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5 Ways To Identify And Retain Talent with Jen Warne & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Lincoln Financial Human Resources Hiring Strategies

The proverb “a stitch in time saves nine” rings especially true in recruitment. Create the time to make the right recruiting plan and you will save time, unnecessary interviews, and high recruiting expenses.

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 Jen Warne.

Jen is senior vice president and Chief Talent Officer at Lincoln Financial Group. She has over 20 years of experience in talent management and a strong track record of designing creative programs to attract talent and retain high performers. At Lincoln, Jen is responsible for leading the strategy and execution of Lincoln Financial’s enterprise talent agenda. She is focused on building organizational and leadership capability, strengthening the talent pipeline and enhancing the company’s ability to engage top talent. Additionally, Jen serves as the Head of Human Resources for the IT/Digital, Human Resources, Marketing, and Administrative Services business areas; and leads a team of HR Business Partners who provide strategic and tactical HR advisory services to those business areas.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It all started for me in high school…I was curious about my future, what I would study in school and where there was opportunity in the workforce. I turned to the “help wanted” ads, keep in mind this was before the age of the internet, to see what jobs were available and where there was a recruiting demand. Looking back now, I was gravitating towards a career in talent without even realizing it. And I’m so grateful today for how it unfolded from there. At the time, there were opportunities in HR and I was lucky enough to get into a pre-college work-study program. Then in college, I held two recruiting internships that affirmed my love for the field. The first for Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company, and the second at Towers Perrin (now Willis Towers Watson), a consulting firm. Talk about great opportunities and mentors! Towers Perrin offered me an amazing full-time position before I even finished college, which led me to spend 15 years of my career progressing through leadership roles at the company before arriving at Lincoln Financial Group. I wouldn’t be where I am today without a ton of hard work, great opportunities and a rock-solid support system from my family and friends.

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?

Sure! Remember, I mentioned that I received a full-time offer before graduating from college? Well, there is even more to that story. About two years into that role, I felt great about the impact I had made and confident that my annual review would reflect my efforts. When it came time for my review, my manager, and still my mentor today, gave me a great review and an above average increase. Yet, the increase was less than I expected based on what I delivered for the year. So, I decided to professionally communicate my disappointment to my manager in hopes of understanding the disconnect. His response? “It is a great increase, considering you don’t have your degree yet.” At that moment, I have to say I was pretty shocked. After all, I was on track to finish my degree on time until I received the full-time offer for this position. At which point, I switched to finishing my degree part-time in the evenings. Needless to say, I went home after work that day really frustrated. But, I quickly realized that the feedback he provided was a wonderful gift.

If the uncompleted degree could prevent the proper recognition my hard work deserved, then I knew I needed to complete it as soon as possible. The next morning, I walked into my manager’s office to tell him that I realized he was right, and I planned to resign to focus on completing my degree. He did not accept my resignation. Instead, he offered me a flexible work schedule so that I could finish my degree (which I did!) and continue working. This experience taught me three important lessons:

1. Honest feedback is a gift — use it to grow;

2. Eliminate anything that holds you back from reaching your full potential; and

3. If you’re a leader, be willing to get creative to retain top talent.

Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

A great thing about working for Lincoln is we’re continuously trying new things to benefit our people, customers and communities. For example, we recently launched an integrated People and Place strategy project focused on acquiring and developing new skills and capabilities, enhancing the employee experience, and optimizing the workplace environment. External factors and disruptions are reshaping the competitive landscape. Like every other organization, Lincoln is navigating this increasingly complex environment, which includes evolving business needs, growing labor/skill shortage, changing jobs, demographic shifts, and rising candidate/employee expectations. Today, the “war for talent” is not just about recruitment or retention strategies. It is also about responding to these rising expectations through differentiation. It truly is a war for differentiation with an increasing demand for more engaging work environments and even better perks. So, it is very important that we remain laser-focused on implementing new strategies to attract top talent, reskill existing talent and engage talent through improved workplace experience.

Ok fantastic. Let’s now 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.

1) Invest in Recruiting Planning Time: The proverb “a stitch in time saves nine” rings especially true in recruitment. Create the time to make the right recruiting plan and you will save time, unnecessary interviews, and high recruiting expenses. So often, managers don’t invest the necessary time upfront with recruiters to develop the best executable recruiting plan. Instead, they expect the recruiter to learn as they go. This approach leads to managers and recruiters being frustrated, unqualified candidates being vetted, and a poor candidate experience. Instituting a disciplined recruiting intake session process where the manager and recruiter meet to define the hiring criteria, tactics for the recruiting, and an interview strategy will yield improved results.

2) Identify the Non-Negotiables: Right now, we face a talent and skills shortage, so it is nearly impossible to find candidates that meet every qualification on your job description. That is why it is so important to clearly identify the top 3–5 non-negotiables for the position. Once you’ve identified the non-negotiables you source, interview and hire to them.

3) Select the Best Interview Team: If you want to identify and attract the best talent, you need to put together the best interview team. Each member of the interview team needs to play a key role in the assessment process and excel at marketing the opportunity to top talent.

4) Get Creative to Identify/Source Talent: The best way to identify/source talent is to speak to similar talent. You need to understand where that kind of talent exists (e.g., what companies, locations, etc.) and connects (e.g., professional networks or sites). And, then approach them where they are.

