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Understanding Employees: Tools And Tips For Engaging And Influencing

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Knowing how to engage remote workers, offer transparency, enable flexibility, encourage diversity and use your HR success to influence those in authority, were just some of the vast range of topics covered at our Disclose. Discuss. Discover. Vancouver event.

Find out how our panelists - Sarah Blackmore from Eventbase, Chris Yeh from Clio, and Alex Chapple from Thoughtexchange - tackled them below, and head back to our first blog in this two-part series to see what else they were quizzed on during the discussion.

Q. What flexible work arrangements do you have and what tools do you use to support them?

Alex: We have four offices throughout BC and 140 employees. Many of our employees don't work near an office, so we have a combination of people who are going to an office and people who are working remotely. So, how we’re going to make sure everybody feels heard and included is always top of our mind. Of course, we use Thoughtexchange to do that. We're also using things like Slack. We have what we call an agreement culture, which means you’re going to wholeheartedly support something after you have given it the due conversation that you need to and move forward as a team.

Bob: What about Your experiences of managing other flexible arrangements? So, job sharing or part-time, for example?

Sarah: My experiences in those areas are a little more tricky. Part-time can be tough. My background before I joined tech, was HR consulting, working for a really big multinational organization in that field. We did a really good job of offering opportunities like being able to job share and catering roles more specifically what people needed.

I've seen a lot less of that in tech, which I think is actually quite unfortunate. But, one of the ways I've seen it come up really well in tech is being able to understand that just because you have a job and you have a responsibility, you might still want to go and travel for three months. Being able to foster an environment where that actually becomes a reality without employees having to quit their job is a really nice place to exist. There isn't necessarily a tech tool that supports it, it's a mindset within an organization to acknowledge and support the fact that people have goals outside of the 40-hour workweek.

Chris: I would echo a lot of that. The main thing that we do right now is each individual arranges with their manager whether they need to be in the office and what actually works best for the department. So, we're pretty hands off in saying you have to be here and you have to do X, Y, and Z. That, for us, has worked quite well but I know we could be doing more around things like taking some sort of sabbatical, taking leave to really live a different life.

On the remote working side, what we have found important to our success is three things that we invested in. One was AV. Honestly, if you don't invest in AV, dialing into a meeting is a truly terrible experience for remote workers. So, investing in really good mics and really good AV means you can have great meetings.

Secondly, is when we have company-wide meetings, we arrange them during a time that different times zones can actually all dial-in without needing to be there too far outside of working hours.

The last is bringing everybody in the company to one location, once a year so we can actually all intermingle. That has been a game-changer for us in building our relationships.

Alex: It's also about just listening to what people need and want instead of imposing what we think people need and want. I had this beautiful moment this week where I was interviewing this awesome candidate for a role within the company and he said to me, "You know, I don't want to be presumptuous, but if I were to come and work for Thoughtexchange, would I be able to bring my baby in sometimes because I don't want to be away from my baby all the time and I want to share that responsibility with my wife." I stopped for a second, and then I was like, “Yes, yep, you can bring your baby.” It's about that opportunity to extend that flexibility to people for what they need so that you're getting the best from them.

Q. How do you strike a balance between offering employees transparency and safeguarding company secrets?

Sarah: We went through an exercise recently here at Eventbase where we launched a project around compensation. As a company of about 130, we’re not necessarily big enough and have not been around long enough to have very defined things like salary bands or job families and hierarchy, and we really wanted to get to a place where people understood how and why they were paid what they were paid.

There was a lot of discussion around whether we were going to allow access to the broad data around salary information and the short answer was, no. As someone that's worked in this field for quite some time, I'm used to working with compensation data and I know that context is king. But, if you're someone that is entry-level and you don't know what this data means or understand how you're going to benchmark yourself against your industry or the level of your role, it's very easy to misinterpret it.

One of the biggest things we decided to embark on with this project was starting by setting that context because transparency at that level is actually detrimental to where we needed to go and I think that was a really interesting learning curve. People were able to understand why we weren't just going to give them all the data.

