Live at HR Tech ’22: Workology Founder Jessica Miller Merrell. Brought to you by Fuel50

Learning Meeting

This series is brought to you by our partners and friends at Fuel50.

Announcer:

Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We are recording from HR Tech in Vegas, brought to you by our friends and partners at Fuel50. Here’s your host, Mark Feffer.

Mark Feffer:

This is PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer, and we’re recording today from the exposition floor of the HR Technology Exposition and Conference. I’m joined right now by Jessica Miller-Merrell. Jessica, welcome.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Welcome. I’m so excited to be here.

Mark Feffer:

Well, could you take a minute and introduce yourself to everybody?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Absolutely. My name’s Jessica Miller-Merrell, and I’m the founder of Workology. I am a former executive of HR turned entrepreneur, and we help support the HR industry with training resources, information, and support to help them, support HR better, whether it’s for practitioners or vendors who are supporting us as HR leaders.

Mark Feffer:

So do you find that companies are in fact paying more attention to their HR functions now than they were before?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Absolutely. We were leading conversations during COVID times, and I feel like it’s continued with a great recession and then moving in now to all these changes in terms of the increased inflation rate. So HR remains an important part of the boardroom conversations, but it’s really important for HR to really understand the business so they can keep adding and being a part of those things.

Mark Feffer:

Then there’s a lot of conversation in the business today about skills. Can you sort of describe your view of it? What is this conversation? Why does it keep going and going?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Well, I think the reason that we are thinking about skills is because, number one, we have a lot of people exiting the workforce in a traditional sense, whether it’s traditional retirement or a lot of people who are saying, “Hey, the regular workforce isn’t for me, so I’m going to go try this gig thing,” or “I’m going to launch my own business” because they want to be able to make their own roles and have the flexibility to suit their life.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

With that increased turnover in retention that we’ve seen, whether it’s the Exodus or people just making reevaluations and choosing organizations and opportunities in different places, companies should and have been focusing on skill building because your existing people need to be grown and developed. They’re going to lead.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Our most reached and HR benchmark survey really showcase that skills and upskilling are in the top five priorities for chief HR leaders right now. I think executives are also thinking about this. This is why the conversation is trickling down, but people are really hard to find right now, good quality people who have the skills. So let’s train them internally and retain them through new development opportunities.

Mark Feffer:

Well, they say you can build skills, buy skills, or borrow skills, which I always thought was a neat sort of describing the whole issue, but then when you really think about it, that’s got to be a crazy complex undertaking to have to organize your workforce along those lines and get it done. Can you talk about that?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Absolutely. I feel like having an inventory and understanding of what skills you need, first, is of the most importance, and that’s a challenge as an HR leader and as an org organization to really understand what do we need and then what do we have and then where do those gaps exist. Then from there, that’s where you go into that three step framework that you talked about in terms of buying or building or hiring out, you have to then prioritize “What’s the necessity?” Because if you’re going to build skills internally, that’s going to take time. But if you want to buy it and to bring it in or bringing in an expert from the outside, say a consultant or a contract worker, that’s a great way to quickly bring in the skills that you need. But they don’t really necessarily understand the organizational culture or the nuances or they have those relationships within internal business that just make things work.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

So I think having an inventory is of the most importance, but that’s the most challenging part, understanding what you need and what you have, and then where the gaps are.

Mark Feffer:

How do you do it?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Well, I’d like to think that technology can help you in those ways, because really, in the old days, we’d go through all the job descriptions and then we’d have everybody fill out a nine part grid and put their skills and do all the things. Then we’d have meetings with executives about “Who’s high potential? “What skills are here?” “Where are people going in terms of succession planning?” But it’s so much better when we have employees part of the conversation versus those executives, and that’s where technology’s great because employees can say, “Here are all my skills,” because I might not know that you have really mad skills in a certain area because I only hired you for these things. But maybe on the side you’re a master podcaster in the evenings and weekends, and then maybe you also got your PMP. And I just haven’t taken the time as a leader to understand where those skills are.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

So having the employees add the inventory and “Here’s my skills,” and then thinking about what I need as a business using tech but still going through these work sessions with the executive team and the leaders to understand, matching that with technology kind of brings it all together. So you can say like, “Hey, Billy, over here, he has all these skills that you aren’t leveraging,” or, “He seems like he’s competent in this area, but I think he would be a good fit in this. He just needs X, Y, Z. To be able to move into a role like that or to contribute in a different way.”

