Faces of HR

As You Iterate, Don’t Leave Great Employees Behind

Mindy was recently a guest on HR Works 5-Minute Friday. Have a listen here.

Companies change at a breakneck pace. Concepts like failing fast and being agile are being espoused by more organizations than ever, and for good reason. That type of thinking is how organizations can grapple with the ever-changing landscape of their industry. But make sure that when you adapt, you don’t accidentally leave employees behind. The job they signed up for, that they are experienced in, might change too quickly for them to keep up, and then they’ll start leaving or getting let go. Today’s guest helps discuss this complex but important issue.

Meet Mindy Honcoop, Chief People Officer at TCP Software.

Sometimes I think organizations reach a certain size where they are at risk of being too big to have the kinds of hands-on approach with their employees to maintain a healthy culture. What are your thoughts?

How do we get back to that? You need to keep those engaged cultures in which people feel seen, valued, and heard. All that sounds really simple, but it’s not. It’s so important because creativity and innovation is where we truly remain a change maker within the marketplace, that’s how we drive value for our customers, or buyers, or consumers; we create that change with constant habit loops. They have so many choices, they can go purchase something from someone else, but why do they keep coming back to us? Usually because we have great employees who care about what they think, and then they want to drive greater value and constantly innovate because they have the ability and the environment in which to do that. That then drives greater value for our customers, and they come back.

When we start to lose that drive, our really great employees go find somewhere else to go do that. Then you’re left with people who are just waiting for the weekend and things shut down. It’s so sad and they’ve lost a sense—most often when I was in social work and people kind of shut down—they lose a sense of self. They lose a sense of how they value in the world, and it shows up not just in the workplace.

Yeah, everywhere.

That’s what got me excited and continues to get me excited, to try and think about how we and HR really think about our employees as customers, how are we thinking about how we drive value for them, and how are we keeping them and our managers engaged so that we as a company are successful. And that keeps the board or private equity firm, or what have you, very happy because we are staying relevant and ahead, because our employee base mirrors our customers. We’ve been able to maintain that diversity and thought and stay on top, and that’s optimizing. People think you can cut corners and you can’t; there’s something that’s lost with that. Those are the companies that just become like everyone else. They are forgotten because they don’t stand out.

Absolutely. I think that we could probably benefit from having passionate people-facing HR folks on boards, because when you start looking at organizations and you look at where the humanity comes from, it tends to be from HR. Sometimes it’s at the CEO level. But in my experience, you’re probably not going to see it at the board level.

Yeah.

And then there’s the severe lack of diversity at the board level, too.

It is a real problem. I love that you bring that up. That’s actually one of my future goals, to start to think about being on a board, being able to start to work on how do we start to change that narrative at the board level? Because often they’re the final decision makers.

Yeah.

How do we start to get change within that level of leadership within our boards? Because you’re right. They are very singular in how they speak, act, and look.

And short of being on boards, how do you influence top leaders? How do we let them know that just because something is working does not mean it can’t be done better?

It’s interesting. How do we start to change that narrative? What are the baby steps that we can take? Some of the things that I’ve been working with is how can we present the data, because data speaks to them. How we share our data, how can we start to change the story? How can we add to the story? How can we show data, such as employee well-being, of which there’s a lot of different data points you can use.

One of the things I found during this time was that employees simply were not taking time off because they were at home, right? It’s really important to take a look and see where and how are people not taking time? It’s not just about vacation. It’s about mental health breaks or taking a step back. So often when I go and just take a day, just for a mental refresh, I come back with renewed energy and new ideas. I’ve experienced something that actually made me think about something in a different way. What happens is we were able to show on one page the team’s productivity, their KPIs, and customer satisfaction scores. We showed that along with their employee well-being, whether that’s even as simple as how much time they have or have not taken off, and really been able to de-stigmatize vacation, or employee well-being and showing how that has played a part in the productivity of the team. There could be places where teams that are taking time off have better customer satisfaction scores, because they’re happier employees.

It’s interesting that a lot of organizations who have made the move toward unlimited PTO or, in some cases, just unlimited time off. And they’ve taken the onus of responsibility for telling someone how much they deserve and put it on the overworked, highly driven, and self-motivated people that make all of this possible, who are of course going to not take advantage of it as much as they should, because that’s not how we’re built. You’re told that your value is directly connected to your means of production. And if you’re not producing, then you’re just sort of a loafer.

Right. And when it’s not transparent, how do you feel comfortable as an employee talking with your manager about taking time and depending on the company culture? Because it’s very different depending on the company. What I have seen is that when it’s not being managed, if it’s not being held accountable, if there’s nothing to track, then it’s not going to happen. Give me some good managers that really care about people, that get it, that just naturally do it, but it’s not part of their strategic mindset of managing to the T.

