HRchat Podcast - Interviews with HR, Talent and Tech Experts

#316: Creating a Sense of Belonging w/ Nicole Fernandes and Mike Hoffmann, Blu Ivy Group

July 20, 2021 The HR Gazette Season 1 Episode 316
HRchat Podcast - Interviews with HR, Talent and Tech Experts
#316: Creating a Sense of Belonging w/ Nicole Fernandes and Mike Hoffmann, Blu Ivy Group
Show Notes Transcript

There was a time when compensation and benefits were all that mattered to employees. Today, however, they look for much more from their employers; not least of all, they seek an emotional connection and a sense of belonging.

In this HRchat episode, we talk about shaping and managing your company's culture. Listen as we delve into how to live your employer brand story and ways leaders can better connect with employees.

Bill's guests are Nicole Fernandes, Director of Culture and DEI, and Michael Hoffmann, Director of Growth and Innovation, at Blu Ivy Group, an employer branding agency & consultancy composed of awesome culture architects who unearth the stories of companies to help them attract, retain and blossom from within.

Questions Include:

  • The pandemic has shifted the way we think about work, tell us about your perspective on how employees are feeling right now.
  • What do you think is most important to employees in 2021 and beyond? 
  • Why do you believe that isn’t DEI working?
  • Why do you believe belonging is important in the workplace?
  • With all of the DEI approaches in the market today, why is the focus on developing a sense of belonging different? 

About Blu Ivy Group

An authentic and engaged workplace has better hiring metrics, an increase in talent retention, and improved employee experience. People love what they do because they love where they work. With a combination of HR, marketing, communications, recruitment, and corporate leadership, Blu Ivy finds a company’s unique DNA. Learn more at https://bluivygroup.com/

We do our best to ensure editorial objectivity. The views and ideas shared by our guests and sponsors are entirely independent of The HR Gazette, HRchat Podcast, and Iceni Media Inc.   

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the HR chat podcast, bringing the best of the HR and talent communities to you.

Speaker 2:

It was a time when compensation and benefits were all that mattered today. However, employees look for much more from their employers, not least of all, they seek an emotional connection and the sense of belonging in this HR chat podcast episode. We're going to talk about shaping and managing your company's culture, living your employer, brand story, and finding ways to connect with candidates and employees in authentic and powerful ways. My guests this time are Nicole Fernandez, director of culture and D I M Mike Hoffman, director of growth and innovation over at blue IB group, an employer branding agency and consultancy composed of awesome culture architects who on earth companies' stories to help them attract, retain and blossom from within the golden . Mike, welcome to the HR chat show.

Speaker 3:

Thank you bill . So let's, let's

Speaker 2:

Jump straight in today and , uh , firstly, I'd love for you guys to take a couple of minutes here and tell our listeners about yourselves, your career backgrounds and your roles at blue Ivy. Uh, Nicole, would you like to go first?

Speaker 4:

Sure, absolutely. So my name's Nicole Fernandez, I'm the director of employer brand and culture here at blue Ivy group and also the head of our brand new diversity equity and inclusion practice actually got my start studying authenticity, if you can believe it at the university of Waterloo as part of a psychology degree. And then I spent the next , uh , a little over a decade studying HR, leading HR employee engagement, employee experience, and really rounded that out by focusing on leading global employer brand and culture work here at blue Ivy group . So really going full circle, focusing on authenticity and then culture and belonging.

Speaker 3:

Hi, I'm Mike Coffman and I am the director of growth and innovation here at blue Ivy. I've got a background in branding and marketing, working on both agency and client side. Also got a management consulting experience where I've focused on important human capital practices, like the future of work culture, organizational effectiveness, and of course change management.

