Inspiring, innovative, and entrepreneurial. Nick Wagner Sr. is passionate about lifting others up and helping them reach their full potential. In addition to his role as Organizational Development Consultant at Cigna, Nick is Founder of InnovateCT, Founder of the Full Potential Movement and, most recently, author of Ten Secrets to Success After Graduation.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Nick in 2019 to learn more about InnovateCT (read: InnovateCT Promotes Innovation in CT Through Education). She recently reached out to talk to Nick about what it means to be entrepreneurial and innovative, and how he’s been encouraging others during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NAN PRICE: Tell us a little about your experience being an entrepreneur and innovator.
NICK WAGNER: I think there’s a common misconception that you have to be working for yourself to be an entrepreneur or to be innovative and I disagree with that, as someone who works at a Fortune 500 company within human resources (HR) and gets to be entrepreneurial every single day.
NAN: How so?
NICK: I work for a large organization, but you can be entrepreneurial at small, large, or mid-size companies. It’s about finding the right people and culture that values your perspectives and creative thinking. For a lot of individuals, being entrepreneurial inside a company may mean working with people who aren’t in your direct organization or working with someone else in the company and then connecting those dots for people.
A lot of times people don’t realize the things you do outside of work can make an impact at your workplace and create new opportunities.
Here’s a perfect example of how my entrepreneurial ideas and activities outside of work gave me an opportunity inside of work. I’ve been hosting The Full Potential Podcast for about four years on my own. Knowing I had those skills, when COVID-19 started, Cigna asked me to host an internal podcast. I had the opportunity to shape that podcast, which is still going more than a year later. I don’t think I would’ve had that opportunity if I didn’t do all these extracurricular activities outside of work.
Those of us who have worked for ourselves and then gone to work for an organization look at work very differently. You tend to think about things from a different lens. And most entrepreneurs have a scarcity of resources, which makes you a little scrappier. It also makes you more innovative when it comes to working at a larger company. Entrepreneurs tend to figure things out in the most efficient, creative way possible, usually because they’re used to working that way.
NAN: As an entrepreneur and innovator, what are some of the advantages of working within a larger company?
NICK: One of the major benefits is access to resources and training. If you want to learn something that you think could make an impact on the work you’re doing or the broader company and you don’t have that skill, larger corporations will often have training teams or access to upskilling content available. So, I’m always learning new things, no matter what I’m doing, which is always a huge benefit.
NAN: As an HR professional, how have you seen people innovating, career-wise during the COVID-19 pandemic?
NICK: Since March of 2020, many people have unfortunately had to find new jobs because of COVID-19. A lot of industries furloughed workers and some people realized that, even though they had a job, they might not actually like it. So, a lot of people questioned: Is this what I really want to do? Do my personal values align with the mission of the company where I work?
We see this light at the end of the tunnel as vaccination rates increase in the United States, and I think we’re going to start seeing employees have more power now than they probably ever have. One reason is because we have the ability to work for companies without being in an office and employees now have more options for where they want to work.
For us here in Connecticut, I think that’s going to give people a lot of opportunities to access jobs with employers that were unavailable, because of proximity, in the past.. It works the other way too, Connecticut companies will have a larger talent pool since they have recognized that not all employees need to be in an office in order to do their jobs effectively.
Also, after seeing friends and colleagues lose their jobs during the pandemic, a lot of people are looking at their careers from a personal development perspective and being proactive about it instead reactive. They’re a lot more focused in their thinking, asking questions like: Am I positioning myself in the best way if I ever need to find my next job? Have I done enough networking? Have I done enough training to learn new skills? Should I go back to school to get another degree?
NAN: You give back in many ways through many outlets. How have you been able to assist people along their career paths inside and outside of work?
NICK: When I moved into HR at the end of 2013, I realized I had a real passion for helping people with their careers. I’ve been doing that through my full-time job at Cigna as an HR professional, but I wanted to do more outside of work to give back because I love the idea of skills-based volunteering.
For example, in December, I helped create an initiative called Open to Helping on LinkedIn, where 10 other HR professionals and I planned an entire day of content about networking, resume writing, and interviewing for individuals looking for jobs. We recognized that losing a job can be one of the most traumatic things that can happen during your career and we wanted to use skills-based volunteering to give back to help those who found themselves in that position.
My initiative, The Full Potential Movement, is all focused on helping people with their careers and empowering people. The weekly podcast is targeted at early career professionals. I bring guests on to share about their career journeys to help others hear different perspectives and understand the possibilities.
To go along with that, in summer of 2019, I started writing my first book Called Ten Secrets To Success After Graduation, which includes 18 contributed career stories to help early career individuals. I purposely included a diverse group of individuals because I didn’t want it to be just my voice. The book includes a bio for every contributor so readers can connect to them, and every chapter ends with an activity. The whole idea was to have 10 different topics that I think every early career professional could benefit from learning about.
NAN: What are some of the biggest lessons learned?