Episode 276: The Role of the CHRO and DEI With Michele Lanza
Jessica Miller-Merrell | Podcast| By
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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R., and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Episode 276: The Role of the CHRO and DEI With Michele Lanza (@MichelleLanza)
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:27.38] Welcome to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Ace the HR Exam and Upskill HR. Today’s podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, also known as the CHRO. Sometimes called the SVP of H.R. or the Chief People Officer. Got that a lot of different names for similar type roles. This is an executive-level role that deals with managing human resources as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. Today, I’m joined by Michelle Lanza. She’s the SVP and partner of Global Talent Attraction and Retention Strategies with Ketchum, and also the founder of Work Wider. It’s an inclusively, diverse, professional community that helps provide resources and community for the workforce as needed by the workforces of today. Michelle, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Michelle Lanza: [00:01:27.62] Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:30.68] Let’s start with some background. You’ve been in HR at the management level for almost 20 years. How have your roles evolved over time into the SVP role?
Michelle Lanza: [00:01:43.25] Yes, so I like to say that I’ve now been at Ketchum for a million years and really what’s kept me here is the ability to really change what I have done at the agency and constantly evolving. I think the communications industry has evolved considerably over the last 10 to 15 years and quite frankly, the H.R. function has really evolved. And I think if you think about where H.R. was 20 years ago compared to what we do in H.R. now, it’s almost like a completely different industry, which is really what’s kept me excited and engaged and wanting to stay in this profession.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:27.32] I agree, I love how it’s evolving, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re doing the series, is because I want to catch up with senior HR leaders and hear about their experiences and what, what’s exciting with them right now.
Michelle Lanza: [00:02:44.46] Yeah, you know, I think that what is exciting to me is is that I think that company’s realization of how important and how much of a business imperative people are in, in organizations. And because of that, I think the role of a Chief Talent Officer, H.R. Officer, I kind of wish we would come up with just one name for our profession. That’s a whole another topic. But I think that the role of a Senior H.R. Person has really evolved. And again, I think it’s a strategic business partner that focuses on talent. But the reality is you need talent engaged in delivering to realize your business promise. And so I think that the role of the H.R. has really been elevated to have a seat at the table and a much different way than it had previously had.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:40.16] Let’s talk a little bit about your role. You mentioned strategic partner. How do you work with company leadership as a senior HR leader? And how do they work with you?
Michelle Lanza: [00:03:51.69] Yeah, you know, I think that what is great about Ketchum is, is that talent really has a seat at the table, especially in the communications industry. Our product is actually our people. So the talent function couldn’t be more critical to the organization. And so I think what is fantastic is the relationship that we have with the executive team and really helping to strategize about how we bring in the right talent, how we train the right talent, how we motivate and retain the right talent. We really work in lockstep with the leadership team on those strategies.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:37.10] What skills and experiences do you believe are absolute requirements for that CHRO role, especially when we’re thinking about maybe those who are just starting out in H.R. right now?
Michelle Lanza: [00:04:50.31] Yeah, you know, I think that people used to say, you used to hear I want to get into H.R. because I’m a people person and I think you need to be a people person to be in talent. I also think you need to be a strategic business partner, because I think that the reality is, is that talent programs are not just based on gut. They need to be based on data. And they need to you need at the heart of each program to really understand how that program is actually impacting the business and impacting the people. Again, that will impact the business. So I think that this notion of people getting into H.R. because they like people, it’s like so much more than that. So I think people that are looking to get into this industry have to understand that they’re going to be business leaders. They’re going to be looking at data. They’re going to be really digging into the actual business side of what they’re doing from an H.R. perspective. So really digging into the industry that they’re in. So I think, again, this old notion of I’m a people person that plans parties, that’s not really what H.R. is anymore.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:08.22] Thank goodness.
Michelle Lanza: [00:06:09.45] Yes.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:11.52] I’m so glad that we’ve evolved. But the number of people who have been in my office that have sat down like you and said, I want to get in H.R., I am a people person, let’s stop that. It’s that’s not the only thing.
Michelle Lanza: [00:06:25.26] Yeah, because really, like, you know, you can be a people person in a lot of different ways, like that’s, I mean, hopefully, if you’re in any business, you’re a people person because that’s the reality is that everybody needs that skill. But there to your point, there’s so much more to being an H.R. professional.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:42.69] I want to talk to you a little bit about some of the things that you guys are doing at Ketchum. Can you talk about your work in creating and implementing innovation strategies such as the creation of Launchpad, which is your guys’ blind selection process for entry-level talent? And that was featured recently by Fast Company.
Michelle Lanza: [00:07:03.78] Yeah, it was. It was featured in Fast Company. LaunchPad is actually one of the most impactful programs I’ve had the opportunity to work on in my career. And what I think is so special about it is, is that Ketchum had a very successful internship program. We were hiring great people. But the reality is, is that we were hiring the person that had two to four previous internships because the only way that we really had to evaluate candidates was based on their resume. So it was the kid that already had the internship that was getting the next one. And so what Launchpad did was really even the playing field and made it so that getting an internship spot was everybody had the opportunity to do it because it wasn’t about what you had already done. It was about what you are capable of. And so essentially a LaunchPad is a game in which candidates come in and respond to a fictitious client challenge and then vote each other up on the leader board. And the people that are on the top of the leaderboard move forward in the selection process.
Michelle Lanza: [00:08:16.41] And that’s at that point that we look at resumes. And what is great about that in why people are disappointed when they don’t get moved forward in the process. I think that the benefit of a game like this is that it still educates people that play in the game on what it is like to be a communications professional because they get to read other people’s ideas. They get to interact with peers or potential peers. And so it’s a learning experience in itself. And so for those two reasons, you know, that it gave people the opportunity to get an internship at, that were previously not looked at. And the fact that it’s a learning moment for everybody that plays in the game has been great. The result of LaunchPad is, is that it radically changed who we hired. And we really did hire people that had no communications experience before but had an interest in it. And so we are super proud of the program. And it is in its third year now of using it as our entry-level selection tool.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:26.10] I love this, it’s, you, you’ve got the gamification element, which makes it fun and engaging. But like you said, everybody benefits. Even if the person doesn’t move on to an internship opportunity at the organization, they still learn from the experience and connect with other people, which is more than a lot more than you get out of most interview and selection processes.
Michelle Lanza: [00:09:49.80] Exactly. And that’s why it really is a win-win for everyone. Last year we didn’t bring on-site, so we did a virtual program and we took everybody that had played in LaunchPad and actually gave them intensive and then allowed them to put that on their resumes, as well as the fact that they completed that two-week program.
Break: [00:10:13.53] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you were listening to the Workology Podcast. A special thank you to our sponsors, Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. We’re talking with Michelle Lanza about the role of the CHRO.
Break: [00:10:27.27] Personal and professional development is essential for successful H.R. leaders. Join Upskill H.R. to access life training, community, and over a hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. H.R. recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
Removing Bias From the Hiring Process
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:43.64] We’re a year into the global pandemic now. I can’t believe we’re a year in. Can you talk about how you and your team at Ketchum have shifted due to the lockdown and the health crisis?
Michelle Lanza: [00:10:57.22] So we definitely have focused in the last year on the emotional health and well-being of our employees. And that’s tapping into our employee assistance programs. It’s implementing meditation classes. It’s creating a more flexible work environment. But the reality is, is that Ketchum had a little bit of a leg up because we, two years ago moved from a geography-based model to an industry-based model. So our teams were really used to working virtually and working with people across the country. So that wasn’t new for us. And the second benefit that Ketchum had was we had at the same time rolled out a program that we call Work Where You Work Best. I wanted to call it a Work Like an Adult Policy, but no one would let me because we’re a communications agency. But in reality, that’s what it was. So we have this philosophy that, you know, if you, the cable person was coming and you needed to work from home, you could. If you were working on a writing assignment and you could do that more effectively from your living room couch, you could do that. If you wanted to go on a long weekend and take an extra day in a new city, you could work virtually. So we have this Work Like an Adult Policy in place. So, again, it sort of set us up to be ready to work virtually. And so it’s not that our teams don’t miss each other and miss being in person, but I think that the pain of actually, you know, companies that just weren’t used to working virtually, it was a much more painful transition than it was for Ketchum.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:44.36] What a huge benefit for you guys. You didn’t miss a beat when the rest of the world was struggling with online communication, or how do I motivate my team remotely or have tough employee conversations? You guys already had the systems and the processes built to be able to do that.
Michelle Lanza: [00:13:05.36] Yes, we really did. And that’s not to say that it hasn’t been painful on some other fronts. I mean, you know, all of us are reading about, you know, the impact that this is having on women and women leaving the workforce, because in our society, women still take on the majority of, you know, child care. You know, we still are, parents in particular, I think have been hit by this. And so we’ve definitely put in more additional resources and programming to support that community. And we will continue to do that, because I think the reality is, is that as a group that has been tremendously impacted by what’s happened in the last year,
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:51.19] Yeah, I was just reading an article actually this week about the pink recession and how experts think, think that this covid times is going to impact set back women in in the workplace. I hope I hope we can find our way back or have more companies who are focused on programs and systems and support like you’re talking about.
Michelle Lanza: [00:14:19.22] Yeah, I think it’s going to be really critical for all companies to be focused on that.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:24.95] Besides your SVP role at Ketchum, you also founded Work Wider in 2020. Can you talk to us about some background on the program, why it happened and, and what it’s all about?
Michelle Lanza: [00:14:37.23] Yeah. You know, my kids joke with me. They’re like, you know, you have to have a job that you love, like why are you doing this, why do you wake up at 4:00 in the morning? And what I would say is I didn’t know I had a startup in me. I don’t, I don’t even know that I wanted to have a startup. And what I realized was there was a huge gap in the market in terms of companies really being able to effectively hire people from all underrepresented communities. And I knew that there was this issue. I knew what was needed from a company perspective, but I also knew what was needed from a talent perspective. And so I created LaunchPad and I like to say I’m the creator. It was my initial concept. But the reality is there’s been so many people that have helped make this happen because I believe with a tool like this, you need to make sure that it’s being built by underrepresented communities and groups. And so we have a really diverse group of people that has helped push this forward. So essentially what Work Wider is, is a career platform for all underrepresented talent. And for the first time, people get to show up as their full, transparent self.
Michelle Lanza: [00:15:58.51] And there are a lot of great niche sites out there. But what they do is ask you to show up as one thing. And I think in this age of transparency, people are ready to show up as their full selves at work. And so that could mean that I can show up as a 50+ woman who has a neuro difference. Somebody else could show up as a black man who’s part of the LGBTQ+ community or a veteran with a neuro difference. So that’s what Work Wider is. For the first time on a career platform, you get to show up as your full transparent self and companies get to understand who talent is based on the communities they identify with and the industries that they work or want to join. And so companies join the platform to find talent, top talent, but also to really showcase the work that they’re doing around cultures of belonging. So every company on Work Wider has committed to creating cultures of belonging and the Work Wider pledge and candidates are on the platform showing up as who they are.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:11.08] This is great. I, I just think what’s all the things that have happened in the last year? I want companies to talk to their employees, get to know them, understand and also in their communities the kind of resources to support and have tough conversations and so Work Wider helps do it sounds like a lot of those kind of things. And to bring in and connect with people who are diverse from different areas and introduce them to the organization.
Michelle Lanza: [00:17:42.40] Yeah, we really do. And so we create content. We curate content every day that makes you smarter about your industry, are more educated about your community. We have monthly webinars around topics. We have one that’s happening this weekend that’s around the black experience. And as people come in, young black professionals come in what they’re looking for. So we do monthly programming and then we also have a bi-monthly newsletter in which we feature an inclusive leader. So there’s a lot of really rich content on there for people that are looking for jobs. But quite frankly, people that just want to be more educated about this topic or be in community with other underrepresented professionals.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:27.10] I love it. And I mean, I’m a curator of content. I feel like there’s so much that needs to be said and needs to be shared. And it’s great that you’re providing resources for employees, potential employees and employers to, to talk and, and get to know one another and then share about what are some different things that companies are doing to help support these underrepresented communities. How does this work in the new normal where we’re blended onsite, remote? How can we figure this out, where we’re we can lead opportunities for underrepresented communities as well as for the companies who hire them when people are all over the country or the world or state wherever.
Michelle Lanza: [00:19:16.75] Yeah, it’s interesting. You, you know, you hear people say, I can’t wait to go back to normal. And, you know, my feeling on that is normal wasn’t really working for everyone. And so what I hope is that companies go back to a better normal and go back to a different and better way of being that is more inclusive. So I think we should take what was working and bring it forward, but also implement some new program and strategies and tools to actually make it better for all people. The one other silver lining that I really hope comes out of this pandemic is the fact that the reality that actually virtual work works, because I think that for people with disabilities, this will be a game-changer because many, you know, roles that required people to be on-site, that may change and it may really help open up the pool of talent that companies can look at. And I think this is going to greatly help the people with disability community in particular.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:34.36] I agree with you and I’m already hearing so many employees who have disabilities who are like, this is fantastic. I don’t have to worry about accommodation, just technology, accommodation because I have everything that I need at home.
Michelle Lanza: [00:20:49.12] Exactly.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:50.41] Diversity and inclusion is really top of mind for HR leaders. And I, for one and also you, we’re happy about that. I think it’s fantastic. And I’m glad that we’re focused in this area. Can you talk about your background with recruiting processes a little bit more that, the focus on diversity and inclusion?
