Clark Twiddy of Twiddy & Company On The Labor Shortage & The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent

An Interview with Phil La Duke

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine

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Be vulnerable as leaders–admit mistakes, admit areas of weakness, and engage with the self-awareness of our own limitations. For example, in our own crisis response efforts the most candid answer we gave was a very frequent one — we simply didn’t know. In sharing that answer, we realized that we were building trust.

The pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate what they want from work. This “Great Reevaluation” has led to the “Great Resignation” which has left the US with a great big labor shortage and a supply chain crisis. What can we do to reverse this trend? What can be done to attract great talent to companies looking to hire? What must companies do to retain their great talent? If not just a paycheck, what else are employees looking for? In this interview series called “The Labor Shortage & The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent” we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and ideas from their experience that can address these questions.

As a part of this interview series we had the pleasure to interview Clark Twiddy of Twiddy & Company from North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Clark is the President of Twiddy & Company, a hospitality and asset management firm in North Carolina home to more than 125 full-time staff celebrating more than 40 years in business. In addition to his roles serving clients and staff within the company, he is the current Chair for the Outer Banks Community Foundation and a director of Towne Bank. A Navy veteran and avid reader, he is married with two daughters and two German Shorthair Pointers.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I think the simple answer would be that I’m a small town guy who wasn’t great at anything but knew a lot of people who were. Kelly King (former chair BB&T) once said that we’re really all just three and four year olds walking around and from that perspective I was very fortunate to grow up in a beautiful place–the Outer Banks has emerged as a nationally famous place to visit and being able to spend my childhood here was very special as I love it to this day. I had the privilege of joining the Navy after college and got to see the world from quite a few different perspectives. For me, there has been no higher honor than serving alongside those truly remarkable people from all walks of life dedicating their lives to serving others–learning about responsibility and leadership in those environments shaped much of who I am today. I’d boil my Navy experience down to three simple ideas–1) take care of your people, 2) lead by example, and 3) there is a difference between what I want and what needs to be done.

After attending graduate school on the GI Bill, I was again fortunate to be able to come home to our family business and help us grow as a business alongside the Outer Banks as a destination. This business, like so many others, is simply all about people and it’s been an incredible journey to get to work alongside and learn from thousands of homeowners and hundreds of our own staff as we all seek to better our lives and those of others.

Let’s jump right in. Some experts have warned of the “Great Resignation” as early as the 1980s and yet so many companies seem to have been completely unprepared when it finally happened. What do you think caused this disconnect? Why do you think the business world was caught by surprise?

I think it’s tough to underestimate the ongoing confluence of COVID pressure and technology options that really got unleashed in March and April of 2020. Broadly, I think as business leaders we were aware of the cause-and-effect potential of workforce shifts over a long period of time but when the pandemic arrived in force we seemed to evolve 25 years in 25 days. In short, I think things happened much more rapidly than we anticipated because, candidly, we didn’t think it was possible in such a short period of time. To be fair, pick a board of directors for any business in the United States and imagine presenting to them, say, in 2019–if you were to forecast that next year they’ll be this huge pandemic that will uproot much of our society, we’ll see massive wave of government liquidity, witness profound workforce impacts, and so forth you probably wouldn’t have been invited back again ever. And yet, it happened. On a positive note, though, we’ve gotten a lot better organizationally as a result–I think there’s a quote about the hardest steel being made in the hottest fire.

What do you think employers have to do to adapt to this new reality?

I think clearly we’ll have to keep up the pace of engagement with our teams in ways that make us uncomfortable as business leaders–much of the conventional management doctrine in my opinion has gone out the window and with demographic shifts in addition to digital potential we’ll have to be well-tuned pioneers in many ways. Said differently, I believe our leadership imperatives have expanded–now, in addition to creating value, we also have an imperative to be a great leader and a great place to work in order for our firms to thrive.

I also think that transparency and trust have never had such a premium in the workplace…behaviors linked to those ideas are enormously important. Lastly, I’d add that the only thing we can’t do in terms of business strategy is to stay the same–that’s a dead end road.

Based on your opinion and experience, what do you think were the main pain points that caused the great resignation? Why is so much of the workforce unhappy?

In my own mind, I think it boils down to a couple of simple ideas and then of course below the surface of those ideas is a lot of complexity. To start, I think our national trauma around COVID clearly launched a great re-prioritization of working values that in many cases dated back to the industrial revolution. Second, I think technology clearly severed the age-old dynamic of having to live where you worked. Third, I think as a society our civility has broken down a bit in terms of how we interact with one another; the human quality of our interpersonal interactions isn’t very high and as a result we have less of a personal connection to each other and the organizations in which we spend much of our lives. In effect, we’ve become much more self-contained and less outwardly oriented. In turn, that’s led to less tendons in our working relationships.

Many employers extoll the advantages of the entrepreneurial spirit and the possibilities of an expanded “gig economy”. But this does come with the cost of a lack of loyalty of gig workers. Is there a way to balance this? Can an employer look for single use sources of services and expect long-term loyalty? Is there a way to hire a freelancer and expect dependability and loyalty? Can you please explain what you mean?

I think the future will be much more of a balancing act between the security of a full-time job and the freedom of a new enterprise–I think, to use a musical analogy, the balance might be a moving target like a metronome moving across ages and stages.