But if it was something that was on their daily report or monthly readout to the executive team or to a board, where they’re not just talking about productivity, but they’re also talking about the health of their team. Wow. If it’s something that’s just a part of our normal discussion, the way it happens and what could we unlock if we change the narrative on that. That’s a changer. I heard often with vacation the joke, “Oh, so-and-so’s taking vacation.” In some ways, that’s a microaggression. That’s just re-stigmatizing that as, “Oh, we shouldn’t take it because we don’t want to be the joke while we’re out.” So how do we build an environment in which we can talk about it in a safe way?

Another thing is for employees who need to cover their work before they go on vacation, they have to do twice as much just to take time off. They get extra burnt out before they go on vacation. So if you send them out the door burnt out and upset, odds are that they’re probably going to take some time to address that.

Not surprising, Jim, with what we’re talking about where people weren’t taking time, because they often feel that time is vacation, right? We need to be able to talk about the value of well-being for employees that are taking time. If we are able to provide you the resources you need to just take a walk or do some self-care the day or two before you are taking time, it helps. It addresses the energy that you need, that you bring to the team, and the overall health of the team. I love to see that in some teams we have, which is great because we’re talking about it in advance. We’re making sure that everyone has coverage, that we have cross-functional knowledge so that nothing ever happens with one versus another, nothing relies on just one person.

We’re strategically thinking through the year and planning and balancing out the schedules and being able to talk to that. It’s a part of something that I do as a part of my normal one-on-one talks and being able to see within the people team now; we’re looking for them to be with their families. It creates greater connection to the company and even in value and loyalty and such greater ideas because they care. They’re like, “If the company cares about me, I care about the end result.”

It’s interesting to see how a team unlocks when they feel cared about, and then just a level of ideas and brainstorming and collaboration that you see. I felt like when I came in, the previous leader didn’t care about those things and people were halfway out the door, they were burnt out, they were wanting something different.

And then you come in and you have a different conversation where someone actually cares about what I think, someone actually cares about my whole being and being able to see the change and the light bulbs go on. The narrative of them and their families was so different. Now it’s an engaged team. It’s exciting, but how do we make sure that’s happening everywhere? That’s what I want to try and change and what I want to hope to do. And we’re just talking about one simple little piece, which is time off. There’s so much more around that, but I guess that’s what gets me fired up and start talking out loud.

In my experience, what’s really a successful company is the respect and trust of your employees.

Absolutely.

I think organizations need to take a look at every process that they have where the organization interacts with their people. The first step is to ask, “How do we do what we’re doing in a respectful way that builds trust with our employees?” Because if you’re just solving this little thing, because you heard it on a podcast or read it in an article, it won’t work. It’s only one little part. As is so often the case, the approach toward grappling an issue like this is one that has to be very holistic.

Right. And if you’re only looking for problems, then you’re going to become very blind. You’re putting up blinders, you’re not seeing the whole thing. You’re not seeing the whole story. How did we get here? You hired a great person that you were excited about, where along that path did that change? If you keep it with the whole mindset, it could be that the person has been with the company for three to four years, and you as a manager didn’t keep a good understanding of what the focus of the company was, or the company lost the ability to understand, what is our mission and vision? We were not articulating, in an aligned way, what we should be focused on. We lost track of that as we grew. Then as a manager, you’re lost trying to create that sense of alignment for your people.

But if everyone’s disconnected and there’s no alignment, then how do you know what success is? How do you manage to success? And if the needs of the company have evolved and you haven’t been managing that person to be able to keep up with the speed of change, their role probably is something completely different than what they were hired for. They no longer have the skills and capabilities. It’s probably outgrown that, and now it’s not the person that’s the problem; it’s that unfortunately, they’re just not a fit anymore for that role. That means we missed out on an opportunity to grow them because they didn’t know what success looked like. Maybe given the opportunity with that person, because maybe they wouldn’t have wanted to be in that job anymore. Maybe that’s not what they’re passionate about. And they could have made a different decision.

Very true. As organizations become more agile and as they fail fast, it can very easily overlook the individual requirements of the employees.

When things are changing, how do we make sure that we’re all sending consistent signals? Because the moment we don’t have a consistent signal when there’s any type of deviation, that’s when we have not met the expectations that we’ve set and that’s where trust decays. Because the behavior is not aligned with expectations, and it takes them a moment to break trust and years to build it.

It really does. And then you can see if it’s not consistently rolled out, conflicts arise between teams. Others will notice when one team gets individual attention. You might accidentally create the illusion that one team has it easy, or is getting more opportunity. And if you’re not giving people the metrics by which they succeed, like you say, they’re going to start looking around at other people, how do they succeed? So that inconsistency could really cost you in a lot of ways.

Yeah. How do we have the right tools in place to be able to actually be able to hear back, what’s that feedback loop, right? So many companies are dictating to the employees and then putting all these things in place to just check a box, saying, “Oh yeah, I did that.” But where is the ability to solicit feedback from your internal customer? Where’s the opportunity for them to tell what is, and isn’t, working? We hired smart people, they probably have some really great ideas. Have we been able to open up those channels for them to feedback into? For us to be able to hear from them and then iterate and then take those things that we’re doing and really making sure they’re meeting the needs of our population. And that we’re actually driving toward something that ultimately adds value, not just internally, but externally.