Chris: Yeah, I would agree with all of that. One of our core values at Clio is ‘No Doors, Only Windows’. So, it's not a complete radical transparency where everything's completely open, but we had exactly the same kind of concerns that Sarah has. You're always going to miss the context, especially in this world where there's data everywhere. You can interpret anything however you like unless you actually spend some time investing in how you provide context around the new information.

Compensation is something that we're working towards increasing visibility in, once we're able to provide more education around it. Right now it's a raw data dump and no one will actually know how to make sense of it.

When it comes to organizational information, I'd say we lean actually quite a bit on the transparency side. All of our business intelligence and data around how we're performing as a business is attached to dashboards and accessible by every single employee in the company. So they can see how well the business is actually performing.

Alex: We're the same, Chris. Everybody has access and we provide departmental updates across the board. We are actually also all shareholders of the company, so that does change the amount that we're sharing. We share as much as we legally can. Somewhere we differ is that I'm the director of people but I negotiate nobody's salary or compensation with them. That is done directly with the team lead and I actually don't know what anybody other than somebody who reports directly to me makes in the organization. We really strongly believe that’s something that an employee should negotiate directly with the leader, which is the team lead there.

Q. How do you make women feel comfortable in a male-dominated industry?

Sarah: It's a catch 22. The thing about diversity is the other partner, which is inclusion. If you don't have inclusion, you can't encourage diversity and it's like putting the chicken before the egg. It's very difficult to have one without the other and I think there are so many people probably in our seats that really struggle with this.

I hate to gender-ize, but I think the one thing that we've been successful for is helping our men understand why this is hard and why it's also really important. I feel really grateful that I work with a group of people that understand why I talk about it all the time and put their hands up to help volunteer and fix it. This isn't just a women's issue. It becomes a company's issue and for us, that's how we see it.

Chris: We’ve taken a potentially controversial stance around this where inclusion is absolutely important, but part of being inclusive means that we actually need enough of a critical mass to see where things aren't working. So in our product organization, where we were about 12% female, we actually instituted quotas in terms as part of our big hiring push in product development of bringing in females to get us to a 25% female to male ratio.

In doing that, we will identify all the areas that aren't actually working and will be including females in the conversation. So, whether or not that will work will be really interesting and it is a bit of a controversial stance, but given the size of our organization, we believe that it's going to work.

Alex: I agree. We've taken a similar approach on certain roles and we will always hire the best person for the role but sometimes you're absolutely looking at an overall team and you realize you could use some other voices. Even if we look internally - how can we help create leaders out of the people that we have?

As opposed to always going out and looking for that star, maybe that star is already here.

Q. How do you influence those in authority?

Sarah: If I can understand where our CEO is coming from, what he is striving for, and I can reverse engineer that output into something I care about that he in-turn should care about and I can back it up with fact, there's no argument.

It stops becoming influencing, it just becomes presenting a business case. If I can put together a really robust case as to why something needs to happen that's going to better all of those people and enable and put them all in the right line, going in the right direction, I can implement anything I want.

Chris: Yeah. Extending exactly to that, it doesn't matter whether it's technology or an idea that you have that can actually accelerate the performance of the partner or individual, you have to understand what that department and what that part of the business is actually trying to do. What are their key metrics? What are they trying to succeed in? What does it mean for them to win and if you can shape your argument to actually map onto that and align and support them in that, they're obviously gonna try and listen to you.

Alex: Our CEO is focused on what it is that our employees are saying back to him through using our tool and through the face-to-face conversations that he has. So, it's less about the People Team putting forward a notion and trying to convince him and more about the results from Thoughtexchanges that demonstrate what people are interested in and our thinking around it. It's much easier for him to be bought in because it's not just our voice, it's everybody's voice.

For information on upcoming Disclose. Discuss. Discover. events and to see where we’ll be popping up next, check out our events page!

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