How To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent with Cynthia Ring & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Human Resources Hiring Strategies

To hear people’s stories without judgment and to see people without judgment is powerful. If we all put intention around doing this, we would be more comfortable and accepting of difference.

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 Cynthia Ring.

Cynthia Ring is the Chief People Officer at Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare. Previously, she served as Vice President of Human Resources & Patient Experience at Central New England HealthAlliance Hospital. Over the last ten years, she received special recognition from the Stepping-Up Program, JobClubRI and the Governor’s office for her work in establishing an innovative career ladders program and her commitment to community workforce investment and development programs. Ms. Ring holds a master’s degree in business administration from Bryant University and an undergraduate degree in English from Framingham State University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career on the business side as a general manager, sales and in a variety of business analyst roles. I consistently ended up involved in or managing large organizational problems related to labor costs, change management, workforce investment and talent management which eventually led to me into an HR role.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?

One of the funniest stories was when a candidate showed up for an interview wearing a bathing suit, flip flops and no cover up! Her hair had sand in it, and she was carrying a big bright beach bag. She walked into the HR department in a busy hospital setting to interview for an RN role. She had fallen asleep on the beach and didn’t want to be late for her interview (this was prior to cell phone popularity/access).

I often wondered why she didn’t just skip the interview or call to say she would be late and ask to be rescheduled rather than show up in such an unprofessional way. Lesson learned for her, punctuality is less important than exercising sound judgment.

Wonderful. Now let’s jump into 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?

1. First and foremost, you need to know your market by being up-to-date on the economy and futurist readings and have the ability to respond with the appropriate talent strategies to meet the needs of your business.

2. We x-ray the internet by using Internet/Boolean searches to uncover candidates who may not be on the obvious job/network platforms.

3. We use search techniques like Google Chrome extensions that enable us to reach out directly to passive candidates.

4. We leverage the hiring manager’s industry connections, such as membership associations, to help us network and find talent.

5. We use social media (Facebook, GlassDoor, etc.) to showcase Harvard Pilgrim’s strong brand to attract prospective candidates.

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

1. Staying in touch with top talent who leave the organization (“boomerang hiring”) — They sometimes find the grass is not always greener. They make great hires and can hit the ground running because they know our company, people and culture.

2. Collaboration with colleges and universities for pipeline building for new graduates.

3. Offering a referral bonus program to employees for high-growth, high-demand, and hard-to-fill positions.

What are the 3 most effective strategies you use to retain employees?

At Harvard Pilgrim, we focus on the “Employee Experience” as a means to engage and retain employees. There are three environments our employees experience at work each day: Cultural, Physical and Technical. We are continuously making investments in all of them.

1. Cultural Environment — A lot goes into our culture at Harvard Pilgrim, so I’ll highlight just a few areas. At Harvard Pilgrim, we value difference and believe that value is created through difference. We have a half dozen Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) — Women’s Development Group, Black Leaders Forum and Latino Leaders in Action — to name a few. Our ERGs drive employee engagement, strengthen our internal community and help the company achieve its goals. Secondly, we have a culture of learning where we provide opportunities to employees at all levels — from leadership development to mentoring to job shadowing to courses like personal branding. Lastly, we have a strong culture of service and giving. In 2018, 98% of Harvard Pilgrim employees gave to or served our communities through the $500 mini-grant program or service day opportunities we made available to them.

2. Physical Environment — We design our workspaces to encourage teamwork and collaboration. Our social spaces, like the Café and lounge areas, are designed to be inviting comfortable places where employees can take a break and have a free snack or beverage.

3. Technical Environment — We strive to provide employees with consumer-grade tools that enable them to work with greater ease and efficiency so they can do their best work.

A testament to our efforts in creating a great employee experience is our recognition in The Boston Globe’s Top Places to Work program for 11 consecutive years; The Boston Business Journal’s Best Places to Work program for 17 consecutive years; and the Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work for seven consecutive years.

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 see storytelling be the catalyst to better humanity. If we took the time to listen to those around us, to advocate, be activists or allies for others, we could be a stronger nation of people. To hear people’s stories without judgment and to see people without judgment is powerful. If we all put intention around doing this, we would be more comfortable and accepting of differences. Perhaps difference would not be feared or judged but rather needed to be a better society, better people and ultimately a more humane world. I saw a movie many years ago, A Time to Kill, it really emphasized the importance of humanity and how easy it is to look past it if you are only focused on hating the difference around you. Whenever I feel judgment coming into my heart, I bring the lesson of that movie to mind. It’s a powerful and important lesson on humanity and understanding the responsibility we all have in being humane toward one another.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have two quotes. The first is “Everything in life is only for now.” The first keeps me grounded no matter what is happening in my life. It helps me be present and to realize no matter how good or bad something is, it is only now which keeps me focused on continuing to push myself in achieving all that I hope to do in my life. If someone knocks you down, you get back up. If you are up, you extend a hand to hold someone else up. The second quote is “Proceed until apprehended.” I try to live my life with courage. This quote has served me well in doing that even in times when I was nervous or unsure of something. It has paved an accelerated path for my career.

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?

It’s hard to narrow it down to just one person. There are a few people, like Robert Herjavec, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, the late John Wooden or Vince Lombardi. If I can only pick one, I would pick Tom Brady. I enjoy reading about, watching and studying coaches and athletes. Brady’s tenacity, determination, and grit to continue to improve his craft is truly inspiring — especially when you look at where he started athletically to where he is now in both his physical and mental ability. It’s a remarkable transformation and one that would be fun to talk through and learn from. I admire his commitment to Best Buddies International. My son is a freshman in high school. The Best Buddies program has helped him assimilate into a new environment, develop socially and physically through sports programs, gain confidence academically and thrive in his first year of high school while building important networks of people around him that embrace his differences and enjoy him for who he is.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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