Human resources professionals are on the front lines of companies as they navigate this year’s extraordinary circumstances, and during this time, the absence of a clearinghouse to share what is and is not working on the HR front has become evident.
Enter the Michigan Talent & Culture Advisory Council, part of a national network of HR leaders convened by Lockton Companies.
The invitation-only Council was devised as a component of Lockton’s Talent & Culture Institute, an initiative that gives members access to expert insights, events and peer-to-peer engagement to share and develop new ideas. The first Council chapter debuted in South Florida in June and the most recent in Minnesota in November. In five short months, the Council membership has grown to include 250 companies and is comprised of 15 chapters nationally; roughly one-third of Council members are current Lockton clients.
The Michigan Council chapter launched in September; Elaine Coffman, president of Lockton Michigan, serves as its co-chair. “There aren’t many forums where C-suite and VP-level HR professionals can share best practices, and amid the pandemic, several of our clients expressed a strong desire for such an organization to exist,” said Coffman. “Through the Council, we can provide structure to many of the things they’re struggling with and, best of all, create a forum for these leaders to come together and share with each other.”
She added, “The whole theme of this Council is ‘driven by you, powered by Lockton.’ We are not driving the agenda; it is the Council that drives the agenda.”
Aimee Weisenborn, senior director, human resources at Kalamazoo-based Stryker Corporation, was invited by a former colleague and friend to join the Michigan Council chapter.
“The nature of work is evolving and the shift in the very construct of work itself and the employee experience requires thinking differently,” Weisenborn said. “This Council helps me build a more diverse advisory group from inside and outside of my industry, introducing new ways to approach problem-solving, deepening my expertise and broadening my perspective.”
Emily Annand, a strategic consultant with Lockton, emerged from a leadership role in HR prior to joining Lockton and understands the challenges and priorities HR leaders are facing. Annand co-chairs the Michigan Council chapter with Coffman. Its 28 “cross-industry, -geography, -size” member companies make the Michigan chapter one of the largest, said Annand, noting that the member roster ranges from automotive manufacturers to healthcare companies and includes several Fortune 500 companies.
HR Executives represent the members at the quarterly meetings, the first two of which were held virtually due to the pandemic. The goal is to foster “a peer group to learn and grow from and share best practices,” Annand explained.
The conversation also benefits Lockton. “It keeps us directly plugged in to our clients’ priorities and struggles,” noted Coffman. “We’re hearing firsthand about real-world situations they are facing in these sessions.”
Many of the members’ concerns, like return-to-work strategies, are specific to COVID-19, while others involving issues like diversity, equity and inclusion, talent acquisition, and engagement are longstanding. “Companies can’t afford to be in the development stage on programs to address these kinds of issues,” said Coffman. “They have to be up and running.”
Addressing isolation has been a big challenge amid the pandemic, said Annand. Council members are eager to find out what their peers have been doing and what is going on outside of their respective bubbles.
“Employee engagement is a perennial topic,” she said, and never more so than now, when so many companies have pivoted to remote workforces. “Proximity bias can leave remote workers feeling disconnected from their colleagues working onsite, for example,” Annand said. She shared that a “going back to basics” best practice to drive engagement emerged during a spotlight on a member company at the Michigan chapter’s November meeting. “Simple things, like just asking employees about their personal well-being, go a long way toward fostering engagement these days.”
Weisenborn said diversity, equity, and inclusion issues remain front and center at Stryker, and she sees the Council as both a pipeline of new ideas and a sounding board for relevant issues.
“The future of work and the role of physical workplaces is a big opportunity,” she added. “And a third topic central to many HR leaders right now is having confidence in strategic workforce planning, given the unusual labor market trends. I am confident that this Council will be a rich source of ideas, information, and lessons as we take on these and other challenges.”
Such ideas could catalyze HR innovation at Stryker that meets the moment. “I’ve learned that, when faced with a new set of conditions, it’s a great time to set aside some old rules or rituals and experiment in new ways,” said Weisenborn. “Participating in this Council has also reinforced that bringing together a concert of diverse voices results in more innovative ideas and you can borrow concepts from different industries, functions, and experiences.”