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Five Ways To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent With Carolina King & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Carolina King

What we must do is bring different people together and encourage interactions with those who are different than us. Have a higher level of tolerance. Genuinely listen, because communication is so incredibly important.

As a part of our syndicated HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to experts about their five ways to identify and retain fantastic talent. The goal of this series is to not only support HR leaders in their hiring and retention strategies but to also teach prospects what hiring managers are really looking for. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Carolina King who is here to help us with that.

Carolina is the Chief People Officer for executive search leader Lucas Group, overseeing the HR division for more than 425 associates nationwide. A seasoned HR business partner in her second tour with Lucas Group, she believes the key to having a high-performing team is nurturing leadership and fostering a strong culture. Over her nearly 25 years in human resources, she has provided expert organizational and leadership development for top global companies including CNN, AT&T and Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc.

What brought you to this specific career path?

As a liberal arts major, you graduate and begin to look around and ask, “What should I do with my life?” In my case, I realized pretty quickly I had a knack for compartmentalization and the capacity for taking on personal responsibility. Of course, I had to work on developing both of those skills as I advanced my career, but they made HR a natural fit. HR often gets a bad rep, but I think I’m more like the school principal. I really care about these people.

I’m a nurturing person and find acts of service fulfilling, which adds up to a capacity for taking on responsibility for large numbers of people. You have to be humble and do what’s required of you with grace. I think in any service-oriented job — or any leadership position — the way you get things done is by working through influence, not authority.

What’s an interesting/funny story that’s happened since you entered the field of HR and what did you learn from it?

I think the most interesting and impactful stories aren’t about individuals, but about communicating shifts in programs that will lead to changes in employee behavior. When I first started, I was overwhelmed to realize the large degree of influence I had over so many people. It’s extremely impactful. For example, when there’s a shift in something like compensation, and I’m the one who’s in charge of communicating that, I know that I’m going to be the one who triggers a ripple of behavioral and strategic changes. As the head of HR, I’m both a maternal figure and leader, so it’s my responsibility to shape policy. Contrary to popular belief, HR isn’t just about hosting the company picnic or picking out snacks for the office!

Such an important role! Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

We’ve always experienced low numbers of medical issues because the recruiters that make up the bulk of our workforce are younger, but at any given time we have five generations of people working here. As our workforce has aged, we’ve had to change our policies in response. Last year we had an unprecedented three catastrophic health issues across our workforce, and as a result, our premiums were raised. This means we’re likely looking at a 15–20% increase across the board, so the question is, how do we move the money around in the smartest way for both the company and the individuals? We’re charged with hitting the balance of pleasing both the employees who you interact with every day and the board that expects to maximize the bottom line, so it’s a very delicate balance.

Thank you for sharing a real-world challenge with us! Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you also share five 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. I have always firmly believed in what recruiting firms offer. The difference in quality of candidates and placements between a recruiting firm and other sources is astronomical, as the consultative role a recruiter plays as a third party results in much better placements. Looking for talent from a branded perspective results in an onslaught of disappointing leads that you have to shift through and sort, like mining for gold. A recruiting firm knows the network and already found that streak of gold. You’ll find better, more efficient and valuable experiences with a recruiting firm.
  2. Social interaction is key. It’s important to leverage connections within your network to publish content, establish yourself as a thought leader and cultivate your network for the purpose of future hires.
  3. Social media is a leverageable way to get to know individuals versus traditional methods of networking and identifying talent, like attending cocktail parties and networking events.
  4. While social media is a great tool, you should still attend those networking events and cocktail parties! Be a visible part of the industry.
  5. In identifying talent suited to the job, knowing what the job is in actuality is key. You have to know the business and know the job. In order to know the job, it’s important to go back to the source and communicate with them. Use that information to measure against a candidate’s talents and skill set to see if that candidate will mesh well with the realities of the job. Also, it’s incredibly important to go back and talk to current incumbents rather than relying on a 10-year-old job description.

