Editor’s note: We asked Milwaukee-area business leaders to reflect on how they navigated their businesses through the challenges of 2021, what lessons they learned along the way, and what’s on the horizon in 2022. We've run their responses throughout the week in a multi-part series. This is the fourth part of the series. Click here for part 1, here for part 2 and here for part 3.
What business lesson did you learn in 2021?
"At Versiti, we take great pride in providing a sustainable blood supply for patients in our community. The pandemic caused us to proportionally reindex our blood collection efforts more toward our donation centers vs. mobile drives at schools, businesses and places of work. While we expect that the pause on certain mobile drives is temporary, it did spark the creativity of our team to inspire a new generation of passionate blood donors and advocates."
-- Chris Miskel, president and chief executive officer, Versiti
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"In a labor market where employees and candidates have many options, there's never been a more important time to invest in your managers. Teach them how to understand and navigate today's talent landscape. Educate them on the importance of employee engagement. Give them the confidence and tools they need to successfully retain their employees."
-- Sheryl Hopkins, vice president of human resources, Badger Meter
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"We learned how resilient and dedicated our associates are. As everyone knows, the entire country is in the middle of a staffing crisis. The hospitality and food and beverage industries have been particularly hard hit by this crisis. However, despite being short staffed, our associates at the Pfister, Saint Kate, Hilton and all of our restaurants have stepped up, often taking on many roles and additional responsibility, in order to ensure that our guest experience didn’t miss a beat."
-- Michael Evans, president, Marcus Hotels & Resorts
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"At MATC, our business is delivering a skilled workforce. A founding partner in EAB/Moon Shot for Equity, we focused on system changes using proven models to eliminate equity gaps. We learned that small financial issues cause major challenges in the talent pipeline and took action. We removed a barrier that allowed 500 students with small balances to re-register for classes, set up a payment option and continue career pursuits. We also automatically issued retention grants to 1,500 students nearing graduation."
-- Vicki Martin, president, Milwaukee Area Technical College
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"Trust is the currency of the realm. People power everything. To achieve anything, people must trust you. Trust requires actively managing your reputation. Communication builds, maintains and promotes it all. You cannot communicate enough! The old adage 'actions speak louder than words' remains true. Character is only as strong as your actions. Reputation is only as strong as your ability to communicate. Active engagement, nurturing and correcting how you're perceived is required to maintain reputation and influence it imparts."
-- Karl Robe, agency owner, Karl James & Company PR + Marketing
What do you see as the biggest concern and the biggest opportunity for the Milwaukee/southeastern Wisconsin business community heading into 2022?
Our ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest talent will be one leading indicator of success. Our focus is on continually listening and improving our employee experience. In terms of opportunity, we will expand the internationally renowned blood research done at the Versiti Blood Research Institute, located in Wauwatosa. We recruited a new chief scientific officer and in 2022 will recruit additional scientists to southeastern Wisconsin. We will also advance plans for a new blood research building."
"It is critical for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin to continue to attract and retain talent in all areas, especially in the tech space. We must continue to build programs that will bring talent to Milwaukee."
"One of the biggest opportunities for our community is to get people back to work in our offices. This of course has to be done safely, but I believe that in-person interaction is critical for the success of our businesses. While the flexibility offered by online meeting platforms continues to serve us well, there is no doubt that in-person interaction results in stronger teams/relationships, better mentoring and ultimately greater trust and productivity."
"Our biggest concerns and opportunities lie in meeting our region’s workforce demands. Equity and inclusion in education must be a part of the solution to ensure our region’s success. Ensuring all of our students have access to the resources they need and a sense of co-ownership in our college is critical to eliminating long-standing gaps in education, which in turn can help students fill in-demand jobs, achieve greater income, health outcomes, homeownership and more."
"Talent acquisition and retention will remain a challenge. Corporate reputation in a tight labor market will determine whether you get the best and the brightest or the dregs. Countless studies show we're in a trust recession. Leaders who ignore diminishing trust across stakeholders risk efficient, effective and profitable operations. Change remains constant and presents opportunities. Clear, consistent communication of organizational values and differentiation will allow efficient, effective decision-making freedom within a framework for employees to adapt and rack up wins."
Other lessons learned this year?
"In 2021, we finalized two executive hires. Mike Deininger (chief scientific officer) joined from the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah. Lexie Pieper (chief quality officer) joined from New Jersey. Their visits to Milwaukee were critically important, positive moments in the process. We closed one deal at Carnevor, and the other at Lake Park Bistro – two Milwaukee gems! In all seriousness, Milwaukee has many compelling selling points for importing talent. We were intentional about the recruiting experience."
"Employee recognition has always been important, but it's absolutely critical in today's environment. Employees want to feel valued and a part of something meaningful. They want to know that their hard work and contributions are both recognized and appreciated. Understanding what motivates your employees and drives their satisfaction is a key to retaining top talent in today's labor market."
"Despite the pandemic and the current staffing crisis, the public’s expectations are higher than ever. When people are traveling or out and about in their hometown, they expect to have unique experiences and for service to be delivered at levels that are at or above what they received pre-pandemic. Accordingly, at our Milwaukee hotels like the Pfister, Saint Kate and Hilton, it has been critical to make sure that all of our offerings are in line with our customers’ expectations."
"We, as a community, need to keep working toward positive change toward diversity, equity and inclusion, enduring setbacks and failure, learning from them and supporting each other and our community partners for success. This work needs to be a moral imperative in a region that has so many equity gaps in health, income and education. MATC is a partner with employers and community organizations to work together collaboratively to make progress."
"You are the ultimate influencer. Your organization takes note of how you act, what you say, and how you say it. How consistently you act and communicate the values of an organization impacts the entire operation from hiring to performance to profitability. Leadership means people decide to follow you. Your reputation determines whether they do."