Interviewing for Culture Add, not Culture Fit

While it may be a hot topic again due to the increased focus on diversity and inclusion, the concern about hiring for “culture fit” has been around for several years.  Back in 2018, Patty McCord, of Netflix fame, shared her thoughts in a Harvard Business Review article.  In it, McCord says, “What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity, since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own.  Making great hires is about recognizing great matches—and often they’re not what you’d expect.”

It’s probably not surprising that I totally agree with that statement.  Just because we think we know what the profile needs to be, some of the best hires I have seen have been people we took a chance on because they had the right DNA, someone who had different experiences and could bring a new perspective to the team.  Not because they had the right resume.  It is why we started calling it the “culture add” interview at Ordergroove.  It’s important to interview to make sure you are hiring someone who represents your values of the organization, otherwise they will not be set up for success.   But what they are going to add to your culture is the other important question.  What new ideas and new insights can they bring to the table that we are missing today?

Below are a couple of ways you can make sure you are truly interviewing for your values and how someone will add to your culture.  And not the safe decision of the person you feel most comfortable with or want to hang out with after work. 

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  • Have multiple people be part of the interview process.  If you leave it up to just the hiring manager, there is a higher chance they will have blinders on their assessment of the candidate from resume to screen to interview.  If you include peers, additional managers from the same department, cross functional stakeholders, the head of the department, or the HR partner for that group, you will get a better cross-section of feedback.  Identify what each person will be interviewing for and train them on what questions to ask to make sure they are focusing on the skills they can best assess.  Make sure interviews cover soft skills (like communication or problem solving) and direct job skills (like coding or Excel).  
  • At the kick off meeting with the interview team, make sure everyone understands the expectations of the role.  Especially given the level of the person, what are the must haves versus the areas that are a bonus or you are willing to train someone on if they don’t have the skills today.  Too often I have seen someone cut because they are too “junior” when really they had the makings of a great team member, but they just had a unique path to get to this point. I would rather have someone with strong decision making skills and I can train them on the system we use.  
  • You also want to make sure you walk through how to assess and how to ask follow up questions to really dig into the answer.  I’m a huge fan of behavior interviewing, which includes the follow up questions of “What did you learn” or “What would you do differently”.   Another opportunity to allow someone to show a skill in a less cookie cutter way is to work on an exercise together.  It becomes less about did they get the answer right on the first try but how did they go about solving it, were they able to adjust their approach with some feedback or coaching.    This is especially helpful if the person didn’t have the traditional career path for this role.  They may have the baseline understanding to get to the answer but just have a different way to approach it based on their experiences and training.
  • Every company should identify competencies for each of your core values.  This allows the team to rely on objective data to determine if the candidate will be successful in your culture.  For Ordergroove, we identified dealing with ambiguity, perseverance, and interpersonal savvy as a few competencies to reflect our values of “we’re comfortable being uncomfortable”, “we’re in it to win it” and “what you see is what you get”.   If you use a tool like Korn/Ferry’s Lominger Competencies, there is a list of questions that are tied to each competency (and what to look for in each answer).  For example, for “dealing with ambiguity” we ask “Tell me about a time you had to start a project before you had all the information you wanted”.  First Round Review had a great article in 2016 about how to interview for adaptability.
  • To build on competencies, I always ask a “culture add” question.  I usually ask something like, “What is an example of something you did at your last company that pushed your team or culture forward?”   It’s less about assessing what the thing was that they did (different ideas will work for different companies) but more about how they found their way to add to the culture and if they felt comfortable suggesting new ideas to evolve the culture of the company.  

Hopefully with different people focusing on different skills and experiences, and questions that are tied to the demonstration of a behavior, versus a feeling, you will find not just the best person for your team, but someone who will push your thinking and processes further.  Someone who will add to your culture and make it stronger, not just fit in.

Defining Flexibility

I have been thinking a lot about what flexibility means these days.  It was already a conversation I had with managers since we had a “flexible” PTO (paid time off) policy.  But I feel like, during the pandemic, flexibility has had to take on a whole new meaning.  As I think about a “flexible” remote work policy moving forward, I have been challenging myself to define what I mean by flexibility and the outcome I am trying to drive by creating a culture of flexibility.

