Karen Bennett knows that in today’s competitive talent market, the right people strategy is a key differentiator. She’s taking all she’s learned in a twenty-year HR career and using it to lead important projects and initiatives at Berdon.
“As an HR professional, there are many ways you can have a positive impact on others,” Bennett says. “I started working at a very young age and never stopped. I knew early on that I wanted a satisfying and rewarding career, and one of the reasons I went into HR was to help others along the same path.”
In her seventeen years at Berdon, Bennett has introduced numerous programs and initiatives and witnessed their positive impact on countless careers.
“Karen is one of those great HR professionals who understands how to balance the needs and interests of Berdon and its employees,” says Tarter Krinsky & Drogin’s Laurent Drogin. “A smart listener and leader, Karen proactively handles matters, so they don’t become problems, furthering Berdon’s positive culture.”
She recently spoke with Profile about how employee expectations are changing, what it means for recruiting talent, and what other HR leaders can learn from her approach.
As teams, workplaces, cultures, and the world continues to change, what new challenges are emerging in HR, and what opportunities are you seeing as a result?
One of the major challenges in HR today is recruiting and retention. It’s a tight labor market, where your organization’s culture will make the difference in attracting talent. The pandemic has made a lot of people reevaluate the type of work they do, who they work for, the hours they work, and where they want to work. Today, there are many factors that influence a candidate’s career choice. For many years, compensation and benefits were the primary concerns for most people. More recently, this has shifted to include a focus on firm culture and values, work hours and location, and work-life balance. It requires a lot more effort to find qualified talent, so firms need to be proactive in their hiring practices.
It sounds like a big, yet important, pivot. How can you accomplish this?
We realized we were doing a lot of great things for our employees but not really showcasing them sufficiently to future candidates. Before a candidate applies to a position, they are researching your firm, looking at what perks and benefits are available and seeing what others are saying about your firm and its culture. We put more effort into our social media campaigns to better highlight all our firm initiatives.
What does it take to keep employees engaged in this new hybrid environment?
Keeping teams engaged in a remote environment takes more thoughtful structured efforts to share information with each other. Managers need to ensure they are communicating with their in-person teams, as well as the team members that are remote. Regular firm town halls are an excellent way to ensure all your employees are kept up to speed on what’s going on in the organization. The focus needs to be less on where our employees are located physically and more on how we set them up for success. It’s also crucial for employees to feel a true sense of belonging and a sense of purpose, and where they share the same values and culture of the firm.
Are there other programs or activities you’ve put into place since the pandemic started to help with connectivity and collaboration?
We created a program called BerdonHub, which is our answer to a virtual office. The program focuses on communication and connectedness. We keep connected with our new hires, and especially our remote staff, through regular communications and meetings, virtual lunches, team building activities, and breakfasts with our leadership.
We’ve hired over 150 people since COVID-19 began, and we wanted to make sure they feel part of the firm and understand our culture. In addition to the day-to-day work, we want our new hires and remote staff to feel connected to others in the firm, and also participate in firm events and activities. Business development, recruiting, BerdonCares events, and education and learning seminars will continue to be largely virtual in our firm. BerdonHub highlights how they can get involved in these initiatives to add value to the firm, while also helping them grow professionally in their careers.
What is BerdonCares?
Berdon has always been a firm that has given back to the community and actively involved in philanthropic activities. I created our BerdonCares program several years ago with the intention of expanding on what the firm was already doing, by allowing our employees to play a bigger role in getting involved and giving back through donations and volunteering. Our employees love to volunteer and participate in these initiatives.
We encourage all employees to volunteer a minimum of one day a year during work hours. I think of it as a do-good mandate. We have partnered with the Red Cross, the Wounded Warrior Project, the VA Hospital, and the Children’s Aid Society. More recently, we worked with Learn Fresh and the NY Mets to provide a fun and educational experience for students in our local community. The event encouraged learning and growing through STEM-based activities and enhanced their social emotional learning.
It’s been a challenging period for HR leaders. What advice do you have for your counterparts in other companies?
We need to shift from the perspective of “I will treat people as I want to be treated” to “I will treat people as they need to be treated.” We have to manage, grow, and lead our teams by understanding first what motivates them. It’s important to ask questions and truly listen so you are able to understand their perspectives and what drives each person.
We should know where they want to be in five years, and how we can help guide them toward reaching those goals. Helping people flourish in their lives and careers is one of my primary goals as an HR professional. I’m thankful to those throughout my career who helped me learn and grow professionally.