In this Wishlist interview, we chat with transformational HR leader, Ty McLane about the power of human resources as a value-driving business unit.


Ty McLane is an HR Operations and Total Rewards professional with a demonstrated history of success in fast-paced work environments. He is currently the Senior HR Operations Analyst at Mercer Advisors in Denver, Colorado. In this interview, Ty opens up about employee engagement, COVID 19, and “new school” HR professionals.

A few of our favorite takeaways:


“Employee engagement” is one of the biggest buzzwords in HR. In your experience, what does employee engagement actually mean and how do you measure it?
Ty McLane

I think of employee engagement first as trust. Being able to have open and honest conversations about what’s working and what’s not working is scratching the surface. Employees need to trust that what you’re doing is in their best interest, and that you are constantly trying to improve their work environment.

Employee engagement is also satisfaction and happiness. Are people happy in their roles? Are they satisfied with the work they’re doing? Are they enjoying coming to work everyday? The answers to these questions translate into longevity, but even beyond tenure is the direct effect on productivity.

When we break it down, employee engagement is a term that translates to a competitive advantage. Organizations that focus on employee engagement and do it well have a strong, reliable internal engine for their company.

The difference between an engaged workforce and a non-engaged workforce is tremendous! If you have 50% engagement in your organization, you’re essentially functioning at 50% productivity. We all know that labor is one of the most expensive line items for a company. Engagement = output.

When it comes to measuring engagement (and therefore trust, satisfaction, and productivity), you must be able to answer questions like, “Do my employees understand their role and how it impacts the broader organization?”, “Does each employee know what’s expected in their role?”, and “Do employees have enough resources and the right resources to be successful?”

Measuring success is the biggest challenge. HR’s growth as an internal business unit is typically happening at a lack of scale. I believe we start by measuring through everyday conversations. Why are people leaving? How do we improve this? Address the elephants in the room and gather real-time feedback.

Why is driving employee engagement so important, particularly in light of COVID-19?
Ty McLane

Imagine an organization with incredible engagement where people love coming to work everyday, they love what their company stands for, they enjoy the culture, they understand their roles, etc.

With stay at home orders due to COVID-19, those same employees are now isolated from their teams and managers. The discipline to perform relies on that individual. Consider the productivity differential between engaged vs. disengaged employees in the office, and then translate that to a dispersed, remote environment where employees are even less connected to their teams.

I believe companies who have strong engagement will continue to see their workforces thrive and adapt in this environment, and the companies who have disengaged cultures or who are lacking in engagement will see lowered productivity from employees working from home.

As a client of Wishlist and a thought leader in the HR space, how does an effective rewards and recognition strategy fit into your own employee engagement strategy?
Ty McLane

It’s incredibly important as a piece of the employee engagement puzzle. Great benefits, fair compensation, meaningful rewards + recognition, and growth opportunities are all essential building blocks. The question is, how do we assemble these building blocks into an amazing experience that employees don’t want to walk away from?

The right rewards and recognition strategy can help you engineer an environment where people feel like they’re important and appreciated (on top of feeling fairly compensated and feeling like they know what’s expected of them in their roles). This gives you a competitive advantage.

One of the reasons we like Wishlist is because we can give employees that acknowledgement, and we can also let them choose what reward makes the most sense for them. I hate “one size fits all” benefits and rewards models, simply because we know people’s priorities are immensely different based on age, lifestyle, and so on. A static rewards environment is an old school mentality.

We use Wishlist to support us with our employee rewards and recognition strategy because it gives us an easy way to show appreciation, and beyond that, it allows people to choose their own reward. As a piece of the engagement puzzle, it’s a solution that just makes sense.

Assuming their employers value HR as a strategic partner for business success, what can HR professionals do to drive employee engagement?
Ty McLane

Professionals in this field can focus on HR analytics. We have to measure capacity and performance over time in order to understand the levers to pull to drive value for the business.

When we roll out an engagement survey, we cannot just throw out questions and expect people to answer them in a meaningful way. We must sit down with our teams and explain why it’s important to answer honestly and constructively. We also need to be earnestly aimed at improving things for our employees, and show them as much.

Many companies are prioritizing employee engagement because they understand that their employees pave the company’s road to success, but many others still see HR as the recruiters, the onboarders, and sometimes ‘the bad guy’. We can play all of those roles, but we are a function that adds value as well.

Everything HR does has an impact on employees, from compensation to performance, engagement, onboarding, and offboarding. Without the right people, you are limited in how much you can improve your business.

For those folks whose companies don’t yet see Human Resources as a strategic, value-driving business unit, what can HR professionals do to both drive and show value?
Ty McLane

I think there are certainly organizations out there who are more concerned with checking off the boxes of an employee engagement strategy. They’re more concerned about the perception of culture, the perception of an employee value proposition, the perception of having the company be an awesome place to work.

The better alternative would be to actually ask, “How do we dig in and get real feedback? How do we share the importance of these initiatives so that employees feel comfortable in being open and honest with us?”

Employers have to know that any requests they make of employees come with a trust factor. If I’m part of a company that rolled out an employee engagement survey last year and my team did not take any concerted action based on employees’ real feedback, I cannot expect employees to trust me and give me feedback again this year.

The new school HR person understands that if we can be fair and transparent with each other, addressing the elephants in the room, then we have a chance at creating great culture and doing something meaningful with our role inside our organizations. But if we’re not measuring anything, we will never know what we need to fix or improve.

I think we can learn a lot from the UK, Europe, and even the Bay Area, where there has been a massive push for HR data, and where HR professionals are not just seen as payroll and benefits administrators.

The hardest part is always going to be getting the buy in from the top level of the organization. The problem right now is that most people in the HR space are under resourced. A lot of us can’t do the things we know will drive the business because we are seen as overhead or “back office administration costs”. But HR is the team that helps you reach your business potential by lifting your employees up and helping them be as successful as they possibly can. That’s the bottom line.

This interview was hosted by Ginger Kern, Account Executive at Wishlist. If you are a transformational HR leader and would like to be featured in Wishlist’s interview series, contact