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Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent, with Aileen Wilkins Of GEHA & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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GEHA Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Through my years of managing people, I have seen that showing appreciation for employees goes miles in increasing value and it doesn’t cost a cent! With focus on increasing productivity and having the perfect workspace, companies seem to lose sight of the importance of employee recognition.

Asa 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 Aileen Wilkins.

Aileen Wilkins is passionate about business and even more passionate about people. She is currently the Chief People Officer at GEHA, leading talent development and culture team at the company. Aileen is responsible for aligning GEHA’s talent initiatives to support and enhance successful delivery of the company’s transformation efforts. In her more than 25 years in HR and talent development, she has worked through progressively responsible roles across diverse business lines from financial services and global pharmaceuticals to technology startups and health care.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Igraduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and went on to the University of Kansas for my master’s degree. Knowing that I didn’t want to do anything on the finance or accounting side of things, I weighed my options. I was one of seven children in my family. Growing up in a large, loud family taught me two crucial skills: cooperation and communication. Naturally, loving people and excelling at coordinating those people from a young age led me to a career in human resources.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career?

I have a secret love for “The Office.” Throughout my 30-year career in human resources, I have seen the show come to life countless times. The show is funny because of the dramatic truisms and metaphors for people and events I have experienced in the workforce. While I haven’t met anyone quite like Michael Scott or Dwight, they are exaggerated versions of some people I have worked with!

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

GEHA is in the process of developing new company mission, vision and values. As an 82-year-old company, changes like these are incredibly impactful. The company is growing and the culture is evolving; we want to make sure that our core values match this change. The new mission, vision and values are based off of feedback from employees on what they see in our current culture and how they want that culture to grow in the future. This research and the changes in the works will allow our company to succeed, therefore making GEHA a better place for employees to work.

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. Behavioral interviewing

Using this tactic allows me to see concrete examples of the interviewee’s skills and experiences. Behavioral skills should equip the candidate to excel at the job they are interviewing for. An example might be asking how they’ve handled a high-pressure situation if the job contains an element of high-stress.

2. Reference Checking

Checking a potential employee’s references is crucial. An interview can never tell you all you need to know about a person. Their past employers and other peers who know them well offer valuable insight into who the candidate really is.

3. Checking network

LinkedIn is a great tool for employers. Seeing who the candidate is connected with and possibly following up with those connections allows for a network check past the provided references. With a well versed network, it is always helpful to see if you have any mutual connections with a potential employee.

4. Functional Competency

Whether or not the employee has the developed skills to hold the position they are interviewing for is important. Testing the interviewee’s knowledge of their trade and the business they are interviewing at gives the interviewer a good idea about their functional competency.

5. Values (Culture Fit)

Last, but certainly not least, a candidates values must fit with the values and culture of the company. A candidate can have the functional skills, but if their values are not in line with those of the company, the cultural change can be too much for that potential employee to enjoy their work experience.

Great tips! 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?

Networking has proved to be the number one way that I find the best hires. Human resources tends to have a strong network and I know that I can trust the opinion of many connections that I’ve maintained over the course of my career. When someone within my company connects us with a connection they have, it has proved to be very helpful. Trusting outside recommendations of my network is also extremely helpful. I can ask, “Who is the best at this?” and I will get many strong recommendations in a very short time frame. After that, it’s all about reaching out to that potential employee in the right way.

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

1. Strong Direct Leadership

Having a manager that is a strong leader, communicator and encourager allows employees to feel valued and productive. Company executives are not readily available to employees all the time, so having key leadership accessible to employees helps retention immensely.

2. Employee Development

Growth is something that every employee should want to experience in a company. By providing employees with useful development opportunities allows growth in employees and therefore the company. Experiencing growth and opportunity for advancement encourages employees to stick with a company.

3. Strong communication

I have seen the impact that strong and complete communication has on the culture of a company. Overall morale is higher when employees are well informed. High morale leads to great retention!

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends?

Yes, simply put, it is important for HR (or anyone in business) to keep up with new trends. Within HR, there are not a lot of new innovations coming at you every day. Benefits or technology might change every so often, but those things are not a source of constant change. People, however, (in this case, employees) are constantly changing and evolving. Their basic needs might not be changing, but what they want in an environment and work culture shifts continuously. By staying up to date with these “people trends” through research (Gartner research is one of my personal favorites) and talking to HR peers, I can stay up to date on how to best serve my ever-changing employees.

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

Through my years of managing people, I have seen that showing appreciation for employees goes miles in increasing value and it doesn’t cost a cent! With a focus on increasing productivity and having the perfect workspace, companies seem to lose sight of the importance of employee recognition. In a recent Gallup survey, employees were asked if they had received recognition or praise in the last seven days. Only one in three workers strongly agreed that they had. In the most basic terms, people just want to know that 1) their work matters and 2) someone notices it. Employee recognition is a valuable tool that companies can create a culture around at no cost to them.

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 would love to start a movement to push companies into bringing more humanity back into the workplace. In a time where the importance of humanity is in the hustle of the workforce, it would be incredible if employees were guaranteed that they would be treated consistently well in their place of work. Turning away from corporate patterns of politics and the blame game, taking personal responsibility in the workplace would make the 40 hours or more spent in the office a much better place.

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

A man I used to work with at a high tech startup used to go around saying “Be a fountain, not a drain.” This quote sticks with me because no one likes the complainer or the “drain.” I try to focus on bringing a positive attitude to the office and to life. I want to be the person that my peers, coworkers, and family think of as overflowing with energy, good ideas and a glass-half-full outlook on life.

Completely agree with that one. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

If I could have lunch with anyone in the world, Melinda Gates would have to be at the top of my list. I admire her for her philanthropic efforts in third world countries and her commitment to inspiring and furthering women’s presence in the workplace. I’d love to sit down with her and have a thoughtful conversation about her beliefs, experiences and so much more. It would be okay with me if she brought Bill, too.

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

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