People Come First: How Husco Advanced its Organizational Culture and Turned the Tide on Talent Retention

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10/23/2023

Husco

By Mike Schmidt, AEM Director of Industry Communications —

“You can’t take your eye off the ball. Success comes down to doing the right thing, day in and day out.” – Husco’s Angela Stemo

Like every human resources (HR) leader, Husco’s Angela Stemo is committed to finding ways to build a strong, cohesive culture within her organization and ensure the Waukesha, Wisconsin-based manufacturer of hydraulic and electro-mechanical control systems can retain its workforce over time. Talent retention is consistently a front-of-mind focus for her as the company’s vice president of global human capital, and it’s embedded in everything Husco does across its many departments and locations throughout the company.

“Husco is a very innovative organization,” said Stemo. “We invite our employees to think about ways we can do things better, and we try to push people to speak up if they think an opportunity exists to do something more effectively from a workforce retention standpoint.”

Taking Care of its Workforce

Husco’s company-wide openness to change has been crucial to its ability to retain top talent. Each year, the organization conducts an employee engagement survey to assess progress and identify potential areas for improvement. Survey questions include ‘Does my manager care about me as a person?’ and ‘Does my manager care about my career development?’ Results are then shared internally with all employees and specific team results are shared with  the company’s vice presidents to cascade to their respective teams.

“There may be pockets within the organization where people are struggling, and we really try to zero in on that,” explained Stemo. In recent years, those have been few, but it is something leaders keep an eye out for.

Husco’s persistent commitment to advancing its culture and taking care of its workforce is also reflected in the career advancement and professional development opportunities it offers employees. According to Stemo, examples include the company:

  • Providing employees with 100% tuition reimbursement (for Associate’s, Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees) and fully funded internal and external training.
  • Offering a “scholars program” to help recent high school graduates complete a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering while working at Husco. Scholars receive full-time pay and benefits, along with 100% tuition support.

“So many organizations are struggling to find talent or retain it,” said Stemo. “The question becomes ‘What else can we try?’ What works for someone else might not work for you, but at least you’re open to change.”

 

“Retention is like the ocean. You can never turn your back on it. As soon as you stop doing some of the things that are free, like the appreciation and the ‘thank yous’, your organization is going to quickly find itself in a not-so-great place. So, for us at Husco, it’s always about being full-focused and 100% about making sure people across the organization – regardless of their role – are doing the right things to make sure our culture is where it needs to be.” - Husco’s Angela Stemo

 

Committing to Continuous Improvement

Husco also spent a significant amount of time in 2023 examining opportunities to increase operator engagement on the plant floor. Since operators are the group of employees specifically tasked with manufacturing parts, the company wanted to make sure they felt appropriately recognized and valued.

“We really looked at increasing communication, potential changes to our policies and procedures, as well as providing opportunities to show our appreciation,” said Stemo. “The question for us was, ‘What can we do on a regular basis to make sure employees know we care?’ And whether it was hosting a cookout, celebrating workplace anniversaries, or even something as simple as saying ‘thank you,’ we embraced and implemented some things that really made a positive impact.”

To ensure employees continue to feel engaged with and appreciated, Husco implemented some policy changes to provide some added flexibility for its hourly employees – including changing attendance policies and allowing workers to wear an earbud on the shop floor.

One notable sign the company’s efforts are paying dividends is Husco is seeing a recent uptick in the number of employee referrals it’s received, compared to years past, thereby positively impacting talent growth as well.

“If you’re working at a company and are enjoying what you’re doing, you sound engaged and excited when you talk about the company,” said Stemo. People will normally ask you, ‘Is there an opening for me?’ or ‘Can you pass along my resume?’ – which has been great for us.”

Culture is Everything

More than anything else, however, Husco’s leadership has found the most effective way to ensure the company retains its talent is by fostering a top-down organizational culture people want to be a part of on a daily basis. According to Stemo, the key has been to foster strong, trusting relationships between company employees and leaders.

“If employees don’t feel fulfilled or supported, or that the person they report to doesn’t have their back, doesn’t care about them as a person, doesn’t care about their career development, they feel lost,” she continued. “When of those major challenges come up, and you as an employee feel like you’re alone, it doesn’t feel good. And that’s usually right about the time when you start trying to figure out what other career opportunities are out there for you.”

At Husco, however, workforce morale is strong. Employees feel engaged, motivated, and informed. Perhaps more importantly, Husco’s workforce regularly expresses its thanks to leadership for fostering a strong organizational culture.

“A lot of times people refer to what’s known as the Golden Rule, but we talk in leadership training about the Platinum Rule – ‘Lead people the way they want to be led,” said Stemo. “If you like one thing, that doesn’t mean everyone else likes – or should like – that thing. So, the bottom line for an organization is to engage, reward or thank someone in a way that’s meaningful to them.”

Lessons Learned

Husco’s ability to advance its workplace culture and make significant strides in its ability to retain talent aren’t simply the result of good fortune. Organizational leaders like Stemo invest time, effort and resources into putting people first, and the company is never content to settle for the status quo.  

“Retention is like the ocean. You can never turn your back on it. As soon as you stop doing some of the things that are free, like the appreciation and the ‘thank yous’, your organization is going to quickly find itself in a not-so-great place,” she said. “So, for us at Husco, it’s always about being full-focused and 100% about making sure people across the organization – regardless of their role – are doing the right things to make sure our culture is where it needs to be.”

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