How an engineer took the DE&I helm at UKG | – Human Resource Executive®

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Brian Reaves spent most of his career as a software engineer. But five years ago, he began applying his math and computer science skills to a very different job.
“As a young Black man growing up in a socio-economically depressed environment in South Central Los Angeles, this topic in some form has been part of my life,” Reaves says about issues related to diversity. He is now chief belonging, diversity & equity officer at UKG, a global provider of HCM and workforce management solutions.
Reaves now considers himself both a software engineer and a diversity, equity and inclusion professional, two careers that he says have dovetailed well. HRE spoke with him about his perspective and how his former and current positions coincide.
HRE: How are the responsibilities of your current job and a software engineer similar?
Brian Reaves
Reaves: As a software engineer, I dealt with conflicts and business problems and (I) used software. I think of DEI as a complex business problem but now I use strategies and tactics. You need tremendous operational rigor, transparency and accountability. You have to leverage people to be successful. So, they share a lot of the same principles but I believe I bring an engineering mindset to DEI. You still have to test things, make investments and motivate people.
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HRE:Can you point to a specific engineering skill that helps you in your current role?
Reaves: I always led remote and global teams and innovated in a remote environment across geography, time zones and cultures. As people move more toward a hybrid work environment, they now have to build muscle on how to motivate people they don’t see every day or just see virtually and build exceptional innovations that are hybrid in nature. They have to master something they didn’t have to before COVID. That is something very familiar to me.
HRE:What led you down this career path?
Reaves: The majority of people I grew up with were either incarcerated or didn’t see their 21st birthday on Earth. Through the love of my family and investments they made in me and my education, I had a different path. I get to be at the tip of the spear with regards to designing strategies and tactics for going after the expanded talent pools or engaging underrepresented groups. In the role I have now, I can make that the norm where everyone can be empowered with skills so they can be leveraged and engaged and rise.
HRE:What’s your impression of how COVID-19 has changed the nature of DEI or HR?
Reaves: If you think about analytics, it started out with hindsight. What happened and why did it happen? Now, it’s foresight or perspective. How can you make that great thing happen over and over? I think the same thing is happening in DEI in HR. It used to be more hindsight—dealing with day-to-day issues to ensure the train was running on time. The future of HR is evolving into something that’s even more strategic and will explain why issues exist and then predict what will happen if some underlying issues don’t change. It’s innovating with prescriptive strategies and tactics. HR actions will be better created to specifically move companies to where they want and need to be.
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HRE: What attitude or mindset do people entering DEI need to adopt?
Reaves: Do not accept the status quo. Know that the role you’re playing is strategic and figure out innovative people strategies in order to add value to a company. A lot of people in my role are coming from other parts of the business. Be broad-based. Change the game and look at things differently. It will help you be more successful, whether it’s in HR or the DEI profession.
HRE: Although you’ve only served in your current job for five months, what have you achieved?
Reaves: I figured out strategies and tactics that will move the bar. I worked with the rest of the organization about where we want to be and laid out a multi-year strategy for us to get there, which caused us to inspect every HR motion we have. It’s not about fitting people into existing boxes. It’s unlocking the potential of every individual … and building new boxes. That’s where this profession needs to go. How do you unlock the potential of everyone and make them feel like they belong?
HRE:You’re passionate about the have-nots in this world. How do you plan on helping them?
Reaves: I view myself as someone who is helping move the people agenda forward in concert and partnership with more traditional HR people. I want to create a world where, if you’re willing to lean in and do the necessary things, then you’ll have the types of opportunities I had that created generational changes with regards to life outcomes. That’s why I do this and have so much passion for it. That’s why I know we must get this right. For me, this is the final chapter of a story I would have wanted to write from the beginning.
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The ever-changing work environment of 2021 has left leaders wondering what to prioritize as they navigate uncertain business conditions and adapt to evolving employee needs. 
 With this high rate of change, safeguarding the employee experience has been difficult. This disruption has prompted leaders to focus on what matters most to actively engage and retain their top talent. 
With one of the largest employee engagement databases in the United States that spans across thousands of organizations in every industry, Quantum Workplace has a unique vantage point on the workplace and trends in the employee experience.  
