Clarissa Mitchell is Assistant Vice-Present of Talent Management with US Bank. She has 21 years of Human Resources experience with expertise in Talent Management, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Leadership Development and Training.
Clarissa is passionate about helping people develop skills and business acumen needed to build rewarding careers.
Clarissa has worked for several Fortune 500 companies, U.S. Bank, Merck and Kimberly Clark and have served in the Army National Guard for 6 years.
She holds a Master of Science degree in Human Resources Management from Troy University and a B.A. in Psychology from University of South Carolina; where her passion for career development began, as she served as student peer advisor in the University’s career center for entire college career.
Her greatest accomplishments to date is being happily married to her high school sweetheart for 25 years and her 2 adorable children, who are both seniors this year – her daughter, a high school senior, her son, a senior in college (whom she coaches as career mom).
Her passion of career development is also evident in her volunteer activities – She is often seen volunteering at local high schools, teaching resume, interviewing, and business etiquette workshops, as well as judging Future Business Leaders of America local and regional competitions.
Her Faith centers her to walk in her purpose every day.
Connect with Clarissa on LinkedIn.
TrainingPros President Leigh Anne Lankford serves clients throughout all markets and manages the company’s team of Relationship Managers.
With her extensive background in the retail, finance, human resources, healthcare, and information technology industries, Leigh Anne has honed the skills that make her a true learning and development expert.
Her areas of greatest experience are in instructional systems design, performance consulting, and eLearning design.
Leigh Anne joined TrainingPros in 2007 as a consultant and later became a Relationship Manager for the Atlanta market before becoming President of TrainingPros in 2020.
Prior to joining the TrainingPros team, Leigh Anne worked for the Federal Reserve System, ADP, National Vision, and GE Capital. She is an active member of the Association for Talent Development.
Her extraordinary contributions to clients and consultants year after year make Leigh Anne a trusted business partner for TrainingPros clients, consultants, and Relationship Managers across the board.
Intro: [00:00:01] Broadcasting live from Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for Learning Insights. Featuring learning professionals, improving performance to drive business results.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:14] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of Learning Insights. And this is going to be a good one. We’re going to kick it off with our good friend, the sponsor of this show from TrainingPros, Leigh Anne Lankford. Welcome, Leigh Anne.
Leigh Anne Lankford : [00:00:25] Thank you, Lee. I’m happy to be talking to you again after so long.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:29] I know. It’s been a minute. Why don’t you update us about what’s going on at TrainingPros?
Leigh Anne Lankford : [00:00:34] So, we stayed pretty busy throughout all this work from home mess. But, of course, we’ve been virtual for 23 years, so we didn’t have to change our working model at all. But we’ve gotten really busy with our clients who are trying to convert their classroom programs rapidly over to a virtual classroom. So, that’s something we’ve been helping a lot of people with. And also helping them get virtual producers in place. So, people who will be the person on the side producing the show, the classroom, while the facilitator is concentrating on the actual program of facilitation.
Leigh Anne Lankford : [00:01:08] And then, the other thing that we’re starting to get really busy with is, with all of this going on, a lot of people have gotten behind on their work of converting e-learning that needed to be converted from Flash to HTML5. It’s not going to be supported up to the end of this year, so there’s a hard deadline. But a lot of people have realized they’re going to miss at this point. And we’re getting busy doing that for folks as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:36] Do you think that moving into next year that some of this transition into remote is going to be more permanent and that that’s just going to be from new normal to just normal?
Leigh Anne Lankford : [00:01:49] Yes, I do. I think that we’ve now all accepted that this is now the norm. I think a lot of people probably do miss the office. So, there might be like a common certain days kind of thing. But a lot of people are very happy with the work from home now and maybe staying for good. I read something the other day which kind of took me by pause, but, of course, I don’t have school-aged kids anymore, but they said that this could be the end of snow days forever.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:17] That’s true now for lot of folks.
Leigh Anne Lankford : [00:02:20] I know. I mean, that’s like a rite of passage. That’s not a thing that you just look back fondly on. But you know what? They’re right. They could just all go virtual that day.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:30] So, now, in your customers that have made the transition or are making the transition, are you helping them get a handle on how to execute it today, but also to lay the groundwork so they can choose to do this if they want to moving forward?
