The generation coming into the workforce wants to work for a company that shows it is progressive in its thinking and willing to be bold in testing new solutions and approaches to common problems out.
As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Julie Wood.
Julie Wood is the chief people officer for Crowe LLP and is responsible for the development and execution of the firm’s workforce strategy. In her role, Julie manages the firm’s employment-related risks as well as driving and sponsoring major initiatives to position the firm to successfully meet the demands of a changing workforce. Prior to joining Crowe, Julie developed nearly two decades of experience serving in human resource leadership positions across various industries including professional services, insurance, investment banking, and gaming.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Truth be told, when I went to college I actually wanted to be an architect or work in interior design, but I started taking psychology classes and really enjoyed them. I ended up majoring in psychology thinking I would be a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I couldn’t really imagine myself listening to patients’ problems all day. My dad encouraged me to take some business classes so that I had a foundation of business skills to give me more options in my future (I know he just wanted to be sure I had a better chance of getting a job when I graduated!). In hindsight, the business psychology degree actually set me on the path that I have now been on my entire career. I think of myself as a business person who has a specialization in HR, not an HR person who happens to understand business.
Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the most fascinating and challenging experiences I had in my career is when I worked for a riverboat casino operation a number of years ago. I was hired to build the HR function for this new operation. I knew nothing about the casino industry but was up for a new challenge. It was the first time I worked in an environment where I had to build everything from scratch; hire 2000+ employees and be up and running by opening day; manage an HR organization with shifts and nearly 24/7 operation; and figure out how to hire, manage and communicate with employees who did not nor were required to speak English in certain roles. I learned so much about myself and my ability to be agile and flex to different situations, as well as remaining calm under pressure. It was also the first time I had to deal with a regulated industry — understanding how to effectively work with the gaming board was fascinating in and of itself. At the time, my husband and I had our first child and while the casino was located closer to home, I actually was home very little. Many nights he would come to the casino carrying my son and our dinner and we found a way to spend time together before I put my head back down and worked several more hours. Looking back it was one of the most interesting career experiences I had and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I met some of the most fascinating people and learned the inner workings of the casino industry.
Thank you for sharing your story! Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?
We are doing a lot of transformation work across the firm and have developed a Future of Talent at Crowe vision and strategy that we have been executing for the past couple of years. Our aspiration is to create a new best day every day for our people by focusing on the experience they are having with us and driving innovative new practices to support their needs.
Our mobility strategy of What to Wear and Where to Work was a bold move in an industry that has a reputation of being fairly traditional and conservative. Our people have told us it is a game-changer for them.
Another exciting project we are working on is bringing automation into our organization. In the HR space, we have deployed automation in a few key areas. We have developed three digital employees who work alongside our HR professionals to support various aspects of the benefits, onboarding and exit processes. These digital employees handle various tasks that otherwise would have been done manually, allowing our HR team members to spend time on higher value, added connections with our people versus handling rudimentary tasks. It also allows our people to get answers to questions they have on benefits without having to wait for a response or spend time searching for it in policy documents.
We have also been experimenting with a new approach to measuring engagement levels and have taken on a mantra that “anything annual just doesn’t make sense anymore” given how dynamic and fast the world moves. Instead of measuring engagement annually, we now measure engagement quarterly and include a different topical area we want to explore within each quarterly cycle. So far our topics areas have focused on diversity and inclusion and exceptional client experience. With an increased cadence of asking our people for feedback, our main challenge is ensuring we are taking action and that our people see us taking action at a faster pace.
That’s fantastic. Let’s jump to the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill? Please share an example for each idea.
Talent referral program– today about 25% of our hires come through referrals from our current professionals. Creating an experience for our people that leads them to want to have their friends or people they know in the profession come and work for us is an important part of our recruiting strategy.
Social media/technology– experimenting and piloting a lot of new technology solutions to fill the pipeline. LinkedIn is a big source of candidates along with other platforms — we are using Yello, Handshake, TextRecruit, Textio andWayUp, among several others. The market changes almost daily as it relates to various forms of technology that can enable, support and enhance the recruiting process. Sorting through all of the options and deciding which ones best align with our needs is probably one of our biggest challenges. Then once we decide to test something out, we have taken on the mindset of fail fast and fail forward. If that new solution is not proving it is value and driving the results we expect, stop and move on to another before investing more time.
Diversifying the pipeline– diversifying our workforce, and therefore expanding our candidate pipeline, is a key element of our strategy. We have an extensive diversity and inclusion strategy but one example of what we have done as it relates to diversifying our entry-level pipeline is building a relationship with a HBCU, Florida A&M University. This relationship has led to an increase in minority students coming into the firm and we built an internship experience that allows them to intern with us in the summer without leaving campus. We are also working with organizations such as The Mom Project, FairyGodBoss and all of the minority professional organizations aligned with our industry (NABA, Ascend, ALPFA, as well as Out and Equal).
Assessments– we are using an assessment solution to match candidates’ skillsets and strengths to our needs. The primary goal of using this type of assessment is to ensure “we get the right people on the bus and then find them the right seat on that bus.” For example, one of the assessments we use assesses a candidate’s tendencies towards innovation. Innovation is core to driving our firm’s success in the future so identifying candidates who bring innovative thinking to our work is critical. Once we identify those with this tendency, we can then work to ensure they are placed in the right roles that will allow them to bring that innovation to their work every day.
Intern experience– we hire nearly 800 campus recruits each year and the key to our ability to attract and hire the best is through the internship experience we offer. We have a leadership program we run each summer for about 200 students called Learn2Lead that gives them a chance to get to know our firm, our leaders and the opportunities we have to offer, but just as importantly, we focus the program on helping these students learn about themselves and grow as leaders. The content is targeted to helping them grow, work together with others and taking away something they didn’t know about themselves before they walked in the door.
