S03 E04: Collaboration During Great Resignation: The Secret to Retaining Employees

In this episode of CultureClub X powered by CultureMonkey, we have with us Michelle Yu, Founder & Principal at Aspire Talent, who discusses with us about how proper collaboration is the secret to retaining employees in this great resignation drive.

About Michelle –

Michelle is a Career & Leadership Coach and HR Consultant and a keynote speaker with more than a decade of experience working in various people operations roles within the Tech industry.

In the past, Michelle has spoken at companies like Google and NBC Universal, and has been featured in outlets like CNBC.

Prior to her current stint as the founder and principal of Aspire talent, she was the former Head of HR Operations at SoftBank, and has worked at companies like Google and Groupon.

Her work majorly focuses on helping both individuals and organizations bring further alignment to their values.

She specializes in coaching leaders in bridging the gap for underrepresented populations, in particular women and people of colour.

She received her MBA from Duke, and is also an ICF certified coach.

Here’s a gist of what Michelle speaks about in this video:

  • While the future of work is not in favor of returning to offices, the post pandemic state of work looks different. Managers and employees struggle with poor communication and collaboration due to limited in person meetups. Moreover, the pandemic crystallized the needs of employees making them conscious of the kind of places they want to work for. Lack of basic needs like physical and mental wellness is making employees quit in high masses leading to The Great Resignation.
  • How the pandemic brings a unique opportunity for leaders to shape, cement and leverage their company cultures. Companies shifting towards more diverse and equitable ecosystems while giving employees the flexibility they desire will create the greatest impact in such cataclysmic times. To navigate through this transition smoothly, leaders will have to embrace employee needs. Failing to act on them will bring worse outcomes.
  • How remuneration alone is not an employee retention strategy for companies to use. Getting employees onboard is one segment, but the center of attention should be on building great experiences to retain the great talent throughout the employee lifecycle. Constantly listen to your employee sentiments, give them enough reasons to stay and continually tell them how they add value to the company. Invest in the long-term growth of your people’s promotions, career pathing, learning and development and other incentives.
  • If the senior leadership plainly communicates the vision, the employees will understand how vital their position is to the company’s success. C- suite executives should walk the talk in order to drive change throughout the organization. Leaders can exhort top-down transformations only if they commit to the change they want to bring. More importantly, launch campaigns that appeal to people’s hearts and minds. Improve your employees’ connection to their work and your company by taking feedback persistently. Create a room for growth by offering personal and professional development workshops.

Catch all this and more with Michelle Yu in S03E04 of CultureClub X. Do read the transcript of the full episode to gain more insights.


Nicole – Hello everyone and welcome to the latest episode of CultureClub powered by CultureMonkey. I am your host, Nicole Patrick.

CultureMonkey is a complete employee engagement platform that helps you to measure and improve your workplace culture and listen to your employees better.

In this latest episode of this season of CultureClub X, we have with us Michelle Yu, Founder and Principal at Aspire Talent. Michelle is a career and leadership coach and HR consultant with more than a decade of experience working in various people operations roles within the tech industry.

Nicole – Her work focuses on both – helping both individuals and organizations bring further alignment to their values. In the past, Michelle has spoken at companies like Google and NBC Universal and has been featured in outlets like CNBC.

Michelle was the former head of HR Operations at SoftBank and has worked at companies like Google and Groupon coaching wise, she’s especially focused on bridging the gap for underrepresented populations, in particular women and people of colour.

She received her MBA from Duke and is an ICF certified coach. Michelle, welcome again to CultureClub’s video cast on the great resignation and retention challenge and its impact on organizations across the globe.

Nicole – Before we start, please tell us a little more about yourself and your organization.

Michelle – Thank you so much for having me here. I run a boutique agency called Aspire Talent and we’re both focused on HR consulting and also coaching individuals.

So really we get brought in to help organizations while they’re at a time of transition, whether it be being really lean on their HR team or realizing that there’s a people tax or there’s a gap in how they’re currently running things.

So we like to come in and help organizations just improve their existing processes and live up to the values that they preach.

Nicole – That’s great, and we can’t wait to hear more about what you have to say on this topic.So let’s get right into it.

Organizations were caught off guard by the great resignation. Were there signs of this drive and did people ignore it before the pandemic struck? What could be the factors that drove the paradigm shift in employee expectations?

Michelle – I would say that the whole pandemic was a big catalyst for all of this, and it’s hard to say that one caused the pandemic.But I would say that these underlying core issues have been brewing for a while, especially in countries like the US where there just been things that have not been working for a while.

And the pandemic really brought a lot of these things to light. For example, just like employee health care, mental health, all of these things that have been sort of swept away underneath, underneath the rug for some time.

