When it comes to competing for business talent, companies are well served to get out of their comfort zone and cast a wide net that extends well beyond their circle of family and business contacts.
So says Lisa Brezonik, CEO of Salo, a Minneapolis-based company that helps businesses recruit and retain talent in finance, accounting, human resources and other fields.
“If we want to invite more diversity in our workplace, then as we have openings and opportunities to invite new people to come work with us, we have to go to different sources,” Brezonik said. “We have to ask different people, we have to call people that we never knew.”
Brezonik’s experience in recruiting and human resources is deep and wide.
After eight years as owner of her own organizational and consulting firm, Brezonik joined Salo in 2015. She started as chief talent officer and quickly climbed the ladder to chief operating officer and CEO, according to her company bio.
Brezonik’s resume also includes HR leadership positions with RBC Dain Rauscher, Integ, and Room and Board. She has served on boards for Bridgewater Bank, consumer software firm Kipsu, Hennepin Health Foundation, the Jeremiah Program and more.
In the following interview, Brezonik talks about the importance of having a diverse workforce, flexible work environments in the post-pandemic age and more. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Talk a little bit about your company and how long you’ve been in business.
A: We are about to celebrate our 19th year. We’re based here in Minneapolis. We also have an office in Chicago. And we have team members in Houston and Denver, as well. We’re adding to that team and other places around the country.
We work with really great talent that specializes in finance, accounting, and human resources and we match those folks and their skills to business problems that are happening with our clients.
We can bring a consultant in to help with an interim project or a project to help optimize a process or something like that. We can bring them in and really help the team find a new way of solving something, but also create some energy and a different level of engagement on the team because they’re getting solutions they didn’t have before.
Q: What types of companies do you work with?
A: We have companies of all different sizes; we’re in all different niche markets, and sectors. Basically, if somebody needs help with finance, accounting, or HR, regardless of any other part of their company, we can probably help.
Q: Recruiting is a huge issue for almost all companies, including those in construction. Do you have clients in that field?
A: We have quite a few clients in that area. That’s another industry that’s been really hit in an interesting way, because through the pandemic, people still worked, right? A lot of those projects continued and people had to figure out how to work through some pretty tough conditions.
I don’t know any company who’s not seeing some pressure. We thought we had a war on talent a couple years before all this happened. And we’ve just taken that up about 10 notches from where it was pre-pandemic.
Q: There’s been a lot of talk about flexible work environments. From the workers’ perspective, those who can continue to work remotely have more flexibility when it comes to where they can live, avoiding the daily commute and so on.
A: For sure. It’s interesting because you brought up construction. That’s an example where you don’t get the same kind of flexibility. If you’re working on a jobsite right, you’ve got to be on the jobsite. But there’s plenty of jobs within the same industry that can be done from home, and have been done from home and will be done from home for a period of time.
I think the key is flexibility. Different CEOs in the past few months have come out and said, “On this date, everybody must come back to the office.” And my premise would be that even if the first thing I wanted to do was go back to the office because I missed my people, the minute somebody told me, I had to, I probably got less interested. I want to have some choice.
During the pandemic, most employers were very thoughtful and considerate about their employees’ needs. And so to swing from, “what do you need?” to “you must” is harsh. And so we all need to think about how do we meet our employees where they’re at and how do we talk to our team about this what the business needs? This is what you need? How do we find a happy middle so that you get what you want and the business’s needs get met as well? But that’s not going to be done the same way it was two years ago.
Q: Talk a little bit about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion when it comes to recruiting.
A: We’re over a year now, a year and some change ago, when the murder of George Floyd happened — and many events before that. And after that happened, it required everybody to think differently about how they were thinking about being inclusive — really, truly having a diverse workforce and showing up in their community.
And so over the course of the last year, many companies took a harder look at “what have we been doing and was it enough?” And I think a lot of people realize it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t even close to enough.
I’m happy to say we’re one of those companies that said, “We’re not doing enough, and we can always do more.” [If I reach out to] people that I know well, they probably are from my demographic and are very similar to me. And if we keep doing that every time we have openings, we’re going to continue to bring in more people that are like us.
If we want to invite more diversity in our workplace, then as we have openings and opportunities to invite new people to come work with us, we have to go to different sources, we have to ask different people, we have to call people that we didn’t know before this and say, “Hey, I’m looking for somebody? Do you know anybody?” And be vulnerable about it and say, “We don’t have very much diversity here.”
If you go to the same well, it’s only so deep. But if you add six more wells to that phone call … that’s just a win-win for everybody. And so I think a lot of companies are really paying attention to that and thinking sourcing, sourcing, sourcing. How do I do that differently?