Andrea Wenburg Of ‘Voice Of Influence’: “Hiring for Skills and Character”

Hiring for Skills and Character. For years Apple, Google, Netflix, and Tesla have prioritized skills over degrees, and now we’re seeing other software and tech companies follow suit. Nearly every executive I talk to wants to hire people who are team players with good character, matching the values of the company. With attrition high and […]

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Hiring for Skills and Character. For years Apple, Google, Netflix, and Tesla have prioritized skills over degrees, and now we’re seeing other software and tech companies follow suit. Nearly every executive I talk to wants to hire people who are team players with good character, matching the values of the company. With attrition high and companies desperate to hire, upper-level leadership teams are increasingly open to changing their hiring practices and requirements. To be considered top talent as companies hire for skills and character, focus on developing specific industry skills, growth mindset, strategic thinking, initiative-taking, integrity, and teamwork.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work,” we had the pleasure to interview Andrea Wenburg,

As CEO and founder of the consulting firm Voice of Influence®, Andrea Wenburg, M.A., works with leaders and teams, helping them develop motivating influence with customers and key stakeholders. She serves her clients with strategic advising, custom programs, keynotes, and executive retreats. She is the author of UNFROZEN: Stop Holding Back and Release the Real You and host of the Voice of Influence®️ podcast, featuring interviews with 200+ leaders and experts. Andrea lives with her husband and two bold kids in Nebraska.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers 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 grew up in a small Nebraska town where I had many opportunities to explore my interests, explore my creativity, and share my talents. It was clear to me from an early age that my singing voice could connect with and make a positive difference for others, and eventually I realized this was true of my metaphorical voice as well. I now call this a “Voice of Influence®.”

The correlation between music performance and work performance fascinates me. I conducted many choirs early in my career. It takes a lot of disciplined rehearsal and intentional effort to perform beautifully for an audience. Everyone has to develop their own skills and style and then bring their voice to different parts in the same song. A good conductor will have deep knowledge of the music, the setting, and the talent in the room. She will give a lot of her own energy to the choir and expect a lot in return. The reward, in the end, is an artistic experience the choir, conductor, and audience share together.

My work focuses on team performance, guiding employers, employees, and customers to share in an experience of influence that connects them all with purpose, making the world a better place.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

In preparation for this interview, I talked with ten business leaders across the country about disruptions and trends taking place in their industries. Supply chain, inflation, climate crisis response, and the potential for another pandemic are some of the disruptors we see on the near and distant horizon. Much like the introduction of the smartphone, technological advancements in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 3D printing could also completely change certain industries and the way we work. Companies need to grow in their ability to respond to crises and technological advances like these rather than denying them. I recommend keeping a consistent organizational core identity of purpose and values while being willing to regularly re-evaluate processes. Cultivate a leadership team capable of pivoting quickly and an employee culture accustomed to change.

In my specific field, I’m paying close attention to how people seek and respond to influence. The issue of personal agency continues to rise to the surface. Personal agency is one’s belief in their ability to make a difference in their circumstances with what they do and say. The belief that “what I do and say matters” can be expressed in disruptive or constructive ways. While some relationships and systems need to be disrupted, I also believe people can become impatient for change and make demands employers find difficult to fulfill.

We recently published an insights paper on our website, THE EMPOWERED WORKFORCE, A Proven Engagement Framework for a New Cultural Reality. What we found in our cross-analysis of the latest statistics and 200 in-depth expert interviews is that there is a general trend toward people feeling a greater sense of agency and willingness to use their voices in resistance to real or perceived abuses of power. When a person finds their voice of dissent in one area of their life, the comfort level using their voice often carries over into other areas of their life. It can become natural for them to express resistance more freely to leaders.

Our overarching recommendation to employers experiencing increased levels of unproductive conflict and resistance is to first recognize that trying to silence or suppress the voices of dissent will likely only provide temporary relief to leaders and end up alienating employees. Instead, they should honor the personal agency of their team members by helping them express themselves with credibility, provide opportunities for them to use their voices in constructive ways, and then effectively acknowledge their contributions.

Agency in the form of personal choice is also important to consider in consumer trends. A couple of years ago I spoke at a customer experience conference where a tech organization shared examples of video and audio of customer service representatives responding to questions and requests that turned out to be completely computer-generated. They fooled me! It really got me thinking that as technology gets better at predicting behavior and mimicking human connection, it will be increasingly possible to manipulate people while giving them a false sense of control. For example, the former political consulting company Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to collect extensive data on millions of users in order to influence election campaigns around the world.

Psychological operations in marketing and intentional or unintentional distribution of false information are particularly concerning to me. Since government regulations on such use of technology will likely continue to be reactive and inadequate to address this complex issue, savvy consumers and companies with integrity need to demand transparency and accountability. I foresee investigative journalism, independent third-party investigations, and certifications from reputable organizations as key to establishing expectations and maintaining trust. Companies that get out ahead of the tech manipulation issue and work to maintain the genuine human agency of their customers will stand out as trustworthy.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

It is foolish to make an educational decision based on a few millionaire outliers, but the reality of student loan debt has certainly become a cautionary tale. Degrees are important to earning potential and opportunities for career advancement, and they are required for many jobs. But it is also true that, in certain fields, degrees are decreasing in value. A number of our clients have internally recognized that skills and experience are outweighing the need for a degree in certain positions.