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My goal is to build a culture where people feel like they are treated like adults.   We hire people who are incredibly smart, talented, and with some (if not a lot) of experience under their belts.   They have a lot of different interests, live in different areas, and have different home lives.  So my desire to offer flexibility is in recognition of all those individual needs and priorities.  If you are getting your work done, are available for key meetings and put in the effort to be an active member of our community, I am not concerned about if you are doing it from the office or your home or a coffee shop.  I am not worried if you prefer to take random days off during the year or one big trip once a year (or when that trip falls).   Again, as long as you are hitting your goals or leaving your team in the lurch, I trust that you are making the right decision.  If you aren’t, then that’s a different conversation.  

At Ordergroove, we had already built more flexibility into our perks, for example moving to a wellness allowance versus a specific gym discount, but during the spring and summer of 2020, people needed flexibility more than ever.  We have always tried to give our team the space and support needed to balance both work and home life.   But that support was needed more than ever as stay at home orders were going into effect across the country.  If people need time to take care of (or teach) their kids during the day, that’s fine.  Just let your manager and team know about it.  Block the time on your calendar and set your slack notifications accordingly so people know you are offline.  This is key, flexibility only works when there is clear communication to create boundaries.  On the flip side, we are having to really encourage people to take time offline.  Since the idea of “vacation” is totally unclear during a stay-at-home order, people haven’t been taking the time they need.  But now more than ever, burnout is real.  Zoom fatigue is real.  So even if you are taking the day to sit in bed and read, or as one manager said, eat ice cream and watch Netflix, take the time.  We have even added some extra “holidays” this summer where OG will be offline to encourage people to take a break.

As we look to the future, we see more opportunities for flexibility.  We have announced we will have a flexible work from anywhere policy.  While there are still many logistics to work out, our team has shown, even in the worst of circumstances, that we are able to be productive, collaborate, and drive results even when we aren’t physically together.  And some people, outside of the unique stresses of COVID, are really enjoying working from home.   So moving forward, people can have the flexibility to be in the office or not, or split their time.  Whatever works best for them.  As long as they are with the team at key moments (for example our quarterly all hands meetings) we trust the individual to work out the right schedule that works for them, the best way they work, and to find the right balance in their life.

For me, flexibility is about empowering individuals to make the right decisions.   At Ordergroove, our values are around authenticity, collaboration, driving the right outcomes, and the willingness to ride the rollercoaster.  We hire professional adults to join our team and demonstrate those values each day as we work to build an amazing company.  I find that if you start from a place of trust and respect, most of the time people will rise to that expectation.  And at least in our culture, the ability to be flexible and to award that “perk” to our team reflects our values and the types of people we want on this journey with us.

Experiment of Life

As I start another year around the sun, I have been reflecting on my life and how I finally have gotten to a place where I am confident in who I am.  Don’t get me wrong, there are days (especially over the last few months) where I flounder and question everything.  But in general, I know who I am, who I want to be, and what is important to me.  That wasn’t always the case, which I’m sure many of you can relate to at some point in your life.   For some reason, it made me think of the scientific method.  And how you could correlate your journey in life along a similar path as a scientific experiment. Go with me and see if you agree!

Collect information, Observe, Ask Questions.  Throughout your childhood, you are a sponge.  You are learning, observing, taking it all in.  You don’t have any expectations or assumptions.  Everything is new, you start to test boundaries, and you are learning to navigate your way through life.   What you don’t realize at the time, is that all of the information is starting to create a hypothesis about who you think you want to be in this world and the life you are creating.  I tended to be a rule follower, someone who liked things to be in organized packages, shy but outgoing when I thought I was supposed to be, and very caring about the people around me (loyal to the core!).  While these have taken different forms over my life, these core values are part of my DNA to this day!  I learned these traits by watching my family, starting to find role models outside of your inner circle, and learning through the rollercoaster of friendships.  

Form a Hypothesis.   As you go through high school, and even more so in college, you start to form an idea of what you want your life to be.  You start making decisions that in theory impact the rest of your life (where do you want to go to school, what your major is going to be, even where you might live once you graduate).  Even if college isn’t in your plans, you are making decisions that are leading to a career and a way of life that is going to be your foundation moving forward.   You learn more about what you think is going to be important to you and how your skills and passions can combine to create a career path.  More and more I loved working in theatre, specifically backstage. I cherished the sense of community with the crew and the chance to create an experience for people that was special every night.  I was also meeting people from different areas of the country and learning from their experiences and seeing the value of getting outside of my comfort zone.

