Strategy Alignment with Mary Ann Masarech and Chris Ohlendorf

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Mary Ann Masarech, ‎Lead Consultant, Employee Engagement Practice at BlessingWhite and Chris Ohlendorf, Chief Talent Officer/Co-Founder at Versique. To hear the entire show, click here.

On the show today, the two HR veterans discuss the importance of aligning employees with the company’s overall strategy to achieve business success.

Mary Ann Masarech strategy

Mary Ann is the Lead Consultant at BlessingWhite, a consulting and training company with a focus on employee engagement and leadership development. She helps her clients create more engaged workforces, develops career and engagement content and tools as well as spearheads research around engagement and career growth.

Favorite HR Job

Masarech’s current job is undoubtedly her favorite one as it has enabled her to use all the experience and learning that she has built over the years. “People easily spend about 2000-3000 hours at work every year. I don’t think anyone should be miserable on the job for all those hours. Thus, the work I do benefits the individuals and also their employers and that is a pretty good reason for me to get up every morning and come to work,” she explains.

What is Employee Engagement Anyway?

In the last ten years, a lot of organizations have started considering employee engagement as an important part of their strategy in order to get desired results. There is a lot of interest but the challenge lies in how to actually make it happen. Masarech believes that there is a lot of confusion around the word ‘engagement.’ It has become a buzzword of sorts. According to her, engagement is not merely happy employees or merely a great place to work. “When we talk about employee engagement we mean the intersection of maximum satisfaction among individuals and maximum contribution for the company. So there has to be a win-win! Where that intersection happens, is where real engagement is going to be,” elaborates Masarech.

Masarech admits that offering more money or bonus can be a good retention strategy and also helps in attracting top talent. But her research suggests that people who are disengaged and are not emotionally connected tend to stick around if they have a good pay or have a sound job conditions (flexible hours, easy commute, benefits, etc.). Thus, they stay because of what they get from the organization while the engaged employees stay because they like their work, which in other words means that they stay because of what they give to the organization. That’s when if you’re using only money as a tool to keep people happy, it’s not going to get you what you need.

Engagement Equation

It all ties back to maximum satisfaction for the individual and maximum contribution to the organization – that’s the Engagement Equation, which also happens to be the title of her book. The top management may define success and strategy for the organization and communicate it to everyone. But to achieve success you rely on every single person in your workforce. “They all have different interests, different values, different talents and different relationships with work. That is why employee engagement is hard to achieve because you can’t just do a broad brush compensation plan and make everybody happy or roll out a policy and expect to pull people into engagement. Every equation is individualized,” she explains.

Strategic Alignment

There is an entire chapter dedicated to strategy and engagement in Masarech’s book, “Engagement Equation.” She believes that people need to know where the company is going and they also need to know how they fit into what they need to do. She explains how the communication cascades from the top to bottom by giving an analogy of the telephone game children play where one person gives a message and it gets passed on through different people and at the end the message gets completely distorted. This is exactly what happens in companies. The communication gets completely distorted by the time it passes through layers of managers. “Communication of strategy is critical for the alignment process. It’s not just the communication but translation of the strategy into tangible to-do’s.” People need to know which tasks on their to-do list are absolutely important for the moving the overall strategy forward. Thus, managers need to make sure that their teams are constantly aligned with the strategy. Masarech adds that sometimes companies need to constantly change their strategy due to agile market conditions or changing circumstances and it is important for the employees to shift their priorities along with the organization.

What Are You Reading?

Mary Ann Masarech is currently re-reading “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crawley which all about staying healthy and vibrant. She feels it’s very important for people in business to step back and think about life outside of work.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Mary Ann via Twitter at @mmasarech or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Chris Ohlendorf strategy

Chris Ohlendorf, a Minneapolis resident, started off his career in the hospitality industry. Twenty years ago he switched gears and ventured into executive search, half way through which he co-founded Versique Consulting. The business operates multiple units and recently merged with McKinley Consulting which is focused on IT consulting.

Entrepreneurial Experience

A self-confessed “business junkie,” Ohledorf loves the executive search consulting business as it gives him the opportunity to learn about multiple industries. “Every day is different. I get to learn about a software company one day and a manufacturing company the next. That keeps it exciting for me,” he shares. The drive to expand his business and to make something great keeps him going on his entrepreneurial journey.

Versatile + Unique = Versique

Ohlendorf explains that he has seen people who have achieved a lot of success while focusing on one very specific area while he has also seen larger organizations who have the benefit of providing more services. He pictures his company, Versique, as the one with best of both worlds. He looks at his company as smaller business units focusing on specific things within one large organization. “In our manufacturing group we have degreed engineers, subject matter experts and the person running our accounting and finance unit used to be a CFO. So we do have very specific areas of focus but we all collaborate to go in and sell to an organization and help them in more ways than just one,” he explains.

Few years back the company brought the digital media business in-house to help them with their company’s re-branding. Over the course of that process they realized that it did very well for the company’s clients. They offer talent search as well as SEO for the client’s website along with job postings. Versique’s digital agency specializes in the talent acquisition area and helps companies drive clients to their websites and candidates to the jobs they post online. It used to be a complimentary service that Versique offered initially but is now interwoven with their core offering.

Company Culture

“We’re a melting pot of personalities,” says Ohlendorf about his people. The company believes in a set of core values that are ingrained in all its employees. The company had to take a hard decision few years ago when it decided to let go some high-performing people because they weren’t aligned with the company’s values. He believes that since his people are aligned with the company’s core values, they collaborate well with each other. Five years back, the company had small units and people did their own thing but now the units work in sync and trust each other. No wonder, collaboration is one of their core values. Community involvement and continuous improvement are other core values that everyone adheres to at Versique.

To engage employees, the company has a “fun” committee that organizes events and fun things for the employees such as games and boat trips where people enjoy spending time with their peers. They also have a volunteer committee that finds out ways to give back to the society.

What Are You Reading?

Chris Ohlendorf is currently reading “Make Unstoppable Simple” by Dina Simon that has some great ideas on creative problem solving. He is also reading “Unbrokenby Laura Hillenbrand that is based on the true story of an Olympian who survives a fatal plane crash during World War II.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Chris on LinkedIn. To find out more about his company, visit