Young adults need the opportunity to explore career options and industry norms without incurring huge debt. I suggest they interview people with jobs they’re interested in to discern if it’s a good fit for them. Students would be wise to shadow a couple of people at their jobs or even offer to intern to build their experience, portfolio, and knowledge without the extra cost of tuition.

Some companies like Amazon have added college tuition reimbursement to their benefits packages. Others consider how to incorporate college education in their work development programs. Four-year colleges and universities should consider how to expand their partnership with companies and industries to provide more career-specific coursework and experiences similar to vocational schools. Educational institutions that provide on-site industry experiences early on in coursework will help students more quickly determine if they’re on the right career path. Tracking and sharing the correlation between school debt and early industry experiences could prove attractive to prospective students.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment but employment that fits their talents and interests?

Though I cheer on job seekers looking for work they love, it’s not always possible to find a perfect fit. I encourage people both to be solid on who they are at the core and to be flexible about how that works out in a job. By focusing on knowing their core values and strengths, workers can then look for an organization with similar values that give them a chance to contribute to others in ways they find meaningful. Employers that recognize the importance of encouraging the voice of employees will welcome questions from prospective candidates, so potential employees need not be afraid to come to an interview with thoughtful questions.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs appear frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

Focus on transferable skills unique to humans. A positive attitude, initiative-taking, creative problem-solving, collaborative dialogue, and a growth mindset are rare qualities and can’t be replaced by automation or artificial intelligence in the foreseeable future. Employers are increasingly willing to train employees in new skills if they believe they would make a great team member.

I also recommend employees keep a portfolio or record of their personal contributions, responsibilities, and successes at work or in volunteer positions held. Keeping track of professional “wins” would help them demonstrate and articulate their potential value to the team, making the hiring decision more clear.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

We are certainly going to continue seeing on-site, hybrid, and work-from-home options in the workforce. Our clients have expressed mixed feelings about working from home. While employees appreciate the time they save from their commute and the flexible environment at home, they miss the camaraderie, connection, and collaboration that occurs more naturally in an office setting. Employers worry about how to maintain culture and productivity.

While the trend will continue, it will become more sophisticated. Companies are currently evaluating what is best to do in-person, such as team-building and human connection, and what can be done virtually. Many organizations started working in hybrid and work-from-home settings in March 2020 thinking it would be a temporary detour from how they used to work. Eighteen months later, they find themselves making decisions about the longer-term, next phase of work.

Considering the deep and pervasive competition for talent, I believe employers need to take what a client of mine calls a “strategic pause” to reevaluate and design fresh systems and processes that account for the current concerns of employees and employers. We could be talking about adjustments for some and, for others, a complete re-imagining of the employee experience from onboarding/training to team-building, meeting design, and project management.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

At Voice of Influence, we wonder if there will be a move toward multi-generational or multiple-family households. With nursing homes closing to visitors and childcare hard to afford or even find, some families may choose to try to live together for more communal support.

I recently heard of three older couples who sold their homes and built a home together with a private suite for each couple and shared communal space for all in order to lower costs, enjoy regular friendly interaction, and help care for one another. Multi-generational and multi-family households certainly aren’t for everyone, but they could help fill the gap of caregiving for some families.

However, work can provide a reprieve from home-life for some people. Domestic violence and coercive control at home are hard to escape when parties are around each other more. It is vital for employers to be aware of this possibility. Training that addresses personal growth and support in resolving conflict well is essential so that friction at home doesn’t disrupt work.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

In the wake of the pandemic, both employers and employees have been impacted by collective trauma, and some are adjusting to the aftermath of personal loss as well. Being aware of how the disruptions are shaping relational responses will be crucial for healthy collaboration.

Employers may be resistant to accepting that workers feel empowered and have more leverage than they recently had, driving up the financial cost of securing and keeping talent and increasing the push-back they may experience. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer special report published in August 2021, 76% of people globally say they feel more empowered to take action inside their organization, and they’ll do so by working within the system or by going outside the system through whistleblowing or leaking information, if necessary. Organizations need to provide clear and psychologically safe opportunities for employees to share feedback.

Employees may find it difficult to realize that sharing their feedback doesn’t mean that they will get the results they desire, immediately or in the future. Some of our clients have found that younger employees are disappointed or frustrated that change doesn’t happen quickly. And while crises tend to propel decisive action, it takes an extraordinary amount of urgency and commitment to prioritize and execute changes in organizations. To have a meaningful impact, individuals need to develop their communication and leadership skills. Transformation takes time, but it is rewarding when employees realize that their voice made a difference.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

The deep psychological and sociological impact of poverty and financial hardship on individuals, communities, and the economy is destructive. But I am hopeful that because of the pervasive impact of the pandemic, conditions are ripe for change. We have to be willing to peel back the layers to uncover why things are the way they are. If we care about people, we won’t sacrifice them for our tightly held ideologies.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

The future of work will require that we connect with a deeper sense of our individual and collective humanity. Employees should no longer be seen as a cog in a machine because solving problems in the age to come requires each of us to share a human connection, imagination, artistry, creativity, and diversity. What an exciting time for finding one’s voice and making a positive impact!

