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David Tripp Of Sage Dental On The Labor Shortage & The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent

An Interview with Phil La Duke

Embrace the individual. Welcome career or interest pivots within your team and learn that the business landscape, including people and talent, is always changing. As an HR leader, I always keep a pulse on people’s evolving needs and desires. If I don’t do this, then I fall out of touch with my team. I make it a priority to relentlessly stay on top of current situations to ensure that I understand shifts in priorities.

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 experiences that can address these questions.

As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview David Tripp.

Based out of Florida, David Tripp is the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer at Sage Dental. Tripp is an authentic business executive specializing in human resources with extensive experience in organizational transformation, alignment, change management and engagement with large and midsize companies in insurance, customer service, healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, education, and athletics. He thrives on developing winning teams and partnerships that successfully accomplish strategic plans in dynamic business environments that are centered on value creation and trust. Tripp creates clear and compelling visions, structures, and reward systems that inspire performance.

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 chose the human resources professional because I have a passion for building and fostering winning teams. I found passion in HR after my time playing baseball for Clemson and the Oakland Athletics. For me, the draw was that it’s not unlike building a championship-level sports team –developing and honing a roster that works and excels together. The scoreboards are obviously quite different in business, and ‘winning’ is optimally defined one way or another. However, my job of aligning talent and maximizing the abilities of those around me is to achieve what my organization defines as winning — that’s what gets me up every day.

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?

Great companies took the world of uncertainty and helped to answer questions on an individual and organizational level. Successful leaders were flexible with policies and adapted to circumstances, and I think those that did not provide flexibility likely experienced higher turnover. In my opinion, the businesses that did not pay enough attention to the rapidly evolving needs of their employees in a brand-new world context were likely caught off guard when employees acted in ways that prioritized their needs and well-being.

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

It’s crucial to look for and identify themes or common denominators that would cause a movement like the Great Resignation. Although employee departures can’t always be controlled, if management can identify what’s prompting employees to leave the company or even the industry at large, then they can develop and execute plans that will improve employees’ work experiences and increase engagement.

Finding and creating the right amount of flexibility relative to the business, the role, and the individual was key for my own organization. If you don’t find the sweet spot for all three, there’s a chance of missing out on opportunities and great talent. I also think you must make sure people understand the ‘why’ behind decisions. As a business, if you’re creating and changing policies rapidly, there could be a disconnect amongst employees who feel the policies are not flexible. Also, they may not be aware of how (or if) their needs are considered in those decisions. I feel that companies with narrower considerations experience higher turnover than companies that adapt to the needs of the business, the role, and the individual.

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?

Even now, but especially at the beginning of the pandemic, organizations’ policies were too strict and lacked the flexibility and adaptability to meet employees’ needs. I think there were outcries of, “What’s in it for me?” and “How can you help me?” toward employers. Companies that met employees where they were by establishing well-defined work requirements and instilling flexibility relative to the role and the individual likely experienced greater success. This doesn’t mean organizations should establish unrestricted flexibility, but rather leniency around personal needs that could be tied back to the business. It was and continues to be essential to let managers manage their team dynamics and communicate at the individual level.

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 it all comes down to the outcomes that we expect in our relationships. Businesses need to determine what their long-term strategy is and balance it with the short-term projects and initiatives that require outsourcing talent. Also, as an HR leader, I have to outline what my ideal outcomes and strategies are before looking for talent to ensure new hires have the fundamentals for success in their roles, and to confirm expectations are set clearly.

Making this decision to source talent also depends on the role, too. For example, I’m not going to look for a short-term solution when it comes to our doctor roles at Sage Dental. These are the kinds of relationships that need to be fostered, maintained, and are ideally long-term. I want to see someone grow with us and our patients in this type of critical role.

Freelancers can be extremely valuable as there are often short-term gaps that need to be filled in any business. However, there needs to be a clear strategy that maps back to short-term business needs.

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?

Great leaders take their role seriously, acknowledging and acting on their responsibility to others. When it came to the Great Resignation, people quit teams that lacked flexibility, top-down training, and expectation setting. From my observations, leaders that didn’t ask questions or seek to understand the individual needs of their employees were left scratching their heads.

A job’s true motivators contribute to employees finding fulfillment in their work. These motivators can include factors like how the individual is contributing to the company's growth, or, in the case of Sage, how they are helping to satisfy their customers or case patients. For employees to get to the true motivators of their job, leaders must effectively manage the hygiene factors first, such as the safety and welfare of employees. The environment that one is working in, whether in the office or at home, is also a hygiene factor. Without addressing these fundamentals, managers aren’t giving their employees the building blocks to succeed. During the Great Resignation, these hygiene factors became apparent, and employees noticed when management fell behind.

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?

The world is not perfect — and work is rarely perfect. However, you must look at the balance. As a father of three kids, I would hope that they all find something in their life that brings them joy, even if there are a few ‘bad days’ sprinkled in. I want everyone to gravitate toward something that is compelling to them. For me, my passion is about building winning teams. If my team doesn’t enjoy doing what they are doing, they won’t ‘win’, and they certainly won’t reach their full potential doing something lackluster. Inspiration and joy can truly be found within a career, but you must be content in acknowledging the necessity of balance. Everyone has moments that aren’t ideal or are potentially challenging, but if most moments are positive, enriching, and bring joy to the day, it is easier to appreciate your job.

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

If an employee is unhappy, that mentality will trickle into every outcome of the business. At Sage, if the employee is unhappy, the patient is automatically impacted. This also negatively affects an employer’s ability to recruit. In our business, each person should feel passionate about ensuring their patients are well taken care of. We’re a patient-first company, where prioritizing the needs of the customer in all aspects is paramount.

As for employee health and well-being, I think this goes back to those hygiene factors I previously talked about. If an employee is unhappy, this prevents them from finding their true motivators that further business outcomes. If patients walk into an office and see an unhappy employee, they’re going to feel this in the service they receive, and this might translate into a negative patient experience and, therefore, a negative business outcome. As a leader, you need to continuously determine the evolving needs and expectations of team members. To avoid potential unhappiness, this may mean adjusting policies and protocols to give employees the best toolkit to succeed.

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

I believe that people need to enjoy what they’re doing, especially since they’re spending much of their waking time working. Employees will find inspiration within that profession, but only if they are pushed to try new things. We must keep employees engaged and challenged, so they are in a position to find fulfillment and purpose.

A great leader will push someone out of their comfort zone. I subscribe to the 70–20–10 model. It is a great way to learn about yourself and discover new passions that can lead to a holistic professional path. Under this rule, 70% of your growth and development is going to come from projects and initiatives that you have never done before, that you’re not comfortable with, or that you don’t understand. The best way to learn is to jump in. This might seem daunting, but it challenges and motivates you to do something different. Next, 20% will come from a great mentor or leader, somebody who is there to guide you through a new experience and answer your questions along the way. A good mentor or coach will be behind you to reinforce the positives and offer suggestions as you go. Finally, 10% will come from some sort of formal education. I believe that the utilization of this model is integral for employee engagement and satisfaction. It creates value around continuous improvement and learning, which in turn provides your organization with well-rounded employees.

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

Great leaders enhance company culture by improving the leadership around them, especially as culture trickles top-down from executives to all levels of your company. I think that if you feed your company’s leaders with tools and the ability to be flexible and adaptable, then that extension lays the groundwork for improving and uplifting the company culture.

One specific action that employers should take to improve culture is coming into the workplace with a positive attitude. This applies to every aspect of life, in my opinion. I recall an instance when I was a kid, complaining to my dad about something that was happening in my life. After a while, he asked me if I thought my mother would want to hear me complain so much. This made me pause; mothers don’t want to see their kids unhappy, but rather they want to see their children flourish. In this same way, I want to see my employees flourish. It is okay to have a bad day, life happens; but overall, you need to be a positive person and come to work with the right attitude.

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. Be able to answer: “What’s expected of me and why?”. As simple as it sounds, it’s integral that each employee understands their role and the expectations set for them to avoid unnecessary frustrations and any disconnect. Every employee must know exactly what part of the team they’re playing in the company and remain confident in the value they’re providing.
  2. Provide ongoing, continuous feedback. Feedback should be provided in more than just stagnant performance reviews throughout the year, whether that’s an annual review or even a quarterly review. Ideally, feedback should be given in the form of continual touchpoints to gauge a well-rounded performance snapshot of employees. Continuous feedback also opens the door for effective and transparent conversations throughout the year, not just during performance reviews. Additionally, on an individual level, employees have different needs. You need to determine whether the individual needs more coaching or less, whether they’re independent or need that extra feedback.
  3. Focus on “What’s next?” for employees. Oftentimes, companies don’t focus on fostering continuous improvement amongst their employees, especially with a long-term focus. Thinking back to the 70–20–10 model, if someone is being challenged to develop themself, they are usually learning something new. The draw of continuous improvement is massive when it comes to engagement and satisfaction.
  4. Flexibility. Refrain from being rigid. As I touched on before, people didn’t leave their jobs as much as they left their employers. Employers need to demonstrate that, while they place a high value on business outcomes and team dynamics, they also place a high value on the individual. Management must understand the continuously changing people dynamics. Companies that lack this understanding and adaptability will experience turnover.
  5. Embrace the individual. Welcome career or interest pivots within your team and learn that the business landscape, including people and talent, is always changing. As an HR leader, I always keep a pulse on people’s evolving needs and desires. If I don’t do this, then I fall out of touch with my team. I make it a priority to relentlessly stay on top of current situations to ensure that I understand shifts in priorities.

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.

Robert Mueller: He served his country as a Marine during the Vietnam war receiving the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for heroism and headed the FBI from 2001–2013….with his deep experiences he may be able to help me better understand ways in which we can serve and make things better one step at a time.

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

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-tripp-hrexec/

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

About The Interviewer:

Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 2,500 works in print. He has contributed to Authority, Buzzfeed, Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global, and many more magazines and is published on all inhabited continents. He is the author of three books and a contributor to one more. His first book is a visceral, no-holds-barred look at worker safety, I Know My Shoes Are Untied! Mind Your Own Business. An Iconoclast’s View of Workers’ Safety. His second book Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention which deals with workplace violence, particularly directed at women, is listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. His third book, Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands was recently released and will be followed by Stop. Don’t Shoot! the third edition of Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention both are due out in October, and Loving An Addict: Collateral Damage Of the Opioid Epidemic is due to be released in December. La Duke also contributed a chapter to 1% Safer, a not-for-profit book, written by the “top game-changers and global thought leaders.”

Expertfile lists Phil La Duke as a top 25 thought leader in multiple areas. In addition to his writing, Phil sits on eight Biomedical Research Oversight Boards and is a highly sought-after speaker. La Duke is currently employed as a COVID Compliance and Production Safety Consultant for the film and television industry.

Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Phil-La-Duke-320996002174991/, his author’s page on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B07G799XC6, or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com that he updates with the regularity of a turtle with too much rice in its diet.

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Phil La Duke

Phil La Duke

195 Followers

Author of “I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business”, “Lone Gunman. Rewriting the Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention”, and “Blood on my hands