And then when the pandemic came and we realized that there was going to be a shortage of workers and they’re not getting paid fairly, it just sort of brought a lot of these issues to the forefront and sometimes the catalysts are a great movement for change and recognizing that now that we see all these things to the surface, we can now take steps to proactively resolve them.

Michelle – So there’s just been a series of incidents over the last two, three years now that have really shown that change is needed. Of course, the pandemic and its effect on mental health and workers, the need for more flexible working environments for parents, DEI, especially with George Floyd and the rise of the Asian hate crimes.

So I think a lot of these things, like these social issues, have put a spotlight on organizations of how they are going to be supporting their individuals, especially during these crucial times.

So I will say it’s a combination of all of that and bringing it to light and helping employees know that they have options. And to really kind of question if they’re in the right spot and how their organizations are responding to these things that I would say has been it’s like a mix and a melting pot of elements that are causing people to rethink, to question whether they should leave and look for better opportunities. So that’s my view on this.

Nicole – It’s almost like it was the perfect storm and everything was brewing beforehand, and then the pandemic was just the rain clouds going down. Hopefully there are brighter days ahead for everyone because now they’re more concerned with actually having a healthier work life balance and having all these important things in their work life. So it’ll be interesting to see what’s to come.

Do you think the great resignation is the lynchpin that will lead companies to adopt a more employee centric model?

Michelle – So I will say that in the past, at least from my personal experience, when we think about employees, we have to think about their entire lifecycle within an organization.

There’s so much emphasis on the earlier stages, like let’s get them in, let’s recruit them, let’s onboard them. But when we think about once an individual has been placed in an organization, there’s so much to continue developing, like how do they become better leaders?

How do they get the right support that they need, what’s their career trajectory going to look like, performance, all of that. So there’s this shift of recognizing it’s not just now, of course, we’re having challenges like bringing them in and getting people through the door, given all that’s going on. But there are also challenges with retaining people.

Michelle – And if anything, it just shows that it’s the entire life cycle that we should really be focusing on, not just getting fresh people in and new perspectives, but how do you actually continue to develop that?

And the other comment to that too is it’s so expensive to hire and it’s painful when you lose people. So if you think about an average recruiter and they’re taking maybe 10% to 20%, 25% of the person’s compensation for replacement, if you’re doing that, you’re placing people, and then they’re leaving. It’s going to be expensive for the company. And why not then just try to solve and find the pillars of what’s having them leave versus constantly reacting to getting a new candidate pipeline in.

So I think if we just kind of take a step back and recognize there’s a whole array of support that employees do need, and it’s not just at the beginning and we don’t want to just treat our new things really well and then forget about the old.

Michelle – It’s like, let’s look at everything entirely, because that’s really what’s going to allow more sustainability for organizations instead of just in and out, in and out. Like, let’s take a step back and see what’s not working at the later stages of the employee’s lifecycle.

Yeah. That’s actually where technologies like CultureMonkey can really help employers. And when you onboard an employee, especially if you onboard employees early on in the game and then are scaling, it’s important to make sure that they’re continuously happy so that you don’t have to send that money to rehire and so that you can really retain the top talent for your company and be able to check in all the time and make sure things are working for them.

Michelle – And if it’s not working, see why that is? Because when you grow and expand as a company, things are going to change and employees are going to have to change with them and grow with them. And it’s an amazing opportunity for employers to learn and to learn for the future and to see really how to create the best company culture for everybody around.

Nicole – So it’s interesting you kind of tie that in with what we do.

Michelle – Yeah, absolutely. And it’s so needed, too. Right. It’s like if you’re able to use technology to pulse check where people are at and how they’re feeling and identify that maybe they’re disgruntled because they’re not able to voice open feedback to their manager or they’re disgruntled about compensation or whatever it is.

The more touch points that you have and the safe space that employees are able to share this, then it allows organizations to respond in a more Proactive measure versus like, oh, no, now they left, and now they’re going to be reacting to finding a new person in their spot.

So absolutely a big fan of technology and leveraging it as a way to proactively assess how employees are feeling.

Nicole – What role do you think the lack of collaboration plays in people leaving the organization? How can companies combat the great resignation by creating a culture of connection?

Michelle – Right now is an interesting time because we’ve moved into remote working arrangements and hybrid working arrangements. And I think with that, that’s where the communication fell apart or has potential to fall apart, I should say, because if we think about March 2020, when the pandemic first started, it was like everybody had to be forced into this new way of working and there was a lot of change there.

But now as people start to settle in, they’re getting more into rhythm.

