In my journey to understand the world of work, the role of the leader, and the intersection of LOVE+WORK, I found myself on an emotive trip to Puerto Rico last week. I was honored to speak at the first major Human Resources convention after the tragedy of Hurricane Maria, for the Society of Human Resource Management professionals – Puerto Rico chapter, and I was amazed to hear so many stories of ingenuity and perseverance on the island.
In the world of work, we are all trying to attract and retain the best Talent we can find – and Puerto Rico businesses are no different. What does differentiate them, however, is that Puerto Rico has seen a steady exodus of Talent for the better part of the last decade, exacerbated by declining economic conditions and devastated by Hurricane Maria. For organizations in Puerto Rico, attracting and retaining their best talent isn’t a “nice to have” – it’s an existential threat.
Right now, organizations are challenged by retaining the limited talent available, a competitive labor market, record-low unemployment, demand for unprecedented productivity, and a scarcity of trained professionals to fill the positions that organizations need to succeed. It’s a microcosm of the current labor market, and seeing how some of the business leaders have guided their companies through these trying times brings lessons we can all learn.
Naji Khoury, the CEO of Liberty Puerto Rico, is a perfect example. Liberty Puerto Rico dominates the island’s telecommunication’s market, but the devastation of the hurricanes last year left Liberty’s network severely damaged – 90% of their clients were left without service. Naji, however, was able to turn tragedy into opportunity. The company invested millions of dollars into building a more resilient infrastructure, that wouldn’t just bring his organization back to pre-hurricane levels but also prepare it – and his customers – for the future. He took a small telecommunications firm and over the course of 8 years, helped them through a period of rapid change. He prepared them; not just be able to weather the storm, but to thrive in the face of monumental challenges. Today they are the biggest and fastest internet, cable, and TV provider on the island, employing close to 1,000 people and recognized as one of the staples of the Puerto Rican business.
But what’s more unique is Naji’s character as a leader. He truly cares about his people, is always reachable, and constantly challenges his teams to bring different ideas to transform their processes and add efficiency. When most of Liberty’s employees were directly affected by Hurricane Maria, including eighty who had severe damage to their homes and/or special needs, Naji provided them with all the necessary help to cover their needs and support them through assistance programs. He also involved Liberty in several initiatives that allowed employees to help people affected by the hurricanes by providing free food, water, clothes, and internet services. It is that kind of compassion and grit that we look for in times of crisis.
In my speech at SHRM, I emphasized what other businesses could do to retain Talent and persevere. You can place a focus on teams and the team leader; because that’s where performance starts. You can create room to celebrate the uniqueness of your people; because if you can’t see the uniqueness in a person, it’s hard to capitalize on it. You can leverage the strengths of your community; which for Puerto Rico are resilience, compassion, and the unbreakable bond of those who have been through tragedy and seen each other to the other side. And most importantly, you can create joy in your work – and the work of others – by taking what you love about your job and making it the most of your job.
Thank you for hosting us, Puerto Rico, and for showing us how to come together and turn tragedy into inspiration, challenges into opportunity, and heartbreak into joy.
September 18, 2018