In an age in which U.S. businesses are scrambling to replace retiring baby boomers, Elicia Pegues Spearman is taking a proactive stance to ensure that the knowledge and skills of seasoned talent is shared and that new workers are competent and confident.
Since becoming VP of Human Resources for Connecticut-based electronics manufacturer Hubbell Incorporated’s Commercial and Industrial Group in 2016, Spearman has championed a comprehensive talent development and succession plan. Part of the succession planning allows new talent to spend several months shadowing soon-to-retire employees. That ensures the vital knowledge and experience the retirees have accrued over years with the company doesn’t simply walk out the door.
Such long-term planning has been especially crucial at Hubbell’s plants, where specific manufacturing and operational knowledge is key; and also for very specialized positions such as molding and machine maintenance.
“We consider those that tell us they are ready to retire. We also look at our demographics of those who are retirement eligible. What if all of our seasoned and experienced employees retire at the same time?” Spearman queries. “We risk losing their tribal knowledge; and complex matters can’t be learned from a book or learned in a short amount of time. If an expert retires, I need to have someone in place that can assume their responsibilities and continue the excellent work product.”
Spearman and other company leaders evaluate talent that may be ready to advance in the near future, by evaluating the steps needed to prepare them for their next roles. In some cases, that means shifting them to new departments that can better optimize their skills and experience; while in other instances it means adding them to a project team to expand their skill set. “The benefits are two-fold, the retiring employees feels confident that his/her successor will do a good job. And it’s a way to build the confidence of the person coming in so they can hit the ground running when the time comes,” she notes.
Spearman, who practiced employment law for decades and worked in other HR capacities for years before joining Hubbell, says one of her other strengths is crisis management. Leaders need to remain calm and innovative to deal with the myriad of problems that can occur. Issues range from handling natural disasters that affect plant operations; systems and processes that aren’t working effectively; addressing labor concerns and/or difficult employee situations; investigations; etc. As a strategic business partner to the Group President, VPs & General Managers, and all levels of management, she and her team partner with clients to deliver on the business’ strategic objectives. The team’s work ranges from evaluating whether to promote internally or hire externally, disrupting a system or process that isn’t working, implementing an organization design change, and giving tough coaching to managers and employees regarding their performance.
“You have to be comfortable making decisions that aren’t just black and white or clear cut,” she notes. “But if you lead with knowledge and integrity, ascertain the facts, analyze them, and communicate well, then chances are your decisions are well thought out and well received.” She also stresses the importance of HR working to establish trust from both management and non-management employees.
“You have to figure out how you can manage the talent and processes so the business achieves results,” she advises. “You have to be a trusted confidante, bold enough to give tough coaching and deliver bad news early and in person, provide solutions to issues and be proactive and innovative whenever possible.”
Those solutions are always likely to be better received if they’re backed up by data, she notes, since “the ability to obtain and analyze the data from a strategic mindset is of the utmost criticality.”
Spearman’s final advice to others working in her role? Don’t hesitate to introduce ideas that might improve your own workplace and improve satisfaction and retention. “Be innovative. Know your talent and culture, and create programs and take actions to keep your employees engaged and motivated.”