Mark Feffer:

It seems that the frontline manager has a pretty important role in all of this, even if it’s not always admitted, but they can really sort of be a choke point, can’t they?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

They can, a lot of frontline managers don’t want to give up their people, number one, because then they have a deficit on their team and they’ve worked really hard to build that, and they don’t think about the bigger picture of the organization. But I’ve often said that your frontline managers are the single most important part of the organization because without them, things don’t get done. Messages from leadership don’t get communicated, and employees don’t feel like they’re being heard or engaged or listened to or developed.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

So that manager really plays a key essential role in retention, development and growth. Because if you don’t like your boss or you can’t work with them, it’s really easy to answer that LinkedIn InMail or that phone call that’s coming from a recruiter that’s saying, “Hey, I got this opportunity over here on the other side of the fence, it’s really green. We have unlimited PTO and maybe a $15,000 signup bonus.” That sounds great until you get over there and you realize that it isn’t exactly what you wanted. And I we’re seeing a lot of people jump right now because they took a job because maybe they didn’t have a great experience at their current place or the relationship with the frontline manager, and then they’re jumping again because they took a job for the wrong reasons or they didn’t really understand what they needed for themselves. But the frontline manager can help retain that person and keep them just engaged and productive, which is what we need as HR leaders and as executives.

Mark Feffer:

I can’t help but ask this double quitting as it were. Is that driving up the quit rate numbers?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

I don’t know if it’s driving up the numbers. I think a lot of… There has been a lot of turnover, but when I think about my own corporate journey, there are times that I took jobs because I was like, “I can’t work in this crazy place anymore.” So I left for the wrong reasons. I think it just makes it harder for the employee, a lot more stress on them and their family, a lot more stress on the managers and maybe what we’re seeing, not necessarily increased turnover numbers, but we’re seeing a lot of people get burnt out because when we have all this turnover, now suddenly you’re doing 2, 3, 4 people’s job. That is where this focus, I think, on mental health and just on our own wellness, outside of COVID and kind of facing death in the face and looking at it and saying, “Huh, I don’t know if I want to work this way or live this way anymore. I’m going to reevaluate things.” But it’s definitely contributing to it, but I don’t think it’s the only reason.

Mark Feffer:

Shifting gears a bit to talk about the solutions providers who are building the LMS, the LXP, et cetera. How are they doing? How are they really developing what customers want and what employees will use?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

They say they are. I mean, “Oh, it’s great, very engaging. We’re all cutting edge, micro learning and artificial intelligence.” They’re saying all the right things, but I don’t know if they’re necessarily coming at where the employees are. So at the end of the day, your customers, your end users are really your employees. So making sure that the ease of use is there and that UX is really nice so they can get access to what they need when they need, and sometimes without asking their boss, I think is really key because you have these really just young generation of workers who are like, “I’m not waiting on nobody. I’m going in and doing what I need to do when I want to do it and how I want to do it.” So let’s give them access to the tools and resources to be able to do that.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

And I think a lot of the learning management platforms are waiting. They’re just built where as an HR person, I say, “Oh, you need this training because you’re X.” Then the training opens up, and then it really might be an external training that isn’t exactly what you need. Or maybe you have some existing stuff that doesn’t work with that learning management system. So now that person has to log into a second or even a third platform to get what they need. So it’s really complicated and not necessarily user friendly for me as the HR person to pull reports and information, but as the end user, they don’t even know where any of this stuff is, so they’re not even going to use it and they’ll just continue struggling or being unhappy.