Speaker 2:

Perfect . And this is a topic that we're talking about today, which is , uh , near and dear to my heart. I think , uh, I, well, I know I get very excited when we're talking anything to do with protecting one's brand , uh , being more attractive to talent, helping to get your message out there and do it in the right ways and standing up for folks showing them that you can be an awesome employer. Mike let's let's , uh, let's get into the nitty gritty, the , the, the meat of the conversation today , um, that the pandemic has shifted the way we think about work. Of course, 18 months ago, how many people really would have thought that it was possible to be productive working from home all the time. So tell us, tell us about your perspective on how employees are feeling right now at this really interesting juncture. You know , there's, a lot of folks are thinking about going back to work, but perhaps some of them don't want to have to go back to the office all the time. Tell us about your opinion on that.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, thanks bill. I, I think that this is one of the most interesting things that's happening right now. Obviously work is so important to our lives and , uh, really what we're seeing is the social contract between employees and employers is , is under negotiation. And there's so many things that are kind of impacting this dynamic. So lots of change obviously happened in the last year or two years from the pandemic. Um, but there's also, you know, a whole host of, of influence from all the social justice movements that were happening. Um, and, and these, you know, really kind of got at the cultural fabric of our society, right. And, you know, on top of that, we saw things like, you know, the huge shift , um , in the changing demographic of the workforce, really starting to kind of happen, right. You know, there's been this promise of , of baby boomers and the impact that they're going to have, and it's starting to really tangibly show up in numbers. And on top of that, you know, there's this , um, real risk, I think of dual economies happening, right. There was , uh , a real tale of the haves and haves nots through the pandemic. And , and some , uh , workers found themselves, you know, really highly sought after and , and, you know, increasing their, their wealth and their careers and , and others, you know, that had to sit on the sidelines. Um, and so when we kind of take a step back and we take a look at these two groups of employees, you know, the people whose jobs were highly impacted and are still kind of highly underemployed , this group is feeling left behind, let down unsure of what's to come. And, and on the other hand, the other group that, you know, definitely felt engaged and moving forward, they they're , you know, also feeling like, you know, they've, they've got a little bit coming to them, right? That they're owed for the work that they put in. They're feeling confident that they can get a job anywhere, no matter what the situation and there aren't satisfied for settling for, for any kind of job, you know, in both cases, what we're really seeing is, you know, the needs aren't being met. Right. And that's where that contract negotiation comes in between the two and the impact here is, you know, there's a little bit of a loss of trust, loyalty and retention , um, between employees and employers.

Speaker 2:

Okay. Thank you. Bye. Now, I I'd love to get both of your opinions to , to the next question, but Nicole , let's start with you and then perhaps you can pass over to Mike after you've finished your part in your view. Nicole, do you think that this is a temporary shift in expectations by employees, or is it part of a, is it part of a longer term trend? I E for example , um , can we expect all of us to take social justice as seriously as it should have been taken all this time anyway, and the expectations around work from home and what an employer brand should stand for, and the changes that we've seen over the last 18 months is that here to stay .

Speaker 4:

Thanks, bill . That's such a great question. I especially love kind of where you went with it there on social justice work from home. I think when it comes to those individual trends, perception, there might shift, right? As the world starts to normalize, we start to see exactly what the new normal is going to be that could shift. But I think what won't shift is this long range, I guess, effect of the power dynamics and employee expectations that have changed as a result of that power dynamic that Mike was talking about, right? So people have been isolated on or under employed or overworked. And now they've seen that nothing in work or life is guaranteed. That's got to have far ranging implications on how people think and act, and as , especially now that they're more mobile than they've ever been before, they're going to be seeking out employers who can deliver what they need. So while the needs may shift, for example, the need for social justice work for flexibility, people are going to be deliberate about making sure that they're getting their needs met. And if you can't meet needs at work, then you better make sure if you're an employer that you at least are not getting in the way of people having their needs met outside of work. And the other thing too is with mobility. Now it is truly a global talent market. So that means it's an employee market, regardless of what the unemployment rate is that is here to stay and loyalty is not guaranteed. So I think talent knows now, and they're not soon going to forget that they do have some choice and some stay and things. So it's really up to employers now to answer back and try and meet their needs. I know Mike has some opinions on this too, though. Mike, what about you?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, thanks, Nicole. I love to just kind of echo everything that you're saying. The overall global talent shortage is real and , and well-documented right. The , the stats and the numbers are there. Um, you know, there's, there's just not enough talent to fuel all the growth plans. Um, and there's no end in sight to these talent challenges, especially over the next decade. Um, and , and right now I think it's, it's on organizations to really start planning how they can build advantage advantages into their talent plans , um, and how they're gonna market those differences to attract and retain top talent. Um, you know, we've been talking about remote work. It's just one great example among many, but, you know, we we're , we've demonstrated that remote work can happen, right? And nobody's going to forget that, and we're already seeing, you know, Pandora's boxes being opened, right? And it just takes one organization to offer that before it puts stress on everybody else. And, and all of the other organizations that don't offer that are at a disadvantage. And, you know, we know how slow sometimes business can move. It's going to take a long time for these organizations to digest these changes and to keep pace with the market and that pace of change. Isn't going to slow down anytime soon. Okay.