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

Companies who emphasize the humanity of their workforce will anticipate this gap and take action to provide opportunities for people to reskill and upskill. For example, a global financial institution successfully navigated an enormous digital transformation in part by giving their employees the time and financial allowance for professional development, then creating opportunities for employees to pass on what they learned to their colleagues. The actions a company should currently take for hiring and retaining employees are quite similar to the actions they should take for preparing those workers for operational and career agility.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Hiring for Skills and Character. For years Apple, Google, Netflix, and Tesla have prioritized skills over degrees, and now we’re seeing other software and tech companies follow suit. Nearly every executive I talk to wants to hire people who are team players with good character, matching the values of the company. With attrition high and companies desperate to hire, upper-level leadership teams are increasingly open to changing their hiring practices and requirements. To be considered top talent as companies hire for skills and character, focus on developing specific industry skills, growth mindset, strategic thinking, initiative-taking, integrity, and teamwork.
  2. Addressing Agency in the Empowered Workforce. We all want to feel like what we do and say matters. The more we experience that our voice actually does make a difference in our work, the more we’re willing to take initiative, speak up when something is wrong, and share out-of-the-box ideas. Though increasing resistance and pushback is at times disconcerting for employers, there is so much potential for positive change if they handle it well. Watch for companies to either 1) go into chaos as people resist changes and make demands, or 2) honor the increased agency of the workforce with listening tours that inform decision-making, improved corporate communication, and initiatives that address giving and receiving constructive feedback.
  3. Knowledge-Sharing More Embedded in the Job. With “The Great Resignation” upon us, and the likelihood that we’ll see more people in mid and upper-level management positions change jobs in 2022, companies are realizing that they are losing a great deal of job-related knowledge. Some are focusing more on the distinction between management and mentorship, giving experienced workers a chance to share their skills and wisdom without the pressure of managing the schedule and hiring process. Watch for knowledge-sharing to become even more embedded into job expectations. Weekly virtual group chats, screen-sharing instructive videos, and one-on-one mentorship are some of the ways teams can spread skills, information, and wisdom.
  4. Focusing on Agility in the Employee Experience. When the pandemic began, work location and process changes felt like temporary adjustments. We’re now seeing organizations realize that they need to decide on and settle into longer-term operational expectations. But it’s tricky. Many employers need employees to be more operationally agile to meet evolving business requirements and in return, companies need to offer more flexibility in when, where, and how people work. Such needs require that organizations take a step back to evaluate compensation/benefits, communication and feedback, and culture and then create employee experience frameworks they can count on to provide stability on a core level while allowing for agility on the benefits and operational level.
  5. Measuring the Health of Belief-Driven Organizations with Diversity and Dialogue. Organizations are increasingly likely to take meaningful action on social issues, and many employees appreciate their willingness to do so because they want their work to have meaning and be in alignment with their personal values. However, although requiring high levels of integrity and good character can be universal if an organization uses “culture fit” as an excuse to weed out dissenting voices, they are headed into unhealthy territory. The recent exposure of cult-like cultures in organizations with a dramatic rise and fall like WeWork and Theranos has made it clear that belief-driven organizations that lack constructive conflict and diversity should take a step back and evaluate if the organization is actually healthy. Watch for organizational and talent development teams in belief-driven organizations to take bold action that promotes diversity of perspective and healthy dialogue in teams.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

I grew up hearing my mom tell me that: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” I’m not sure who originally said this, but my mom knew that I needed to hear it on a regular basis growing up because I naturally love to share knowledge and convince others of my position. But I desperately needed to understand that I had to earn the opportunity to be heard by genuinely loving others first. And even then, I shouldn’t come to those conversations with a personal agenda to see people change. I could only share my perspective with love, and then they had the choice of what to do with that information. This quote is foundational to the way I approach family, friends, clients, and team.

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 would love to visit with Jennifer Lee, screenwriter, film director, and Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. She wrote the screenplay and directed FROZEN, a movie that inspired me to write my first book and share my voice in a more public way.

Disney storytelling is in the zeitgeist of the United States and much of the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the messaging and representation of studios like Disney impact the social consciousness. As a storyteller, Jennifer Lee helps explore complicated psychological and sociological concepts in ways kids (and adults) can comprehend. She also seems to do a masterful job at pulling together and guiding creative teams and cultivating an atmosphere of respectful dialogue, personal responsibility, and human connection, all for the good of the story. These bridge-building skills are crucial for leaders to develop, and it would be a pleasure to visit with her!

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

You can find our Voice of Influence: Message Driven Leadership podcast wherever you listen to podcasts and our insights paper THE EMPOWERED WORKFORCE: A Proven Framework for a New Cultural Reality at I’m Andrea Joy Wenburg on LinkedIn and Twitter @andreawenburg.

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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