah, which jobs are by preference, better served to be in the office versus really this work can be done anywhere. And so that's one of the things I've asked our folks to track. Like, you know, at the end of this, there should be a body of empirical evidence around things like -- what made remote work easy, what made remote work hard? And what would your recommendation be relative to where should this job be done? What are the resources required for a hybrid workforce, if that's where we end up. 

So, I do think I go about personally to yes, we have to accept the reality that everybody in the office is, or office centricity is pretty much dead. The question then becomes if it's hybrid, what does that look like? What are the governing principles relative to what stays in the office versus what can be done anywhere. And then there are policy implications. I live in Northern Virginia, high cost of living. If I decide I want to go to Boise, do I make the same income? I don't know. Maybe I don't. So yes, you have the flexibility to work wherever you want, but potentially at a cost, right? And then to the extent that there are issues relative to work -- can work be done for legal reasons and all of these kinds of things. 

So, that's in my view, I think one, office centricity is a thing of the past. Two, I do think that we have to contend with there is going to be some version of a hybrid workplace. It will vary from organization to organization and inside organizations from department to departments. And it needs to be informed by what's needed and necessary versus what's my preference, right? And I do think that a lot of that is going to be driven by folks who are... Thinking about Freddie Mac, at this point, we have virtually onboarded somewhere in the neighborhood of between 300 and 350 employees. So, I've got folks who have never been inside of a Freddie Mac physical location. It'd be hard to tell those people, some of them are going to be like, I can't wait to get back to the office, but I've got to imagine some are going to be like, why do I need to come into the office? I haven't been to the office since I started working here. And they won't be wrong. So yes, we have to have broadly a philosophy. And then I go back to, we've got to go to the level of -- what does the business require, and then what are the needs of our folks?

Drew Lazzara (36:36):

You know, I'm thinking a little bit about this idea of organizational functionality in an ever-evolving context like the one that you've described. So, large enterprise organization, where speed and scale are really, really important, like your organization, you know, in that situation, how do you kind of operationalize this idea of uncertainty? What do you see as some of the core pillars of organizational structure that allow you to navigate the unknown in really practical terms?

Jacqueline Welch (37:06):

That's a great question that's difficult to answer because of the nature of it, right? So it's hard to be certain about uncertainty. So partly, you know, it's so interesting. So on the one hand, I go, we have to be operationally sound. And using Freddie Mac as an example, we have a fantastic crisis management team that's constantly looking at what are the scenarios seem improbable, but we now know anything's possible, right? So even though they seem improbable, what would we do if, right? And that's their business, they're constantly thinking about worst-case scenarios and how you could practically respond to those. So, technically functionally, as a matter of standard operating procedure, they're people far smarter than I in that venue who have had that lock stock and barrel. They're trained. And then, you know what I'm thinking about, sort of people practices or thinking about what happens if Godzilla parts trees and starts walking around on top of buildings, right? 

So, from a people perspective though, you know, I go back to my tried and true around nimbleness of our systems and our policies and our procedures. You know, one of the scenarios I have in my head constantly is if there is this wave two of the pandemic and 25% of my people end up sick, what happens then? What's the fallback plan? So much like our crisis management team, the thinking -- my thinking has to be more centered on the people approaches and what can we put in place to accommodate those kinds of scenarios. 

That still though doesn't get to back to what I hope I've been focused on during the course of this conversation, back to the individual and the individual capacity for managing uncertainty. I personally think that many people are going come out on the other side of whatever iteration of this we're in, making very different decisions around the kind of work they want to do, how they want to do work, where work fits into the tapestry of their full lives. Because again, we're being challenged in ways that we've never been challenged before. And I think people are going to go into deep reflection around how resilient am I and what does this mean for how I want to comport my life generally speaking, much less, and then more specifically to work. I don't know that you can put that in a policy or practice beyond check in with people and see where they are and what their appetite and capacity is for change.

Drew Lazzara (39:54):

Well, I think that is a perfect exclamation point for our conversation. I mean, I love this idea that it's really about a deeper, more genuine focus on your people when it comes to unlocking your organization's capacity for change and uncertainty. But Jacqueline, before we let you go, we always like to end the show by asking our guests one big question from one of your C-suite peers. And this one comes from our guest last week, Mindy Geisser, who is the chief people services officer for Savers. And Mindy's question is -- if you have to speculate into the future, what do you think will be the most important change to the employee-employer relationship? And, I know you've talked a little bit about some of those things, but can you take a stab at what you think will be the most critical change to engagement between employees and leaders down the road?

Jacqueline Welch (40:41):

Oh, such a great question. I think that most people now are looking for more purpose to their work. Now at Freddie we're fortunate because it's in our mission. We make home possible. I do think though that in unexpected places, people are really going to go, you know, I have moved heaven and hell to make remote work work. I have made these sacrifices. Tell me again, what's the purpose of this? People are going to demand more purpose from work.

Drew Lazzara (41:14):

Absolutely. I think that's spot on. And I hope that's the future that we all get. I think that would be an important change to this dynamic. Our last question, before we let you go, Jacqueline, is what is your next big question that you'd like us to pose to our next guest?

Jacqueline Welch (41:28):

Ooh, wee, yes, and I'm looking forward to hearing how someone else answers this. So, what I -- my burning question is we, and when I say 'we' I mean the human resources profession, we have watched average tenure drop every year, right? There was a time, you know, I was raised by a father who worked for the same company, retired after decades, got the watch and exited stage left, right. We've watched that number decrease, and now, the predictions are kids coming out of school on average will spend three years with an employer. So, my question is, if that's true, if we accept that premise is true, what are the implications for HR as a function? What does that mean for succession planning? What does that mean for learning and development? What does that mean for portable benefits? There are significant implications to be drawn from shrinking tenure. And I'm curious to know how my peers are thinking about that and preparing for that.

Drew Lazzara (42:31):

Well, that definitely qualifies as a big question. I think that, as you taught us, the things that revolve around how people are changing and how people are living their lives are going to be the biggest factors driving business. So I'm eager to hear how your peers will tackle your big question. So, Jacqueline Welch, thank you so much for being on the show. This was a treat for us. We had a great time, and we really appreciate all your insights and generosity today.

Jacqueline Welch (42:58):

Drew, Liz, you all are a dynamic duo. Thank you, again, for the invitation to participate and for a lovely random Thursday afternoon. I appreciate it.

Liz Ramey (43:08):

Thank you, again, for listening to The Next Big Question. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Rate and review the show so that we can continue to grow and improve. You can also visit evanta.com to learn more about our C-level communities. Network, share, learn with Evanta, a Gartner company.

 


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