In this first installment of a five part series, we interview Mollie Lombardi, a research director for Aberdeen Group’s human capital management practice. She has surveyed and interviewed thousands of end-users to gain a better grasp of the key challenges facing human resources and talent management leaders. Mollie has an extensive background in writing and speaking about topics such as strategic talent management and employee engagement.
Joey Baird: You have a very impressive background in HR. What notable changes have you seen in the industry throughout the years?
Mollie Lombardi: It’s been interesting. Even in just the past 10 or 15 years, we’ve seen periods of extreme growth followed by severe economic downturn. And in the midst of that turmoil, organizations always have struggled with the same key questions:
- Where do I find talent?
- How do I grow talent?
- How do I hang on to my best people?
But I would say that the way we answer those questions has changed. Technology has caught up with our desire to have greater transparency, and it has allowed us to reach employees wherever they are through mobile and social tools. The questions remain, but our arsenal to go after them continues to evolve.
How do you see social media playing a factor in the HR industry? Do you think the importance of social media is positive or negative?
I think that in the end, it is a positive. But a lot of organizations still struggle to “control” social media. They’re missing the point. You can’t control social media, so you simply have to live the way you want to be perceived. Social media can be an amazing window into your organization’s culture, your brand, your mission, and your goals. It can be a powerful tool to help connect you to potential employees, as well as retain and engage your existing employees.
But you can’t fake it. If you want to be perceived as a great employer and corporate citizen, or a great consumer brand on social media, you have to be one. The level of transparency brought by social media leaves organizations with no place to hide—which will be the best thing for employees and employers.
Do you see social media alleviating or creating more problems in the workplace?
At first, social media might be seen to be causing more problems—but a lot of that is growing pains. It’s something new, and organizations have struggled to understand what it really means. But it’s not going to go away, and social media and whatever comes next will be a part of our lives. And at the end of the day, these tools are about communication. Open and honest communication within organizations will, in the end, alleviate more issues than it causes.
You’re a Boston University alumna with a degree in theater. What made you transition to the HR industry?
My job and field of study within theater was as a stage manager, and what a stage manager really does on a day-to-day basis is make sure everyone knows what they need to know, shows up where they are supposed to, and delivers for the audience. The stage manager also keeps extensive records for all the various stakeholders, such as producers, backers, and even the various unions that represent stagehands, actors, and musicians. So, in a lot of ways, it’s an excellent training ground for HR. And it was excellent training for the project-based nature of my consulting work.
I noticed you did some work with Harley-Davidson. How was that experience? Did Harley-Davidson set you up with a motorcycle—or at least a ride on one—in exchange for your services?
I’m afraid not. But I will say that touring its corporate headquarters and one of its factories is one of the more interesting client experiences I’ve had. It was pretty awesome to see the amazing collection of machines in the motorcycle section of the corporate headquarters parking lot on a sunny spring day.
What are some of your favorite Twitter accounts to follow? Do you have any bloggers you’d recommend to our readers?
I follow all the folks over at Fistful of Talent pretty closely: the FOT blog, the Twitter accounts of most of their contributors, and the personal blogs of folks such as Kris Dunn, Tim Sackett, Jessica Lee, and Andy Porter. I also closely follow Naomi Bloom for her insights on HR technology, and I like to keep up with Laurie Ruettimann for her irreverent commentary on topical issues and the latest updates on her cats.
What are the most important points organizations should understand when looking to recruit and retain talent?
I think the biggest one is to pay attention. If you’re trying to recruit people with certain skills or attributes, look at where the people you know have those skills and attributes spend their time outside work. Pay attention to how they interact, and model your hiring communications around things they already respond to. For retention, paying attention is even more important. A manager’s job should be to know what’s going on with the team. People convey their unhappiness long before they turn in their resignations. Getting tuned into the signals of disengagement is critical, both in terms of data, such as a drop-off in productivity or a slowing down in their contributions to internal and external social networking, as well as in terms of interpersonal cues.
The other important point is transparency. Whether someone works for you now or might work for you in the future, painting a clear picture of what it means to work with your organization and what the opportunities are for them as individuals is key to the decision to join or stay with the company.
Do you see a difference in what members of Generation X and Generation Y seek in job fulfillment compared with what those in previous generations consider to be important?
One of the biggest things I’m seeing about Gen Y is the need for advancement. I think to keep these employees happy, organizations are going to have to find ways to offer them mobility and new challenges. It’s not about everybody rocketing up the ladder to a vice presidency by the time they’re 28, but it is about helping younger employees see the types of career paths and opportunities they may have. I think we’re also going to see a more networked approach to work. People might come and go from jobs, but they will build relationships that cause them to continue to seek out work with certain groups of people or individuals. It is more of a loyalty to a team than to a particular corporate brand. People want work that interests them and to do it in an environment and with colleagues that they enjoy, and they are placing a premium on that versus a promise of a 30-year career with one employer.
We are also seeing that no matter the generation, there is a high demand for personalization. The continued consumerization of technology has made people come to expect on-demand access to all the information they need. If I can go to my bank’s website and see the entire history of my relationship with that bank, I want to be able to go to my HR system and see all my benefits transactions or schedule history. People have come to expect the ability to get the information they want, in the format they want, when and where they need it.
All of us at the Employer Solutions Blog thank Mollie for allowing us to interview her and we look forward to providing more thoughts from her next week!
In the meantime, you can follow Mollie on Twitter, @mollielombardi, connect with her on LinkedIn, and read more about her work with the Aberdeen Group.