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Q&A with Patty McCord: 'Job Hoppers' Are Simply 'Job Havers'

Cornerstone Editors

Corporate diversity doesn't stop at appearances. According to talent expert Patty McCord, diversity means building a company full of people with different ideas, perspectives and skills to not only solve problems faster, but in new ways.

In her writing and speaking about the HR industry, McCord points to a tendency people have to hold on to the "dream job scenario" of decades past. But as she highlights, the times have changed. It's time for people (recruiters and recruited, alike) to embrace a transient job market. Once called 'job-hoppers', McCord says people who work for companies for less than three years before moving on to new jobs are simply the norm today.

As the former chief talent officer at Netflix—she's the mastermind behind the company's famous "Culture Doc"—principal at Patty McCord Consulting and advisor to Warby Parker, Hubspot and many more, she has deep insights into workplace trends. We sat down with McCord for her take on the current realities and perceptions of recruitment and retention.

What does today's job market look like, and how is it different from, say, 10 years ago?

I think there's a lot more opportunity now for qualified candidates. It's a buyer's market, if you will, so that people have a lot more options in the way they work, who they work for and how they work if they have the qualifications to do the jobs.

"We can be more honest about the fact that there isn't lifetime employment in any company."

I think that what's significantly different, at least from my perspective, is that we can be more honest about the fact that there isn't lifetime employment in any company.

How does recruiting and retention differ between big companies and startups?

I often hear HR people at both large companies and startups continuing to give credence to the myths that we have about employment.

We still perpetuate this idea that work can be your family, HR is going to take care of you, retention and tenure matters and companies want to hold on to people. And when I challenge HR professionals about whether or not that's still true, everyone admits that it's not, but they usually don't have the language to talk about it.

How would you advise executives and HR professionals to talk about work culture?

Reid Hoffman did a book recently that talked about tours of duty. I think talking about work culture differently involves conversations about how careers and employment have a 50/50 relationship. Individuals should seek opportunities where they can do their best work, and where their best work is important to whoever they work for.

"Individuals should seek opportunities where they can do their best work, and where their best work is important to whoever they work for."

The same goes for companies. When they focus on tenure and retention, then they encourage people to remain in jobs that they may not be great at anymore.

Now that time spent at a company is off the table, what red flags should HR be looking for when they attempt to recruit and retain talent?

They need to understand when they interview people what the reasons are for people changing jobs. Did they work at companies that made a significant impact? Were those companies well run? And secondly, as people changed jobs, what did they learn? You want to look for an employee who not only ticks off all the skill boxes, but who's shown a proclivity for learning something new in every role they've ever had.

What advice do you have for HR professionals who are just launching their talent programs?

I think the most important thing that any of us can do, both startup founders and HR, is to define really clearly what the company's about, what it's trying to accomplish and what the timeframe is for rolling out the program. If you have clarity around those things first, then you can work backwards and put together the right program to hire the best candidates.

Can you describe your ideal job candidate?

There isn't one specific thing or formula that leads to an ideal candidate. Recruiters should look for people who are not only qualified to help solve problems, but who are genuinely motivated to help solve problems—not people who are motivated by a higher salary or the presence of, say, a kegerator.

"You want a company full of many different people who can solve many different problems in many different ways."

You want a company full of many different people who can solve many different problems in many different ways; it's not just diversity of how people look and act—that's important, too—but diversity of opinion and approach.

This interviewed has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photo: Twenty20

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A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

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A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down

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The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy

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The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

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The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

With the economy now on steadier ground, most organizations have returned to administering a merit budget to the pre-recession levels of 3 to 3.5%. In the years immediately following the economic downturn, many merit budgets were eliminated entirely or were reduced significantly and reserved for a select segment of the employee population. Pay for performance has become a necessity for many organizations that are expected to accomplish more with fewer resources. I often get asked: "How can I truly award my top performers with such a limited budget? Should I do so at the expense of my ’Meets Expectations’ performers? What if I need to retain my ’Meets Expectations’ performers and giving them 0% to 2% increase puts me at great risk for turnover? But if I don’t recognize my top performers, don’t I risk losing them...?" These are difficult questions to answer, however you can determine the best solution for your organization by considering the following: Are your employees paid at market pay levels? Is your organization’s performance management process mature? Does your organization have other compensation programs in place to reward top performers (e.g. variable pay)? Market Pay If turnover is a concern, and your organization needs to maintain ’bench strength’ in order to achieve its strategic objectives, your biggest priority should be to ensure that you are paying your employees at market pay levels. Why? Historically, as the labor market strengthens, organizations become vulnerable in terms of losing people. Hiring and onboarding replacement talent is not only costly to the organization, but can also cause dissension among existing employees since new hires may be getting paid more. Be sure to stay abreast of market pay levels and trends, and use the merit budget to correct disparities. Performance Management Process Organizations vary significantly in terms of the maturity of their performance management process. Closely examine your organization’s process and look for ways to improve it. If there is a perception that one management team is an ’easier grader’ than the others, the process is inherently flawed and any pay for performance program will not be viewed as credible and fair by employees. A good place to start is to get a calibration process in place and communicate broad guidelines on expected distribution ratings. Variable Pay Programs Variable pay programs (e.g. bonuses) have become increasingly more popular across all industries and career levels. These programs provide the opportunity for employees to share in the organization’s success while not adding to fixed payroll costs. Some plans have an individual performance component which can be a very effective means to recognize top performers. However, in order for this type of program to be successful, individual goals and targets must be well documented and communicated. Again, this is largely based on the maturity of the organization’s performance management process which takes time to evolve. What are the best steps to avoid wreaking havoc on your pay for performance process? First ensure your pay levels are keeping pace with the market Continue to evolve your performance programs with calibration among managers and a rigorous goal setting process Promote variable pay plans to reward high performers without adding to fixed pay roll costs It’s not always an easy journey but, in the end, it’s best to use a measured approach that is based on business needs and a realistic assessment of your current programs and processes.

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