HR Happy Hour Episode 509 – Attracting and Retaining Talent during the Great Resignation
Host: Steve Boese
Guest: Ann Marr, EVP of Global Human Resources, World Wide Technology
Sponsored by: Culture Amp
This week, we spoke with Ann Marr about the Great Resignation and ways of attracting and retaining talent during this time.
– Prioritizing a positive, purpose driven work environment
– Importance of offering additional employee benefits
– Boosting diversity and inclusion efforts
– Supporting local communities and non-profit organizations
Thank you Ann, for joining the show today! Remember to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour wherever you get your podcasts.
Welcome to the HR Happy Hour show. My name is Steve Boese, so great to be with you again today. Trish not with us today, she is on assignment but we wish her well. She’ll be back soon. We are very excited today on the HR Happy Hour Show to continue our series on the great resignation, which I am sure is impacting you and your organization no matter what industry you’re in, no matter what part of the country you’re in, maybe what part of the world you’re in right now. We’re going to dig into that topic very, very soon with a great guest. And let’s not wait at all. Let’s welcome her right now. We’re very excited to welcome to the HR Happy Hour Show our special guest Ann Marr. She is the Executive Vice President of Global Human Resources at World Wide Technology, and oversees all human resources functions, which include talent management, policy development, benefits, administration, training, leadership, development and employee relations, as well as managing the company’s supplier diversity program, and is also the chair of the WWE Charitable Foundation, and is very active in the St. Louis area community and serves on the board of the St. Louis Regional Chamber Association, Maryville University Board of Trustees, St. Louis Police Foundation and the United Way of Greater St. Louis, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Resources Management from Webster University. Ann, we welcome you to the HR Happy Hour Show and how are you today?
Ann Marr 1:47
Great. Thank you so much, Steve, for having me on the show. Very excited. And I love that you have HR Happy Hour because that’s very appropriate, isn’t it?
It sure is. And, you know, I’ve talked about this a few times over the years, we’ve been doing this show since shockingly 2009 is when the show launched. So we’ve been at this a while. And the first couple of years of the HR Happy Hour Shows were literally done at sort of happy hour time even later than that we did them in the evening. And we did them live. And so that was kind of the angle. So you had to after a hard day working in the HR trenches, and you could kind of enjoy a beverage of choice and listen to the show. That was the idea.
Ann Marr 2:31
I missed them. I missed that then right. Okay, so fast forward, and now we’re doing it virtual, but it’s okay.
Yeah, that’s great. And it is earlier in the day. So we’re not quite at happy hour time as we record this. But we’ll get there hopefully today. And so great to have you with us. I mentioned we’re going to, we’re continuing our great resignation series that started a couple of shows ago with our friend Kenneth Matos from Culture Amp, who’s a data scientist. And we talked a lot about the research around what helps employees stay engaged and stay connected, and you know, kind of playing that retention angle a little bit. And we’d love to talk to you about what’s happening from your perspective as an HR leader in a big company. But first before we get into that maybe, and if you could give us 60 seconds or so or the 30,000 feet overview of what is World Wide Technology, I suspect this is a very big revenue company that maybe folks may not be familiar with, you know, just because of the nature of the business.
Ann Marr 3:29
You right, and we’ve been sort of the best kept secret in St. Louis and worldwide, is a global technology solutions provider with more than 13 billion in revenue, and we have over 7000 employees globally. And what we do, Steve is we deliver business and technology solutions and industry technology services. We have a very deep commitment to our customers and partners. And we are a 30 year old company. So we have been around for 30 years. We’re the largest minority owned company in the United States. And here’s a little tip for you. I will be with the company 24 years on December 1.
Wow. So you were early on in the the history and the growth and development this company, right? A lot of times when we talk to people who have been at a company for a long time, they’ll say, Oh, I’m employee number 22 years, something like that, right?
Ann Marr 4:28
Yeah. Well, when I started, we didn’t even have 150 employees. So it was less than 150 employees. And now when you look now fast forward is over 7000 globally. So it’s been quite the quite quite the excitement over the last 24 years. But it’s been a lot of hard work for sure.