Experiment to test the Hypothesis.  Looking back on it, I knew nothing in my late teens and early twenties. To think we expect people at that age to essentially pick a career (by choosing a major) is absurd.  But it all works out because once you get out of your own, you start to test your life choices by getting your first full-time job and your first apartment.  You are now living the life you think you want.  You learn a lot during this time.  Your values are tested, you meet more and more people with different thoughts and backgrounds, you see what it is really like to work in the industry you chose.  It can be a trying time but also an incredible learning opportunity if you have the courage to recognize your hypothesis may not have been exactly correct.   As much as I loved the world of theatre, I needed more stability and security once I was out on my own.  I hated the lifestyle, which I could only learn once I was immersed in it after graduation. After doing a stint in LA, my husband and I also realized the importance of staying on the east coast, closer to our family and friends.

Expected Results versus Actual Results.  Now that you have dipped your toe into the pool of real life, you start to identify where your assumptions were correct and where you were off base.  You may have been spot on with everything you thought you wanted – and kudos to you if that’s the case!   You could have been completely off like I was and find yourself on the wrong side of the country in an industry you don’t love.   Most likely, you are somewhere in the middle.  You are satisfied with some areas of your life and the choices you made.  But there are places to tweak and things you have learned about yourself along the way that you want to apply as you continue this journey.  Especially with every new generation, it seems like this reflection and willingness to adjust (versus staying on course) is encouraged and supported.  

Draw Conclusions.  It’s important to look at everything you have learned up to this point in your life and see where you want to make changes.  Once I made the move to HR and got back on the east coast, I felt much more settled (in a good way).  I love what I do and while we tried out a couple of different cities, when we moved to NYC, we knew we had found our home.   The next step in my journey was finding ways to grow as an individual.   I had learned a lot about myself during the experimental stages and I realized that outside of work, I was concerned about where I was “supposed” to be in my life, versus what I wanted in my life.   I wasn’t eager to have kids (if ever), we found our place in the city (versus the ‘burbs), we love going to concerts and decorating our home with things that represent our passion for music and movies.   And I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, specifically as I thought about being healthier.   For my 40th birthday, I jumped out of a plane and did a Spartan Race.  Both gave me a new sense of confidence I did not have before.  

Adjust & Try Again.   As you look at what you have learned during the experiment phases, what do you want to adjust as you move forward?  Are you happy in your career?   Are you satisfied with your personal relationships?  Do you focus enough on your health (mental and physical)?   How do you feel spiritually (doesn’t have to be religion, but could be meditation or a focus on something bigger than yourself)?  How do you re-energize and refresh when you are stressed or need a break?  If you haven’t seen it before, try the Wheel of Life exercise.  It helps you evaluate your satisfaction in different areas of your life.   When I looked at my wheel ahead of turning forty, I realized I was too focused on work and not satisfied in areas that included self-care, friends, and my health.   Even in my career, I was learning more about where I wanted it to go and I was excited about starting to lay some breadcrumbs on the path to the future.

Accept the Hypothesis and Keep Experimenting.  Even once you have “figured it all out” (PS you haven’t) that doesn’t mean you stop learning and growing.  At different points in your life, different things will be important to you.  You may want or need to focus more on family or work or your health.  Or you may want to take your foot off the gas and just retreat and breathe for a while.  All of that is ok.  Even as happy as I am right now in my life, I’m always looking to challenge myself and expand my learning.  I got a Peloton bike, I signed up for a half marathon, I started a podcast, and my husband and I are committed to taking time away just for us this year (whatever that looks like in 2020).  The point is, even once you have accepted your hypothesis and you know the path you are on, don’t stop experimenting!

One important note, while I referenced ages at different times in this article, I truly believe you can have these discoveries at any point in your life.  As I tell people on my podcast, it is never too late to learn and adapt!  So no matter where you are in your life journey, take a moment to think about your hypothesis and what the data is telling you.  Are you on the right path or do you need to keep experimenting?

Getting off the Hamster Wheel

Do you feel stuck in your career?  I did.  Twenty years ago, I kept trying to find my home in the arts but I just wasn’t happy living that lifestyle as my fulltime job.  I was doing it because I thought I had to figure it out since it was “my dream” and I spent four years studying and living for the day I got to be a part of that world.  But what you wanted at 23 may not be what you want at 30, 40, etc.   And what you loved earlier in life may not fit what your life evolves to overtime.  It takes a lot of courage to admit you are not happy at work.  But you owe it to yourself and your friends & family to find something that brings you joy, fulfillment, and success.   So let’s talk about some ways you get off the hamster wheel and find your passion!

