The Great Resignation: How are marketers managing?

From the C-Suite newsletter: Brand leaders from Kruger, BMO, Harry Rosen and GE explain how to retain and motivate talent.

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By Will Novosedlik

It’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Call it the Great Resignation or the Great Reshuffle, there’s no doubt the pandemic has motivated many to take a good look at their work life and ask if there is something better/different out there.

A recent Environics survey noted that the majority of Canadian executives (81%) are having difficulty finding people with the right skillset to fill positions and 78% agree there is a skills gap in their respective industry.

So strategy spoke with some of Canada’s leading marketers about how they’re responding to the situation.

How are you navigating retention and recruitment amid the Great Resignation?

Trinh ThamTrinh Tham, CMO and EVP marketing & e-commerce, Harry Rosen: The reality is we are still living through the Great Resignation and developing talent and a great culture is more important than ever. I joined the Harry Rosen just prior to the beginning of the pandemic and the mandate was to build a modern marketing team that supported the new direction in our business strategy and digital transformation.

I believe it’s important to have a vision of the kind of team you want to build while maintaining flexibility to allow for growth. On our marketing team, almost everyone is in a new job, or their responsibilities have changed drastically over the last two years. This meant understanding our team’s strengths and playing to them, but it also meant clearly identifying skill gaps.

My approach to talent management has been to ensure I’m managing internal and external relationships to cultivate diverse marketers, actively participate in mentorship and give back to our marketing community. We’re investing in developing our internal talent, keeping lines of communication open for input and feedback, and active succession planning.

BobParkHSBob Park, chief branding officer, GE Appliances: Yes, the Great Resignation has definitely been a challenge, particularly in areas where working from home has been a difficult adjustment and where roles in alternative industries have created an opportunity for change.

We sensed early on that our people were suffering from Zoom fatigue and burnout. We rallied around some of the more exciting things that were happening at GE. Fortunately, sports were still being played and our nationwide sponsorship of Canadian soccer provided a perfect avenue. We encouraged everyone in the company to follow the games and to encourage doing this as a team we sent special “game day care packages” to every employee. It’s amazing how much the little things are appreciated.

We also identified child care and the stress of it during closures as a major pain point. By maintaining an employee-directed working environment/schedule, with time dedicated to dealing with everyday activities, we felt we helped our employees weather that storm.

My focus is on fostering a culture of creativity and autonomy where the possibilities aren’t boxed in by a corporate mandate. I don’t believe in charting a career path in a straight line or an equation. We are pivoting to creating an environment or mentality of small startups or microenterprises led by our people. It’s actually a very exciting time for us. I believe the best way to retain top talent is to maintain an environment where you are supported to follow your passions.

Screen Shot 2022-02-18 at 5.55.32 PMCatherine Roche, CMO, BMO Financial Group: The current labour market is putting enormous pressure on large employers, and BMO is no different. Competition is fierce.

To attract top talent, we’re highlighting our unique culture, which drives industry-leading levels of employee engagement and satisfaction. We also have a powerful competitive story to tell and over the last year we have had the strongest growth momentum of any bank.

On the retention side, we’re very focused on strategies that centre on engagement, mentorship, more flexible ways of working and proactive career planning. We are also doubling down on our overall employee experience, investing heavily in programs dedicated to their mental, physical, social and financial wellness, in diversity and inclusion, and new AI-powered tools that deliver a personalized development experience.

Susan Irving, CMO and Mina Fior, SVP HR, Kruger Products: We think we’ve done a great job staying connected to the heartbeat of our culture with many initiatives, one of which is our company-wide pulse checks and engagement survey. The insights provided really help us navigate and get to a deeper level of understanding on how best to drive engagement. We are able to analyze the feedback we get at a total company level and also at a team level on what’s working, what’s not working, how people are feeling and what’s important to them. Listening and acting on what we are hearing is key.

Screen Shot 2022-02-19 at 9.31.32 AMSome of the dimensions we look at are leader effectiveness, safety, communication, culture, diversity and inclusion, growth and development, rewards and recognition, future vision, involvement and belonging, etc. With these results we can see our strengths and also our areas of opportunity, and we put action plans in place against the key areas needing attention.

Recognizing the pandemic has brought on a different set of challenges, we’ve focused a lot on the wellbeing of our colleagues and flexibility of our offerings. We know that the needs and challenges our colleagues face are not one size fits all, and recently we announced several enhancements to our health and wellness programs including changes that give employees the personal flexibility to use wellness credits for a variety of services based on their life needs.

How are you bringing back connections between employees and teams?

Tham: As a leader, I think it’s important to develop relationships with team members across all levels and remember to display empathy and vulnerability in both group and one-on-one settings. We’ve all had to deal with so much in the last couple years so it’s critical to take the time to understand where others are coming from and to let your team in on how you are feeling in order to encourage open and honest dialogue that helps to get to the heart of matters. This helps to build trust and create safe spaces for us to really dig into issues when they come up. We also celebrate our team wins and acknowledge individual contributions (with cross-functional teams too) whenever we can.

Park: Only recently we were able to bring our employees to the World Cup Qualifiers in Hamilton. There really is no substitute for direct human interaction. To have everyone cheering on Canada together was truly a memorable moment. The anticipation of everyone physically reconnecting has created a buzz and rather than just let it happen, we’ve planned numerous events and activities to welcome our teams back. 

What strategies are you using to motivate your teams and how are you going beyond functional exchanges in the virtual working world? 

Tham: By now, many of us have virtual meeting fatigue and it can be easy to focus on getting off your screen as soon as possible, but when we make the time for human connections, our days become much more enjoyable. Rather than dive straight into every meeting, take a moment to get to know your team by asking about the name of the dog or child or spouse that “accidentally” just popped into your frame.

We are a camera-on team and I still find this simple gesture goes a long way to show respect and encourage engagement to the team member in the box next to you. Lean on your extroverts but don’t forget to call on your introverts. We also had lots of fun featuring and integrating our own team’s expertise and talents in our marketing campaigns through staff picks, content pieces and even having some as models for our shoots. It’s a great way to acknowledge the real people behind our brand and it doesn’t get much more authentic than that.

Fior: The pandemic has not stopped us from celebrating special occasions. Recently we held our 2021 marketing team awards. Susan pulled the idea from one her son’s hockey teams – based on our marketing and company values, we created one award for each member of the marketing team and then had the team do a confidential vote. Each member received a certificate for the role they played this year on the team. Everyone was awarded.

Also, our company-wide recognition program Bravo! Bravo! could not have been rolled out at a better time. The technology platform has made it possible to recognize and celebrate our colleagues across all teams and geographies, making it easier to say thank you or congratulations and share examples of great work with people across all provinces and states.

Park: One of the areas that really gained from the switch to virtual is the growth and evolution of online learning. The technology and acceptance has grown substantially. I believe we are at a point now where training online is a real viable tool. It’s created an opportunity for businesses to have better trained, knowledgeable employees where perhaps in-person is not so necessary anymore. For our employees not only does it improve their ability to perform, it also makes available a myriad of content that will potentially help them advance their career aspirations. We’ve embraced this and are planning to invest more into this in the future.

Roche: Great marketing has always been fueled by learning, the exchange of ideas and having a finger on the pulse of the external environment. With input from our employees, we stood up a robust knowledge-sharing agenda in marketing. For example, What Works Wednesdays is a monthly meeting where we tap into the expertise of our partners, like TikTok and Instagram, for presentations on timely topics.

Our Marketing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council has also created a learning series around best practices for inclusive marketing, bringing in thought leaders from the industry and designing custom content we can easily leverage and make use of in our daily work.

Feature image by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash