Best and Brightest Roundtables Highlight Talent, Culture Challenges

Corisa Nalls was charting an entirely different path for her career and her life, including studying at Wayne State University and heading into the journalism field. A career in human resources wasn’t anywhere on her agenda.

Until it was.

Now Nalls is new to the HR team at Danlaw, Inc., an automotive and engineering firm, and she’s trying to soak up as much information as she can to help her adjust.

That’s why Nalls enjoyed the 2023 Best and Brightest National Summit at the Detroit Athletic Club, a summit focused on issues and best practices regarding talent acquisition and retention and workplace culture issues.

The two-day summit drew the leaders of some of the nation’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For. The summit featured a panel discussion by four Best and Brighest CEOs, a keynote speaker focused on the emerging influence of AI and ChatGPT and, most importantly for Nalls, roundtable discussions focused on issues and best practices around talent and culture.

“It helped tremendously,” Nalls said. “I liked being able to network and talk to people in an informal session. Meeting people who’ve been in all fields of HR for 10 or 20 years is really good exposure for somebody like me, who is as green as they come.

“The culture (discussion) in particular was something that spoke to me, because I want to bring a DEI initiative to my company and be an ambassador for that,” she added. “Watching people and listening to them talk about some of their issues with culture and their best practices, these are things that not only didn’t occur to me, but I didn’t even know were issues or how to approach fixing them.”

The roundtable discussions were divided into two groups for each. The talent roundtable focused on best practices and the challenges of finding and keeping talent. Issues included training, education, AI and  ChatGPT and potential partnerships, particularly with schools, to find talent.

“The hope was to spark ideas,” said Katie Dykstra, who specializes in executive coaching and leadership development and who led one of the roundtables. “We had a lot of people who were in the health-care industry,  and it was fascinating to see other people raise their hand and figure out how that transfers into their industry. I think that’s what we need to keep thinking about as our workforce is shifting — how do we shift to match up to the talent we’re looking for.”

Other topics that came up:

  • The use of videos in advertising. “Videos you use to advertise what your company does, show your culture … showing career pathing, so (candidates) are not only starting at one level, but there are opportunities to grow in an organization,” Dykstra said.
  • Starting recruiting earlier among students. “You can no longer go after juniors and seniors in college, you have to start … with high school juniors and seniors.
  • Go to the schools. “You should be setting up relationships with schools that allow you to speak at the schools. People aren’t going to career fairs any more. They’re not excited about it, and a lot of juniors and seniors already have jobs secured from previous internships.”
  • ChatGPT. “(Candidates) are using it to come up with ideas for social media posts, to figure out team-building activities.

company, particularly for the new hires. Veteran employees are familiar with standard operating procedures; new hires not so much.

“Once they get into their specific department they feel like they’re just being thrown right in and nobody has taken time with them,” Rattee said. “From a recruiting perspective, it’s more about finding the more specialized technical roles … those are kind of a skilled trade that can be hard to find.” \

Speaking of recruiting students, Chris Sebastian, the communications director for Tennessee-based Ducks Unlimited, said his company has a partnership with the University of Georgia to develop a nature-based construction and engineering program to guide students through helping to “build environment, not just build buildings and bridges,” trying to educate them that there are career paths other than concreate and steel.

Sebastian said he came to the summit hoping to gain some “new perspectives.”

“Obviously working within our own industry, we have our own challenges, I think we’re unique,” he said. “Seeing that other people are going through the same challenges has been encouraging and also gives us some new ideas to go out there and get new talent.”

The culture roundtables were just as compelling, with hundreds of leaders gaining new insight into the best practices of other Best and Brightest leaders.

Among the top issues being heard in the marketplace, according to Alicia Wilson, executive vice president of the Best and Brightest Programs who led one of the culture discussions:

  • Defining collaboration in a hybrid structure. Is it in person, is it not, how is it structured?
  • The demands on today’s workforce related to culture. More work, less people and team bonding.
  • Layoffs, acquisitions and mergers and how do you combine those cultures.
  • Burnout at all levels and the disconnect between employees and managers.

Julie Burmania, an HR Business Partner with Grand Rapids-based staffing consultant HR Collaborative, said she gets to see the workplace culture issues from the “other side of the table” as an HR leadership consultant to “many clients.”

“I have the pleasure of seeing where it’s working well with companies, and where it’s not working so well,” Burmania said. “When it’s not working well is when the words are on the wall and the ideas are there, but it’s not lived out day by day. It’s really about connecting with each individual and (finding) what that culture means to them. Taking the time for the entire organization to adopt a culture and engage in it is a challenge.”

Beth Wilson, president of Excelas, said challenges can be more difficult if you’re merging businesses and their respective values.

“In a prior company … I was part of a significant merger … That was really tough,” said Wilson, who’s been with Excelas since April. “We had a very specific culture, and both were very good companies. But … it was a little bit of an us-versus-them. The legacy group had a culture of being very helpful and responsive to everybody. There was just a little bit more of taking ownership of an issue. The new company was a little more, ‘that’s not my job, you’ll have to call them.’ That was a tough challenge with merging cultures there.”

Throughout the summit, the point was made that workplace culture works better when it comes from the top down (and the middle up). Lesley Delgado, president of Strategic Recruiting Services, a professional outsourced recruiting and HR consultant firm, said one of the “biggest things” they see is when it’s not.

“That’s where we see the disconnects and the struggles in organizations,” she said. “The team doesn’t know how to live within … what they’re seeing does not add up to what (the company) says its values are.”

Stacie Kwaiser, since January the CEO of Rehmann, an accounting firm, said avoiding burnout is a culture challenge. Work-life balance is a buzzword now but balancing that can be difficult.

“There’s a lot of stress for our associates …. Trying to balance that with being a professional services firm, whether you’re dealing with exterior clients, the networks and communities we live in, or our individuals that are our internal clients,” Kwaiser said. “Managing that and managing family and life’s stresses in this technology and social media world … there are so many forces coming at them.”

Kwaiser was at the summit to help lead a panel discussion, but took the opportunity to sit in the roundtable specifically because it was about culture.

“Being able to hear what (others) perceive as challenges really helps me broaden my perspective of what might also be felt internally at Rehmann,” she said.

Noah Tatum, a content specialist with the marketing team at Epitec, said his firm has to deal with cultural issues that involve employees in several age groups. That can present a challenge, he said, when developing workplace culture that fits all of them.

“It’s kind of a cultural challenge due to everyone having different work styles, as well as being raised on different work ethics and different things in the workplace,” Tatum said. “Being able to cater to all those different generations as well as being open to the different workstyles those individuals were raised on really allows for a professional to make a better workplace environment for everyone.”