HR Leads Business

Nov 1, 2017 | Barry Lawrence, MBA, aPHR, HRCI Staff Writer

HRCI Inspired by Growing Companies at Inc. 5000

HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®) was both thrilled and inspired to be a sponsor of the 2017 Inc. 5000 Conference & Gala in Palm Desert, Calif.

It was interesting to hear from fast-growing companies — both small and mid-sized –Inc5000Picture and their thoughts on the importance of talent management. All had tremendous passion for maintaining vibrant workplace cultures that engage employees. Whether they had HR departments or not, most agreed HR challenges were top of mind.

For Inc. 5000 companies, it’s all about talent, said Burt Helm, a Senior Contributing Writer for Inc. and moderator of a panel that focused on engaging workers. "It’s about attracting talent, it’s about keeping talent and it’s about figuring out how to get these talented people to perform at their best – both now and in the future as the world continues to change."

HRCI was on hand to shed light on the importance of human resource management and having credentialed people experts to help small companies continue to grow, as well as to learn from these entrepreneurially minded leaders.

"I prefer to work with small business owners," agreed panelist Amy Friedrich, President of the U.S. Insurance Solutions at Principal Financial Group, which advises hundreds of small businesses. "They tend to be creative, interesting and really want to get at the issues that will motivate their employees. When we’re talking about benefits, retirement [or] financial security, small business owners tend to be an audience we learn from as well.”

Here’s some of what we learned about the challenges faced by small businesses to attract and retain workers in the panel, Engaging the Workforce of the Future:

Quality Candidates

Finding qualified candidates is the "single most important problem" for operating a small company, said Holly Wade, Director of Research and Policy Analysis at the National Federation of Independent Business. "We haven’t seen a tightening of the labor market like this since 1999/2000 with the Y2K issue," Wade said.

Employees with solid "soft skills," especially, are difficult to find. "CEOs are hiring far more for really good human skills and then, secondly, for analytical skills," said Amy Rosen, a founder of HowEd, a firm that helps develop young people into ethical leaders.

Companies need more people who have solid communication skills and who can manage conflict, Friedrich noted. While a person’s specific job skills correlate well with how they will do on the job, the soft skills correlate more with leadership success. "Those skills tend to be better predictors for moving up the ladder. They often don’t have those skills, by the way, when you hire them. I do believe it is our job, as employers to have something that helps them, and I think it is really engaging to your employee populations when you actually act interested in developing their skills."

It’s More Than Millennials

While there is much talk about engaging millennials, "one of the fastest-growing populations [of workers] is the older population – the population that’s over 65 who are staying in the workforce," Friedrich said.

The challenge for employers is to keep them engaged with educational and reskilling benefits and opportunities. The older population is "actually taking on more student debt."


It’s important to engage the entire staff when making important business decisions. Today’s workers expect to be part of decision-making processes, the panelists agreed.

Jerome Gonzalez, CEO of J.G. Management Systems, a company that works with government organizations to improve operations, said his company is working to give employees more "line of sight" with management decisions. "We form a lot of committees where management isn’t involved and so their allowed to express opinions.

Employee committees have already taken on tough issues such as quality management and leadership planning. These committees, Gonzalez said, enables his company to "manage by design instead of manage by hierarchy."

The Right Perks

Lots of perks look fun. Pet insurance. Nap rooms. Bowling alleys. Yoga studios. Massages. Rosen has seen it all in her research, including a law firm that provided a coffee lounge for its attorneys. Lawyers, however, a driven by billable hours. The lounge went unused.

"Leading with culture is essential," Rosen said.

Friedrich agreed: Find the perks that "play back into the culture and the values [of the organization], and that reinforce the types of things that you’re standing for, and that are also enjoyable an morale building too.

In high demand, Wade said, is personal time off. Many small businesses are "dumping the vacation and sick leave into one basket of days off" that employees flexibly use.

Gonzalez, said his company is experimenting with models to provide employees with a lump sum of dollars and allow them to choose the benefits they want. "That’s one area where we’re trying to get creative to satisfy the needs of all the employees across the spectrum." 

But be careful with lump-sum strategies, warned Friedrich. Employees don’t always know how to make wise choices. It’s important to you, as the employer, to make value-added choices. "If you can only fund half of it, it might be better than giving them lump sums and having them do things with it that make no sense," she said. "If your value is that you can’t image anyone ever going to poverty because of an accident or an illness, you probably do health care and then you do disability and you leave dental alone."

Benefit Cost Control

While some fast-growing companies can immediately afford health care benefits and other expensive perks, it’s becoming more difficult for many, Wade said. "Their coming up against the cost of offering a very expensive benefit with keeping up with competitive wages." It’s taking startups longer to offer health care and other more expensive benefits, she noted.

Employee expectations are higher than ever today, Friedrich said, and those expectations continue to rise year after year as the company grows more successful. Early on, employees are happy with the basics as long as the pay is good and they can feel good about the work. But employees change as the business evolves.

"[Employees] know the employer can help them and that, sometimes, the more involved you are as an employer the more they expect you to help them with those other pieces."

HRCI as a Resource

HR is not always in the DNA of small business owners. As stated by Rosen: "Great leaders are relying on values and principles and not rules that are made to be broken, which is the traditional HR piece."

However, through the lens of the HR profession, it was evident that most of the challenges noted throughout the Inc. 5000 Conference were issues that competent and credentialed HR professionals are trained to solve.

HRCI had many talent management discussions with next generation of business leaders. All wanted to know more about HRCI and how today's HR helps drive business goals. We collectively agreed that, people are the beating heart of every organization — large or small.

HRCI has also teamed up with Inc. Media to publish Orchestrating Business: A Look Inside the Real HR Role, an online content hub providing Inc. 5000 leaders with HR insights, talent management strategies and best people practices. HR leaders who hold credentials from HRCI are featured and provide firsthand experiences and advice.