Change careers.  I realize this is a LOT easier said than done.  There may be skill gaps, experiences you need to build, even schooling or accreditations you need to earn before you can make a change.   But the bottom line is, you don’t have to stay in the same job you are in today.  Start the self-discovery to see what you like and what you don’t like about your current situation.  In a recent article, I talked about how to start thinking about making a change and how to start that journey.   You may find you like the work you do, but you are in the wrong industry.  Being an engineer at a large bank is very different than being an engineer at a tech start-up for example.  Or you may love being a teacher but you want to change grades or the classes you are teaching.  Or you want to do the 180 and go from accountant to marketing manager, business analyst to therapist….stage manager to HR!  Talk to different people in those industries or in those careers, consider partnering with a coach to help you think through your options and navigate the change, or find a champion in your life who will be with you and support you at every step.  It’s scary, but it’s possible, you just have to take that first step of admitting you want to consider a change!

Fueling your passion on the side.  I know many people who have chosen to stay in their current jobs, but fuel their passion through volunteer work or as a side gig.   Especially in today’s world, part-time freelance work is extremely popular and available through sites like Upwork or Fiverr.   But for a variety of reasons, you may feel content in your 9-5 job and don’t want to either leave that work or the stability and longer-term security it provides you.  And that is totally ok as well!  It doesn’t mean you can’t follow your passion.   If you love animals but don’t want to go back to school to become a vet, volunteer at a local shelter (or offer to help with their web design).   If you love the arts, there are many regional theatres who use local actors, or you can volunteer as an usher.   If you love kids, you could be a part-time tutor.  Or you have an eye for marketing, you can help a start-up company build their brand as a freelancer.   There are so many options that I could go on forever, but I know there is an opportunity near you that could use your skills and your energy to make a difference even if it’s “just on the side”.

Realize you were stuck for other reasons.  Similar to the phrase, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” sometimes we just get fed up and feel stuck because we are frustrated in our jobs, or life is throwing us other curveballs and we think it would be easier or better “if”.   It’s important to consider your options when you feel that way.  If you don’t explore a new passion, you will always have a nagging feeling in your mind.  But just as you had the courage to consider something new, it’s also ok (albeit hard) to say you were actually happy in your original job and there were other forces at play that made you reconsider your path.  Don’t be embarrassed or frustrated.  Embrace the journey, share the reasons for your decisions, and go back to what made you happy.  And then, focus on whatever was actually driving your dissatisfaction and work on that! 

No matter your journey, the important thing is to not let yourself feel stuck.  Do the work and take the time to think about what is missing in your life.  Do some research about what your new career could look like (schooling, salaries, opportunities near you, etc).  And know that you are not alone.  There are lots of people that have taken the same steps you are considering and come to the decisions listed above.  I’ll be sharing those stories soon (spoiler alert!).  I’m here to help.  One of my passions is to help people get unstuck in their careers, and hopefully, their lives.  We all work way too much to not be fulfilled by what we do.  So let’s connect if you want to start your process to get off the hamster wheel!

Making the Most of Working with Your Coach

As people are reflecting on what is important in their lives and in their careers, they are turning to coaches to help them through this pivotal moment and the need for coaches is higher now than ever.  Coaches can partner with you on your career,  leadership style, improve your interview skills, respond to specific feedback you are working on, coaching through change, or broader life coaching.  No matter the focus, the value you can gain by working with a coach can be life-changing.  But if you have never worked with a coach before, it can be daunting to get started.  Below are some tips to consider as you identify a coach that is right for you and the best ways to work with your coach once you start.

Finding your coach.  It’s important to take a step back and think about why you want to work with a coach.  What is driving your decision or the goal you want to accomplish? Once you know that, even at a high level, it will help you consider what kind of coach will best fit your needs.  Do you want a specialist (example a coach that is an expert on interview skills) or a coach that can help in different areas of your career or life?  Then start asking for referrals from your network.  There is a built-in trust if you know someone who worked with that person and can give you an honest review of their experience. Another route is to consider connecting with a company (like GoCoach, Sayge, ThinkHuman, and numerous others).  They will be able to work with you to help you find the right coach and some even have a platform that will then help monitor your progress, schedule your sessions, etc.  

