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Sunlight and Beef Jerky: Welcome to the New MR Workplace

Lisa Wilding-Brown

July 3, 2019

A few years ago, while running the Dallas office for my former company, I received an urgent call from the Vice President of Human Resources. “Lisa, we need to talk,” she said with ardent intensity, “There has been a complaint filed against you that needs your attention.” As the office leader, I had relocated my entire life (and family) to Dallas on the vision of a workplace with a fervent culture and positive team spirit. In the brief time that I had been in Dallas, I had relocated our team to a much more spacious office, organized countless team outings, enacted team awards, on-site massages, yoga, breakfast burrito Fridays and stocked the cafeteria with a surfeit of snacks at gluttonous proportions. Naturally, when the head of HR phoned me, I was beyond worried and unsure what this misstep could have been. What was I doing wrong?

“Well, Lisa, this is a bit awkward, but I have received a complaint that you aren’t supplying the cafeteria with enough Korean BBQ Beef Jerky,” she revealed. “We have a member of staff that is pretty upset that you aren’t keeping up with the demand and he would like you to get more from Costco.” I was completely flabbergasted and (to be honest) a bit disgusted by, what I sensed, was a new echelon of entitlement never before experienced. When I got my first job in the Market Research industry many moons ago, I remember feeling so utterly grateful just to be employed. I can distinctly recall workdays where walking out of the office at the end of the day felt like I was leaving a movie theater; for much of my career, even something as simple as sunlight was treated as a privilege, not a right. After all, the only natural light that shimmered upon my 6×6 cube was safely secured behind the executive office doors lining the parameter of the cube farm I called home. Given this, I just couldn’t believe that: 1) Someone would lodge (what I felt) was such a trivial and entitled complaint against me and 2) that HR would be compelled to document it.

The dust settled and I had some time to reflect on the discussion (and lower my blood pressure). I came to the conclusion that I needed to stop looking at the situation and my role through the lens of the ‘instinctually grateful’ employee; today’s workforce—and the employers that manage them—have changed, drastically, and for the better. The current and unfolding employee market is one unlike any before it; a study fielded in December of 2018 by digital marketing firm Adtaxi revealed that 52% of U.S. workers plan to look for a new job in 2019, and of those who will take part in the hunt, 54% landed their current job less than a year ago. Let’s get real, folks. We are operating in a dynamic and volatile employment landscape! Attracting and retaining talent are among the most challenging tasks for leaders and executives in 2019 and beyond.  This is our new reality. While conducting qualitative interviews among key HR consultants and thought-leaders, leading HR search engine Ladders.com unwittingly reinforced this notion. Michelle Hawkins from Talent Care, one of the Recruitment Specialists who took part in the interview, perfectly summed up what many of us are facing in today’s competitive workplace landscape:

“The biggest challenge in hiring today is that hiring managers do not behave as if they are in a candidate’s market. Unemployment is low and it is harder to engage talented professionals for new job opportunities. On the flip side, hiring managers often require a lengthy interview process along with assessments for skills and personality. Assessments designed to reduce the burden on the interview process sometimes become additive instead. This is where the problem lies. Candidates are being asked to do more and more, but there is no scarcity of jobs to encourage them to participate in a more stringent process.”

According to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics, unemployment has dipped to record lows at 3.6%, the lowest it has been since 1969.  Business leaders and hiring managers alike need to acknowledge that a new paradigm is upon us and capturing talent in today’s market has changed considerably in just a few short years. It is time to reassess how we recruit and retain our most important corporate asset!  Based on my observations, most companies fall into one of two polarizing categories: 1) an over-processed, over-engineered, and assessment-driven evaluation of potential candidates and employees vs. 2) practically no process at all (which often results in quick-flinch hiring with poor retention outcomes). So… with all of this in mind, what is a hiring manager in Market Research to do? How do we achieve a utopic corporate culture where both employer and employee realize the nexus of optimal production and job satisfaction?

Step 1: Reality-Check

To create change, business leaders must first establish the company baseline. The big questions you’ll need to ask yourself to accomplish this are: what are we doing that is working today? What are we doing that is failing miserably? How do you source and vet candidates? Does every hiring requisition have a formal job description that boasts true, internal consensus? How long does the candidate review process typically take? Are you making decisions in a few weeks or months? As you begin to address and identify the gaps in your hiring process that create short-comings or vulnerabilities for your company, you’ll uncover the foundational workplace ethos upon which your company has been built. Remember: the key to figuring out where you want your firm to be tomorrow is to take stock on where your organization is today. Keep in mind, balance is needed at this pivotal delta – too much process and you will scare away bright talent. Too little process and you may have a bad fit on your hands that will cost you and your company thousands of dollars. Bear in mind, there are many hazards to dodge – it is estimated that it can cost up to 50-60% of an employee’s annual salary to source a direct replacement. Turnover represents a big-ticket expenditure as well: equating to a total of 90-200% of an employee’s annual salary, according to the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management).

