Human Capital Corner: The Chief HR Officer as Chief Transformational Officer?

Cecile Munoz and Ellen Stanley Discuss “Unlocking the Whole Human” Approach to Attract, Engage and Retain Top Talent at Wealth Management Firms

Welcome to Wealth Solutions Report’s inaugural Human Capital Corner, where I spotlight discussions with senior human resources strategists and executives to address some of the most innovative organizational thinking and complex dilemmas facing the wealth management space.

Having partnered closely with wealth management firms of all sizes and business models with their executive search and consulting needs since 1992, I can say without hesitation that the hiring and retention landscape is facing unprecedented levels of disruption.

Is it time yet for me to move on?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of life and work, and this includes a heightened restlessness of today’s talent.

What employees value and how they are valued has dramatically changed.   A clear indicator of this was recorded just this past July when, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans resigned from their jobs.  The largest percentage came from ages 30 to 45.  By the end of that same month, there were 10.9 million open positions nationwide.  They have resigned to change – and so must the industry.  

Based on this context, the question that must be addressed urgently by wealth management firms is this:  How can firms adopt change to reduce the gap between purpose and values in order to attract, engage, and retain top talent in a tight labor market?

Or perhaps more simply, how do firms elevate their organizations by unlocking each employee’s value as a “whole human”?

To address this, I connected with Ellen Stanley, former Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at George K. Baum & Company, an investment banking firm focused on public finance and capital markets, to share her insights with WSR’s readers.

Among her many professional accomplishments, she has served in the past as SVP and Head of Human Resources at both Cetera Financial Group as well as Key Bank.

Munoz:  What is important to top-performing talent today?  What do they need to see and hear in a firm’s culture, the opportunity, and its leaders?

Stanley:  The CHRO role has long ago shifted to that of the Chief Transformational Officer which speaks volumes to how the CEO, management, and the employees alike drive to a vision and aspirational future for the employer brand.  

Candidates need to see collaboration and consistency in the employer’s brand where people are respected as adults and professionals, where trust informs the cultural policies and norms at every turn, and taking intelligent risk, creativity, and their results are recognized and celebrated at both the individual and team level.   

Candidates also need to experience the employer’s brand through the recruiting experience beginning with the recruiter’s passion to recruit.  It is a game changer when recruiters actively engage talent through frequent touches and speedy communication resulting in an extraordinary emotional experience where talent owns their decision to select their company of choice.  They want high personal touch over a text.  

Finally, candidates need to feel special and valued as they move through the recruiting experience.  They are attracted to understanding they can successfully own and provide additive value and are inspired when organizations value both the individual and team structure.  

Ironically, recruiters are often the biggest deterrent to an organization’s ability to attract and procure talent by failing to work in close step with the hiring manager to know the business, and not truly looking at, and leveraging, the candidate’s full cadre of experience.

Munoz:  How are executive leaders and their organizations applying the lessons learned during a time of radical change to evolve from the place where you work to the work that is most meaningful to you?

Stanley:  I would suggest that talent is moving away from organizations that fail to recognize both the individual and the team for the work that it is important to them.  While leaders are very interested and actively managing through the tsunami of change, today, the vast array of voices is deafening and confusing.  The CEO who is truly an inspirational leader will successfully balance vision with voice and strategy with empowerment.  

Munoz:  No firm has the magic formula for a location flexibility model – Some wealth management firms are requiring all employees return to pre-pandemic, traditional office hours, while others are still mulling their options.  What is your advice in this regard?

Stanley:  There is no magic here!  The reality is that employees, their managers, and executives alike have been successfully working in various remote situations for many, many years now.  

Executives have been reticent to encourage shifts in corporate paradigms and openly support creativity and new rules such as remote working arrangements, choosing to continue the tradition to carry massive corporate real estate and relocation packages weight on balance sheets.  

Offering location neutral employment is now a table stake and stakeholders will require managers to have different skills and leaders to exit managers who are not able to make the transition to the remote world or get hit with the alternative of a revolving door for talent.   

However, leaders need to take care to identify and ambitiously manage the unintended consequences of the remote work environment of which there are many.  For example, now that people can work from anywhere in the country the wage rate may now inflate to that of a “national” pay rate resulting in an inflated and unexpected salary expense.  

Executives have an incredible opportunity to grow engagement by thinking outside of the box by bringing their teams together for boot camps and project opportunities that will transcend the outdated office environment.   

Successful leaders today must have the vision, knowledge, and communication gravitas to attract and hydrate succession talent in the remote workspace.  

Munoz:  What are the three most important items for CEOs to consider when exploring how to best align talent, culture, policies, and leadership?

CEOs need to ask for more and expect more from the CHRO/Chief Transformation Officer to ensure priorities are aligned and they are leveraging the real opportunity to impact the business strategy and results for human capital making sure to avoid the desire to take quick action that will unconsciously replace the cultural trust with new policies and benchmarking activity.  

Next, nothing is more critical than building and maintaining a strong contemporary bench at the top and within your mission-critical talent.  In concert with your CHRO/CTO perform a talent analysis of the executive team required skillsets to determine gaps and where organizational responsibilities might need to shift and/or where a need exists to acquire contemporary world-class talent.  

Make sure to ask the right questions to include “do I trust him/her.”   Follow through with a talent review of mission-critical talent in concert with the executive team.  

Cecile Munoz, President,
U.S. Search & Consulting

Finally, a clear connection is critical between your mission and values.  Words and actions matter so this is a great time for executives to push past pontifications to action or to rest.  

For instance, if leaders have suggested that they value creativity, this is the time to really do some self-examination and hydrate both your talent, resources, and communication around this claim…and review compensation plans for both individual and team recognition points to insure alignment.  

As always, CEOs should be regularly and consistently in communication with the stakeholders to include some type of small group discussion to ensure consistency of communication flow with the knowledge stakeholder.

Cecile Munoz is President of U.S. Executive Search & Consulting, an executive talent search firm that is active across the wealth management space

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