Speaker 2:

W I , I want to talk to you in a moment just , uh, around employee expectations, but before we get there, I want to pick up on something you both just mentioned there. And , and that's , um, the, the, the belief that , that the, the, the talent market , uh, the , the labor force is now global, and there is a pool of talent you can get from anywhere. And it doesn't matter because we've proved it out since, since Q Q1 of 2020 now off the records. Um, I've spoken with a lot of leaders , uh, before we're hitting records on, on the , on this show. And , and I've got a lot of feedback from , from leaders, from CEOs of businesses and whatnot. And they've said, well, the reality though , is we still want to be able to hire people that we can meet with on a regular basis. Um, we, we feel that that's important as part of our employer brand. They , they get us, they get to know us, they , they get to see what the working environment could be like for them. And just to get that face time on a regular basis, in your opinion, can you, can you really project an employer brand? If, if it's ,

Speaker 3:

This is one of the things that we're think is so important to solve within organizations, I love to talk about video games. I grew up playing video games. Um, and, you know, I think that the gamer community is a wonderful example of the bonds and relationships that you can build , uh, in a completely digital world. Uh, I think that there's a lot of legacy thinking when it comes down to what are the cultures and what are the cultural opportunities , um, in a completely remote and, and digital workforce , uh, you know, there's some work to be done in terms of being able to navigate that and overcome some of those , um, you know, legacy types of, of, of way of doing work. But it's totally possible to be connected to your workforce force in , in a digital, only environment. It takes work just like it doesn't in the real workplace. So I , I don't know if I subscribe to that and that , and I think that that's a dangerous kind of way of thinking, especially over the longterm . Nicole, do you have anything to add?

Speaker 4:

Yeah. You know what, I think I agree with you, right. And not from a video game standpoint. Cause I can't say that's my jam, but I think what's really interesting is that for example, right now we're not in the same room having this conversation right. Bell and somehow you still get a sense of what people are like. And I think we've had to all really rely on different kinds of cues from behavior, the tone of emails, how people show up digitally over the past year and a half. And so even when you're returning to the office, you're getting a sense of what culture has like from these micro behaviors, cues . Um, and people are not going to really tune that out and forget about that. So, you know, if your employer brand is equal parts, the experience you create and the perception that people form about the experience you create, which really is the definition of employer brand, then it shouldn't really matter whether it's digital or in-person, you are creating some sort of brand perception every time you interact with somebody. And now, as Mike said, because there are so many more people working virtually, they're really more attuned to picking up on that than ever before. So if you're expecting that you're going to have, you know, pool tables and amazing office, and that's going to compensate for the way that you treat people. And that's really not the case. There's really no substitute for how you show up day in, day out. And it doesn't matter whether that's online or in person. Does that make sense?

Speaker 2:

It does, but I am going to tease more for me, both in my next question around this, actually, Mike, I let let's start with you in terms of what you think about is most important to employees in 2021 and beyond. And you both previously mentioned so far that you've got, you've got a pool of very highly skilled, very talented folk , um, who , um, they can pick and choose right now. And , uh, what the, what the employer brand stands for is it's so much more important than because if they want to attract the top talent, they really got to drive that home. But you've also got now a huge swath of , uh , former employees who perhaps have been augmented by technology over the last 18 months, you know? Um, and, and again, like you guys were saying earlier, they're , they're still in kind of a limbo right now. They're kind of in a Boyd as w where they take their careers, where do they do they go independent? Do they try and find another job? I'd love to hear from you first, Mike w what you think are the , the , the, the key, the key things that are important to, to both of those types of employees, that the highly talented ones, the ones that have coding skills, for example, and those that need to catch up. And I'd also as , as part of the answer, maybe, maybe there's a way that you can weave in the importance of camaraderie and what I mean by that, going back to the previous answer, where if folks can work from home all the time, can they still bond with their colleagues in the same way? Would , would that be a missing element when , when you never meet the person who would otherwise have been sitting to your left , uh , in the office?