Michelle Lanza: [00:21:11.14] Yeah, for sure. So it’s interesting. You know, I’ve been in EDIs, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and focused on it for a long time. And for the first time, I feel actually optimistic that companies, many companies are truly committed to making meaningful changes. And I think that is in part because white people woke up to the fact that systemic racism is real. And I think that the reality is to actually make cultures that are inclusive, requires everybody understanding the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion. And so I think that the conversations that we’re having now are really helping us to look realistically at our companies and the changes that need to be made. From a Ketchum standpoint, we’ve done some, some things that I think are great and meaningful to really help building inclusive cultures. And that starts with the selection process. So Ketchum looked at eliminating where it could the education requirement for jobs. We also are doing a much better job of not asking for unicorns in each job because. [00:22:34.03] Right. The study [00:22:34.90] show that men will apply to a job if they have like one or two of the skills where women want to make sure that they have everything. And, and part of that is that job descriptions that companies post are unrealistic. And truly, they asked for unicorns half the time.
Michelle Lanza: [00:22:52.84] And so we have really focused on what are the essential skills for a job. And then we look at what are the trainable skills too. So we’ve re-examined our job descriptions. As part of that, we’ve also made sure that they’re gender-neutral. We have a selection process that is inclusive from the start. And again, that, that meant making sure our job descriptions were gender-neutral, making sure that candidates could identify with their own gender that they identify with. We also made sure that we had gender-neutral bathrooms on-site for when people interviewed on-site and our employees. And then we’re making sure that our interview teams are more diverse and that includes ethnic diversity, but it also includes diversity of background. And finally, we really moved to adopting a cultural add versus a cultural fit philosophy. And I think that that is critical for all organizations to look at this notion of, oh, that person’s a cultural fit. Like no company should want to keep their culture exactly the way it is. Companies should want to be continuously evolving their culture. And that means adding different people to your organization. And so we’ve really moved from, again, this notion of cultural fit to cultural add.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:28.06] I love this. It’s you provided us a lot of different, I think, ideas on beyond just, oh, we’re going to improve our diversity, inclusion in our hiring process, like, hey, we’re going to present a diverse candidate for every opening. You’re making sure that we have a more diverse background in terms of those who are interviewing and not just make it about things like race or ethnicity. Right? Diversity of experience. I think that’s fantastic. And these are small things that every company can do.
Michelle Lanza: [00:25:04.69] Yes. And obviously we’ve looked at larger programs, too. But I think that these small things actually show candidates and prospective employees, you know, your commitment to creating cultures of belonging. These are tangible things that they can see
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:24.43] Small and subtle, even the bathrooms thing. Like I, I know that it is something that often gets overlooked, but somebody walks into an interview, goes to the restroom before or after their interview, and they see that. And that’s not something that’s on a career site or on the glass door profile, but they experience it and it just kind of lets them know what kind of workplace they’re going to have when they join that company.
Michelle Lanza: [00:25:50.91] Exactly. Yes.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:52.62] Michelle, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing at Work Wider?
Michelle Lanza: [00:26:04.05] Come to WorkWider.com and check us out. And you can find my bio there. And we’d love to hear from you.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:12.36] I’ll link to the Work Wider website as well as Michelle’s LinkedIn so that you can connect with her as well. And then we’ll link to the Fast Company article, too, so you can learn about some of the different things that Michelle and her team at Ketchum and then also the stuff that Work Wider is doing to learn more. But thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us.
Michelle Lanza: [00:26:33.72] Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Closing: [00:26:37.52] Are you loving the Workology Podcasts? Our Workology community reaches over 600,000 H.R. leaders every single month. Want to be a sponsor? Reach out to us at Workology.com/advertising.
Closing: [00:26:51.82] It’s really interesting to delve into how a role like the CHRO, whose experience more closely connects them to the strategy and operations of the overall business and how they work with the rest of the company leadership team, especially around things like innovation, diversity, and inclusion, and business partnerships. I love to hear Ketchum’s work in the area of gamification with this internship program. So amazing, so creative. Who wouldn’t be interested in being a part of that organization or at least learning something about this company? The CHRO doesn’t just lead H.R. within a company. The role is also key to structuring the leadership for a company’s executive team. I appreciate Michelle taking the time to share with us her knowledge today. Thank you for joining the Workology podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes.
Connect with Michelle Lanza.
– COVID Leads To A Pink Collar Recession
– Episode 273: The Role of the CHRO and Organizational Development
– Episode 270: The Role of the CHRO Leading a Remote Workforce
– Ep 250: Exploring the ROI of Diversity and Equity
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