Yeah, thank you and just for resetting that so high tech company, growing company. Big company 13 billion, it’s nothing to sneeze at. That’s for sure. And I will test you I have spent some time in the St Louis area over the last couple of years myself, and you do see World Wide Technology, you see them at the auto racing track that’s nearby to St. Louis. And I even went to a St. Louis Blues game recently. And you see World Wide Technology signage around the St. Louis Blues arena. So really strong brand, certainly in this area in the St. Louis area, but a growing brand and an important brand, certainly in the technology space. So that context I think’s important, when we start to talk about some of the issues of what’s happening in the world of work and in the workplace around the quote, unquote, I don’t know if I should do the air quotes on the great resignation, I kind of feel like it’s a real thing that we don’t need to pretend is a made up term, it’s a new term that and I’d love for you, maybe before we get into that sort of the great resignation, maybe we’ll step back, I don’t know, year and a half or so ago. And I’d love your perspective on okay. Things are starting to get kind of bad in the climate, the pandemic hits us all March yourself 2020. What were some of the things you did as an HR leader and along with the leadership team at worldwide technology to help your organization make that transition? That kind of sudden transition to I imagine was largely a remote working kind of environment? I’d love you maybe, to take us back to that and tell us what are some of the things that happen there?
Ann Marr 6:19
Yeah, and I remember it well, Steve, like it was yesterday, when we went global and who I mean, we went virtual and who thought it would be this long. And, you know, one thing that we were fortunate to have is great leadership with our CEO, and immediately assess the situation, all of us on the executive team and made the decision to go virtual. And it was a new experience. For a lot of individuals within the organization. We always had people that did some remote, but to have most of the company go virtual was really significant for us. But we still had on site employees, we have a warehouse facility and a lab right outside of St. Louis. So we have about 2000 people who were essential business functions, and they continue to work on site. So it was the rest of the company that really went virtual. And it was I think, you know, significant for us. Because who thought a lot of roles that we had, we thought, wow, they have to be in the office, they have to do things or they need things within the office, only to realize we can do things virtually. And thank God for technology. But without technology, I don’t think a lot of companies would have been able to sustain and grow their businesses, like I know, we were fortunate enough to do and investing in the technology early on, really helped us be able to make that transition. And it had also had to do with the leadership, the support by the entire our CEO on down throughout the organization to really encourage that we can make this work. And you know, you have to stay in connection with your team. So now you’re, you’re connecting with your teams in a virtual world versus in, in person. And that was another pivotal thing that we did, really understanding that we had to connect back to the team to make sure they were engaged. But the other thing we had to do as a company is the communication piece. And our CEO sprung into immediately spring into communication mode, to really have regular cadences with our employees throughout the globe, to make sure they understood where we were as an organization, that high level communication, you know, how you say support has to start from the top of the organization that was critical. And every couple of weeks. First it was every other week, our CEO got in front of our employees, virtually every single time he communicated the message and was consistent about our employees being the number one concern, and to support them throughout this pandemic. That was huge.
Yeah, thank you. And for sharing kind of that reset. We’ve heard that again and again, right, folks you’ve had on this show and other other other things, really the companies that have been largely more successful kind of managing say that 2020 into early 2021 Were those ones that really showed that care and concern kept the lines of communications open, had leadership really step up, right, there was a challenge for leaders all over and the ones who are able to step up, be empathetic. Be be open be available probably is the word I’d use, right. We’re the ones I think will probably have done the best and longer term will probably be set up for success as well. And as we transition into kind of that shock of 2020, as we got into 2021, and things in the spring, and certainly into the late spring and early summer of 2021, quote, unquote, we’re getting better, right? More folks were getting vaccinated, more businesses were opening back up restrictions were were being eliminated in various places, right for things you could do, and you can do, etc, all of a sudden, and I’d say go back maybe six months ago, we’re recording this in the middle to late part of November, I was just reading this morning, and the last six months, we’ve sat record after record after record in the United States of folks voluntarily leaving their jobs, right. And that’s what we call the Great resignation, it’s been around 4 million people per month for the last six months. It’s unprecedented, right? It used to be a couple of million a month, prior to the pandemic. And from your perspective, you know, as a global human resources leader of the big tech company that we’ve just described, what’s been your experience in the WWT experience with this so called great resignation? Have you seen in your organization, it’s been more challenging to sort of engage and retain folks, or just kind of me, tell us what, how that’s been for you in the last, you know, five, six months?