And I remember coaching a lot of individuals who would start new roles, and they’re starting in a remote environment. They’re not able to meet their team members or have a hard time finding ways to connect, to communicate, to find out what’s the culture of a company, especially remotely.

So there’s ways organizations can help to design and embed people into that cycle and really help to rope them in or create things in place, slack channels like, I don’t know, networking events, whatever it is to really help bridge that communication.

Michelle – But I would say that because we’ve had to move into and adopt different working styles, that’s where the communication people had to start to adjust of how do you work with someone that’s in a completely different time zone that you’ll never see? How do you build rapport with them? And at the core of it, it really is identifying what’s the best way to communicate that makes sense.

It’s interesting because it’s almost like right now everyone has a fresh slate and we can start to create these new ways of connecting in an environment that’s for most people very new and still touch and go. So if we can collectively now start making sure to pay attention to these things that employers weren’t really paying attention to before, there’s a possibility for everyone to really have a better future. Right?

And I think part of it is also potentially generational because there’s going to be people who have been in the workforce and they are so accustomed to doing business a certain way, they fly and they’re really keen on in person.

Michelle – And that might be hard to let go of that and recognize, like, you can still do that but in a different setting. And that comes down to communicating and figuring out those channels, but it could be a generational thing. And now I have some early career clients who’ve had to start their first role ever in a remote environment.

And that’s also different from someone that’s been on the other spectrum, only accustomed to in person communication. So it’s like now there’s a whole spectrum and a whole blend of like, how do you do this? How do you socialize folks?

So it’ll be interesting to see in a couple of years where things land and what the general sentiment is because we can see the benefits of both.

Nicole – But it’s now just figuring out what is the right balance. How can companies craft changes that aren’t just quick fixes but long term strategy shifts that will help them thrive during and after the great resignation period?

Michelle – My response would be that there has to be a big desire to drive change. Right?

Change for the sake of driving change isn’t going to be sticky enough. For example, you can’t say, oh, DEI is important, and then just use that as a blanket statement because everyone else is doing it and because it’s performative. And you can say that for DEI, you can say that for mental health and employee well being. You can say that for a bunch of different things. But I think at the core of it is, is there that appetite and is there a true desire to drive change?

And are the people at the top committed to doing that? Because that’s really where the culture trickles down to the rest of the organization.

And you need to have your senior most leaders really embody those values and really being a champion and an advocate for it and living up to it, otherwise it’s just going to fall apart.

So going back to your point, it really has to be an initiative that a company is really wanting to commit to and upholding people and training people in small little ways that they could drive the change, not just a big one and done.

Michelle – But it’s like continuously. It’s almost like it’s the small day to day actions that show the shift versus the big push and the big initiative. It’s like culture is hard to describe because it can be a very intangible and it’s oftentimes in the smallest details of like, oh, the manager giving acknowledgement or creating the open channel for bringing up uncomfortable conversations or really asking and checking in on someone’s mental health or how they’re feeling about belonging and inclusivity.

So it’s like really those small things that have to be pushed forward day in and day out versus just, hey, we’re going to be doing this. But it’s like, how do you actually continue to follow through with it to actually drive long term sustainable change and ultimately to change the culture?

Nicole – I was just speaking in one of our past video casts with somebody about this. And what we were talking about is empowering managers to really feel like they are able to then create a culture with their employees and having it from a top down level of making sure that everyone is empowered to create this company culture and not just have blanket statements of the top people saying, oh, this is what we’re going to do now.

And this is our new mission statement for DEI. So it’s interesting, you would almost hope that because of course, not every company does have these people, leaders, especially at the top, that are caring about these subjects and really caring about their company culture.

But you would hope that at least they would take a queue from other companies that they’re seeing that it is successfully working for that. And maybe even if it’s not the best reason to start with that they’re doing it, at least they’re beginning to do it hopefully in the future.

Michelle – Right, and with everything. It’s like, how then do you start to embed KPIs? If you’re going to say this is a big, crucial initiative, how do you start to measure the effectiveness of that over time, not just like the month of because they had to get it out, but it’s like in a quarter’s time, in six months time, in a year’s time, how are they still holding up to the objective that they set at the onset of that project?

And where is the mismatch? And that’s what companies need to be doing over the long term, not just out of reactivity to what other people are doing or responsiveness to the employee sentiment, but it’s like, let’s measure it and see how things are going. And even the next stage is like pulse checking with the employees.

Nicole – Like, how do you feel the company is doing with these initiatives that they thought out to do and taking that data and feedback really to heart, because that’s what’s going to drive change.

How can people leaders leverage technology to help them with the retention process? And how do you think it can help in scaling your organization?

