J.C. Herrera Explains How to Build the Staff of Tomorrow

Lithium Technologies’ SVP of human resources details the best approach to building a cohesive, forward-thinking culture

Love it or hate it, social media has become common currency across the globe. It’s how business gets accomplished today, and Lithium Technologies provides digital tools for companies to manage and consolidate their social customer experience. J.C. Herrera, senior vice president of human resources, is in charge of managing the work experience of Lithium employees.

Do you try to recruit particular personalities?

J.C. Herrera: We look for people who can move quickly from project conception through delivery. They also need to be agile and collaborative by nature. Everyone here is part of a team that contributes to overall excellence, so they need to understand how they collectively participate. The days of being the genius who can sit in the corner and churn out solo work are gone.

How do you effectively manage millennials and other younger generations of workers?

Herrera: We listen a lot. Through a recent employee engagement survey, we discovered that it’s important to today’s workforce that they know they’re being recognized and rewarded fairly for their work and that they have opportunities to grow in their careers. That doesn’t just mean promotions, but also chances to work on different types of assignments or rotating between groups. Since we started paying more attention and responding to those issues, our voluntary attrition rate has dropped 23 percent.

How has the business adapted to accommodate their professional expectations?

Herrera: Millennials want to be with a company that aligns with their own personal values and one where they can feel passionate about what their employer does. The more we talk about customer successes and how we contribute to those, the better our workforce responds. We keep them informed and engaged so they understand why decisions are made and how their efforts make a difference in the outcome of projects they’ve worked on. We also make it possible for them to volunteer three days each year for causes that the company has pledged to or for groups that they choose on their own.

“The days of being the genius who can sit in the corner and churn out solo work are gone.”

We’ve also changed how we provide incentives and rewards. Instead of traditional annual performance reviews, we’ve instituted biannual objectives and key results (OKR). Those involve reviewing how employees align with goals and priorities our CEO has posted publicly, or with customized goals they’ve posted themselves. Anyone in the company can connect with any one of those customized goals, too. So, it creates its own social web of priorities and choices. The goal is to encourage innovative thinking and to make progress in areas that are personally meaningful. We’re also working toward a total rewards program that will enable peers—not just managers—to acknowledge an individual’s efforts in a just-in-time environment that doesn’t have to wait for a more formal review.

Do younger employees provide unique or specialized skill sets?

Herrera: They do. They’re naturally able to collaborate through social channels. Even though big data is in its infancy, they’re digital natives who understand how big volumes of information can change a business. They’re also very adaptable and can pivot to meet new demands without being hung up on traditional approaches or “how things used to be done.”

How do you attract and retain talent in the highly competitive technology arena?

Herrera:  One very important way is recognizing the importance of employee referrals. We have a goal of 40 percent of hires coming through existing employees. They already have “insider knowledge” about the business and our culture and who would be a good fit for both. The new hires have better chances at success because of that, and because they’re more immediately invested through their friends’ recommendations. We take a holistic approach to retention, which involves keeping everyone engaged and informed about the business. We have “all-hands” meetings every month or so to make sure everyone knows our priorities, issues we’re facing, and how and why we’re addressing them. We even have customers come in to speak about their experiences with our products. That’s partly because we take customer success very seriously, but also because it’s an opportunity for employees to connect with the business through face-to-face relationships and in ways that go far beyond their individual roles and responsibilities.

Any recommendations for other HR professionals for developing healthy and productive internal cultures?

Herrera: Pay attention to intangibles when hiring—things like personal passions, shared values, and social or collaborative skills. Those are things that might be harder to see on a résumé, but they get and keep people involved and engaged. You can always teach specific skill sets later.