Step 2: Measure

It still amazes me how many firms in Market Research do not conduct routine, internal research on their constituents i.e., employees, clients, and survey participants. With a vast array of tools and access at our disposal, every company in our space should be continually measuring progress. Not to worry: if your firm hasn’t been evaluating its practices to this point, it is not too late! A good starting point is to begin gathering feedback on your vetting and onboarding processes, as well as ongoing training and employee performance review procedures. Should an employee resign; capture why they are leaving via an exit interview. And please, don’t just collect the data… do something with it. Communicate your employees’ feedback to the other business stakeholders at the table. Consistency is critical for a true, authentic culture to thrive. If you don’t have consensus, you won’t have authenticity.

Step 3: Implement Change & Socialize

Whether you are an executive leader, owner, investor, team leader or individual contributor, we all have a part to play in building a strong and sustaining corporate culture. Change can be hard and at times you may feel like you are herding cats but the dividends from your hard work will be amazing! In addressing what your company can do to improve your workplace culture from the ground up, you’ll be working toward crafting an environment that your employees, coworkers, and contributors will truly love—who wouldn’t want to work in an organization that they love?

Helping to build two businesses back-to-back has been challenging for me personally, but I can honestly say that I absolutely love the people I work with. We are fiercely protective of our culture because it is so special and unique; nothing feels better than to love what you do and love the people who are on the journey with you! If you find your leadership and/or business needs an overhaul, start small. Evaluate the feedback and data you are collecting and implement changes that will get you where you need to be. And… don’t forget to socialize your success. Conduct global updates with your team(s) so that everyone has a stake in the change and is committed to a successful outcome.

Step 4: Course-Correct

At the 2019 WIRexec Leadership Summit earlier this year, leading executive coach, Jami Zakem, reminded the audience that, “a company’s culture is entirely predicated on who you hire, who you fire and who you promote.” There isn’t one business professional on the planet that has fully mastered the art and science of recruiting and retaining talent for his/her organization; we are all a work in progress. Creating and maintaining a healthy and authentic corporate culture is not easy, in fact, it is damn hard. Expect to take some missteps along the way. Expect the need to iterate and adapt. At the same time, do not hesitate to be decisive and intentional when faced with a culture killer. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of coming into contact with— and sometimes hiring! —disastrous fits in my past and my only regret is that I didn’t act sooner. Safeguard your company ethos and execute the appropriate course-corrections when you need to; your culture depends on it.


While I am grateful to be part of a workforce that enjoys and prioritizes perks, Lisa-circa-2000 still feels a bit jealous and resentful (did I forget to mention all of the free snacks… lots and lots of snacks, in this new frontier of employment?) But, as business leaders, we need to STOP secretly resenting the employees who ask for more “beef jerky” whether literal or figurative. In fact, employee benefits such as on-location gyms, daycares, shuttle services, unlimited vacation, bonuses, company stock, branded swag, and free food are all but expected of employers in 2019. From here on out our success and the success of our organizations will be predicated on how well we adapt to the current and evolving job market. If we want to attract the best talent, we have to make material changes to our organizations; we have to ensure that our workplace culture is intentional, consistent, and, in turn, authentic.

About the Author

Lisa Wilding-Brown

Lisa Wilding-Brown has been in the industry since the inception of Online Research. Lisa’s specialties include sampling and survey design, panel development and management, online and mobile recruitment as well as full-service mixed-mode field management.  As Chief Research Officer, Lisa is responsible for panel quality, best practices, and sampling methodologies as well as spear-heading the firm’s DIY platform, Pegasus. Prior to joining Innovate, Lisa was a member of the executive team at uSamp where she developed the company’s global panel and led the firm’s mobile business division.  Lisa got her start in Market Research at Harris Interactive, where she played an instrumental role in developing the company’s full-service online project management group.  Wilding-Brown later joined the panel team, focusing her efforts on research-on-research, survey methodology, specialty panel development and online user engagement for the Harris Poll Online.

Wilding-Brown serves on the board for both the MMRA and UTA’s Master of Science in Marketing Research.  Lisa has presented at such conferences as AAPOR, the MRMW North America and Europe, The Insights Association, and she has published research related to engagement, online survey design, online quality and mobile best practices.  Lisa chairs a committee focused on enhancing user experience for the Insights Association’s Online Sampling Forum and she is an active contributor to the GRBN and WIRexec.

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