Ann Marr 11:17
Sure. And I think the great resignation and it’s so true, I mean, people have been resigning. But I think a lot of people are reevaluating what they want to do. They’re, they’re doing a reset, they’re thinking, is this what I want to do for the rest of my career? And I think they’re looking at, I think the pandemic really made people think about what I’m doing. Am I passionate about what I’m doing? Do I feel like I’m really providing the kind of providing impact to the company that I’m working for? And is it something that I love to do? So I think people have really decided to reset, and that that’s why you see the resignation, because people are trying to figure it out. A lot of people went into business for themselves, because they realize, wow, working virtual, I can do this, I can have my own business, and work virtual. And then other individuals are really assessing, you know, where they want to live in the world. Because I think I think the pandemic and working virtual made a lot of companies and a lot of individuals realize I don’t have to step foot in a facility to be successful. And when you look at the recruiting landscape right now, it you don’t have to physically be in the same city of where the your corporate office is, it has opened the gates for a lot of flexibility.
Ann Marr 12:42
And if you’re a company that’s not willing to be flexible, in where people live, you’re going to miss out on top talent. I’ve seen people from the West Coast, who maybe had challenges with how expensive it is or buying housing. So you know what, if I can work anywhere, well, maybe I want to live in Nashville, I have family, their cost of living is a little bit better, I can buy a home. So people had choices. And that great resignation really brought to the surface some of the choices people had in making their decisions about their own career. Now, we were fortunate as a company that we stood the power of the flexibility. And we’re not back in the office 100% In our headquarters in St. Louis. But people want the flexibility, you know, what, maybe a hybrid now, I’d love to work from home a couple days a week, and maybe still work virtual. You know, what we realized, Steve, the productivity was continuing to be very high. And it gave individuals equal access to people because they weren’t on a plane somewhere or traveling, you can schedule a zoom call or WebEx call. And people were there because they were accessible because they’re all sitting where we’re sitting. So it really elevated and equalize the accessibility of a lot of leaders around the organization.
Thank you for that context, would you say prior to the pandemic, and that your organization in general was, I don’t know, poorly, average or well equipped to handle a kind of disruption that no one could have saw coming? I mean, what kind of like, do you feel like the culture had been, I don’t know, cultivated, if I, for lack of a better word, to support people in these transitions and support, say, really radically new models of working that we all had to take over?
Ann Marr 14:43
We’re lucky again, we’re a technology company, people had laptops and people had the ability to connect back through technology. So I think we were equipped from a technology perspective. I don’t think anyone was equipped just knowing that it was actually going to happen? And would it work? You know, because you you had all the tools, but you were never tested on whether or not you needed to use them. And it tested, I think people around the world when everything went virtual. So we were lucky that we had the equipment. Now, from a mindset perspective. Sure, there were some managers that were really concerned that is this going to work, you know, where you start people being in in the office and sharing information, what’s going to be the dynamic of the teams when people are not there together? And so those were some of the things that I think we all were challenged with just what how was that gonna work? Because we were never tested on whether or not we can do it. And we learned a lot of things didn’t everyone you learned that yes, it can work, and you know, what you learn, you’re in people’s homes, you have a view back inside, and it really made it feel a lot more personal. And when you’re honest zoom call, you’re on a WebEx and someone’s kid kind of pokes their head in, it was endearing when someone’s dog is barking in the background, who cared, because, you know, maybe my dog would be barking the next time. And I think it really provided, you know, just a level of personal interaction.
Ann Marr 16:22
And, and then you think about the number of people that dealt with challenges early on, when schools were closed, they had to do remote learning that, you know, they never had to do before, we have to have a lot of empathy for that, you have to really have a lot of consideration for what individuals were going through. And early on our CEO, we all, you know, felt like we wanted to support employees, and provide any mental health resources, because it was a, it was a very trying situation earlier. First of all, you didn’t know how long it was going to go. And the challenges brought so much stress, you know, I’m trying to work, I’m trying to take care of my kids doing virtual learning, I got all these things happening. So there were a lot of challenges that people had to go through. But we really felt that, you know, we wanted to make sure employees understood they were a number one concern, as we were fortunate enough to grow that business. And I think because of that, we had a level of engagement from our employees, we had a little level of commitment, and commitment to say, you know, what, the culture is the most important thing at World Wide. But even during this virtual time, we are going to make sure we maintain that culture. And we’re gonna make sure we support our on site employees who are making huge sacrifices to support the company. So it was a lot of juggling things, and he just didn’t know where it was to go. Because it was, you know, we didn’t know if it was going to be short term, long term. How long is this gonna last? Nobody had the answer.
Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned something that perked up my ears a little bit, which was you mentioned, the, the idea of hey, being more a little bit more aware of and concerned and maybe even taking some more actions around stress, mental health burnout, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Exactly. You know, I’d love for you to maybe to share any thoughts you had, if you actually indeed did, you know, proactively, or intentionally increase kind of your attention focus and or, you know, enact any new programs over the course of the last year and a half, two years, specifically designed around supporting employees from from those perspectives.
Ann Marr 18:40
Yes. And we’ve always had a mental health program as part of our, you know, wellness, we had physical wellness, we have mental wellness, we have, you know, financial wellness. So this was always a core part of our company. And every single time our CEO got in front of employees, he made sure he called this out and recognized and supported employees who needed to use some of these resources. So we have, you know, that hotline, where you can go and get help confidentially. We also had an app that we have for employees that we had implemented, probably the year before pandemic, it’s a mental health resources app that employees can use a way forward. And they can go on there, they can get just on, you know, very quick if you need, you know, assistance and they have different little videos and they have different things that you can do, you know, if you just feel immediately stressed, but I think because our CEO continued to reinforce the mental health resources, employees felt, wow, this is something that is okay. Because there’s always been a stigma around that, you know, people can really do it, what are they going to think? But when you continuously reinforce it, employees know you really mean it. And they really, we really meant it for them to help them during this time.
And thank you, I will take a pause for one second, I do want to thank our friends I mentioned this is one in a series of shows we’re doing on the Happy Hour Show around the great resignation. Support for this series of podcasts is brought to you by our friends at Culture Amp, make the best people decisions to improve employee engagement, performance and development with Culture Amp, you’ll get access to science back data tools and experts to deliver impactful programs for everyone all in one intuitive platform. Only Culture Amp as the industry leading people science and technology to help you drive business success and bring more humanity to work. Build a world class employee experience with Culture Amp, visit cultureamp.com To learn more, and thanks to our friends at Culture Amp.
Ann, I want to ask you then a little bit more specifically around the great resignation topic, which is whether it’s at WWT, you had a lot of the things maybe already in place, plus a lot of that leadership report you needed some me be the great resignations not hitting you right in the face. So much as it is lots of other organizations. Maybe it is to some extent, but I’d love for you to talk a little bit about if you could either things you’re doing at WWT, over the last year or so, or maybe just in general, from your perspectives as an executive HR leader for a long time, what are some considerations for employers who are really struggling to a fill open positions and in really, really ridiculously tight labor market or be just keep those employees engaged, those, you know, supported, engaged and retain, because honestly, the first part of this great resignation is keeping people from resigning in the first place. And I’ll throw it out to you to maybe share some thoughts on either what you guys are doing at WWT or or just some things that you would advise other organizations to do.
Ann Marr 21:54
Yeah, and believe me, Steve, it’s hit everyone, I’m not going to sit here and say we haven’t been affected by the great resignation, I think ever every employer has. And I think you have to look at it in terms of just the recruiting aspect. As I mentioned, I think people are having a lot of choices. And so it’s a really competitive recruiting. Right now, it’s just competitive across the landscape in lots of different positions. And so sure, we’ve lost people that we didn’t want to lose, but we’ve gained some people too. I think there’s there’s a few things that we recognize, first of all, the culture, that is something we put forward first, in terms of worldwide was so proud of the culture and its culture built on teamwork and leadership and, and the energy and enthusiasm that our people bring to the culture and we have it outlined in the path, it’s a road to success at worldwide, you know, and the other thing that we really have been focused in on being a great place to work, it’s part of our mission to be a profitable growth company, that’s a great place to work for all. And that is a huge part of attracting and retaining the very best talent. individuals out there. Look for companies that are on that 100 Best Companies list because it kind of validates to them, wow, you’re in good company.
