5 Things I Learned This Year

December 29, 2022

The New Year is almost upon us, friends! I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with loved ones. As I reflect on 2022, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to connect with so many high-capacity leaders that are creating unstoppable cultures within their organizations. Below I’m sharing five things I’m grateful to have learned from extraordinary leaders over the past year. 

    1. How vulnerability can help build and enhance a resilient culture in your organization. 

When I spoke to Dr. Taryn Stejskal, Founder and Chief Resilience Officer of the Resilience Leadership Institute, about building resilient cultures, she reinforced the importance of vulnerability in organizational cultures. She gave me a new perspective on the word vulnerability and shared specific ways to enhance it in the workplace. Some ways Taryn recommended were admitting you don’t have it all together, relying on someone else in your network, and openly sharing any challenges and/or failures. It was refreshing to see a culture that promotes mental health to helps its employees flourish. Taryn helps us understand that resilience is something that is slowly built over time and is invaluable both personally and in the workplace. 

    1. Practical ways to encourage your employees to “make learning a habit.”

Earlier this year I had a conversation with Kristi Owens, Vice President of Talent & Leadership Development, about the training, development, and culture at Southwest Airlines. She told me about the phrase they use at SWA University “make learning a habit.” Southwest Airlines’ approach to living out this phrase left me inspired. Kristi said at the end of 2020, their team put together a new leadership development strategy where all employees were required to commit annually to training. When training starts, Kristi’s team prioritizes unique and personal training while weaving in fun throughout everything they do. There is something to be said about personalizing an experience for an employee and making it enjoyable in order to empower the employee to fill the gaps they see in their development. I’m so thankful for this conversation with Kristi and feel hopeful that many employees out in the world today are being championed, just like they are at Southwest Airlines!

    1. Four effective employee retention strategies. 

This year I also had the privilege of speaking with Lars Minns, the Chief Human Resources Officer of North America for Mercedes-Benz, about effectively retaining top talent and motivating employees within an organization. He shared some top retention strategies, including:

    1. Very quickly identify your employees that add the most value. That doesn’t mean overlooking the employees who aren’t adding as much value, but taking note and identifying who the superstars are early on. 

    1. Once you’ve identified them, let them know. Try your best to ensure those individuals are not only told their value but are also welcomed into very big initiatives early on. This signifies that they are needed within the organization.

    1. Use them to help motivate and lead other employees. Not always, but often these key individuals naturally create cultural goodness and richness in an organization. The earlier you can find these people, the earlier you can use them in your organization to help spread these positive elements.

    1. Talk often and openly about retention strategies. Once you create a quality retention strategy, you must openly communicate it to your team. It’s vital to share these strategies very early on, or they could go under-utilized, and you could lose key employees to the competition.

Lars has such an insightful perspective on retention strategies, and I believe his intentional focus on the matter will allow his employees to have long-term success.

4. Tangible ways companies can commit to improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

One of the highlights of the year was talking with Juan Suarez, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Southwest Airlines, about what DE&I mean to him. Juan has a unique perspective on ways leaders can prioritize these vital matters even if they don’t know where to begin. He explained how Southwest started by developing a corporate strategy to improve the DE&I landscape. This played a key role in establishing DE&I as part of the overall business strategy, and helped provide a roadmap for programs the organization implemented, messages they sent to leaders, ways they communicated with employees, and more.

Juan shared that when you add DE&I to your business strategy, it becomes necessary and motivates you to be intentional with it. Then, he said being intentional requires implementing extended dialogue. It’s in the extended dialogue that people feel free to ask questions and vulnerability happens. I love how practical Juan’s action steps were, but also how impactful they were. It really is true that when you add DE&I to a business strategy, it leads to it being enforced. I’m so grateful for Juan’s guidance for improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within our organizations.

5. How to nourish your organization’s culture by providing a unique employee experience.

A couple of months ago I spoke with Matt Holt, Vice President of Human Resources at Dot Foods, Inc. It was such an honor to have the opportunity to talk with him about what it practically looks like to nourish an organization’s culture and give each employee an unforgettable, unique experience. He provided so many great examples. One of my favorites was how Matt’s team at Dot Foods is constantly researching what other employers offer their employees. I think this is remarkable because it displays humility in leadership, and the desire to constantly grow and get better with time. Matt also said that Dot Foods, Inc. provides each of their employees a no-cost family vacation every five years, as well as a chaplain program to support employees’ mental health and access to onsite health clinics. This is very honorable because even as the company grows, they still make a point to make every employee feel seen, heard, and cared for. Dot Foods has maintained a wide variety of high-caliber employees for an extended amount of time because of the way they consistently nourish their team. 

Overall, this year was special, and I’m entering 2023 more motivated than ever because of the wisdom these leaders shared with me! I can’t wait to see what we learn together in the year ahead. 


Ginger Hardage

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