Jess ElmquistFebruary 22, 2023
Topics: Talent Experience

What Burritos Can Teach Us About a CHRO’s Job: What I’ve Seen in My First Year at Phenom

Every so often in our line of work we come across a job requisition that ignites the imagination.

Did you hear the news about Chipotle going on a hiring spree ahead of the hectic “burrito season?”

Burrito season is a thing?

The company is looking to recruit 15,000 customer-focused, service-oriented people for the seasonal busy stretch between March and May. The restaurant chain is pulling out all the stops in a tight labor market — it’s airing TV commercials nationwide and emailing customers to get them to apply.

I love that innovative approach, and I compliment Chipotle’s CHRO for being proactive.

Confession: I could absolutely relate when I read the Chipotle news because it reminded me of my days at Life Time. My team and I routinely hired 21,000 people a year. One of our busiest stretches was the summer season between May and August. We would often feel rushed to fill up to 9,000 summer season roles by May so we could open outdoor pools safely with licensed lifeguards, staff our kids’ camps, and staff the outdoor bistros so members could get their smoothies delivered poolside.

Our summer programs were highly anticipated by our members. Making sure our teams were the best-trained and certified to create safe, friendly, and fantastic experiences was critical. So I totally get what Chipotle is going through when making a push to staff great people over a finite amount of time in order to support the overall brand experience.

A big-time hiring push may not be news to you or me in the world of talent, but it is to people outside of our function. I mean, when a corporate hiring spree like Chipotle makes both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, you know people are paying attention to the pervasive talent shortage.

For you and me it’s our lived experience.

Stories like these shine a much-needed spotlight on Talent and HR leaders and the things we have to contend with.

How We Can Help One Another

This hit home for me when I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary with Phenom.

After more than 20 years in the talent, HR, and L&D world, I was excited for the opportunity to take what I’ve learned (like hiring pre- and post-AI) and share my experiences with my counterparts knowing that although at times competitive, we most often support and share best practices for the talent marketplace as a whole.

And that is exactly what I’ve come away with after a year in my role. We all share common challenges and opportunities. That realization came to me when I spent this last year in conversation with leaders in healthcare, retail, manufacturing, tech, and so on.

You’ve confided your worries about workflows not being aligned; your fears about multiple sources of truth in your data; your frustration over not having control of the employment brand; your confusion over technical complexity; and your uncertainty about advocating for yourself and your tech investments in the C-suite.

I get it.

And if we break down the walls and ask for help from one another, it's the most courageous thing we can do as leaders. This builds trust, insight, opportunities, and innovation.

I’ve been inspired and humbled by what I’ve learned from others in my first year. I love that part of my role is bringing amazing professionals together and building camaraderie for the sake of our businesses, the bottom lines, and the people we serve. Nothing is more important.

In my second year, I plan to do more of the same — to pursue innovation and learning, and spread the word on market trends and best practices. That’s why I’m so looking forward to spending some good, quality time with many of you next month at IAMPHENOM.

The Tide Ebbs and Flows

Another commonality between us is the realization that not only do we have to do things differently in this tight labor market, we have to ask different questions.

The talent pool is changing. The newer generation of workers is requesting — no, make that demanding — things previous generations wouldn’t dare ask for. So, find out what they want in a role — how they view success and where they see themselves in a few years with the company — and make sure they get it.

[Quick segue while I’m on the topic: I offered my thoughts on Gen Z in this article for WorkLife].

Think of the changing talent landscape like a shoreline. Our experience has been that as the tide comes in, talent holds more influence in the market, but we have learned that the tide always goes out and then companies and hiring managers can have more of an upper hand.

The tide comes in and out, steering the power structure to be more company-oriented at certain times, more employee-focused at others.

Dion Love from Gartner did an amazing job at the Gartner conference this year, saying that we are not just seeing a high water mark to the employee-empowered tide coming in, but that when it recedes, this tide is actually changing the shoreline permanently.

The power dynamic between talent and the companies who hire them is moving in a new direction. This significant shift has reformed the shoreline and changed the landscape. I've had a chance to verify this in different industries across the board, and the takeaway is that it’s not just one group's challenge; it's all of our challenges. Our challenge and our opportunity.

Sticking Together

The last thing I’ll say about our jobs is big transformations in fundamentally changing markets are hard. With so much of what used to be predictable, now changing, every day can feel like burrito season. We are under timed pressure to predictably staff teams, directly impact bottom line performance while maintaining service standards, and build the brand — all while talent leaders are seeing the changing shoreline before anyone else.

This is why we need each other: to share information, understand how to utilize technology, and create efficiency and vibrancy in our teams, while reminding each other to take the time to enjoy the seminal moments when goals are met.

This last year was a learning and growing year for me in my new role. This year is a year of content creation and building dynamic advisory boards and CHRO panels while sharing new insights and learning on how technology can be an ever growing partner and foundation for the intelligent talent experience that will be needed in this new talent economy. Change is good, and I am excited to work with passionate talent leaders in the coming year.

What transformations are you considering for your organization this year? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s connect on LinkedIn.

Jess Elmquist

Jess Elmquist is the Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Evangelist at Phenom. In a previous career as the Chief Learning Officer at Life Time, the healthy way of life company, Jess hired more than 200,000 people and spoke to hundreds of his executive peers about talent trends.

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