Selecting your coach.  Once you have found some possible coaches, you want to take the time to do an intro call.  Think of it as a first date.  You want to make sure you are picking the right person for you.  You want to come to that meeting with some questions, just like you would an interview.  Some possible questions could be: How do they work with coachees, What kinds of engagements have they recently done, Do they use any tools, books, or guides with coachees.   Share your initial goals and why you want to work with a coach and ask if they have worked with others with similar goals and what specifically they did to help those people.  Maybe they haven’t coached someone in your industry or with your title but look for examples of people in similar stages in their career and with similar goals.   Especially if you haven’t worked with a coach before, interview a few coaches (three is a good target) so you can hear different perspectives and approaches.  Listen to your gut.  If you aren’t getting the right feeling from someone, keep looking.  A coach/coachee relationship is very personal, if you have any concerns, see if they are willing to commit to just a couple of sessions to make sure it’s the right pairing before considering a longer-term commitment.

Working with your coach.  Your coach will probably walk through how to prep for each session.  But this is your investment, take advantage of it!  Be honest with your coach, be vulnerable, and be ready to do the work.  Come to each meeting with a specific goal or something you actively want to work on in that session.  Do your homework between sessions, even if it’s just writing down wins and struggles you had that week.  A  good coach will push you outside of your comfort zone so make sure you are ready to hear it, be open to it, take it in and think about how you can adjust your behaviors or perspective based on that feedback.

After that, keep an open mind and enjoy the partnership, together you will drive some amazing results.  I’m not just saying that because I am a coach, but because I have felt it directly myself.  By working with coaches in my career, I was able to recognize behaviors that were holding me back, they helped me focus when I was all over the map, and give myself permission to be ok when something didn’t go how I wanted or was outside of my control.   Check out my “Find Your Passion” page for more advice and worksheets to help prepare for your upcoming coaching partnership.  Good luck on this journey and I’m here to help if you want to chat!

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Keeping Your Passion Alive Even When You Are Working “Just a Job”

Everyone needs to work – well almost everyone.   And there are times in our lives where it is more important to have a steady paycheck versus waiting for the perfect opportunity.  Maybe you are switching careers and building your skills in your new field.  Or you are at a point in your life where you need to take a step back and focus on other things but still need the income.  No matter the reason, my hope for everyone is that no matter where you are in your journey, you find a career that you are passionate about, not just a long list of jobs.

So, how can you find a job within your field and feel like you are continuing to build your career?  Well, I’m glad you asked 🙂   Below are three tips to make sure you still feel joy, fulfillment, and success even while you are just working a “job”.

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  1. Determine what you need out of the job.  We all have different needs during our life.  Sometimes we need flexibility so we can go to school or focus on our families.  Sometimes we just need a steady paycheck to get through a tough financial time.  Sometimes we want to be inspired and money isn’t an issue.  And sometimes we are building a new career and are willing to just get our foot in the door.   In order to determine what kind of job you will look for, you need to understand the non-negotiables for that job.   Then you can figure out what kind of job will fulfill those needs but also fill your soul.   When I was a stage manager I often had to take “day jobs” that would offer a better paycheck and benefits.  I was a nanny, worked at a daycare, was an admin for an acting coach.  All things that I didn’t mind doing but gave me the stability I needed while pursuing my theatre career. 
  1. Find work that is still connected to your field.  Even if you can’t get your dream role, you can still be a part of that industry.  It’s why I took the job as an AA for an HR team.  I knew I would help me continue to learn about HR and expose to me to great future opportunities.   If you are working on getting certified in the medical field, maybe you can work in a doctor’s office in the specialization you are interested in longer-term.  Or if you love fashion, maybe you can be a personal shopper or even work in your favorite store.  Maybe you love working with kids but need a flexible schedule, so you could become a tutor.  I was just on a webinar today for talent acquisition professionals who are out of work right now and someone had the great suggestion of offering to be a career coach until hiring picks back up in their field.  The point is that you don’t have to abandon your passion during a time you have to find a job.
  1. Share your long term goals with other people.   After I decided to leave the entertainment industry, we moved back east and I took the first temp office job I could find to help pay the rent.  As I got to know the people I was working with, I shared my idea of moving into HR.  Long story short, they didn’t have anyone in HR and they were willing to let me take on some projects and that became my first HR job!  Share your long term career goals with the people in your life and at your job.  Maybe someone will offer to mentor you, or introduce you to someone who can help you take that next step. You never know unless you start putting it out into the world!