Leigh Anne Lankford : [00:02:45] Yes. So, we’re helping them more with how they deliver their training and provide that to people virtually. But, yeah, we are working with them on how to do it on an ongoing basis on their own. We’ve put together classes for their facilitators and their designers on how to turn your classroom program into virtual, how to design for virtual that kind of stuff. So, we’ve been doing that kind of work with clients as well. Teach them how to do it themselves at some point. So, it’s a fun time.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:13] Well, we appreciate your involvement in this show, Learning Insights. And we’re excited to talk to the guest you brought. Who’d you bring today?
Leigh Anne Lankford : [00:03:20] Well, I brought a long term friend and colleague, Clarissa Mitchell. She is the AVP of Talent Management at a financial institution. And we have been friends, probably, 12, 13 years, I’d say. And it’s just an honor to have her join us. She works heavily in talent management, talent development. I think her current role is a little more talent management, but she works with a lot of the HR side of the training field.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:51] Welcome to the show, Clarissa.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:03:53] Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. Good morning. And it’s Friday and it’s coming up to a holiday weekend, so everybody should be very happy.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:02] Exactly. Well, before we get too far into things, can you kind of give us a definition of what talent management is?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:04:09] Yes. I hear that question a lot. Talent management, in its simplest form, is really the process of managing the most important asset that any company has. And you’ve heard this said, probably, many times before. But the greatest asset is people. So, talent management is managing people. It can go from a lot of different umbrellas. Talent management, depending on who you speak with, can be getting the right person on board hiring. You hear that called more talent acquisition. Then, it can be how Leigh Ann just said, about I’ve been in talent development. Training and teaching people new skills, that’s a part of talent management.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:04:57] And then, you also hear the measuring performance based on the employees. What they did during the year, based on your objective, can be managing performance, measuring performance. And then, you have the talent management. What I would say the true form that I have been in for the last eight years. And that is the process of identifying employees who have the potential to be the company’s strategic objective. What are the plans moving forward? So, identifying those employees who can actually do that, move that company forward, and what they have to do. And that is what I have been in for the last eight years, is identifying those individuals and making sure that we retain them because we don’t want them to go through a very high potential. They have the skills and they have the potential to go to other places, so we want to make sure, one, not only are we identifying them, know who they are, and developing them. But we also want them to stay.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:08] Now, when you’re identifying a high potential, are there breadcrumbs even prior to them being hired that you know that, “Okay. Let’s keep an eye on this person.” Or is it something that reveals itself after they’ve been with the company for a little bit?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:06:22] Well, because talent management, like I said, the first process is getting the right person in to the job. Making sure that we are doing a good job at our job descriptions and how we develop our job descriptions and put that out there. So, there can be biases that creep up in the job description, we can talk about that.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:06:47] But with the talent management of this, let’s talk about the people that are already at the company. We want to make sure that we do a great job in defining the competencies that are needed for the job at hand. And if we do that correctly, are going to be able to, when we are doing, what we call, talent review in assessing our individuals looking at, not only their performance, but also looking at their potential, because that’s where it is. It’s the potential to do the job as well. We want to make sure that we are basing our assessment on the competencies that we have identified and making sure that every one, regardless of their race, or their gender, or their age, every employee is looked at through the same. And we call it the same DEI lense, the same diversity, equity, inclusion lens. And that comes about starting with even the job description. And so, now, looking at the competencies and making sure that people are measured the same way.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:09] It sounds like a noble goal. Is there kind of systems you can put in place to eliminate bias? Or is this just a human thing that everybody has a bias, and a lot of times they don’t even know they have a bias.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:08:23] No. Oh, my gosh. That is a very loaded question. Yes, they are, what we call, unconscious biases that people don’t know that they even have. And, especially, in this current environment, it has been teaching me a lot. Many people are now having those conversations that it was like you wouldn’t talk about race at work. You didn’t talk about religion at work. There are certain things. I’ve always been told a lot. But I’m trained for about 21 years now. I’ve always been told you do not speak about certain things. So, now this environment has opened up those conversations for us to speak of.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:09:09] And like you said, one of those things that we want to make sure in the talent process that we are reducing is bias, unconscious bias. And what that is, is those opinions of, maybe, about employees when you are evaluating them – first of all, when you’re hiring them, they can take on many forms. And we want to make sure that we reduce some of those. And I’ll give you an example. One of the forms that bias can take on in the assessment process is the way a manager thinks or describes their employees. For instance, if you’re talking about women or professionals of color, the words could be aggressive or angry. However, when you are describing a man, you may describe that person as assertive. So, there is a little, we call it, code word. And you’re unconscious about that. But that’s where a lot of training comes in.