Ann Marr 23:18
So that’s another thing that we are have taken advantage of. But when you think about the choices people have and you think about the competitiveness of getting great talent, you I think you have to look at it from the top, down in the bottom up. So you know, trying to get high level resources very competitive. We looked at this a lot differently. Thinking outside of the box, we have programs that help accelerate our recruiting efforts, certainly some on diversity side, and programs that we call recruitment accelerators, where we’re bringing in individuals in underrepresented areas of or communities partnering with companies like Empower Launch Code, Google certification programs that we are bringing in individuals looking outside of the box, not everybody’s college bound, not everyone wants you to go to college. But there’s so many really talented individuals out there who have just the right skills. And some of these programs, you know, that they go through help refine those skills, and then they can come on companies like that, either through internships or apprenticeships, and then we can hire them full time.
Ann Marr 24:36
The other thing we’ve done as an organization is our own early in career programs, looking at people coming right out of college, or that have two or three years of experience that we creating entry level programs, where they start with worldwide start to learn these either in sales or business analytics groups, or some other parts of the organization. In that role, and then moving up throughout the organization, so, you know, they’re getting these careers learning, you know, these areas of our business as they move up. So I think you have to look at it very creatively. And outside of the box, there’s nothing traditional anymore. Sure, we want people who, you know, in some roles who’ve had college degrees, but you have to expand and broaden your reach there, you know, you can’t just rely on getting everyone from the top of the organization. It’s very competitive, and sometimes growing people growing that talent, we have a great internship program, we had over 100-120 interns this past year, okay. And we’ve been so successful in our internship program. So I think we’ve, we’ve learned to be creative. We’ve learned to pivot, we’ve learned to realize, you know, even even from a lot of veterans, we work with some veterans programs, hire our heroes, think about the training the veterans get, you know, through the military, we want to bring that talent on board at worldwide. So we’ve just tried to be very creative, to look at bringing the right talent in various different levels of the organization. So that’s how we have been looking at just thinking a little bit outside of the box.
Yeah. And I love that it’s about expanding opportunities. For folks, it’s about thinking a little bit more creatively about where the talent pool may be for the organization. And it’s about developing people, right? You talked about a lot, right? It’s not just about look, I’m sure every high tech company that you’re competing with for talent, wants to go to the top universities and cherry pick the top computer science graduates, etc. But, you know, that’s a relatively small kind of world of people. Right? And it’s maybe not necessarily the best fit for every organization as well. Right?
Ann Marr 26:56
Exactly. And that doesn’t mean that’s where all the great talent lies, either. Just because they’re coming from me. Yeah, you got a lot of great talent, but I wouldn’t miss out on talented individuals that didn’t go to some of those schools, and really, organically have been successful with some of these programs.
I know, we have the HR world about 8-10 years ago, right? Everything in the HR world was Moneyball right? We kept talking about that movie in that book, right? And about what were the the connections or the parallels between the world of work and that Moneyball, which is all about finding undervalued talent, right? That’s what Moneyball was all about, right? Finding undervalued talent in the marketplace and exploiting that where other folks were missing it. But that’s exactly what I thought about as you were describing some of the efforts that you’re doing at worldwide to, to find and cultivate talent, right? You’re looking for places maybe that other folks aren’t looking and that are that are undervaluing those, those talented individuals, right?
Ann Marr 27:52
I like your word better. Steve, you said under, you know, not necessarily undervalued talent, but talent that has not been cultivated. I think I love that term. Because, you know, a lot of individuals who are very passionate about technology or other things, if you just cultivate that, that passion, and really grow that talent. Oh, my gosh, that is so exciting to me. And it really becomes when you see how far they can go. It is so inspiring.
Yeah, absolutely. And the last thing I wanted to ask of you, and it’s related to this kind of finding talent, attracting talent, retaining talent, we recently did a show with a car like yourself, head of HR, and another tech company, a little bit smaller tech company, Jenny Dearborn came on the show. And she told us that when she’s interviewing job candidates, they almost invariably ask her about kind of the areas of kind of corporate social responsibility, what you’re doing in your communities, to be a good community member to support the communities, etc, etc, I’d love for you to comment on that, whether that’s coming up is something you’re seeing either in recruiting of the retention side as being more important to individuals, and maybe some of the things either worldwide you guys do to to kind of be a good community citizen, if you will, or just thing and how that’s helping you or if it is helping you and kind of, again, in this great resignation world where we’re finding and retaining talent is so difficult for you to come in and just on that side of it.