Michelle – There has been a big rise of HR tech over the last, I would say the last decade, and HR tech is definitely booming. There’s a lot more startups in this space and a lot more services there. And there’s a couple of things outside of just of course, there’s the performance management, retention, pulse surveys, all of that.

That is great. But HR tech also could look like online training and learning and development that is available and accessible through modern means, not just like a very clunky interface.

You could even think about what are some of the additional perks? Like, there’s a lot of new perk vendors like Fringe, and you can even break it down into, like, family planning, fertility, all of these things that are also built on an Internet and tech based platform.

Michelle – So we’re seeing perks available there. We’re even seeing a rise of HR tech for international expansion, office expansions, which can be great if you’re trying to retain people and you want to give them mobility and give them a different work environment.

So there’s just a lot out there. And I think it’s kind of numbing actually, because it’s like, where do you even start? But definitely thinking about pulse surveys utilizing, like, quick check-ins, performance management tools, new online perks that are available, and then even going broad to HR tools that can help with international support.

Nicole – It’s really exciting. It’s an exciting time to be in this field. And at CultureMonkey, it’s really exciting for us to be able to offer that support to employers, to be able to constantly check the pulse of their employees and ride it out for the long term with them and make sure that they’re able to retain these employees for a long time.

And I think all of those companies that you’ve just mentioned, it’s such an amazing opportunity now. To be able to use the power of tech to keep employees on and to make sure that we can make a better culture for all of them.

And like you said, not just clunky websites that are just saying, oh, fill out this survey. What do you think about this?

Michelle – They’re actually enticing employers and employees to use the services to their advantage. And I think it will be really cool to see in the coming years how that expands and develops now that so many people are working from home and we are remote.

Totally. And there’s definitely an adjustment of realizing that it’s normalizing HR technology, like in coaching and training spaces. Even before the Pandemic, I had a coach and I had online sessions and I was like, well, I’d rather speak with meet you in person and do the sessions in person. But honestly, since the Pandemic came, it’s like  you can do a lot of this remotely and you can be working with people in different cities and time zones and countries and getting training from people in all sorts of locations.

So we can really thank the technology for allowing this interconnectedness that takes away any boundaries of location. Yeah. So it’s definitely a unique time that we’re in and I’m sure it’s going to continue to evolve in the future.

Nicole – Absolutely. That just made me realize and think about. I can’t imagine what life would be like had this happened ten to 15 years ago and where we would be right now, not being able to do video calls and just kind of the world having really stopped still, it’s crazy, right?

It would be like, oh, let’s go and meet in person and hire someone to record us while we’re having a conversation in person versus like, okay, let’s hope on a Zoom call and make this accessible to whoever wants to watch it. Right?

So it’s definitely a changing sentiment that technology is playing.

Michelle – Yeah, exactly. Very lucky that we had it around during the Pandemic.

Nicole – So, the great resignation has forced organizations to take a hard look at their employee relationships. What can organizations do to truly improve the employee experience and retain top talent?

Michelle – I’m a bit biased because I’m a coach, so I’m a huge fan of coaching and training and learning and development. And I do think that organizations can take a better stance with providing customized or one to one support for their employees who might be struggling with safe and open space that is separate from their employer, so that they

can not only build the tools and the skills that they need for themselves, but also it ends up benefiting the company as well.

So coaching is one of my big things that I’m advocating for that companies should be doing in addition to mental health services as well. But there’s just a lot I’m biased, so I’m going to press for coaching.

Nicole – That’s such a great take on a topic that is being talked upon by many organizations today. Michelle, I was going through your profile earlier. One of your recommendations talked about you being a master of navigating ambiguity and getting things done with a forward thinking strategy and your answers today.

We’re truly reflective of those traits. Thank you so much for your time, Michelle. This has been such an enriching experience for all of us. I’m sure our viewers will gain immensely from your thoughts.

Before we finish, please let our viewers know how to connect or to reach out to you in case they want to have a quick chat or share their thoughts with you.

Michelle – Absolutely. The best way to connect is on LinkedIn so it’s like LinkedIn. “Michelle Yu” or you can go on my website- michellekyu.com, if you’re interested in consulting services for your organization, it’s Aspire talent IO so you’ll be able to find me through social media.

Nicole – Great. Thank you, Michelle for helping us understand the needs of such a dynamically changing topic. It was a great pleasure to have spoken with you today.

Michelle – Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. Of course, I’m sure topics like the great resignation has affected our viewers or someone around them.

Nicole – To listen to your employees better and use real actionable insights to increase retention rates, visit www.culturemonkey.io   today.

That’s all we have for you in this episode of CultureClub X powered by CultureMonkey.

Until next time, this is your host Nicole signing off.