Speaker 3:

I think that when I think about the future of work, and I think about, you know, everything that you mentioned in terms of the changes that technology will have , uh , when it comes to automation, automation , um, and , and the role of humans within the workplace, I think one of the central themes within the future of work is that this is going to help us return to the human element and really understanding why we're doing work. Uh, and w w what's the greater purpose sense of purpose behind it? I do believe, you know, you asked, you know, how does this CA can we overcome this , um, comradery and , and relationship kind of gap that's happening or are feeling through the digital piece? I do think that we can , um, and I think that, you know, there's two sides to it, right? I think we all feel like we want to belong and be a part of something greater, and to be part of something special and important. Um, and, and I think on the other side, you know, organizations, leaders, team members, you know, we can all do better to kind of open up and embrace and , and bring people in. And , uh, like I said before, it takes time and effort, right. Um, these are, this is about making the time to talk to the, your , your, your team members to connect with them, to , to chat with them, to understand what's going on beyond work. Um, you know, unfortunately there's not like a scalable solution there, right? It's, it's not one training program that you can digitally launch to a thousand employees and , and it magically, it works. Um, this is, this is really effort, right? We're talking about human connection. And I think that there needs to be , uh , an appropriate investment from people to , to make those connections.

Speaker 2:

I agree. And , uh , I'm gonna talk to you guys more, a bit about belonging, which I think is a , a key term as well in just a moment. Um, Nicole, would you have anything to add there though, to , to Mike's answer ?

Speaker 4:

I do. I think again, like I agree with Mike, but what I really love here, and this is going to come back to, you know, me starting out my career and education studying authenticity is that it's not just about company, right. Sitting beside somebody at a desk, although that's nice or camaraderie that comes from water cooler conversation. I think fundamentally human beings are hardwired to want connection, right? And that's about the quality of the connection, the quality of the relationship. And so I think whether you're online or in person, if you're not able to meaningfully connect with somebody, we already know that research says you're more likely to feel isolated and therefore disengaged depressed and all of those things. So I don't think that being in person is a substitute for quality connection or that online means that for some reason, you're going to get that it really comes down to understanding how to genuinely connect with people, help them feel their true selves. And I think that now meaning means more to employees than it's ever met before. And I think intuitively that makes sense, right? Two years of widespread isolation, people really want to connect and be known. And so the employers that are really going to succeed are going to be the ones that architect cultures in a way that they are allowing people to be themselves and really get beyond just, you know, water cooler conversation and build real bonds with people and with that organization.

Speaker 2:

Okay. We touched upon social justice efforts and the changes since the George Floyd murder earlier in this chat. But Mike, I know that you've got a pretty interesting opinion on this. You believe that the, I still wasn't working at the moment. Can you, can you share why?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, bill, thanks. We've been really focused on this in the past few months at, at blue Ivy. And , um, I'm not going to take credit for all the thinking. I think Nicole has been really instrumental in helping to shape some of the ideas that we've been testing, but we had this hypothesis here that DEI wasn't working. And, you know, when we looked at some of the lead indicators, right. You know, we , we know there's billions of dollars being invested. Um , there's huge public commitments that are being made. Uh, but, but we're still hearing all of these , uh , things starting to percolate up, right. Disenfranchisement with everything that's going on. Um, you know, with as much effort being put into DEI, you expect greater belonging and that's just not happening. We're seeing the opposite where we're seeing things like performative diversity and surface occlusion inclusion happening. We're seeing real resentment, right. Uh , and on both sides, the communities that are, that are seeking , um, to , to be included in, in the workforce and , and the, the, the old guard that are, that are meant to open up and embrace people, right. It's just not working in the sense that it's not having the desired effect of DEI DEI . Um, isn't about, you know , checking some boxes. It's, it's really about changes in mindsets and feelings. Um, and for us, you know, through our research, we found that one key ingredient is really missing in this whole equation. And that's belonging.

