Listening Means Less Employee Turnover, Just Ask Clay Worley
What's the key to fighting the Resignation Wave? Just listen to your employees, says Empower AI's CHRO Clay Worley.
The last 18 months proved that strong HR leadership is needed more than ever. In this profile series, we celebrate the HR Super Leaders that led their organizations through tough times by harnessing their HR superpowers—daring, vision, empathy, strategy, and connection—and proving that anything is possible when you put your people first. Learn more about the other HR Super Leaders and take our quiz to find out which one is yours!
Editor’s note: Since the original publication of this article, NCI Information System has changed its name to Empower AI.
Clay Worley is CHRO of Empower AI, formerly known as NCI Information System, which provides cutting-edge technologies within the information systems world to the federal government. In this interview, he shares how he got Empower AI employees to embrace using artificial intelligence, what keeps their voluntary turnover low as the pandemic continues, and why sometimes you have to be the “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” to succeed.
What does a typical day look like for you, Clay?
As Chief Human Resources Officer for Empower AI, I have the privilege of leading a really awesome team that supports the human capital aspects of our business.
You may have heard that old saying that the CHRO is the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. There are certainly days when you feel like that because you're involved in each and every aspect of the business—from what’s going on in the marketplace to where the business is heading impacts our talent strategy—which is one of the reasons why I went into human resources to begin with because I do enjoy that.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the key products your company offers, but how does your workforce use AI in their jobs?
Our key business strategy right now is to bring artificial intelligence capabilities to our federal customer. So that means we're relooking at the talent that is needed to accomplish that work. And most importantly, we're looking at how it impacts the human capital aspects of our company.
So for example, a couple of years ago, when we first started rolling out this strategy, you can imagine some of the responses from our employees as, “Oh great, here come the robots to take my job.” And we have really worked hard to share our vision with our employees to help them understand that it's not about replacing humans, it's about scaling humans.
And how did you get them to buy into that vision?
We talked a lot about how AI is wonderful, but you can't get to AI without human intelligence. So we've really worked to make that part of our employee value proposition. One of the great things about being a government contractor is that our employees very quickly align themselves with the mission of the customer—we're doing some really incredibly important work for government entities. And it's really easy for our employees to get engaged with that mission.
But on top of that, we help our employees engage with that mission, help them better understand the business of our government clients, and help them to develop, train, operate, and manage artificial intelligence.
Thinking about how your talent and business strategy have been historically aligned, what was the pandemic like for your organization?
Let me start by saying I think that we had some distinct advantages with the hit of the pandemic—not that the pandemic was a great thing by any stretch of the imagination. But, one, we had technology in place. Two, we were already pretty flexible in terms of where we do our work because a lot of our work is done on government sites. So we're used to being agile and mobile there. We were able to continue to operate and never miss a beat. And we never had to furlough people. We never saw a drop-off in our business.
That’s amazing! What did you do to help employees adjust to the chaos of last year?
Historically, we were used to collaborating and innovating in person. So we had to learn very quickly how to utilize the technology and the agility that we have to modify our operating plans.
We also worked very carefully with our employees to make sure that they were comfortable, that their needs were met, and that they were protected. Our CEO really led the way in terms of how to still meet the work, while also prioritizing your self-care, mental health, and taking care of your family and yourself.
We listened to what our employees were experiencing and asked what are the resources and tools they needed. This has had a tremendous payoff both in terms of employee loyalty and we’ve continued to see our voluntary turnover drop dramatically during the pandemic.
It sounds like Empower AI has been successful with creating a hybrid workforce. Did people analytics help with that?
With the new flexibility in the workforce, we're going to be looking at productivity. How do we measure productivity? How are we getting data from our employees to find out if we're equipping them the right way? Are we removing obstacles that may be new and unknown to them? If we focus more on the data, we get faster to the root issue of whatever it is that we're talking about.
That said, one of the things that we're finding is that we need to be less technical about our conversation. We need to be more integrated into the business operations versus just going out and saying I can generate this analysis for you or this report, or let's talk about this trend. Because it's very important. That needs to come as part of an overall business conversation.
With Visier, we learned to switch our focus from going out and pushing data and analytics and trends, to asking questions and helping our leaders find the answers to the questions that are driving their business.
What are you and your team focusing on for the foreseeable future?
The search for talent and making sure that we've not only got the right talent, but we're keeping the right talent.
We talk a lot about employee experience on our team, but I think that concept is really coming into full maturity because people have reordered their priorities during this pandemic. And so a lot of us have learned that working 24x7 is not quite as fulfilling as we once thought it was. And it's really not necessary. There are other aspects of life. So I think focusing on talent, focusing on the employee experience, and that continued agility and flexibility is going to be really important for us going forward.
Lastly, Visier imagined five HR superpowers that guided leaders through the last 18 months. What’s your superpower, Clay?
Mine is Daring, but I think in order to be bold and decisive—and not to try to claim all the superpowers here—it takes Vision and Strategy as well. Daring, without the others, can be reckless. We have to manage risks on a daily basis, but so much of the environment today tends to make us want to eliminate risks. We are here to manage risks. Daring allows you to keep the courage of your conviction, understand the path ahead, and plan for contingencies to lead the human capital strategy—all while still taking care of all your humans!