Check out my episode of the Money Savage Podcast where I shared more ideas and thoughts about a job versus a career.  We all work too much and hopefully by thinking through some of the suggestions above you won’t hate going to work, even in times where it’s not the ideal role.  I realize some of this is easier said than done.  But I hope that this inspires you to take a step back and instead of taking the first job that you can find, you think about how you can find a role that will still give you some joy and feed that career passion you have.

The Importance of Self-Care when you are Taking Care of Everyone Else

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Taking care of yourself is important no matter what.  But especially right now as we are all living through this unprecedented time, we have stress on us that we have never experienced before.  The people you are taking care of can be anyone, people at work, family, friends, furry babies, anyone that is not you. We all have different stresses in life and they are real and powerful to that individual.   Personally, as someone who is constantly focused on what our team needs, what my husband and furry babies need, checking in with my friends and family, or offering my advice to others in my profession, I am not good about adding me to that list.  Three weeks into the pandemic, I found myself burned out.  I literally slept for 14 hours one day.  I couldn’t decide what to make for lunch, and then once I was making my sandwich,  I literally couldn’t have a conversation at the same time.  My brain was a total fog.  Luckily my husband and I both recognized this. And with some help from my therapist and a commitment to refocus on the routine I need to be my best, I’ve gotten on a better track.  Not perfect, but I recognize the signals when I’m on an offramp and I need to get back on again.

I share that because we all need a reminder to take care of ourselves, no matter what is going on in the world.  Here are three things that help me focus on taking care of myself.

Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.  Michelle Obama has a great story in her book where she learned this lesson herself.  The short version is that when their kids were little, she would get angry at Barack for taking time in his day to go to the gym.  A marriage counselor helped her realize, she should actually be “mad” at herself for not prioritizing herself and she should also go to the gym or whatever she needed.  You need to give yourself permission to carve out time for self-care.  It’s not selfish, it’s necessary.  You will only be your best for everyone else if you take care of yourself first.

Ask yourself what you need.  Some days you may need quiet, or to go to a coffee shop and read, or take a leisurely walk or drive.  Other days you may need to relax in a bath or get a massage or listen to some music.  Other days you may need to burn some energy with exercise or hang out with friends.  But take a moment to close your eyes and literally ask yourself, “what do I need”, and see how you answer.  Then have a list of things (like above) that you can do for yourself that you can pull from depending on the answer.  It may be different every time you ask, and that’s ok.  Listen to yourself and communicate with your partner or whoever is in your life that needs to help you protect the time for yourself.

Build self-care into your day or routine – Personally, if I don’t exercise in the morning, it doesn’t happen.  It’s so easy for my day to get away from me.  I apply the same approach to my workday.  I know my brain needs time to warm up.  So as much as possible I try to do emails and tasks when I get online and then take calls and do some heavy thinking right after lunch, followed by calls and then final tasks.  Right now while we are all working from home, I build in a break for lunch otherwise I never will leave my desk. Building self-care into your routine is important because if I try to write this blog post first thing in the am, or go for a run at the end of the day while I’m counting the minutes until I have to get back for dinner, it’s not actually taking care of myself.  It’s adding stress to something that is supposed to be relieving stress.  It’s not giving myself permission to do the thing for me.  It’s never perfect but it will help you actually enjoy that self-care moment (whether work or home self-care).

I know so much of this is easier said than done.  But hang in there and just try.  Pick one thing this week that you can do for you.  Then next week pick two things!  It’s like anything, once you start to feel the benefits, you will make it a priority.  And you will make sure you are taking care of yourself, especially while you are focused on taking care of everyone else.

How to Know What Your Team Is Really Thinking & Feeling

Employee Engagement Survey.  Culture Survey.  Pulse Survey.  No matter what you call it, we are always trying to get a sense of how our team is thinking and feeling.  Are they at risk of leaving?  Are our programs and efforts helping or distracting the organization?   Do they feel connected to the business?  Especially as companies and teams go through a lot of change, it’s really important to keep your finger on the pulse of the organization.  Instead of launching our normal culture survey, last month we did a pulse survey focused on people’s level of stress, what questions they had about the business, and what we, as an organization, could be doing to help them. That was the feedback I needed at this moment in time so that was the survey we launched.

The trick to a good survey is to make sure you are asking questions that actually get you the feedback you are trying to get.  And then once you get the data, figuring out the story it is telling you and how you can drive change for the future.  Below are three tips (and 3 sub-tips!) to make sure you are launching the right survey for your company at the right time.