Those are really helpful tips, thank you. With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?
Social media– this is a huge way to get to what we call “passive candidates,” those who are fully employed elsewhere and not actively on the job market. Outreach through various social media sites to get their attention is a huge way to reach talent that may not otherwise seek you out.
Reputation and brand– these are critical. Your reputation precedes you. I often meet people who don’t know much about our firm but they have come to know our name in various circles and are curious about us. I have had people come up to me at external meetings or conferences who say “I don’t know much about you guys but I see you everywhere and I’ve heard about some of the things you are doing. I’d like to know more….” Once you have raised someone’s curiosity, it opens the door to a conversation and you know never what path that might take you down.
Demonstrate you are an innovative, progressive firm– being willing to make bold moves to keep your organization moving forward is big. This somewhat ties to reputation and brand, however, it is a step further. Our willingness to try new things such as moving to a Where to Work policy shows we are willing to challenge the status quo. The generation coming into the workforce wants to work for a company that shows it is progressive in its thinking and willing to be bold in testing new solutions and approaches to common problems out.
The value of branding isn’t shared enough so thank you for bringing that up! I imagine all 3 have been important to breaking through the noise. What would be your top 3 most effective retention strategies?
Focus on relationships– our business is all about relationships. The ability to establish trusted and open relationships with our people and our clients is what drives success. Showing you care about people and have a sincere interest in them to me is fundamental at engaging and retaining them. We may not agree all of the time but if we understand each other and respect each other, the results you can drive are amazing and it also allows you to let go of things that otherwise might ultimately push someone to leave. I really do believe in the research that says people leave managers not organizations. The stronger the relationship, the harder it is to walk away from it.
Trust– our profession is built on trust. Extending trust drives relationships and business outcomes. I believe people generally operate from a place of good intentions. I often say when interacting with someone always assume positive intent. In doing so, you trust they are approaching a situation sincerely and without some underlying ulterior motive and it changes the dynamic from the very beginning. With trust comes responsibility so in extending trust you also have to hold people accountable for their actions, decisions, and interactions, as well. But if you have trust, it is powerful in engaging and retaining your people.
Recognize them for their efforts– no matter how experienced someone is in their career, what level of success they have achieved, it is human nature to need reinforcement and feedback for your work. From the most seasoned professional to the newest, we all need recognition for our efforts, contributions, and impact. This is one of the easiest things to get after but one of the hardest to put into practice. Given the speed with which we all move today, we oftentimes miss those opportunities to say thanks for a job well done. We have to do this with intent and ensure we focus on it every day.
Makes a lot of sense. Seems any business that improves in all 3 areas would drastically increase retention. In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends and give an example of what this might look like?
HR must not only keep up with trends from a talent perspective but in the market in general, particular in the industry in which they play and where their clients exist. I have always pushed any HR organization I have been a part of to not only understand HR but to understand the “business of the business.” Especially in a services industry, you have to demonstrate to your leaders and the people across the organization that you understand what their business is about, where it is going, how it impacts their jobs, etc. One of the most recent examples relates to how technology is not only changing business but changing how people do their jobs and who we recruit and for what skills.
Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?
Our mobility strategy — when we implemented our What to Wear policy, which extended trust to our people to decide what to wear on any given day based on the nature of the work they had to do that day, it cost the firm nothing (other than the time and resources to develop and implement). This policy along with our Where to Work policy (similarly, this policy extends trust to people to choose the location as to where they work in any given day based upon the work they need to get done) has improved engagement and retention and driven an increase in candidates interested in pursuing opportunities with Crowe.
It’s great to hear about companies giving their employees more and more freedoms. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Boy this is a hard one…I wish I could inspire a movement where people would be more tolerant and accepting of each other and that everyone would start from a place of “positive intent.” I am not sure what the movement would be, but I wish we could all just get along and not always assume the worst or that someone has malicious intent. I would also like to inspire a movement to solve homelessness in our country. I have no idea what the solution is to such a complex issue but it seems we should be able to solve this.
Wonderful choice. Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the Ghandi quote of being the change you wish to see in the world but as I have gone through my career and gained more experience the following quote has become one of my favorites: “Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place” (author unknown). As one progresses through their career, it is oftentimes the case, at least I believe, we tend to change and evolve who we are based on the organization or environment we find ourselves in. Especially as a female leader, I know that I have left parts of me behind in order to “fit in” in a profession that has historically been male-dominated. However, regardless of gender or any other characteristic, it is human nature to not necessarily be true to who you are until you reach a point of maturity where you start to care less about what people think and you start to truly be who you are and were meant to be. Being one’s authentic self is something I wished I had learned earlier in my life.
A deep quote that we could all benefit from exploring. Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
I would love to have a private lunch with Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia. I believe it is important to create a sense of purpose for the organization, something that motivates and drives people to want to do their best and make a difference. Patagonia appears to not only have a purpose-driven culture, but also one that makes an impact well beyond the walls of the organization. I would like to learn from Rose what they do to see if there is a way to create this type of strong purpose-driven environment in our profession and our firm. The generation in and coming into our workforce wants a sense of purpose — this area has become increasingly important to me as a leader. And, I love everything about the outdoors and am passionate about the environment so it would just be fun to have a chat with her.
Thank you so much for these valuable insights with us today!
About the Author: Kage Spatz went from inner-city Teacher to Forbes-featured CEO & 3x Entrepreneur — most notably Spacetwin & Milburn Shaw. Kage provides win-win-win solutions across many industries. His latest project is connecting employees (and their families) to additional HR benefits at zero cost to them or their company. Connect with Kage on Linkedin to strengthen your network anytime.