Speaker’s Corner: Featuring Dr. Deborah Waddill, President at Restek Consulting, LLC

Tell me about Restek Consulting LLC…  

Restek Consulting provides strategic consulting in the HR technology arena. Much of our work focuses on the redesign to empower learning strategies for adult high-performing learners. However, under Restek Consulting we have published two books on digital HR and offered classes as well as provided insights at conferences, in blogs, and publications. Most recently, Harvard Business Review published an article on innovative HR strategies. 

The HR industry is vast, what are the challenges that most affect your business? Are you engaging in any kind of problem solving?  

What is most challenging in my business is conveying the importance of developing an agile, employee-centric HR technology strategy. HR leaders do not move quickly. However, today’s workplace requires the ability to lead in a complex, fast-paced environment. So, getting people onboard with the necessity and urgency of designing a comprehensive digital HR approach is the most difficult challenge. 

The COVID-19 and the pandemic has mandated change in the way we go about business and operations. How has this time influenced you? What are the trends you see within the sector?  

This is a great question. Thank you! I recently wrote an update for my book, Digital HR (2018 with an update in May 2022) that addresses these trends with current examples of organizations that are leading the way. It is an exciting time. There is no doubt that HR is in the driver seat. We can really be effective in these areas most impacted by Covid-19 including: 

  • Recruiting technologies and alternative talent sources 
  • Cloud-based Service Delivery and HR Systems that are mobile accessible 
  • Learning Technologies that combine knowledge management, macro learning, and microlearning 
  • Technology and policy support of remote and hybrid work 
  • Maintaining wellbeing in the workplace empowered by technology 
  • Being your best leadership self to create an inclusive, engaged, high-performing organizational culture. 

What is your biggest objective as a speaker? 

As an adjunct Associate Professor for the George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, I have coached over five hundred healthcare professionals in best leadership practices for fourteen years. I have learned a lot over those years. My objective as a speaker is to live the leadership values I have learned and espouse which is respect for others demonstrated through freely sharing knowledge that provides insights to the tools and resources to excel. 

Could you share with us the points of discussion (the input that you provided) during the panel(s) at the Hacking HR 2022? 

I participated in two sessions in Hacking HR. Both pertain to strategic and critical thinking. I began with research from Korn Ferry that indicates that highly agile learners are those who learn from past experiences and subsequently apply learnings to new situations and do well with ambiguity. We live in a VUCA environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Agile, complex leaders are curious, ask questions, and gather a variety of perspectives and input for innovative solutions. They collaborate. They distribute leadership, not hoard it. They communicate frequently and with clarity. 

Asking questions is at the core of critical thinking. It is no secret that I espouse Action Learning as a powerful leadership development and problem-solving methodology. In fact, I am the first person to design an online version of Action Learning called Action e-Learning, which I use in all of my classes. Action Learning derives its power from asking fresh, open-ended questions to generate wide-ranging answers and innovative solutions. 

As a leader, what are the factors both professional and personal that drive you? What keeps you going? 

We can leverage technology and leadership best practices to address messy challenges head on with the positive outcome of making lives better. I have one issue that I am working on now that I would like to share with you. It has to do with tertiary education.  

Did you know that here in America approximately 53% of college graduates are unemployed or working in a job that does not require a bachelor’s degree? The average Student Loan debt is $37,172 and average student loan payment is $393 per month. (Washington.edu-DOIT Report, April 20, 2021) Further, as cited in the Washington DOI-IT report (2020) Ninety-one percent (91%) of employers prefer their candidates to have work experience. How are they supposed to get experience? This is plain wrong and HR leaders can do something about it. 

I have designed a concept, called the Applied Learning Strategy, which addresses this problem. I am working now with the Society of Human Resource Management Foundation to get funding. We want to implement this strategy at three different universities and conduct research to determine its viability. 