Understand the trends and how to best serve your employees in unparalleled times with the 6 employee engagement trends of 2021. 
6 Trends Impacting Employee Engagement 
Snag the FULL 2021 Employee Engagement trends report ⇒
During the height of the pandemic leaders were communicating much more than usual and sharing more information than they ever had before. Now, many leaders have stopped continuous communication, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed to employees. 
In April 2020 and again in January 2021, 78 percent of employees said they understand why their organization makes changes. However, by July of 2021, this figure dropped to 70 percent. This drop suggests possible employee-organization misalignment, as employees are left in the dark when changes are made. 
To increase alignment and engage your workforce, communicate about the changes your organization makes. By letting employees in on when and why certain measures are being taken, you can increase buy-in and understanding of the plans and decisions you make.   
These leadership metrics show that employees’ trust in leadership is trending downward.  
At its peak, about 9 in 10 employees trusted their senior leaders to lead the company to future success during the height of the pandemic. That figure has since dropped to 84 percent in May of 2021. 
Design processes and channels that prioritize consistent communication to create a workplace environment built on trust. Trust in leadership is built with transparent and regular communication, a focus on engagement and retention, and a successful business strategy.  
Employee flexibility is critical in driving employee engagement. During the pandemic, in the spring and summer months of 2020, an average of almost 87 percent of employees said their job gives them the flexibility to meet the needs of both their work and personal lives. 
In Q1 of 2021, 86 percent of employees agreed with this statement, but by Q2, this dropped to only 81 percent. 
When employees feel that flexibility, manageable workloads, clear expectations, and collaborative goals are lacking, workplace stress becomes a threat to the employee experience. This causes burnout and low engagement levels. 
To retain employees, consider re-evaluating your employee work-life balance initiatives. Many employees want to continue working remotely. To retain top talent, create a policy that prioritizes both employee flexibility and business success. Best Places To Work companies emphasize gather feedback through employee engagement programs to inform leadership and decision making.  

To effectively engage employees, organizations need to create a culture that prioritizes their needs—this includes safeguarding employees’ mental and physical health and wellbeing. 
In April through August of 2020, an average of 87 percent of employees said their culture supports their health and wellbeing. In Q1 of 2021, 86 percent of employees agreed, declining to only 82 percent in Q2. 
When organizations lack a strong culture that promotes employee wellbeing, it’s highly visible in the employee experience. When employees don’t feel cared for, their engagement declines.  
Focus your programs around employee health and wellbeing to attract and retain top talent to your organizations and push their performance as employees. 
When employees are regularly recognized by others, they feel empowered to perform at their best. When employees don’t feel recognized, employee engagement and performance decline. 
At the peak of the pandemic, 81 percent of employees said they know they would be recognized if they contribute to the organization’s success. However, this sentiment dropped to 72 percent by May of 2021. 
Lack of recognition negatively affects employees’ confidence to perform successfully. Employees need to feel appreciated and heard by others to continuously produce positive outcomes. Helping employees feel valued has been a standard driver of engagement for years. 
 Aim to create a culture that celebrates recognition, especially in times of low employee engagement. 
Offering opportunities for career growth and development is essential in retaining high performers. 
At the beginning of 2021, 78 percent of employees reported they saw professional growth and career development opportunities for themselves in their organization. This has since declined with about 72 percent seeing these opportunities in May 2021. 
Without the opportunity for growth, employees can feel stagnant and unwilling to perform more than the bare minimum. Employees may search for other employers in this situation, negatively affecting retention rates. Leverage modern HR tech solutions, like Quantum Workplace performance management software to understand employees’ growth and development interests. 
Once this understanding is in place, you can close internal skill gaps with online training sessions and webinars, manager coaching and mentorship, peer coaching, cross-training, and stretch assignments. When organizations invest in their employees, their skills, engagement, and retention rates grow. 
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Get the FULL report to uncover more key insights 
The lasting effects of the pandemic have created a changeable work environment, unparalleled to recent times. The unique chain of events that workplaces experienced over the past 18 months prompted an understanding behind the importance of employee engagement. Learn how Quantum Workplace Employee Success Platform can help your company navigate the ever-changing modern workplace. 
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