Vendasta’s Jean Parchewsky on employee engagement and retention strategiesBy Emily Dyrland
From a psychology major at the University of Saskatchewan to the VP of People Operations at a tech company in her hometown, Jean Parchewsky has used lessons from her degree throughout her career. She brings a business perspective and a passion for people to her role. She combines them in unexpected and highly effective ways that business owners can mirror in their own journey with employee engagement and employee retention.
Merging entrepreneurship with human resources
Not all paths are straight to the point. Parchewsky followed her passions to end up as VP of People Operations at Vendasta.
“I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship. I keep telling myself I don't have to monetize everything, but, no matter what I'm doing, I can’t help but figure out the numbers. When I was young with a lemonade stand, I thought ‘if I sell this many over a month, this is how much I could make and this is how much I could make over a year.’ My thought process was always goal-oriented in that way."
It’s safe to say that business and entrepreneurship are in Parchewsky’s blood. The combination of this mindset with HR functions has served Vendasta well over her tenure here.
“When you combine that business sense with the people side, you can start to see how engaging employees to get excited about the business strategy really helps with retention. That's where you can have a lot of business success.”
What does this combination look like in practice? Strategic hiring to get the right people for the right roles at the right time in order to benefit the business. This is especially key in hiring for leadership positions.
"Throughout my career, before Vendasta, when I was a sales regional manager, at the end of the day it was really about answering the question, ‘How do we drive customer experience and then of course revenue through the hiring of great people?’ These people have to care about what we're doing and use that passion to serve our customers in the right way."
If you’ve hired passionate people who care about your business and customers, you can then take a step back from the traditional management style.
“The revenue is a lagging metric that comes out at the end when the rest is done right,” explains Parchewsky.
If you put all your efforts into employee engagement, ensuring the people love what they're doing, revenue becomes a byproduct of that.
Driving employee engagement and retention
Parchewsky points out that it’s important to consider the role that career development and evolution plays in employee engagement.
“In the digital marketing space, how people work has changed, especially with everything that's happened throughout the pandemic. I’ve been at Vendasta for eight years and it's been eight very different years where I've been able to leverage different talents, deal with different challenges, and work with different people,” explains Parchewsky.
Essentially, you need to give employees the room to rise to challenges, work cross-functionally, and continue to evolve in their roles and careers at your business. Engagement and satisfaction in a role are factors that lead to employee retention.
Employees and roles change because the business itself is changing. Vendasta’s growth is ongoing just like that of digital agencies, and throughout this business journey, we’ve hired leaders in different areas as needed. It’s important to be cognizant of how new people at management-level roles can change the cultural dynamic within a business, but it’s not uncommon for team culture to change as a business grows.
“Look at Vendasta’s product evolution and how we've gone from foundational products to let's build a platform, to let's build a marketplace, to let's acquire other companies that we can add into our vision. People Ops has changed like that, too. Your company culture will look different when you're at 100 people versus 300. What you deliver to employees changes, and the programs you need in place change.”
For Parchewsky, a personal driver of improving processes to encourage employee engagement how she values time.
“I'm really passionate about people living fully and not taking time for granted. You only get a certain amount of time to spend with the important people in your life.
“We only get one chance. I know people take for granted how short life is. The time that you spend working and with your collegues is such a big piece of that. So you need to love what you do and who you do it with. You’ll spend more time with your coworkers than you will with your parents, more than your spouse, and more than your kids over time. That inspires me because we can have an impact on people's lives,” says Parchewsky.
Hiring well is one of the best ways to increase employee engagement and ultimately employee retention. The right fit will seamlessly integrate into your business and only make it better with their presence, ideas, and passion for their work. Do the research, ask the right interview questions, put thought into your job postings, and vet potential employees thoroughly. The more diligent you are throughout the hiring process, the better your chances of finding the right people to contribute to your work culture and existing team rather than take away from it.
Employees who feel at home in your business with their colleagues and in the culture are going to be loyal. Look at the hiring process as the first way you can make a difference in people’s lives for the better.
“I feel that I've been able to give back and improve people's lives through improving the place that they come to work at and the relationships that they can have here,” shares Parchewsky.
What challenges will companies face in 2023?
Every department has its challenges, but human resources has had some big ones to work through since 2020. Parchewsky highlights two big challenges still being faced today:
- Work environment: The debate of hybrid vs. in office
- Compensation and the increasing cost of a role with remote work
“The whole debate of hybrid versus in office is one of the hardest themes to work through right now. Trying to decide what's best for the company versus what's best for the employee is difficult. Nobody has definitive answers at this time; yet, people want answers. I feel that this will play out and we’ll have to continue to try balancing it as we keep going forward,” Parchewsky explains.
According to Forbes, offering remote and hybrid options is now a strategy for retaining talent because companies can’t afford to lose employees who don’t want to be in office full time. There are benefits and drawbacks to all three work environments, hybrid, in office, and fully remote, and it’s about finding the right balance for your business and team.
As a believer in personal connections, Parchewsky admits that she believes in the value of in-person employee connection: “Connecting with people in an office environment is important, but I love that we can have flexibility to be hybrid as well.”
She goes on to explain, “One issue with fully remote is you're only going to be limited to interact with the people that you interact with in your Google Hangouts. This might mean you don't get to raise your hand for different things that you might be interested in or grow your career as quickly as you can in a growing SaaS company. You have to be able to see those interactions to raise your hand.”
