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Learn How To Identify And Retain Top Talent with Melissa Jones Of CSAA & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

CSAA IG Human Resources Hiring Strategies

Our recruiters don’t just recruit when we have openings. We are always willing to have conversations with candidates when there’s interest, even when we don’t have an opening.

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 Melissa Jones.

Melissa Jones is the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at CSAA Insurance Group.


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

I didn’t set out to be an HR person. I started college as a chemistry major, thinking I was going to do something in pharmaceuticals. But after my first year, I realized that it was probably not the right career path for me. So I took a more general path and chose social sciences. I got a job right out of college working in payroll and benefits, and that’s really where my career started. I realized that a career in HR is industry-agnostic, so there’s a lot of opportunity, and you have a significant influence on shaping a company’s culture. That’s what brought me to, and keeps me at, this particular organization.

CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA Insurer, has a strong focus on creating a culture that’s inclusive, where everyone can find something that’s meaningful for them, whether it’s inclusion and belonging, wellness or volunteerism — and that’s meaningful for me. We’ve been focused on transforming our organization over the last five years, becoming a more customer-focused company that’s flexible and ready to meet the challenges of change. We have really exciting opportunities for people who are interested in being innovative and working on changing a company that’s more than 100 years old so that we can continue to remain relevant in the future.

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

Not a day goes by when you don’t hear about connected home, connected car, and self-driving automobiles. Our industry is being disrupted, and we are not sitting back and thinking about how we can be followers. We are really thinking about how we can be leaders in this space. Over the last couple of years, we have stood up a strategy and innovation division that’s focused on how we can generate new sources of revenue. The exciting work I get to do in support of this is thinking about the talent we need to drive these new opportunities. It’s imperative that we focus on being more agile as an organization. Not just in agile methodology for project management but adopting an agile mindset companywide — the ability to test and learn, and quickly change course if necessary. Advancing and advocating these principles throughout the company makes for an interesting and exciting opportunity here right now.

Fantastic. Let’s dive 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?

The job market has changed significantly. It’s very competitive, and in order to draw great talent to the insurance industry, we need to change the perception of what insurance can be.

· We highlight exciting opportunities: We’re reframing our recruiting efforts to better mirror the exciting opportunities our potential candidates are seeing in technology. Like the tech industry, we have careers in data science, actuarial, and innovation, and we’re working on what the impact of artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and emerging technologies will have on insurance.

· We emphasize our unique culture: Cultural differentiation is vital. Our tagline for employment is “a community that works,” so it’s not just about the great work that we get to do but how we differentiate ourselves from a cultural perspective, such as our 100% volunteerism rate and our robust wellness program that rewards people for healthy behaviors. We believe that healthy employees are more productive employees, and taking care of employees means not just while they are at work. Focusing on wellness in their lives, which includes financial wellness, is part of our overall strategy.

· We do ongoing talent strategy planning: A rigorous planning process is essential to get alignment between our strategic goals and our talent needs for the coming years. Where are our current strengths and where do we have gaps? We are thoughtful about what we might need and don’t wait until a need comes up. We do talent review and succession planning as well to think about what our current pipeline is for leadership roles. We have a planned approach to backfill roles if necessary, both with internal and external talent when needed.

· We champion diversity of perspective: We require a diverse slate of candidates for managerial roles, but we also provide a diverse interviewing team to make sure we have a broad perspective when assessing talent.

· We focus on creating an outstanding candidate experience: First impressions are powerful, and we try to have nice personal touches when people come in for an interview. We’ll have a goody bag and a water and a note thanking them for being there. It’s small, but it leaves a lasting impression. We survey candidates throughout the process, whether they’re offered a role or not, so that we have a very broad view of the entire candidate experience. We also do training for managers who are interviewing candidates. When we send out the interview schedule, we send them things to think about when interviewing and remind them of the importance of creating a good experience for the candidates.

Valuable tips! With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry?

First, we’re very focused on building and maintaining an active talent pipeline. Our recruiters don’t just recruit when we have openings. We are always willing to have conversations with candidates when there’s interest, even when we don’t have an opening. We’re even implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) candidate resource database to enable people to express interest in both current and future roles and for us to be able to build and maintain relationships with prospective candidates. I think of our recruiting team as our talent procurement team, and they’re always thinking about the pipeline so we always have talent ready to go.

Also, referrals are invaluable. Anytime we hire someone, we typically ask them within their first couple of weeks to provide referrals. We believe that when someone is new to a company, they are most likely to refer people, and we will proactively contact them. We also have an employee referral program that provides dollars for hired referrals.

Last, we ask all of our leaders to be recruiters. When they are out representing the company, we expect them to be company ambassadors and recruit talent.

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

We invest in our culture

We spend a lot of time at work, so we believe that there needs to be more than just a work experience. There are plenty of opportunities for our employees to get involved outside of what’s in their job description, whether it’s our inclusion and belonging efforts or our wellness and volunteer programs.

We have award-winning leadership development programs

Our eight-month Leaders Development Program provides advanced training and development in the role of enterprise leader. Similarly, our Aspiring Leaders Development Program is designed for individual contributors and is built on a combination of education, exposure and experience. We also have something called the Developmental Assignment Marketplace, which gives employees opportunities for project exposure in areas where we might have gone outside the company to get a contingent workforce. In this case, we can fill it internally with talent that’s interested in getting exposure in other areas.

We also measure engagement regularly

We measure engagement by surveying whether employees have good things to say about the company, whether they intend to stay with the company, and whether they strive to do their best work for the company. We place great emphasis on the employees’ answers to whether they would stay with the company, so we can see if there is anything we could be doing proactively to improve the employee experience and better retain employees.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends and provide an example of what this looks like?

For a long time, there was a trend of companies saying “get rid of performance reviews.” But I’ve always been a big believer in reviews — I think they provide an excellent opportunity for employees to receive formal feedback — so we never went down that path, and now the trend is coming full circle and embracing reviews again.

However, it is important to keep up with what’s happening with employee benefits. We are super proud of our leading efforts in this area. We are recognized for our progressive wellness programs, including providing incentives to HRAs (health reimbursement accounts)and HSAs [health savings accounts] for verifiable wellness behavior.

We aren’t going to jump on trends that don’t make sense for our organization, but we do love being frontrunners when we can focus on the specific needs of our employees.

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

A wonderful and very recent example — one I’ve very proud of — is our new student loan repayment assistance program. This new benefit helps employees pay off their student loans while still saving for retirement. We have a 6% match in our 401(k) program. Employees with student loans must contribute at least 2% to their 401(k) but can then defer the remaining match to pay off student loan debt. It’s been extremely well received by employees and externally as well.

We also like to provide leadership opportunities to employees who aren’t yet formal leaders in the organization. Employees can be wellness champions, or lead/co-lead our Regional Diversity Councils and Employee Resource Groups. These programs cost very little and help us increase the engagement of our employees who have passion in those areas. We are also big proponents of leaders as teachers, so a lot of our award-winning development programs leverage our internal talent to teach portions of those programs.

Absolutely love that you’re helping repay student debt. 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’m a big believer in wellness. I’m proud of what we’ve done in that space, but I’d love to get the whole organization and the whole world focused on how to take better care of ourselves. And not just physically, but emotionally. If we could take the stigma out of things like getting care for mental illnesses and disorders, we would create so much more productivity. While we are great as an employer that champions this, if I could really get broad adoption beyond our walls, we would make a huge difference in people’s lives and their ability to be more productive in the workplace.

Emotional wellness definitely needs more support, thank you for bringing that up. Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off” is my mantra. I am extremely resilient, and I had to develop that capability because I have a pretty strong internal critic. I think my resiliency has really served me best in my career. You can’t please everyone 100% of the time, and if I let that always get to me, it would be really difficult to be in this line of work. Sometimes I have ideas for the organization, but it’s just not the right time. It doesn’t mean no forever, it just means not right now. The whole notion of persistence and not letting yourself get knocked down all the time. And if you do fall, get right back up, dust yourself off and move forward.

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?

Probably Ellen DeGeneres. She’s just pure joy and happiness. She influences with positivity and is a big proponent of being inclusive. Ellen is so influential and I just love everything that she stands for.

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

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