Join us for a Q&A with InStride’s Director of People & Talent, Michelle Hamilton, as she discusses some of the latest workplace trends and must-know best practices for navigating the world of Human Resources in today’s workforce landscape.
The last few years have completely shifted how people view and go to work. How has the role of Human Resources (HR) evolved?
One of the greatest shifts in the past three years has been learning how to manage expectations to a reality that is constantly changing. At InStride, we’re set up to be agile and always keep the big picture in view. We recognize that our future is defined by the choices we make today. It can be easy to watch what others are doing and try to replicate it, but it’s most important to stay true to our mission and advance our culture in a way that makes sense to us.
Although our workforce and business have evolved, our culture is still true to who we are, as well as the corporate partners and learners that we serve. Culture is more than a physical presence. It’s also shaped by the leadership and employees' actions. Together, these elements create a positive employee experience for all.
At a tactical level, the cultural decisions we make are always informed by employee feedback, which we collect through practices such as engagement surveys and listening sessions. We amplify culture through different mediums such as monthly people manager meetings, weekly all-hands meetings as well as through interactive training.
What does investing in people look like at InStride? What initiatives do you have in place that do this?
One of the core ways we invest in our workforce is through our Step Forward program. Powered by our own product and academic partners, Step Forward helps develop talent and build future leaders within our organization. Through the program, eligible InStriders (employees) have access to thousands of tuition-free learning options to advance their careers.
We aim to have 100% of our InStriders participate in Step Forward. To encourage engagement, we launched Professional Learning and Achievement Navigator (PLAN), a new gamified initiative that recognizes and rewards InStriders’ milestones throughout their educational journey. The program is designed to incentivize and support upskilling at any personal or professional level — from personal passions to leadership skills and more. The sky’s the limit!
Another program we launched this year is InStride Together, our internal diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) initiative. The program goal is to acknowledge and include the many dimensions that InStriders bring to their work. More than an initiative that just “checks a box,” InStride Together enables the company’s culture to continue growing in a positive and inclusive way, with all InStriders knowing they have a place at the table and are being heard.
Many companies offer benefits such as health insurance, bonuses, tuition assistance or access to other types of learning. How is strategic workforce education different?
The definition of “core” benefit offerings has been greatly altered as both the workplace and employee needs have shifted. What were considered standard offerings are now the baseline. Companies are looking to compete in a new way.
This is where the value of education shines. Most organizations already provide some form of educational assistance or training program. However, these traditional programs tend to be burdensome for all parties (admins and learners) and result in low adoption rates for a multitude of reasons. Furthermore, the training tends to be inaccessible and designed for where employees are today versus where they aspire to go.
The key is to look at the bigger picture, which means shifting the mentality of short-term training to adopting a growth mindset with education at the center.
To start, look at what roles/jobs your organization needs for the future, and what skills can be bought, built or borrowed. In most cases, you cannot buy all of the skills required. You must develop your existing talent! A growth mindset has to be at the core of your program design to adapt and allow your talent to learn and evolve with your company.
How do you cultivate a culture of learning within your organization?
At InStride, helping uplift adult learners is the foundation of our business, but we adopt this mission with our internal employees, too.
Starting at day one, we cultivate a working environment where our talent can thrive and grow. Every InStrider is introduced to Step Forward during onboarding and welcomed to begin their education journey if they wish to do so right away. For those that are interested but might not be ready yet, we offer countless resources throughout the year and share details about the program via our internal communications channels.
Furthermore, we have built in accountability checkpoints throughout the year to facilitate discussions around professional development between managers and their direct reports. To ensure these are productive conversations, we host management training sessions that prepare our people leaders to cover topics such as goal-setting, career aspirations and giving feedback.
How can HR continue to advocate for more resources to invest in learning?
Your company will always need a skilled workforce. You either build, buy or borrow talent. Often, it can be more expensive to buy (hire) or borrow (contingent/consultants) than to develop the people you already have. If you have the ability to build your people’s skills in-house at a lower cost, why wouldn’t you?
At the end of the day, HR teams have to be able to show the data and ROI behind your efforts. Not all HR teams are set up in a way to capture this information but you can start by taking steps in that direction.
For example, review offboarding surveys and exit interview data: why are people leaving? If you have a high-potential employee leaving due to a lack of growth opportunities, how can you better deliver those types of opportunities to retain top talent?
Look externally, too. What are other organizations in your industry doing? Is there market data available for you to benchmark your own efforts against?
All of this data helps to build your case for investing in worthwhile initiatives.
What are your top initiatives for 2023 and why?
We strive to be a top employer and one that our InStriders can be proud of. People join InStride for our mission, but they stay for our collective successes.
This year, our focus is on expanding our cultural initiatives (such as our (DEIB) initiative, InStride Together), continuing our company traditions (weekly all-hands meetings, anniversary events) and developing our talent through our learning and development efforts (our Step Forward program).
Today, employee lifecycles are getting shorter and talent has more options than ever before. Our goal is to uplift and support our employees through both their professional development, as well as personal life events and growth.
Building a culture of excellence
At InStride, we understand the value of education and are deeply committed to making it accessible for InStriders, as well as the thousands of learners at our partner organizations. Education enables individuals to reach their full potential, while also empowering businesses to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
For more on strategic workforce education and how it can drive impact for your organization, connect with us today.