Speaker 2:

Why do you believe that belonging is important in the workplace?

Speaker 4:

Goodness, belonging is so important. I think, you know, Mike nailed it. DEI cannot just be about the strategies, the tactics, the actions, or even measuring representation. Like we don't just want diverse or marginalized talent to be here. We want them to be heard while being themselves, and then they want to feel valued. And as a person of color, I can tell you that that matters a lot. I've been in environments where I've been at the leadership team and I've been the only female I've been the only person of color. And it just feels like, even though I was accepted, there's some hurdles there that are invisible, that I'm not quite sure how to navigate. Right. And so what we really need to be doing is helping people feel that regardless of their unique differences, that they can belong and be themselves as opposed to, for example, fitting into a mold and playing the game in order to get ahead. So I think that if we can get to a place where people really truly belong, not only are we finally going to be able to nail the DEI equation, but more importantly, I think that's what companies who are successful when it comes to DEI are actually doing, it's not just that they're getting there in terms of representation because that on its own does not result in greater innovation. What they're doing is they're actually able to enable those folks. And in order to do that, you need to solve from belonging.

Speaker 2:

Okay . Mike, back to you again, with all of the DEI approaches in the market today, what , why, why is the concept of belonging, the practice and making sure people feel like they belong? What , why is that different?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, thanks bill. I think that, you know, unlike other reporting in the DEI space that is, you know , really focused on representation and how an organization is doing in terms of, let's say diversity targets. Um, our approach really combines those DEI data points, which are still really important to, to provide transparency on and engagement data. Right. Um, we've been talking a lot about the employee experience and, and how people feel at work and , and how they feel among their colleagues. And, you know, it's the combination of these two things that, that is so important. And, and so our approach really works to surface the gaps in belonging, right? So if you think about leaders, right, leaders often feel like they've, they've built a really warm and inviting environment in which other people can step in and feel like they can be equal contributors. Um, but when you dig down into it and you really look at all the different, you know, subsections within an organization and let's just say, functions, it finance, maybe junior, junior staff, right. They have completely different perceptions of how they feel they belong in an organization. Um, and , and these are the things that we think that need to be , um, managed and , and thought about and , and actions , right? And so the benefits of DEI, right? Things like innovation, productivity, engagement, you know, those are only unlocked by managing both sides of that DEI equations that the , the diversity equity and inclusion targets and , and, and the , and the systems , uh, that we need to put in place to make that happen. And then also that engagement data. Right. And , and so we haven't really seen another approach that takes into account these factors , um, and , and offers leaders, the insights that they can action. Um, and, and I know Nicole's got lots more to add to this. So I'm going to turn it over to her to maybe build on some of those thoughts.

Speaker 4:

Yes. Thanks, Mike. And I know that, you know, you already sort of touched on this, but the nice thing about belonging is that it works in two levels. So if you solve for whether people feel like they belong, not only do you have a better DEI strategy, that's actually more effective. But the cool thing is we already know that belonging is highly correlated with engagement from Maslow's work, right? So he started off by saying that humans really seek connection community and belonging. And because that's a fundamental human need, if you can also solve for that in the workplace, you're getting one step closer to enabling people, empowering them and engaging them at work. So if you solve for belonging, you're not just on the path to helping people feel more included at work. You're also helping them be more engaged. And so that's why we think it's really, really exciting. And we've actually been inspired to build on Maslow's work and come up with our own needs model that really shows that belonging is now central in the equation for both TEI and engagement.

Speaker 2:

Regular listeners of the show will say now, oh , bill, why must you always go on about this job , but I'd add here , um, that you should check out the interviews I did with Stephen Schatzki from, from Simon Sinek. He's the head igniter there, but Simon Sinek , um , because , uh , it's a similar conversation and they talk about your, why, you know, if you're gonna be working at a company , uh , for many, many years, you've got to understand what the, what you're doing there, what, why you belong, why it's a good fit for you. So , uh, listeners do check out that those interviews as well. Uh , w what can employers do to focus on belonging in the employee experience?