5) Thoroughly Assess Talent: You want to look beyond the technical and competency assessment to identify which candidates are best suited for the role. You need to get the full picture. For example, you want to understand what motivates the candidate and whether the job aligns to their motivations.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are the top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

1. Get your people out there! Encourage your top leaders, as well as the up-and-coming employees, to offer themselves as speakers to local groups and professional organizations where your future talent hangs out.

2. Lean on your great talent and their network. It is imperative to share open opportunities widely within the organization. It is likely your amazing talent, knows and associates with amazing talent. Plus, no one wants to refer a poor candidate. This is why the employee referral system is one of the best sources for future candidates.

3. Tell your company’s story. Whatever differentiates you as an employer of choice, be sure to tell the story!

What are the 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?

The most effective way to retain talent is to really listen to your employees and target what they want from the workplace. No, I don’t necessarily mean free sushi or bean bag chairs (although those can be fun and exciting), I mean what employees truly value: career, community and cause. There is an excellent Harvard Business Review article that explores this concept.

At Lincoln, our people are our most valuable asset, so we target these three values and continuously listen to our people to make sure we are hitting the mark.

Career: We offer resources to help our people discover, assess, plan and invest in their careers at Lincoln. Whether it’s formal training programs, on-the-job learning, mentoring, continued education benefits, a job transfer, a stretch assignment, or simply building a professional network, Lincoln invests in the success of our employees.

Community: This is about feeling connected to the people and culture of an organization. We believe diversity of thought, background, experience and people drive innovation. It is through our inclusive culture that we can attract the best employees, empower our customers, and help our communities achieve great things. We offer our employees opportunities to connect and collaborate through business working groups, employee action committees and more.

Cause: Purpose is the motivation that drives your employees toward a satisfying future. It is important to help your employees understand and connect what they do every day to a driving force for good. At Lincoln, we empower Americans to take charge of their financial futures and our employees can see how their work helps the lives of so many Americans. We also encourage connectedness within your community through the Lincoln Financial Foundation and other volunteerism opportunities.

Lastly, but most importantly, if you want to retain your employees you have to ensure you have the best managers! Managers have a day-to-day impact on employees and their environment. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found 58% of employees say that their relationship with their manager is very important.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends? Can you give some examples of what this looks like?

It is absolutely important! First, the HR landscape is always changing, and now more than ever, it is changing fast. A great way to stay plugged in to the industry and latest trends is to keep up with HR thought leaders. I recommend regularly checking out the big consulting firms’ insights and thought leadership. Coming from the consulting world, I know firsthand that these organizations are working with some of the best in the business to drive the industry forward.

Second, a key to staying successful in HR is to get rooted in the business. The best way to help your business partners is to know the business and industry as well as they do and lead the forward-looking conversation. I lead the planning of our annual Corporate Leadership Group summit, which focuses on future strategy and business goals for the year ahead. I must be on the top of my game as I am responsible for shaping the topics and focus areas that will set the tone for the year ahead.

Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

Yes! A great example is a learning and development program we rolled out a few years ago. In 2016, Lincoln Financial faced a (likely familiar) training challenge — our employees needed additional training yet had limited time to spend in the classroom and our learning resources were stretched pretty thin.

We wanted to provide easy-to-access training on new technologies and trends, while also offering our people more insights into the company and their career opportunities within it. To face the challenge and accomplish our goal, we leveraged the intellectual capital and existing technology already within our organization to develop a new model for learning called Learning in Action.

Learning in Action is all about bringing learning to employees at the right time without a huge financial investment. The program features a series of webinars, videos, articles and other online content that employees can access on demand. Learning in Action focuses on numerous topic areas including enterprise business acumen, career mobility, business goals, industry trends and senior leadership experiences. The content is continuously updated through a close partnership with business unit leaders, senior management and HR. In order for the learning to continue to have an impact, we have to stay rooted in the business and aligned with the needs of the organization as well as industry.

Learning in Action’s interactive content and authentic stories arm our people with new insights into their own career paths and where learning can help them get to the next level. The cost-effective, plug-and-play solution has become a huge success and a long-term component in our core learning strategy.

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?

I’d love to inspire a movement that encourages people to let go of perfection and embrace failure. Perfectionism is not the same thing as wanting to be your best. I’m all for trying your hardest and pushing to be the best version of you. Perfectionism is about being faultless. Quite frankly, not only is that exhausting but it prohibits you from taking the necessary risks to live your best life and grow your career. When I reflect on the most successful people I know, the one thing they all have in common is their willingness to take on challenges where the risk for failure was high. At some point, they all failed and came out better for it. Failure is a key building block to career success and to a fulfilling life. Our CEO, Dennis Glass, always reminds us, “a setback is a set up for a comeback,” and I truly believe it. Go out there and say yes to the next opportunity that comes your way because I promise you no matter the result the experience will be worth it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

I’d have to say that my favorite “Life Lesson Quote” comes from something someone once said to me, “You can certainly say no due to the fear of failure. But anything beyond no opens yourself up to a world of possibilities.” I try to always remind myself of this quote and push beyond “no.” This approach has delivered more possibilities than I could’ve ever imagined.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

I’d have to say Richard Branson! He’s a tremendously successful entrepreneur, who has a clear sense of purpose and seems to always be having fun. He believes we should do everything within our power to make the world a better place and have a positive influence on people’s lives. I’m sure we’d have a fun, thought-provoking lunch!

Thank you for sharing so many valuable insights with us today!

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