In your opinion, do digital events give you a similar level of feedback/result vis-à-vis the live versions? What would you say were the biggest pros and cons of both formats? Which do you prefer?  

Boy these questions are good. Of course, I like the digital format since you can reach a global audience. However, there is not the level of specificity in an online survey response that you can get when you meet people after the event. And it doesn’t happen in online chat or Q&A sessions. 

Honestly, I prefer in-person events because I like people and being eyeball-to-eyeball and figuring out the backstory to their questions and comments. I enjoy the energy of the crowd and I love the fact that you receive immediate feedback from the crowd that you do not receive online. 

What is your take on in-person events? Do you prefer in-person events as compared to hybrid or virtual? How soon do you think in-person events would return? 

In person events, as I said above, provide the opportunity to receive immediate and genuine feedback beyond the survey. Many people do not complete the survey in online events. Additionally, in the online environment people take ideas and then do not attribute them whereas in a face-to-face environment they will typically buy my books and then use that as their source. 

In your opinion, what are the top three challenges to returning to ‘In-Person’ events? How could we mitigate risks?  

I choose to believe Dr. David Dowdy from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University said on March 4, 2022, in an interview when he said that the end is in sight, the pandemic is moving into Covid-19 as endemic. “It is time to step back, reassess, rethink, and adjust. While more variations may occur, again according to Dr. Dowdy, Covid is no longer causing people to get seriously ill.

It is more in the category of ‘seasonal flu, for example. ’ii If you go with that interpretation, our approach to in-person events would be the same as we would approach the same during flu season. In fact, we are better prepared now as people practice the hygiene instilled by this global pandemic. That said, I do believe that most in-person events should have an online alternative for those who are at risk. 

We have gotten incredibly good at these online events. Hacking HR was masterfully designed and executed by Enrique Rubio and his team. Kudo to him for leading the way. There are new tools emerging that will compete with Zoom as powerful alternatives. We need to be aware of the current trends in the digital realm. They will only get better platforms for online conferences, etc. 

An exciting future technology I think will be the holographic attendance at conferences using virtual worlds. But we are not ready for that yet. 

Eventible.com is a review platform specially catering to B2B events. Given how review-driven our lives have become today, do you think reviews will bring in a level of transparency to the events industry? Would you rely on event reviews from other speakers if you had to make a speaking decision? 

I would want a context to the comments. Maybe video interview reviews rather than something that is written. That way you can see the body language. Since I make my own decisions, I doubt I would rely on a written review.  

Finally, do you have a favorite mocktail or drink? We’d be delighted to know. 

I love pumpkin skim lattes. I have to restrict how often I drink them since they have so many calories but I get them all year around! 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

I think the wellbeing issue (or the lack of wellbeing) in the workplace will be a rising trend that needs attention. It is also an area where technology can be of assistance. I am researching and writing about this now. The results will be published in May in a blog for SHRM Executive Network. We cannot ignore the devastating impact this global pandemic has had on families and individuals’ overall health and wellbeing. That carries over into the workplace.   

About Deborah: Dr. Deborah Waddill is an innovative HR strategist & executive consultant who collaborates with clients and offers expert guidance on HR strategic planning. Deborah customizes HR technology recommendations to maximize talent, learning, upskilling, and knowledge sharing. Deborah speaks and publishes regularly in peer-reviewed and social media venues on the topics of leadership and human resource technologies. Recently, Deborah’s article entitled “4 Strategies for Upskilling and Reskilling Your Workforce” appeared in the Harvard Business Review (Dec 2021). iii Deborah’s two books –Digital HR iv and The e-HR Advantage v—serve as both handbooks and innovative sources for developing an overarching HR technology strategy. Deborah’s business acumen and consulting skills earned her the Alpha Eta Award, the Ralph Stone Servant Leader Award, the AT&T 5.0 Award, and accolades from satisfied clients. 

To view Hacking HR on Eventible, click here. To write a review, click here.

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