Mark Feffer:

Well, it does, sometimes, seem as if the vendors are pending… Sorry, the vendors are paying more attention to the data they can output for the executives, then they are putting together the lessons and the courses that they need to fulfill their role.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Course development is a challenge, and on demand training versus live, the whole mobile experience, all these things are really important. Personally, it really is also dependent on the industry. For example, if I worked in retail and I wanted to take a training on how to build an endcap, I would want to hear from a peer and maybe a peer to peer access training where they can tell me what to do, and I want a short little video with maybe some examples of great endcap building versus going to a computer in the break room or in the training room to spend an hour and a half watching a video that involves no engagement. I don’t really get what I need. I need to build it and communicate and engage and do that in five to 10 minutes in kind of microlearning sessions.

Mark Feffer:

Where do you think employers are trying to take all this?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

They have the best interests at heart, really. They want their organizations, their employees to be happy and they want to be able to hit their sales and revenue goals and keep their good people. I think the disconnect is really in the execution of the training. So, it could be the technology. They’re not matching with the right thing that meets the needs of the end users, but then two, when they implement and roll it out, it’s sort of done and one and done, and employees don’t often understand or even know that the technology or the tools are existing.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

And two, how to really use it. HR people are really… They should be internal communications champions. That’s a lot of what we do. Education training and developing and reminding people, “Hey, here’s all these tools that we have. Here’s all these benefits. Here’s all these programs. Here’s these resources that are over here that you can access.” We have to be continually marketing to our internal leaders, whether it’s our frontline managers or our mid-level managers are senior as well as the employees. It’s just like regular marketing. It’s probably 7 to 15 times that we have to engage them in all these different ways. So before they go, “Oh, I didn’t know we had a training program that does X, Y, Z. Oh, it’s available on a mobile app, I can just log in? That’s awesome. I had no idea. Hey Billy, did you know about this?” They don’t know even though it’s been in every communication, it’s been in the slack, there was a training on it last Tuesday until they needed it or it was presented to them in such a way did it really say, “Oh, this is what I want.”

Mark Feffer:

Last question. If you look out five or six years and you think about how the vendors are approaching the whole challenge, how employers are approaching the whole challenge, how do you see learning and wealth, comes down to skills development. How do you see those evolving? Is it going to be a dramatic evolution or is it just going to be sort of an iteration of what we’ve got now?

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

I’d like to tell you that I think it’s going to be 500 times different than it was today, but I do know that things move relatively slowly in the workplace. You have to have something like a pandemic to suddenly move everybody forward to maybe upskilling or skill development or thinking about remote work and remote learning and all these things. But I think that we will see changes because of the increased reliance on remote work and the focus because we now suddenly have a global talent pool, and our people, they want to work remotely. They want to work from the beach in Mexico and to be able to do that and then maybe move to Phoenix 30 days later. So we have to find different ways to train and engage and develop those skills. So it’s not a traditional classroom anymore. That wasn’t working for us anyway.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

But I would like to think that we’re going to be leveraging more artificial intelligence to help us, as leaders, see the big picture with pulling in all the data and information, insights from employees, insights from executives, and then data from just the marketplace, the economy, to help us make better decisions on what is coming because it is changing very quickly. Even my daughter, she’s 13, and I know that the things that she’s learning right now, 50% of them aren’t going to be used in a traditional career sense when she graduates high school or college and goes out into the workforce. So we just have to teach our people to be nimble, and I think being able to access their own training and development in a smart and accessible way is incredibly important for them to feel empowered, to be able to do their jobs and be truly in control of their career.

Mark Feffer:

Jessica, thanks so much for coming by.

Jessica  Miller-Merrell:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Mark Feffer:

It was great to meet you.

Announcer:

You’ve been listening to PeopleTech of the HCM Technology Report. This HR Tech series is graciously proud to you by our partners at Fuel50. For all other HR sourcing and recruiting news, check out hcmtechnologyreport.com.

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