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Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives. TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Dr. Karen Robinson, VP of Human Resources at Exemplis Corporation and Rodd Wagner, New York Times bestselling author and VP of Employee Engagement Strategy at BI Worldwide. To hear the entire show, click here.

The two seasoned HR professionals talk about engagement, culture and keeping employees happy.

Dr. Karen Robinsonemployee

Robinson has been in the field of recruiting for about 15 years now. She spent most of her time in the organizational development space working with Fortune 500 companies on change management and organizational design before moving into HR leadership roles. She joined her current company Exemplis Corporation, a mid-market office furniture manufacturer, last November.

Most Challenging and Rewarding Aspects

According to Robinson, some of the most challenging aspects of the job come from the external environment. The changing regulatory conditions that HR people deal with such as the Affordable Care Act and other federally enforced decisions add to the complexity of the role. Also, while coming out of the recession, they had to deal with the labor market conditions, change in unemployment figures, etc. But amid the challenges, the most rewarding part of working in HR is being able to find solutions to help a business support their talent and vice versa. You can find a lot of synergy between what employees look for from their employers and what businesses need to drive their strategy forward. If you find the right balance between them, it’s a very exciting place to be.

HR’s Value Addition

Having a great deal of experience in the organizational development space, Robinson is a big fan of the role HR can play in organizational design. It can help businesses look at their structures more holistically and figure out how people fit into those systems, structures and processes. Often HR people get bogged down by the day to day tactical tasks. They need to create a space to work with their executive team around these organizational design principles so they can really add value to the business, according to Robinson.

Company Culture

Exemplis is a mid-sized corporation and their CEO, also one of the founders of the company, really drives the company’s culture. He often says he manages his company like a professional sports team. “We’re expected to play the part of a corporate athlete – know our position and play flawlessly. Having this mindset and culture helps us stay competitive and helps us continue to grow,” she explains. Exemplis has been rapidly growing in the last five years with an average of 20% year on year growth. Keeping their culture intact is important for the company as they continue to grow. When a company is smaller, the culture is relationship-based and quite informal, but as it grows it is important to figure out how to sustain that culture.

At Exemplis, they try and document all those things they think make them special and different compared to other companies. “We’ve been very focused on looking at our company values and updating them and making sure they really reflect the organization and what it believes in. We’ve recently put in place a competency model that lists out expectations for both employees as well as the leadership team. There is also a management model in place that sets expectations on how the values and competencies show up in day-to-day work and ultimately how individuals will be held accountable to those,” Robinson adds.

Retaining Talent

Robinson and her team keep the company’s values and competencies in mind while screening potential candidates as well as evaluating the current employees. They leverage them for all HR processes whether it’s hiring, development, succession planning or leadership development. Another important aspect from a talent acquisition point of view, according to Robinson, is to tell their story. The fact that the company came out of a recession and is rapidly growing along with great career opportunities generates quite a lot of excitement among the talent pool. Similarly, it also works for retaining current staff. It is an exciting time to be a part of the company and it is the HR team’s responsibility to continue telling the growth story and to celebrate the successes along the way.

Succession Planning

Succession planning is another area that mid-sized companies struggle with. When there is a limited workforce, it is difficult to plan for succession. Robinson says that while internally identifying employees who can take on the next role is key it is important to identify people externally as well and to connect with them. It is not necessary to always find a successor from within the organization. “It’s all about leveraging your networks and partners effectively,” she sums up.

What Are You Reading?

Robinson is currently reading Wildby Cheryl Strayed, a memoir describing the author’s 1100-mile hike as a journey of self-discovery.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Dr. Karen Robinson via LinkedIn.

Rodd Wagneremployee

Rodd Wagner is a former journalist who got frustrated with the way newspapers were run and decided to go back to school to earn an MBA. Since then he has focused on what makes the people side of the equation work. BI Worldwide is a global engagement agency that not only helps devise a strategy for clients but also helps in executing it.

Widgets: 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees as if they’re Real People

Widgets is Wagner’s most recent book. The impetus for writing this book was all the things that changed around the recession. Also, things like the advent of social media, millennials entering the workforce and layoffs – all of which happened around the same time as the recession – made one wonder if the social contract between an employee and an employer existed or not. New rules had taken over that leaders needed to follow in order to get the most out of their people. Things had changed dramatically at the workplace. Wagner did some ground breaking research around this and ultimately emerged with 12 new rules for managing employees as if they are “real people.”

Here are the 12 rules he talks about in his book:

  1. Get inside their head – Take time to interact with your team members individually in order to really understand who they are and to help them achieve their goals.
  2. Make them fearless – Reward people for taking risks instead of punishing them.
  3. Make money a nonissue – Make sure your employees are well compensated.
  4. Help them thrive – Provide them with a work-life balance.
  5. Be cool – Attract high-quality workers by creating a cool place to work.
  6. Be boldly transparent – In this age of social media, information is going to come out sooner or later so you might as well be transparent.
  7. Don’t kill the meaning – Make sure the company’s mission is worthwhile and then imbibe it in a way you expect your employees to.
  8. See their future – Show your people a great future by painting an inspiring vision of what’s to come.
  9. Magnify their success – People need recognition if they are going to work their hardest.
  10. Unite them – There are certain ways to build a team naturally and leverage collaborative work.
  11. Let them lead – People don’t just want their opinion to count they want to show what they can do.
  12. Take it to extremes – Push people towards extreme accomplishments at work and bring out the best in them.

The Widgets website gives a free self-assessment to anyone who wants to take it. On answering the list of 46 key questions, an individual can find out his or her new rules index which tells them how their job compares to other jobs in America. If you come out with an index number of 50, it means you like your job about average. But if your score is 90, it means your job is working out for you better than 90% of the people in the US. The assessment also gives people an idea on where they stand on each of those 12 rules. The assessment helps to figure out whether the job is sucking the life out of you or is breathing life into you. It is important for employees to feel valued, to be fairly compensated and to feel challenged at work. A bad job wears people down and leaves them with no choice but to quit and go somewhere they feel valued.

Leadership Style

“I would never claim to be the epitome of what I write about in my books. One of the reasons I write the books I do is because I am in awe of people who do this really well,” reveals Wagner. He looks back at the transformation his leadership style has had over the years. Back when he was an editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, he had recently earned his MBA. According to him, he was an uptight and metrics oriented manager who took rigorous notes. He was a six sigma process oriented person.

Now, he feels that it’s a luxury that his current company attracts really good people. He knows they are motivated and want to do cool stuff and he believes it is his job to give them resources that will help them shine. In some cases there tend to be fairly driven individuals who need to be told that they shouldn’t be working over the weekend. It can be good to push an employee to leave early if they’ve been working really hard and need to get some rest and not think about work.

Employee Engagement

BI Worldwide is based out of Minnesota where summers are very short and winters are long and bitter. From Memorial Day until the Labor Day the office dress code is flip flops and shorts and t-shirts. There are a lot of parties, free beer and every second Friday afternoon is off over and above the regular vacation days. Every Friday they also allow employees to bring their dogs to work. “All of these initiatives break the rules of how a traditional office ought to operate,” says Wagner. Not every company needs to do the same things. Wagner says that what’s important is that companies should find something unique to their culture depending on the industry they are in and what their employees would appreciate and reciprocate back to the organization. What will make them happy is the question that needs to be asked. Not everything needs to be measured in immediate ROI.

What Are You Reading?

Rodd Wagner is currently reading Return on Characterby Fred Kiel which is a fascinating piece of research on the importance of leadership character.  Great leadership demands great character and organizations thrive when they have leaders with a good character.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Rodd via or visit