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:10:26] I’ll give you another example. Women, people of color, or unrepresentative groups are more likely to be characterized the same when we’re going through the talent review process. They’re not quite ready. But they’re saying that for that group. However, for a man, many times they’re promoted on their potential, not necessarily their skills. So, in one group, you’re saying they’re not quite ready because, maybe, they don’t have all of the skills they needed. So, they are forced to prove their skills over and over and over again. Whereas, a man, you will say things and they have the potential to do it. They may not have done it yet, but I can see the potential in them.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:11:19] So, again, those are unbiased ways that they speak about our employees when we’re going through, not only the talent review process – of course, that’s where I’m most focused on – but even when we are in the hiring process and how we are speaking and describing someone.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:38] Do we have to do like The Voice? Do we have to have, like, kind of the chairs turned and judge each person just for the skill or the talent that you need?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:11:50] Yes. That is right. When we are going through the talent review process, we want to make sure that we are basing our assessments on the competencies that they need and what people have done over the last two to three years. So, one month in time does not do it. We need to look at performance over two to three years. We also need to look at the potential that you see in that person, that they have skills that they have, maybe, have done already. But, also, those skills can be developed to have the potential to move the company forward.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:12:34] And a lot of times what we see in our talent review process, again, going back to they’re not quite ready yet when we’re talking about women professionals of color versus when we’re talking about a man, “Oh, he has the potential to do X, Y, and Z.” So, a lot of that comes with training, you know, diversity training. Many people are doing a lot of that now. But we have to get past not just the training of looking at your unconscious bias, because a lot of times diversity training is used to avoid the lawsuits and to ensure political correctness or making sure that employees are not being harassed. But we need to go further into diversity training and focus on making sure that all of the processes that we’re doing in talent development and our recruiting goes deeper to train people on those unconscious biases that come up in all of the different processes that we have.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:46] Now, have you been able to develop, maybe, best practices or systems that help eliminate bias in this talent management process?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:13:53] Yes. We’re doing our best to do exactly that. We’re looking at the talent assessment personnel. I’ll talk about three different things. We’re looking at the talent assessment when we are assessing those individuals and making sure that we’re identifying those people with potential to move our company forward. I’ll talk about succession planning, and that is the formal process to identify those candidates for specific roles that we need to move us forward. And making sure that everyone in the company, if we have a critical role, that we have a successor to fill that role. And then, we want to talk about talent development, which, of course, is making sure that people have the opportunity to develop into what they need to. We are giving them the skills upskilling. That’s the new word, we’re upskilling.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:14:49] So, in the first one, I’m looking at talent assessment. We look at our evaluation process for biases. We want to make sure that we’re consistently looking at performance expectations across all employees. We want to make sure that you’re not being more lenient on one employee than others. So, that is the first thing, is going through our evaluation process and making sure that we can take out bias from there. When we’re looking at potential, for instance, we want to make sure that all of our employees have the opportunity to develop. They’re having the development opportunities that they need.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:15:31] And then, we’re going to look at succession. Let me go back and say one more thing on the assessment. Not only that we have found that the managers need to assess, but we want to bring in other people that have worked with that employee so we can get a holistic view, not just the manager’s view. But, you know, that employee may work on different projects during the year. And we want to make sure that other people are weighing in on that assessment to make it fair.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:16:07] And then, the second part of that is looking at our formal process of how do we choose successors for your critical role and making sure that we are going back to looking at the competencies that is needed for that role. And, hopefully, we have defined those and the job description, what is needed. And then, we’re looking at our candidate. Who are those candidates who have those competencies that we need, who have the potential that we need. And so, making sure that when you’re choosing a successor, that you’re not choosing people that are looking just like you, but you’re looking across your entire employee set in the succession planning.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:16:56] And then, the third part of that is looking at development opportunities. Are we giving all of our employees the same land of development? Do they have the same opportunities? Are they getting, what we call, those stretch assignments, those projects? Are they getting the visibility to be in front of senior leaders, et cetera, with that? And my organization looks at all three of those. How we are assessing the talent, how are we choosing our successors going forward, and how are we developing people to get to the next level and making sure that we can take out bias at all of those levels.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:44] Well, it sounds like when you’re bringing this to people’s attention and make them aware of it, then this type of training is something that not only can impact that organization, but it’s something that can kind of spread throughout the community and into the real world, because this is the skills that everybody needs, right? That could stem some of the social unrest we’re having now?