John Marlia is a Total Customer Experience and Quality Manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) who recently managed his first returnee as part of his company’s inaugural returnship program with Path Forward. John talks about managing his returnee remotely, the steps he took to put a support system in place for her, and how the experience has changed the way he views returnships and talent.
Company: Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Role: Total Customer Experience and Quality Manager
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been at your company? How long have you been managing a staff?
I’ve been with HPE for about 26 years and a manager, or “people leader,” for the past 12 years. I started out as an individual contributor, and eventually took on team lead positions, and when there was an opening, my director asked me if I was interested in becoming a people leader. So it felt like a natural transition of responsibilities over time for me.
How did you get involved in the returnship program at your company? What made you choose to participate?
I had a role on my team that needed to be filled, and rather than going through the traditional hiring process, I decided to seek talent through the return to work program. Taking part in the program was a win-win opportunity in multiple ways. I got to hire a qualified person who had the required experience we were looking for, and who had a desire to get back into the industry.
What was your mindset going into the returnship?
This was the first time HPE was doing the returnship program, and my presumption was that the returnship would be managed similarly to an internship – with a lot of training and investment involved. The fact that the returnship role corresponded directly with an unfilled position on my team allowed me to engage differently with the returnee I was managing because there was a known landing zone for the end of the returnship. So we were trying to see if there was a good fit on both sides. On the one hand, I was evaluating my returnee, but on the other hand, she was evaluating the position and the experience of working at HPE.
Did you have any preconceived ideas about what your returnee would be like?
I had the expectation that my returnee might grow into her confidence over time, but I found that she had a very confident style of engagement from the very beginning. She was able to speak up and contribute her voice to our project discussions and go out of her comfort zone in a way that went beyond what I’d expect of a new employee.
I had the expectation that my returnee was qualified and would fit the unfilled position on my team, and this proved correct. Throughout the program I found that I could rely on the fact that we had brought in high-level talent, which allowed me to shift away from thinking of the returnship as a temporary, internship-like engagement, and towards an onboarding type engagement.
How has this initiative changed the way you think about talent? (Has this program changed the way you think about/approach job candidates? Did this program help you think differently about talent?
What I find valuable in this experience is that it provides a way to hire individuals that the regular hiring process might overlook. I see the return to work initiative as an investment made by HPE and Path Forward to find and pick out individuals who have both the aptitude and the desire to get back into the workforce.
In what ways did you find Path Forward’s training sessions helpful for managing your returnee?
The manager training sessions that Path Forward provided were especially helpful in giving me clarity on what the program is achieving and how. It helped me see what steps Path Forward was taking, and its expectations, for both returnees and managers. The sessions helped reinforce to me the investment that Path Forward is making in this program and the work they were doing with HPE and other companies.
Can you talk a little bit about the support you put in place for your returnee? How did you stay connected to your returnee, who was in a different state and time zone?
My returnee is very good at interacting verbally – over the phone and through video calls – so she was able to adjust well to the fact that I was remote to her office. I’m remote from all of my employees, so I’m generally comfortable interacting that way. We were able to place her at HPE’s Houston site, where several other members of our team work, and they provided a level of connectivity that balanced the fact that she and I were not physically located together. On my returnee’s second day, I had an opportunity to travel to Texas to meet her in-person, and was able to arrange touch-bases with her and some of the other employees she’d be working with. For any returnships where the individual is not co-located with the people leader, there should be a discussion of whether some travel is warranted to facilitate that arrangement.
Did you put your returnee to work on mission-critical projects right away? What was your returnee’s onboarding like?
I put my returnee directly to work on two critical programs. One was a management software that is central to many of our programs at HPE. I partnered her with another individual on my team who was part of that program, to allow her to engage on that project right away without having sole accountability.
The second program I put my returnee to work on was an area within our cloud services, which no one else on my team was involved with. Because the program was still in its infancy, I engaged her as the sole representative from our team. I did, however, make sure that there were a couple of individuals on that second program that I was able to connect her with to act as mentors to her. That put quite a lot of responsibility on her, and my expectations were that she would grow into it with others at the same time – and this program has since become more and more important to our organization.
In general, you really have to tune the returnship responsibilities to the individual, and the fact that I was able to have my returnee work on these important programs is a credit to her. She brings an established skill set and aptitude to the job.
What would you say to those who are thinking about managing a returnee but aren’t sure yet?II
I’d strongly encourage other managers to look into partnering with the Path Forward program, and to take advantage of a hiring need by trying out a returnship. It gives you an opportunity to engage with nontraditional talent and positions them for a full-time opportunity at your company.
During the program, the Path Forward team worked with me and my returnee to offer support and make sure we were both on track for a successful returnship. After the initial few weeks of the returnship, I was able to pivot from treating the returnship as a probationary evaluation to more of an onboarding of responsibilities, because I realized that the program had delivered such a strong employee who was a good fit for the role. I think that the success I saw in the program was due to a combination of the strong caliber of applicants from among the Path Forward audience, the returnship program structure, coaching, and support provided to my returnee.
How has this initiative changed the way you look at your company?
Because this was a pilot program, everyone was approaching this with some unknowns, but a sense of excitement. The thinking was, “Here’s an opportunity for us to do something that is different, that is valuable for the participants, but is also valuable to us at HPE.” And, if we can make this successful, we can turn it into an established program.
HPE really invests in and treats their employees well. It’s just a place where you want to work. For me, the fact that HPE has started this pilot program is an acknowledgement of the need to solicit strong talent and facilitate hiring of applicants that might otherwise be overlooked, and its just another piece of evidence that HPE is looking to both invest in its employees and wanting to keep them in the company. One of the things that we at HPE are trying to do in hiring is to bring a diverse workforce in. Path Forward helps bring that diversity into the hiring equation.