At the root of this is the nature of the employer and employee relationship–candor, trust, and transparency are now more of a two-way street in this relationship than they have ever been. I think loyalty and dependability are still entirely possible if we can advance the quality of the employer/employed relationship and yet at the same time to thrive as employers we’ll need to be uncomfortably open-minded around our traditional expectations. One palpable change I think we’re seeing on a daily basis in our performance coaching is around perspective–where once we’d assess performance with our needs-of-the-organization hat on first, today we start our coaching with our employee hat on in terms of how our organization is fitting in to their lives–that subtle perspective change is one that I think will be enduring.

We still must advance markets and margins, however, and to begin to move forward amidst all this complexity and ambiguity as both employers and employees we’ll still have to solve for simplicity no matter our focus–in short, be a great place to work and be a great person to hire. If those things are true, the nature of the relationship remains bright.

It has been said that “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses”. How do you think this has been true during the Great Resignation? Can you explain what you mean?

I go back to that thought around the erosion of quality in our human interactions–whether it’s a seeming preference for digital vs. personal communication, working at a distance, or even ever-busy schedules I think that bosses generally are working hard to re-engage with their teams under a new paradigm. Bosses I think are also on notice that poor management practice is a real business liability with long-term strategic implications. To put it bluntly, bad bosses are bad for business–people just walk away from them. If great people walk away, so too do great customers.

I am fond of saying, “If it’s fun they charge admission. But you get a paycheck for working here.” Obviously I am being facetious, but not entirely. Every job has its frustrations and there will be times when every job will aggravate employees. How important is it that employees enjoy their jobs?

Like with so many other things, I think there should be a balance–most of us deal with a combination of pleasant and unpleasant things in our daily routines so to set an expectation that work will be enjoyable all the time to me isn’t realistic. In short, we expect some friction. That said, I also think that work should be personally rewarding and there should be moments and achievements that help you achieve your potential relative to your gifts. If that’s not the case, we’re defined in our talent systems not by our opportunities but by our limitations.

In short, I think it’s important that work be both challenging (adversity) and rewarding (achievement) but at the end of the day if it’s not enjoyable overall you owe it to your co-workers and customers to move on. On the flip side, we also know that if you’re passionate about something or working in a place where your talents can be fully realized, the probability of good long-term outcomes grow exponentially.

How do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

There is a wealth of research out there that demonstrates happy teams deliver better results–call it esprit de corps, call it teamwork, call it culture but where we see purposeful cohesion we see a much greater likelihood of sustainable value creation. Unhappiness, for some reason, is like the flu–it’s contagious and is best sent home to rest. I do think that workplace health and wellness is emerging, rightfully, as a much more important topic. In recognizing this, the re-framing of the workplace with a wellness lens is an entirely appropriate leadership and management challenge that shows up readily on the income statement. SAS CEO Jim Goodnight perhaps summarizes this best when he says “if you treat people like they make a difference, they’ll make a difference.”

What are a few things that employers, managers and executives can do to ensure that workers enjoy their jobs?

I think I’d boil it down, for the sake of simplicity, to really three things; for starters, listening and engaging on a human level is simply imperative–our organizations won’t thrive without quality human interactions. Second, in terms of leadership behaviors, I think we’ll respond to this great resignation by making it a priority to do the things that demonstrate trust, transparency, and candor within our teams. Third, as employers we’re going to have to really sharpen up our ability to be self-aware and self-reflective both personally and organizationally.

On a personal note, for me it’s always important to have someone around me who is happy to tell me the truth as they see it without worrying about whether or not it’s what I want to hear. As leaders, our ability to source and surface various perspectives in many cases is the difference between average and outstanding.

Can you share a few things that employers, managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture?

If we define culture broadly as a sense of belonging within a greater purpose, I think it boils down to trust and transparency. I think the best investment leadership and management teams can make right now in terms of people is on improving communication skills with a focus not on talking but on listening–the better we listen, the more we’ll learn about our culture.

Again on a personal note, I have days where I think the best thing I can do is to get out of meetings, go walk around our team spaces, shut up, and just listen.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things employers should do to attract and retain top talent during the labor shortage?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. I think being fully transparent is key; in this new age of uncertainty in virtually every direction, it’s never been more important to be upfront and candid with our teams in terms of the means and impacts around our shared efforts. For example, we pause much more often now to share the “why” behind the what and when.
  2. Be vulnerable as leaders–admit mistakes, admit areas of weakness, and engage with the self-awareness of our own limitations. For example, in our own crisis response efforts the most candid answer we gave was a very frequent one — we simply didn’t know. In sharing that answer, we realized that we were building trust.
  3. This sounds all too simple but in essence it rings fundamentally true–look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re a great place to work. Better yet, go to where real work is being done in your organization and ask the people doing it. This is where we shut up and listen–you might be surprised at what you hear.
  4. Make people a priority and repeat that message up, down, inside, outside, and across your organization on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. To paraphrase the Mandalorian, this is the way.
  5. Again on a simple note, just be a great boss–only you can decide to do this. Go back to that same mirror and ask yourself if that’s the case and if you’re in doubt become a miner of great feedback. I think it’s possible that some–not all–of this great resignation is being driven by a breakdown in sound management practices as well. Being a great boss, by the way, isn’t to me a question of perfection–it’s a question of trust, awareness, and vulnerability.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’d love to have lunch with Dave Chappelle or Brene Brown–for Dave, not because he’s so darn funny (although he is) or Brene not because she’s so darn bright (although she is); I’d like to ask them how they got so comfortable being themselves which suggests to me a really high level of self-awareness and reflection.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

I believe that our organization can learn something from every human being on the planet–if you can help us get better, we welcome hearing from you at either www.twiddy.com or you can find me on Linked In as well.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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