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:18:07] Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve learned so much in the last couple of months. If people take a step back and be willing, so the willingness to reach across and understand what people are going through. That just because it doesn’t affect you, that moment in time does not affect you, does not mean that it’s not a problem. And we need to be more sensitive to that. And a lot of that comes with education and just not knowing and embracing that I don’t know. It’s okay that you don’t know, but it’s the willingness that you want to know. I think that’s really the difference. It’s okay. You don’t have to know everything. None of us knows everything. But it’s the willingness to want to know and learn more.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:04] Right. I find that people, you know, when they, as an individual, do something, they’re quick to forgive themselves. But when someone else might do a similar behavior towards them than they are, there’s less grace. And, you know, kind of opening their mind and giving a person that kind of a holistic view of what they’re doing and how they’re being seen. I think, maybe, you need to open their mind to have more empathy.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:19:33] Absolutely. And I love your word that you just say grace. We all need more of that, because that is what we have been given. So, it is for us to pay that forward of grace because we all are humans and we’re all walking. We’re in this together. We’re all on a journey. And so, if everybody can remember that, then I believe – and I try not to be Pollyanna – but the world could be a better place with the sensitivity and making sure that we give people grace.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:06] Now, in your career, you’ve been doing this for a minute, can you kind of look into the future? Or do you think we’re making progress at a fast enough speed? I’m sure things are better today than they were, you know, 10, 15 years ago. But is it something that’s accelerating that we’re going to really see a noticeable change in the next five to ten years?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:20:28] I will say my first word that comes to mind is encouraged. I am encouraged. I have been very encouraged, one, by the organization I work for. But I have been encouraged to hear, to be in conversations with individuals that things are changing in their organization. The first change that we needed is that people of color are feeling that they are not invisible anymore. That people are aware of some of the struggles that they have had, not just in the community, but also in the workplace. That they can talk about that now. And I think that the first thing is having those conversations as encouraged.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:21:20] I sit on one of my boards in Consumer Banking Association, and I hear across several different financial institutions of people having those conversations. And I see it, of course, on our social media. And that’s the first thing, is people are having those conversations and being aware. And, also, the part that is really making a difference is being aware of those struggles. The differences that people have had to go through in order to get to the same place, probably, that your men have had to go through. And that’s a good encouraging conversation. It’s like what are those barriers that are different?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:22:09] So, we’re not trying to fix anyone because people are already there. They’re their own person. We’re not trying to fix anyone. What we’re trying to do is eliminate some of the barriers, the additional hurdles that, maybe, women and people of color and underrepresented groups have had to go through over the years in order to get to the same place. It’s what I said earlier about in the assessment, hearing the words. Now, it’s more sensitive to me. Hearing the words when people say managers, maybe, characterize someone as they’re not quite ready yet. Well, what does that exactly mean? And then, describing a male is like he has the potential. So, I think we’re having those conversation and I’m very encouraged by that, that things will change.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:03] And then, this kind of work is not just kind of a feel good virtue signalling kind of work. There’s research that says that diverse and inclusive organizations have better performance, right? This can be tied to an ROI?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:23:19] Oh, yes. Many research that have pointed to saying that, “Hey, yes.” If you have a diverse workforce that your ROI has increased. And that is because you are having people to sit at the table. McKinsey, I say, they’ve always been one of the ones that’s been in the lead of showing people that the conference for Harvard Business Review, Diversity, Inc., there are multiple studies that will show you that having a diverse, not just a workforce, but having diversity in our leadership.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:24:02] Because I have found that corporate America, we don’t have any problems or issues with hiring women, and people of color, underrepresented groups. We don’t have that. What we are seeing is that at the top level, the leaders, that is where we need to see more representation and how do we get there. So, that’s where that conversation comes in, is what are those hurdles that are hindering those individuals from rising to leadership levels? Because you see many companies will say, “We are very diverse.” And they are. If you really look across and you count the numbers, they are diverse. They’re different. They are being inclusive.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:24:54] Lee, when I say the I in DEI, the diversity, the I is inclusive. They’re having the business resource groups. And some people call them the employee resource groups. To make sure that we’re including people and people have a safe environment. What is missing? I’m so encouraged that many companies are now embracing is the word equity. And so, it’s the D-diversity, E-equity, and I for inclusion. People are now embracing equity. Are we being equitable across our organization? Is equal across our organization and making sure that we eliminate those biases and those hurdles that people can rise to those leadership and executive levels?
