Inside Connexion 2023

Connex Staff |


Expressed early in the first panel discussion, that statement helped kick off Connexion 2023 and fittingly set the tone for the sessions to come. These in-person discussions provide an intimate setting for HR industry leaders to network and share best practices with one another, and the Vegas meeting rooms at this year’s conference buzzed with innovative contributions across the full spectrum of HR focus areas.


Talent Acquisition
Acquiring talent is still the number one thing on many HR professionals’ minds, especially those in particularly hard-hit sectors like manufacturing and healthcare. Thankfully, Attendees had plenty of ideas for how to get an advantage over competitors.

  • Use chatbots and AI to streamline recruiting and onboarding, creating an easier and more pleasant experience for applicants
  • Be very transparent about compensation – employees will find out information online anyway, so it’s better to preempt that and control the narrative
  • Work with marketing to reimagine job postings and use their proven engagement tactics to improve efficacy
  • Review job descriptions to make sure they’re accurate and not exclusionary – “does that position really require a degree?”
  • Spotlight your diversity and ESG commitments front-and-center given how important those are to younger demographics
  • Create alumni networks and mine previous “silver medalists” to get immediate hiring lifts.


Total Rewards
Connected in with the discussions about recruitment were several on compensation and non-monetary rewards, with Attendees sharing several helpful ideas on how to keep employees engaged, promote retention, and cultivate buy-in.

  • A simple thank you costs nothing and has a massive impact, especially during hiring, as evidenced by SHRM
  • Broadcasting individual achievements and situations that exemplify company values on social media, intranets, and through CEO shoutout videos is a consistently effective way to recognize staff, with one caveat: employees need a way to opt out, such as during onboarding, because some individuals simply do not want the spotlight
  • Tuition advancement has proven more effective for some than reimbursement, especially as a way to engage and develop wage workers that may not have the upfront capital needed to pursue schooling
  • WeeCare was highly recommended as a solution for providing staff with childcare support without the risks and liabilities of opening on-site daycares
  • Forma was recommended as a way to provide greater total rewards flexibility, as it’s a lifestyle spending account that employees can use to cover the purchases that matter most to them.


Culture and Change
The culture and change conversations have shifted since the crisis management era of the pandemic and its immediate aftermath. Now, industry thought leaders are focused on how you rebuild “You need to be willing to be flexible.” and sustain consistent cultural evolutions.

  • Source ideas and feedback directly from the frontline – you’ll not only foster engagement through a sense of ownership, but they know what your culture looks like on-the-ground better than anyone
  • Track and operationalize leaders’ accountability to your core values, otherwise employee trust will just erode
  • Voluntary buyouts for individuals resistant to change might be worthwhile, but Attendees also cautioned it could backfire if high-potentials try to take the deal
  • Be willing to pay a premium for new hires that are a good cultural fit – it’s often less expensive than the downstream costs of hiring someone misaligned at a lower rate.

Health and Wellbeing
Some organizations are more efficient than ever given that remote and hybrid employees have overwhelmingly converted would-be commute times into extra hours. As a result, it’s more important than ever before to provide robust and well-rounded health and wellbeing resources.

  • Offer additional PTO days dedicated to mental wellness as they’re not only effective, but help destigmatize the self-care behaviors employees need
  • Create employee-led support groups and confidant opportunities to build camaraderie and provide more outlets – they’re especially helpful as complements to EAPs, digital counseling programs, and mindfulness apps
  • Incentivize annual physicals for early disease detection as opposed to tying those dollars to specific outcomes, as it’s much easier to sustain, less to administer, and can be more effective at reducing costs according to some Attendees
  • Don’t forget those locations that do have a critical mass of on-site employees – strategies like free onsite clinics carry financial risk, but can pay for themselves in better health outcomes, earlier disease detection, and employee satisfaction.

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Any program, from wellness to employee mobility, is only as good as its communication. Many companies invested heavily in their communications during the pandemic to keep their businesses abreast of rapidly changing circumstances, and Attendees were keen on finding ways to maintain that momentum.

  • HR needs to be involved, but cannot lead communications efforts, as they’re most effective when every leader reinforces them
  • Crafting an emotionally powerful narrative is as important as being factually correct, and internal marketing resources can often help with that storytelling
  • Employees want greater transparency, feedback, and messaging from Level 3 and Level 4 leaders, at least according to some Attendees’ recent engagement surveys
  • Engage spouses with targeted mailers or evening webinars, as they’re often driving key decisions like benefit selection
  • CRM tools can help track what communications were opened, which were engaged with most, and which were ignored
  • Automatically create individualized “In Case You Missed It” emails from the details in ignored communications via AI tools that can be layered atop CRM systems

1-on-1 conversations are still the most effective, so be sure to push talking points to managers and encourage them to build those relationships.

Performance Management
Performance management was traditionally predicated on the idea that everyone could, should, and would want to move up in the organization, but that’s rarely the case anymore. Lateral moves within or across teams are becoming increasingly common, and average tenure in general continues to decline, forcing HR leaders to radically rethink the function.

  • Several Attendees shared they’re moving away from point-based performance models and rankings towards continual coaching alternatives that focus more heavily on organizational values and how work is done
  • Many are embracing coaching cultures that push leaders to have mentor relationships with staff, shifting the focus of performance management towards long-term career development and employee mobility
  • AI can help prompt and coach performance management discussions from managers in realtime, identify and flag bias in performance criteria, and passively pull reoccurring themes from sites like Glassdoor using NLP-based sentiment analysis.

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Skill Development
Interconnected with performance were several good points about skills development, both for employees looking to take on new and better roles, and for the leaders that need to nimbly navigate stretch assignments and their increasingly dynamic workforce.

  • Skill development and career pathing needs to go much deeper in the pipeline than before, especially considering how outsized an impact it has on retention and employee satisfaction
  • Some people are satisfied to be experts in their current role, and those are the ones to tap as mentors to develop and transfer skills to others.
  • Reinforce the idea that employees own their own development – give them, especially those in underrepresented groups, the tools to be proactive about their growth
  • There’s a shift towards building talent rather than buying it, with many Attendees’ adding that they’re fostering partnerships with local universities to expand their pipelines
  • Local and state colleges can be more valuable than ivy league schools for finding greater diversity of highly talented individuals with a genuine passion for growth
  • Rotational placements during onboarding can help broaden employee skills out of the gate, as well as socialize the idea that lateral moves are good opportunities
  • Leaders need to see themselves as guiding lights towards your strategic vision and core principles, but that’s only possible with genuine investments in their soft skills.