Speaker 4:

Thanks bill . Yes. That's a great question. And I'll say to love the episode that Steven that you're talking about, and we've also been talking to Steven a lot about meaning and belonging. So I'm not surprised if we sound like we're pretty aligned here, but when it comes to your question about what can employers do throughout that employee journey? I think there's two things, right? We've talked a lot, I think, in the HR community about the role of mentorship, but I think now in the social justice movement, it's not mentorship, it's allyship at all levels. And that's whether you're a person of color or whether you're a new hire, whether you're not right. And I think that, you know, without talking about the research just firsthand at leading this DEI initiative at blue Ivy group, alongside Mike, who is not a person of color has been such a powerful example of allyship. And I find that me now, I don't just have the pressure of advocating for community and advocating for myself. I have an ally who's there for the ride. And so allyship mentorship, those two things are so, so powerful. And if we can solve for that creating allies, not experts, I think that's really what people need in the workplace today. What about you, Mike? What do you, what's your take on this, especially now that I've talked about you and your role as my ally?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, well , uh , spoiler alert for the listeners of the podcast. Uh, I am a white male , uh, who is working in corporate north America. Um, and obviously when we, you know, we talk about DEI and inclusion , um, there , there's obviously a lot of , uh, historical context, I would say, around being white and being a guy , um, and , and being in boardrooms . And so I think that, you know, on, on this side of the fence, there's been so much that I've learned along this journey as well. And I think one of the biggest things that I've taken away is is that the allyship is, it goes both ways, right? Um, you know, Nicole has been talking about how great it is , um, to have somebody to kind of support and nurture her ideas. But the same thing for me, you know, this topic is, is, is really difficult. Um, it's got so many risks there, there are so many ways to fail and , and , and to do things , uh , incorrectly. And you, you, you need allies on the other side, right? You need , um, you need people to , to build bridges with. And I think that that kind of goes back to the employee experience in , in the culture piece that we're talking about, getting to know the people that are around you and listening to their lived experience and understanding what's going on in their lives is so important. And it's only through that, that you really begin to appreciate, you know, the challenges , uh, that people are going through and how to show up and support them to

Speaker 2:

Put those out there who are thinking of themselves. I'd really like to build a human connection with Nicole and with Mike , um, firstly, how can they connect with, with you guys personally? So maybe that's a LinkedIn, maybe you want to supply your email addresses, maybe you're way cooler than me and you're on Tik TOK or something. And also how can they learn about all the awesome things happening over at blue Ivy

Speaker 3:

Emails , obviously the best way to get ahold of us. Uh, we'd love to book a discovery call, hear a little bit more about the talent challenges , uh, that, that , uh, some of the people might be facing and, and how we might be able to talk to them. Uh, our blog is a really great place to keep up to date with our latest thinking. Uh, we try to release a new thought piece , uh , once a week. And , uh , this month here in July, we are aiming to launch our white paper on DEI, where we've really kind of gone a little bit deeper in terms of some of the themes that we talked about today, about belonging and what organizations can do to solve for it. And , uh , we would just invite everybody that, that is interested in this conversation to come along for the ride with us and , uh, and help us make work better.

Speaker 4:

And I think I'll just add onto that. Like please connect with us on LinkedIn too, because as we're talking here about allyship, we're happy to be allies and learn from all of you in the broader community too. So find us on LinkedIn and then let's have some conversations

Speaker 2:

Wonderful. And the listeners, the links to blue Ivy and to Nicole and Mike's LinkedIn profiles will be in the show notes. I'm sure. So you'll also find them there. That just leaves me to say sadly, because this has gone too quickly, the cold and Mike, thank you so much for being my guests on this episode of the HR chat show.

Speaker 3:

Thank you, bill. This has been a great conversation and

Speaker 2:

Listeners until next time. Happy working.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to the HR chat podcast brought to you by the HR.