Lee Kantor: [00:25:47] Well, it’s an important cause. And we appreciate your work in this field in helping kind of educate people about kind of doing that and removing these biases. Are you bullish about this or do you feel like we’re almost there? It sounds like, like you said, there was a time where they weren’t having diverse workforces at all. So, it sounds like we’re past that now. And now, we just got to make it more equitable up and down the org chart, not just in certain areas.
Clrissa Mitchell: [00:26:19] Yes. Exactly. We need to make it equitable across the org chart. We really do. And I’m very encouraged. I do a lot of work with our DEI. We’re looking at our career development programs. We’re looking at our mentoring programs and making sure – that’s one thing I didn’t say. But one thing that we have found through research, and even in our internal research, is making sure that those individuals, women or people of color, have mentors and have sponsors. And there’s a difference. The mentor is for those individuals who can teach you and show you things that you need to do in your career. It helps you build your skills, help you build those competencies and your confidence. That’s a mentor.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:27:18] But going a step further than that is a sponsor. And that’s usually a leader in the organization that really can take someone by, for lack of a better word, the hand and help them to move their career through the organization. And we have found that, one, we want to make sure that we are assigning mentors that people need to go out and get mentors. It’s very impactful. And there’s been studies that show that those individuals with mentors do better or stay with the organization longer.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:28:00] But let’s take it a step further and identify sponsors for those individuals that we have identified as having high potential or having the potential to move the company forward and making sure that they have the visibility that they need. So, those are one of some of the hurdles that individuals have had to go through in our people of color or women that we want to now reduce. So, I’m encouraged by that.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:28:30] Again, I always go back to that where I’m very encouraged about the conversations that we’re having and the things that we are doing. Not just having a conversation, but the processes we are putting in place. That is where the rubber meets the road.
Lee Kantor: [00:28:44] Right. And sponsorship is also where the rubber hits the road because somebody is risking political capital and holding somebody up and saying, this is your person. So, that takes us to another level. When somebody does that, then change can really occur faster.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:29:02] Yes. I agree. That is true.
Lee Kantor: [00:29:05] So, now, if somebody wanted to get a hold of you and connect with you, is LinkedIn the best way to do that, Clarissa?
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:29:11] Yes. LinkedIn is the best way to do that. I make sure that I updated my email address. And I am usually on it all the time. And yes, I would love for people to reach out if they want any additional information. I really appreciate the opportunity to share my insights on this. This is a very passionate, I would say, journey for me being an African-American woman in the workplace. And I find it as my mission that my purpose is to – I love developing people. And I’ve been in training, development, talent development for 21 years. But now in the last eight years, focusing directly on talent management and diversity. I really believe this is my purpose, to help people to not only develop, but to get those opportunities and make sure that we have equity in our entire organization.
Lee Kantor: [00:30:17] Well, Clarissa, thank you so much for sharing your story today. We appreciate what you’re doing and you’re making a difference.
Clarissa Mitchell: [00:30:24] Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Have a great weekend.
Lee Kantor: [00:30:28] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on Learning Insights. And remember, we could not be sharing these stories without the support of our sponsor at TrainingPros.
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