Ann Marr 29:27
You know, I think a lot of individuals that we talked to him are very civic minded, and they’re very interested in what we are doing to support the community. And we, we encourage that because through our foundation, we want to support communities around the globe, and we especially want to support employees who are giving their time and talent to so many incredible organizations. We just had a group recently, or maybe it’s this week, Covenant House. It’s the Sleepout we have an individual’s Do this Sleepout for homeless, we have individuals who are really passionate about the the St. Louis St. Patrick’s center, we have a huge initiative around the American Cancer Society, you mentioned the United Way, there’s so many different organizations that we support. And our employees are very involved in that. And I think a lot of the people we hired, they asked, they want to know what we’re doing. Some of the programs I mentioned to you, we are strategic partners with those programs. So we’re helping bring them as much as they’re helping us, you know, we’re helping support some of their programs. But we’re also getting the benefit of from from some of those programs. But I think as a company, we’ve always supported the communities in which we work and live. In fact, we give employees a Day of Caring one day a year, go out support a charity that you are passionate about, this is a free day, take the whole day. And if it’s if it’s going and working, you know, in in the office, or if it’s, you know, Habitat for Humanity, you’re building a house with them, whatever the case, may be, because that really is important to us, as a company too much is given much is required. And we’ve been really fortunate as an organization and very humbled by our success, but we just feel that it is our responsibility to support the communities.
Yeah, thank you for that. I think it’s so true, right? And I think, again, that’s a differentiator, right? We hear this all the time, right? Especially the younger cohort, I don’t wanna get into a whole, like, Gen Z millennial thing. I do think it’s interesting, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that Yeah, and it’s really, really competitive marketplace for talent, what are the things you can do as an organization that that can set you apart and can not so much set you apart as much as help connect people to something a little bit bigger, you know, something a little bit greater, something a little bit more important, both from the work that they’re doing at the organization and the customers they’re supporting, as well as in their community? And I think that’s the package, right? It’s kind of like, the little secret sauce you might you need in today’s market?
Ann Marr 32:12
Oh, for sure. I mean, I think it’s a differentiator. And I think it’s something that candidates ask about, they asked about what we’re doing in the community, they asked about our corporate and social responsibility. And so I think, for us, as an organization, it’s always been part of our DNA, it always has, and even some of the other other organizations, you know, they support, you know, kids with cancer, some of the other you know, and so partnering and having those strategic partners, for us as an organization is huge.
That’s great stuff. And this has been so much fun, I don’t want to, I can probably keep talking to you for another hour or so on this. But I’ve been really, really enjoyed the conversation specifically around what are some of the ways creatively and authentically right to engage with candidates in the open market, as well as the employees that you have inside the organization to try to just do the best you can buy talent for talent and ultimately, right for the business and for your customers, which is really, really the perfect storm right of all this coming together. But this has been really fascinating. And it’s been so much fun getting to talk to you, the websites worldwide technology.com. I checked the careers page before we got on the show today. And you got lots of open careers out there so or otherwise, to maybe check that out as well. We’ll put a link in the show notes as well. And so this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for joining us.
Ann Marr 33:39
Thank you it’s been fun chatting with you really appreciate the highlight at worldwide and you know, I’m just honored to be asked to be on the show.
Oh, it’s technology. I like to learn more about this story, like one of the biggest technology companies you may not be familiar with, but a huge footprint growing really great, great story. And I’m super excited to have Ann Marr from World Wide Technology here on the show today. So the websites worldwidetechnology.com. Once again, we’ll put that in the show notes. I also want to thank our friends at Culture Amp for supporting us and on this great resignation series. We’ve got one more show coming up in the series that I’m looking forward to in December but we’ll make sure you learn all about that as well. So, for me my name is Steve Boese, our guest Ann Marr, from World Wide Technology. Remember to catch all the HR Happy Hour Show archives at our website. HRHappyHour.net. Okay, that’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening. We will see you next time and bye for now.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai