Insights on Transitioning During the Pandemic & What is Next for HR Leaders

HR Alliance Board Member Clay Worley, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for the Bowman Consulting Group, shares his reflections on the impact of the pandemic as well as his ideas about moving forward.
I'm Clay Worley, currently Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for the Bowman Consulting Group. I've been in human resources for a long career of well over 30 years now. I'm excited about this new opportunity. I'm very passionate about business as a whole, and I think human capital plays an integral part, as we have all seen, especially today, with the crazy labor market and the various things going on. I'm excited to be with a new company and to be able to find new ways to contribute to growth and still continue to grow and develop myself.

What is different as an HR Leader during the pandemic?
We have had to rethink a lot of things. our home life, school life, or social lives, certainly in being an HR, we've had to be at the forefront of that rethinking process. I talk a lot about how I'm pleased that even though we had to go through this pandemic, we were all, human resource professionals, as well as companies, were forced to rehumanize our workforce, to understand that different people are indeed different, they have different needs, different situations. They come from different backgrounds, and there's even a greater opportunity now, more so than ever, to value that. And with the pandemic, we had to pivot quickly, and we found out how quickly we, as a company, and as individuals, could pivot and how we could adapt. Adaptability is certainly a key survival strength. we've had to learn how to think differently about the needs of people because they are indeed different. And I think almost every single company that I know has rethought the whole concept of working in an office, every single day of your life. And I don't think we're done yet. I think we're going to continue to evolve. and we have a chance to drive some new perspectives and some new experiences within our workplace.

What conversations will HR Leaders drive this year and into next year?
Some of the new conversations that our experiences are driving are how do we look at our workforce and how do we measure their success? How do we equip them? How do we look at their productivity? How do we know that the star performer, who was sitting three offices down the hall from me, prior who's now living in Colorado, is still producing at the level and is still engaged with the right people that they need to drive innovation and collaboration? And how do I ensure that they're, they're really in a place where they're taking care of themselves? you know, one of the, one of the conversations that I have a lot with people is that working from home and work, working remotely, or in a hybrid situation, it's been great. But what people find is that they are working more hours and more hours is not always the best measure of productivity. I think the conversations that we're seeing now are with managers about how do we think differently about productivity? How do we support it? How do we measure it? what are our goals there?

How have conversations about generational differences evolved?
I think that's another interesting conversation that has not come because of the pandemic because I think we had it before. Still, there's a very different conversation these days about generational differences in the workplace. I think there are still a lot of assumptions being made about what does Gen X want? What does Gen Z, what did the Millennials, what do the Baby Boomers want? We are still dealing with infrastructure and, you know, a business model that is largely what we have always done. And it was built by, you know, typically the older white males. and so, you know, we, sometimes you don't want to over-generalize, but we sometimes see that generation saying why aren't people more in the office. Still, interestingly enough, I'm seeing, that really across all generations, people are looking for flexibility, and they're looking for, managers that are going to treat them with respect, and understand their capability. These are grown adults that we're talking about, whether they're young adults or older adults. They enjoy the flexibility, I find, rather than discussing, gosh, how do we agonize about bringing people back to the office and are we going to require it five days a week or three days a week, I think it's much more beneficial for us to have a conversation about what works for you. And it may be because there's a generational difference, but it also could be, you know, a societal difference, socioeconomic family difference. So, I think sometimes we over-characterize things. If we must do this for this generation, I think we must look at our structure and our foundation, and we have to ensure flexibility. We must understand that there are different needs.

What was different about the job transition process during the pandemic?
You know, I've had the question a lot about what was different about making a transition during this time. It's a bit of a difficult question to answer. Each transition will be different, but again, I think we tend to think, oh, things are so different because we're in a pandemic or because this has changed. It is incredibly important for us as business people, and certainly, as human capital professionals, that we have that flexibility to scan the environment, see what's going on to react to that, not overreact and not necessarily say, oh, we have to throw the whole game book out the window. Still, we need to understand the nuances and the difference. For me, I, you know, I have to say there wasn't a huge difference, a transition. It was part of a decision-making process now that it wasn't before, in terms of what is your approach to work and your philosophy. How flexible are you? Are you fully hybrid or fully remote, or completely back to the office? Some companies are out there that are absolutely fully remote, and we're still finding candidates out there that are absolutely “If you can't deal with fully remote, I'm not interested in talking with you.” I think those people are going to find the right opportunities a lot of the time, but I think they're also going to miss out on some opportunities due to that inflexibility. For me, the transition was not unduly influenced by our pandemic. And I, I think we need to pay attention more to what's going on, in the business world and in the labor market than anything else.