What feedback are you actually trying to gather?   Why are you launching the survey at this specific moment (or why do you do a recurring survey)?  Is it to do a check on engagement?  Is it to test the happiness or pride factor?  Is it to get feedback on how people feel about their managers?  Maybe it’s after a significant moment in the business and you want to know how the team thinks the company did during that time (ex. acquisition, a shift in strategy).  It’s important to know the purpose of the survey to decide what questions you want to ask of the team.

Logistics of the survey.  

  • How often should you send the survey?   How many questions do you want to include?   If it is a broader survey about the health of the team, you want to send it frequently enough to be able to flag changes quickly while not so frequently that you can’t implement any actions to impact change.  For broader culture surveys, I have found a longer survey (~25 questions) once a year is helpful with quarterly pulse checks.  If I am trying to get feedback on something that is happening more immediately (how people are doing during this pandemic) I send a short survey more frequently.   But to get feedback on managers, it’s a little longer (10-15 questions) and less frequent.  You want to be able to get the feedback without incurring survey fatigue which will impact your results!
  • How to use ratings and comments.  You want to use ratings when you need a benchmark to compare past and future results (or industry data).  As much as possible be consistent in your ratings so people aren’t confused by what you are asking (agree/disagree, satisfied/not satisfied, and always have “1” be the least desirable score).  I have tried to use more 1-4 scales (rather than 1-5) to avoid a “neutral” option unless that is a legitimate piece of feedback.  Comment boxes are helpful to share feedback on why they assigned the rating they did or to provide open suggestions on a specific topic (ex. “What else can the company be doing to…”)
  • Anonymity and cutting the data by cohort.  Asking someone to include their name, or any identifying information (location, department, tenure) can hold someone back from sharing their true feedback.  It’s great if you can use a platform that creates a link for each individual (and those cohort identifiers are built into the link you send out).  But if that isn’t possible, I always make the “Name” field optional.  And I make the other cohorts broad enough that they feel protected.  For example if your sales team is three people and they are all in different cities, I can quickly identify Sales/Tampa as Sally.  But if it’s Sales & Marketing/Southeast, that might create a larger cohort.  There is a lot of conversation if people’s lack of wanting to be identified says something about trust within the organization.  And while I agree with that to a point, there are also people that might be new to the company or earlier in their career who are still building confidence to share feedback or are more introverted and don’t want a possible light to be shined on their feedback (even good feedback).  It’s why I like the “optional” name field, it’s the best of both worlds.

Are you able/willing to take action on the questions you are asking?   One of the biggest mistakes I have seen companies make is that they ask a question they know they aren’t willing or unable to affect change.   Compensation and benefits is a great example. For example, it would not be a priority for me to ask my current team about their benefit plans because we are with a PEO so we have very little control over the plans (but I can ask about other perks that we run directly!).   If as an organization you are either confident of your compensation philosophy, or you know you don’t have the budget to make any changes, I would not ask a question about comp.  Because if that number is low, when you report back the results to the team, what are you going to say?  “Sorry you feel bad about your comp, but oh well!”  It goes back to the purpose of the survey.  Focus your questions on the areas of the business and culture you are committed to changing or further developing.  

Even if you do all of the above to the best of your ability, you have to make sure you take action on the feedback.  Don’t promise the sun and moon.  Pick one or two things that are strong themes or the most meaningful areas to the business and focus on those.  Create a strong action plan with milestones and keep to it.  Create accountability by sharing it with the team on a regular basis.  The quickest way to lose credibility through your surveys is to do them, and then never share the results or not follow through on the action plan.  You will see your response rate and feedback plumet the next time.  Remember, you launched the survey because you wanted to know what your team was really feeling at a given time, so keep that commitment all the way through to the next survey!

Bonus!  I shared a case study of how I used feedback from a culture survey to help strengthen the relationship between the team and the broader organization at EX Impact 2019 

Staying Focused on Development Even From Afar

I still can’t believe that six weeks ago I was traveling for both work and personal life and only keeping an eye on the world events out of the corner of my eye.  I literally couldn’t imagine that we would be working from home through April, and quite honestly, probably through May. In the beginning, I was focused on making sure people were ok (both physically & mentally) and logistically had what they needed to make the change to work from home full time.  But I realized over the last week or so I have started to focus more on coaching people on how to adjust all those 101 things we all did in the office to a virtual world. At the top of my list are feedback and development. Especially with this new way of working heading into the second month and people adjusting to this new normal, we need to make sure team members are still getting strong feedback on their current performance and know that they won’t lose ground on their development goals.  So here are three tips on how to have impactful feedback conversations virtually and help identify development goals for your team!