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

Leveraging recruiting firms like Lucas Group for the purpose of understanding the talent needs in the network is key. Working with recruiters is how you stay connected. On that list of people you have to know in life, like your doctor, lawyer, and accountant, you should know a recruiter as well. The importance of that cannot be overstated.

What are the most effective strategies used to retain employees?

There’s really only one, and that’s constant and effective communication. Keep them informed. Keep them apprised of what is happening inside the organization. It’s amazing to watch well-compensated people leave stable positions because they don’t understand the driving purpose of the organization. Listening to people in the elevators here, I notice that our associates are talking constantly about their projects and clients. They are very engaged in their interactions with each other and well-informed about their specific industries.

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?

The conundrum many industries face today is understanding what the employees actually need relative to what they can realistically provide. Make sure you understand your workforce and who is generating the most value — play to them. It’s great if understanding trends is going to be important to that key contributor, but if they don’t need it, it’s a waste of time. Creating value for your employees is more important than trends. You have to know the spectrum.

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

One way to increase value for employees is through the umbrella of workforce planning. The fundamental question of workforce planning is, “Do I play to the marketing team? Or do I work with the employee that generates the most revenue?” When I was at CNN, the most important people were those who could break the code on how to schedule time appropriately. Not Wolf Blitzer, not Anderson Cooper. The people who are able to schedule the right commercial at the right time were absolutely critical. This technical innovation was housed within CNN — we didn’t outsource that. We created the code and the app development. Those technologists and schedulers were the most important people in the whole operation and developing programs for them was key, because that was a population with significant mental illness concerns. We knew they were at risk because of factors like excessive screen time and social isolation, so we focused on them. We set up suicide hotlines and had an on-call doctor ready for intervention. Those were critical individuals and we needed to put our arms around them. We also allowed for creative scheduling. If they wanted to take a night shift because they found they worked better at night, that was fine with us.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We’re so scared to talk and relate to each other right now. We need to be sensitive in the workplace, don’t get me wrong, but the world is not represented by one opinion or one thought process. Our fear of the potential consequences and blowback from talking to each other about important issues and possibly disagreeing with each other is driving us apart.

What we must do is bring different people together and encourage interactions with those who are different than us. Have a higher level of tolerance. Genuinely listen, because communication is so incredibly important. I think social media creates so much noise in the water that it’s impossible to see beyond what’s been curated for you by the algorithm. Information is delivered to us so quickly and being mindful about what you take in and how you chose to respond is critical.

Do you have any quotes to live by? If so, can you share it and explain how that was relevant in your life?

It’s not so much a quote, but more of an adage. The biggest thing to learn as you advance your career is that no one works for you, they work with you. You have more power than you think you do, and your manager needs you more than you need your manager. Even when there’s a great relationship, there’s a still an element of fear between managers and employees due to the inherent power imbalance. Approach your work with the understanding that you’re needed and you are important.

In addition, how you approach the fear of failure will define your success. Having an idea shut down is scary, but all-or-nothing thinking will hobble you. Just because one idea was disregarded doesn’t mean all your ideas will suffer the same fate. In that moment when you’re shut down, push past it and bounce back without fear. Absorb and react to the offered feedback — that’s the difference between an “A player” and a “B player.”

If you could choose any living individual to have a private lunch with, who would it be and why?

Michelle Obama. She seems to have a lot of grit and that’s why I admire her so much. I think you learn a lot from firsts, and she was the first African-American First Lady. In theory, she’s the secondary person in that relationship, she was the HR person there and she was the person in service. How did she navigate everything that was thrown at her without being defensive — even to the haters? She just stayed so cool. The thing HR is known for is policing and picnics, but she’s known largely for baring her arms! She did so many important things, and yet that’s what people focused on, but she’s still so poised and graceful. I’d love to talk to her. I also wish I had spoken to Steve Jobs before he died, because he left so much on the table, and I think it would have been incredibly enlightening!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share these fantastic insights with us!

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