What do you see in the labor market that is important to pay attention to now?
As  I look at the labor market, I don't necessarily want to give away all my secrets, but I do see a highly volatile, quickly changing labor market. I see a lot of craziness, but I also see a lot of companies who are caught up in that craziness. I think an important attribute for any business person, any human capital person is you have to be able to keep your head about you in the chaos. So yes, it's a very challenging labor market. So how are we thinking differently?
We can't just continue to pay everybody an extra $10,000 or $20,000 because they went down the street that that's, you know, that will, that will peter out eventually, just from economic issues. Are we looking at things like our employee value proposition? Do we have the kind of cultural values that we do something with other than write them on a poster that sits on the wall? Do we live them, and are they impacting our business? And that was one of the exciting things about Bowman is they so had their act together in terms of strong cultural values that literally are lived every day by our employees. And as a result, our turnover is incredibly low. Yes, we have challenges in attracting new talent. But again, what we must do is stop doing what we've always done, and we have to adapt.

What do you see when companies have a clear culture and live their values?
You know, as I look at companies and their cultural values, I think the way you look for ways to see if they're living it. You're going to look at their business results. Because business results are impacted by cultural values. Cultural values define how it is that you do business. It defines your processes. One of our cultural values here at Bowman (interestingly enough, there are people who have really strong, favorable reactions, and there are a few people that have, “I'm not so sure about that one”) is the value of results over process. That goes hand in hand with our value of entrepreneurial freedom. So, we're a growing company that just went public in the past year. We've doubled in size in a year's time and have aggressive, strong, strategic growth plans. and we've got to make sure that the results are there. I see people exercising that, which manifests itself in collaboration and a can-do attitude. I have yet to hear at this company, “that's not my job or no, we can't do that because we've always done it this way.” We are moving away from the way we used to do things because we're growing, and that is a very good sign of a learning environment and an environment that's not too afraid of change.

What are you most excited about this year as you look ahead?
As I look at the remainder of this year, which always amazes me how quickly it's going, and it'll be over before you know it, I personally am very excited about my new opportunity here at Bowman. Again, great company and fantastic people; we have exciting opportunities to make a true difference in our business as we scale and grow. We're looking at things like new ways to take care of our employees. new ways to engage our employees. We have a truly outstanding learning and development leader, Chief Learning Officer, who drives wonderful leadership and management training. I'm very excited about what we must do to continue to mature our services. we are looking at employee experience. We're looking at the employee value proposition, and we are looking to drive efficiency. So those are very exciting things. We've got low-hanging fruit and a good start for a longer-term strategic roadmap. That's often the biggest challenge for us in HR. We live in a day-to-day firefighting environment, and we always will have that, and we need to be good at that. Still, we have got to be able to escape that vicious cycle of busyness and have a strategic eye on our business and our markets and drive what we want to do. I'm, I'm very excited about the future.

What value has HR Alliance provided you as an HR Executive?
I continue to share with people the incredible value of being part of the HR Alliance DC organization. I have been a part of the organization for many years, been on the board for a number of those years have served on various committees. I'm a relationship person. The most value that I've gotten from this organization is the incredible relationships that I've built. Relationships with people who I can learn from, whom I can trust and bounce ideas off and how I can be a sounding board as well as have a sounding board. The incredible talent that is represented through HR Alliance, both with our members and our vendor sponsors, some of the best business successes that I've had have come through the relationships that I've had with our vendor partners, who have wonderful solutions. Let's face it, we in HR are bombarded constantly all day long with people who are making sales calls. And I respect those people, and I respect their jobs; I don't know that they can all always respect the fact that I don't have time to take sales calls every five minutes of my day. So those vendor relationships are very important. So, that, and the content of our programs, of course, I'm not the least bit biased, but we can't be touched. I hope that people will see this and you'll give us a chance and visit us at HR Alliance.

Watch the interview here on YouTube Channel.


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