Remember the basics.   Especially during a time of heightened stress and still adjusting to the change of being remote, go back to the basics of feedback.  Focus on data-driven, objective feedback. Make sure it is timely and comes from a place of support and development. Be prepared, write down some notes or points you want to cover and build in places for questions.  Don’t just focus on the negative, make sure you celebrate the wins and show gratitude for the work they are accomplishing even during the distractions of today’s world. Finally, don’t have development conversations over slack.  A quick kudos is fine, but don’t let that replace a live conversation. Ask when they have 15-20 minutes to jump on a call (just like you would if you were in the office together).

Watch for social cues.  Personally, the thing I struggle with the most when I am not in person with someone is not being able to read their body language.  I can’t tell if silence is because they are upset, processing or just listening. The biggest tip I have is to try to do all your calls with the video on.   Don’t worry about what your background looks like or if it is the perfect angle on your face or even if there are kids or animals running across the camera. But with video at least you can read their face as you are having the conversation.  If it is truly not possible to have the video on, build in pauses and ask a lot of probing follow up questions (not just yes/no questions) to engage the person. Hopefully, then you can better identify any concerns…or know how excited they are from the good news that was shared!

Adjust development goals.  Most likely, the goals people had two months ago are not the same goals they should (or can) be working towards today. So take a step back and create new goals!  Start with monthly goals if it’s too hard to see out further in this uncertain world. This could be a great time to take an online course (a lot of places are offering discounts or moved their in-person events online) or do a stretch assignment to help a team that is underwater right now.  Don’t lose sight of checking in on these development goals. Consider extending your 1:1 time every other week or monthly to make sure you have the time to touch base on development specifically.

I realize the above is sometimes easier said than done but I’m here to help.  Reach out to me if you need help with a specific situation  I also layout a lot more tips and worksheets to help you prep for feedback and development conversations in my book, Setting the Stage.   Finally, earlier this year, I spoke with Ariana at Workplace Labs about similar development topics including reskilling, career pivots and the future of work (of course not the future we are seeing right now!).  Wherever you get the support, you just need to start by trying something to make sure you stay focused on development even during this unusual time.

How HR Can Use Agile Practices During Uncertain Times

Just on the brink of the COVD-19 outbreak in the US, I led a conversation with Hacking HR on the benefits of creating an agile workplace.  Little did I know at the time that just two weeks later I would be pushed beyond anything I had experienced before as an HR leader or even as a human.  As I was reflecting on that session, I realized the impact an agile workplace could have even in these most uncertain times. Below were three key areas that we discussed on the panel and how I think they could help a company be more prepared for something that is totally unfamiliar and unpredictable.

One note – I am using “agile” with a lower case “a”.  I am referring to it as a concept, not the official way of working that is part of Scrum.

An agile workstyle can help companies better adapt to change. The goal of working in an agile way is to be able to test, learn and adjust based on feedback or new information.  This is especially critical during a time of change. Being flexible and being able to adapt based on what is happening at that moment will help the team not be so resistant or slow to react to change.

HR can help companies make the shift to an agile way of working.  As with every aspect of culture and how a company works together, HR can help a company shift to work in a more agile way.  We can be the role model of the behavior. If we approach our projects with a plan to do user research, put together a trial or pilot group, get feedback to see the impact and then roll out more broadly.  Especially knowing that the work HR does has so many variables and our priorities can change within a week, working in a more nimble way will be more efficient. That will hopefully show the value of working in a more agile way to the rest of the organization.

An agile mindset can help the people at our organizations adapt to change.  The best way to help a team adapt is to build it into your values.  For example, at Ordergroove, one of our values is We Drive Results. More importantly, the definition of that value is about driving the outcome, and if we aren’t driving the outcome, being able to change course quickly.  That is part of the agile mindset. It’s already part of our DNA as a company even if we didn’t specifically plan it that way. Find pieces of your culture, mission, values that support an agile approach to working and leverage that as you help your company adapt to change.

I realize now may not be the time to make a big cultural shift with your team with all the other changes happening.  But if there are opportunities to support the above mindset even in small ways, it might help work through this change and set your team up for the next rollercoaster ride.
Bonus video, last fall I was on a different Hacking HR panel discussing how HR specifically can be more agile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrAvXl2l4BA&t=2s

Developing an Agile Mindset