“Opening up the workforce, even more so, to remote work has pushed compensation bands so that the cost of a role has increased,” says Parchewsky. “Although this is a corporate way to look at it, there are prices for roles, the same as there are prices for houses in the housing market. For example, if there’s a saturation of entry-level housing, the price of those houses goes down because there's so many, making them less valuable. And when there are niche and hard to find homes, those ones are going to be expensive. The same can be said for job roles.”
It’s safe to say the cost of certain job roles has increased due to changes in the workforce. However, the cost of certain roles, particularly those requiring specialized skills or expertise, has increased due to the niche nature of those skills and the high demand for them. This suggests that the job market is becoming more competitive, with certain roles commanding higher salaries.
“Marketing is a good example of roles that have really specialized and are now highly competitive because of the niche skill sets like SEO, demand gen, and other specializations you just don't find everywhere. That's driving up the pricing of these roles,” says Parchewsky.
“We’ve had to be strategic in asking ourselves, ‘How do we pay top amounts for some of these roles so we can retain them and not overspend? How do we drive profitability so that we can continue to sustain ourselves as a company and be successful? And how do we balance that with the pressure to increase wages?’”
There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Be strategic in how you price roles and what your business needs.Skill development is considered the newest currency, there are different things you can offer employees above and beyond compensation.
What makes a strong employee retention strategy?
The Great Resignation and “quiet quitting” have been popular topics on platforms like LinkedIn in the recent past. These are still issues affecting many businesses in the tech and digital marketing industries.
Beyond compensation, Parchewsky consults a well-known topic in psychology and business known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She explains, “In order to avoid quiet quitting and people leaving you for your competitors, in the hierarchy of needs, compensation is important to get right but the ability to give value and have impact is at the top.
“Pay enough so that you take compensation off the table and you're hitting where you can in the market. But meeting the needs that are on top of that is really important to alleviate quiet quitting. Our managers are frontline to all the employees. So, what programs can we put in place to elevate our managers so that they make the employees feel valued, impactful, and are heard?”
In a larger business, it’s important to empower management-level employees to make a difference for their teams because they know their people best. Programs that have made a big impact at Vendasta include:
- Running weekly one-on-one meetings with direct reports to work on employee development
- Quarterly assessments where employees and their managers fill out similar forms independently and can come together to discuss their answers
- Build a path to promotability
Parchewsky says, “For retention, have a path for employees to develop, have a path for them to grow, and make sure that you or the manager are meeting with them to talk about their growth path in the business.”
How to promote an effective and engaging company culture
“A culture is just the norms of a company, how day-to-day decisions are made, and how employees carry themselves when no one is in the room,” Parchewsky shares.
With newer companies especially, building a culture is imperative to knowing who you are and what you represent. Knowing those things can help in making the right hiring decisions, which then affects employee retention down the road.
“If you're a young company, establish your values, how you're going to conduct yourself as a business, and then use that to decide how you're going to hire. Ask yourself, ‘What would make an employee successful with us?’ Another way to look at it is to identify who your key employee is, just as you would define your key customer.”
Defining a company culture leads to the right hires, which leads to employee engagement and ultimately employee retention. Parchewsky explains that businesses need to put time and effort into strategizing hires around company culture.
What to do if you’re struggling with employee retention or engagement
It’s not uncommon to be dealing with retention issues currently. Parchewsky outlines a number of ways to combat resignations.
- Conduct exit interviews
- Understand why people are leaving and categorize these answers.
- Build programs to deter further resignations for common reasons
- Conduct engagement surveys
- Check in with employees regularly and anonymously to understand how they feel about the business or their role—anything that you should be aware of to improve programs for engagement.
- Follow up
- Address concerns, ideas, and anything that stands out in the anonymous surveys or exit interviews in a public format. Employees need to know that you hear their feedback and have a plan to address it.
More than anything, to combat retention struggles, it’s best to give employees platforms to speak, and then to listen and take action where possible.
What HR strategies are currently trending?
The culture of learning is growing at Vendasta. “Part of our employee value proposition is ‘one company, many careers,’ which we've been saying for quite a few years. But the question is how do you grow even more and what are the programs and the investments we're making in that to make sure employees have that?”
Part of employee engagement and retention is staying on top of trends.
“One of our key initiatives is called Job Architecture. An HR trend we’re seeing is to move away from job descriptions and have more skill descriptions. This allows hiring managers to focus more on the skills needed for a role and less on the title of the last role a potential hire held. We're going to take every role, break it down to all the skills needed, and then build a growth path,” she explains.
When employees have a clear understanding of the trajectory of their career progression within a business, they’re more likely to be engaged and stay at that company.
Pieces of a puzzle
There are a number of engagement and employee retention strategies to employ either as preventative measures or to deal with an increased rate of employees leaving.
“I think it’s all important. The culture, I feel like it's such a byproduct of the people. If you hire the wrong people, your culture can get broken down pretty quickly,” says Parchewsky. Then, with a poor culture, you’ll struggle with engagement and retention. It’’ll turn into a bad cycle. That’s why each piece of the puzzle is so important because they all work together: Hiring, culture, employee engagement, and retention.