Today we’re hosting a guest post from a long-time friend and fellow HR practitioner. Jane Jaxon is the rockstar HR Director for a tech company in Boston. Learn more about her in the bio below the article. 

Zappos is my HR idol. I have posters on the wall, read articles about them in HR Beat, ask them to sign things – you know how these crushes go. I’m obsessed not because of their dreamy eyes or perfect coif, but because they are known world-wide for their happy employees (many of whom are in a call-center – no easy task!), clearly defined values (that they have the cojones to hire and fire by), and because they scaled culture without negatively impacting their bottom line (they still are the dominant player in their market).

I was lucky enough to tour their HQ in Las Vegas recently. They do Insights tours daily and quite literally open their doors on company culture. There were some obvious takeaways as to what makes them special – the perks, zany work environment, and tons of things they do to make work-life easier for employees – but I walked away thinking I finally get their special sauce. Hint: it isn’t what companies focus on poaching when trying to create a special culture, but it’s what they should focus on.

The Zappos secret

So what makes Zappos, Zappos? Employees really, truly feel comfortable being themselves. It’s not just a show they put on for the tour, it’s palpable. Zapponians dress in what makes them comfortable. Work stations are tailored entirely to their owner – be it a prim and proper organizational center or an ode the their favorite sports team or hobby. Work seems to be an extension of who each and every employee is as a person. Oh yeah, and their CEO is out there for everyone to run into, talk to, and approach with issues.

How can we, as HR professionals, allow and encourage employees to be themselves? It starts with the interview (maybe even before). Give candidates a chance to talk about what gets them excited outside of work … and genuinely care to hear the answer. It will let them know that they can be more than a contributor at your company – they can be a person. Boy does that make a difference!

It also comes from the top. Is the leadership team opening up and sharing a bit about who they are as people with your employees? Is your CEO accessible and open with employees? Do you celebrate your employees as people instead of just as contributors? The answers to all of the above should be a resounding yes.

Aspiring to be like Zappos is a challenge, but I’m convinced that there is a business reason to try. Recruiting gets easier through referrals and word of mouth. Happy, engaged employees will work harder, be invested in the company’s success and stick around much longer. And coming to work doesn’t feel like, well, work. Who wouldn’t want that?

About the author: Jane Jaxon is the HR Director of a high-growth tech company in Boston where she gets to focus on building a great workplace and scaling people operations. Jane’s favorite buzzwords of the trade are eNPS, talent density and (of course) people operations. She likes neither pina colada’s nor getting caught in the rain, but sure loves marathoning critically-acclaimed tv series, reading in the sun, plotting her fantasy football world domination and, lastly, keeping a stealthy social media presence. Find her on LinkedIn.

Approximately half of your employees think you’re not being open and upfront with them, according to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association. In an environment where mistrust abounds, how can we operate our businesses in a way that rises above these troubling issues?

How HR can help

One activity that human resources has always been fond of is policy creation. There is a time when policy formulation needs to occur, but it also needs to take into account common sense and organizational culture. It all comes back to trust — do you trust your people to do great work, treat customers well, and support their team?

Too often we build policies with the minority in mind. Instead of creating rules around the 5% of people who will abuse our trust, we need to start looking at the 95% of people who will be inspired by our trust.

Give your people trust and autonomy and they will reward you with engagement. Withhold trust from your people and they will withhold trust from others, creating a downward spiral of negative, toxic behaviors.

Building a Culture of Trust

Recently I was listening to a story about an organization that put the principles above into practice. The leadership focused on giving the employees freedom to do their work, and the employees responded with new ideas, additional effort, and a sense of ownership over the business results.

That, my friends, is a culture of trust.

Employees need to see these characteristics displayed by everyone in the organization, but this especially applies to members of the leadership team. Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.

I know what you’re thinking–what happens if we have someone who abuses that trust? Let’s look at one of the best ways to correct that issue.

Empowering employees

Developing an intentional culture of trust is similar to gardening. When weeds begin to flourish, the answer is not to wipe out all nearby vegetation. The solution is careful weeding to take care of the specific offenders.

A few years ago I was at an event listening to the speaker talk about what had led to his organization being named on a local “best company” list for several years in a row. He said something to start his presentation that I will never forget.

You don’t create a “Best Place to Work,” you defend it.

That was such a powerful statement. You can develop a workplace that people really want to join, but in order to have a noteworthy organization for the long term you need to create a mindset that it is everyone’s job to protect the culture from harm. A great way to make that happen is by enabling employees to seek out those “weeds” and apply pressure to either get in line or get out. You should find willing participants, especially if the current employees have already begun reaping the benefits of a culture of trust (greater autonomy, less micromanagement, etc.) Here’s a hint: if your employees are willing to fight for you, then you’re probably on the right track.

Instead of managers or HR having that role tacked onto their list of duties, make it the job of every single employee to ensure that a culture of trust prevails. Together, we can fight the mistrust that has invaded our work environments and spread a powerful culture of trust.

Originally published here

Today we’re honored to have a guest post from a long-time friend and fellow HR practitioner. Jane Jaxon is the rockstar HR Director for a tech company in Boston. Learn more about her in the bio below the article. 

Building a caring work environment and increasing talent density: compatible or mutually exclusive?

If you’re reading this entry for an answer, skip ahead to the comments section, because you definitely won’t find it here. The question is of critical importance to where we are as a company and I’m actively debating it in my quieter moments. People – their collective personality and their performance – are our differentiator in a tough tech market.

caring work environment

Is building a supportive environment a goal of your organization?

A little background: our company culture is built on integrity, ownership, simplicity, service and balance. We’ve strictly held to our core values in hiring decisions, resulting in a place that people enjoy working because they get to work with intelligent, driven and truly amazing people they care about. Our people also know that HR, the Leadership team and our co-founders care about them on a personal level, which is both a key to retention and to recruitment.

But to build a successful company that scales, we need the most talented team possible. Talent attracts and retains talent and builds a better product. There’s the idea that winning teams succeed because they have the best players on their team. Successful sports teams cut fan favorites to upgrade their roster and aren’t slow to trade away players when underperforming. It’s all understood as part of the business of winning. But it also feels very impersonal and at odds with the familial culture we’ve built.

Is there a happy medium? Can a company truly care about its employees while remaining committed to increasing the level of “A-players” on the team? How does one handle the model employee that just isn’t up to the task at hand?

As I shared, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think it’s possible for a company to toe the line by investing in “coaching up” struggling employees, being clear about expectations and where the gaps are, and making a genuine effort to get people to where they need to be. To be sure, this requires a genuine commitment from the top of the organization and far more effort than any alternative, but I think it can and should be done.

There will always be cases where things just don’t work out. Treat departing employees with dignity, respect and honesty. Ask yourself, “Does this feel right?” Others in the organization will know if you gave the departing team member a fair shake to keep their job, and will take note of how you treated them on the way out. If you can navigate this maze, I think you can have both talent density and a caring corporate culture. Who knows what success awaits from that point forward?

About the author: Jane Jaxon is the HR Director of a high-growth tech company in Boston where she gets to focus on building a great workplace and scaling people operations. Jane’s favorite buzzwords of the trade are eNPS, talent density and (of course) people operations. She likes neither pina colada’s nor getting caught in the rain, but sure loves marathoning critically-acclaimed tv series, reading in the sun, plotting her fantasy football world domination and, lastly, keeping a stealthy social media presence. Find her on LinkedIn.

Decision making isn’t always a process of identifying and communicating facts. There’s often an underlying foundation of history, preferences, and other elements that add a layer to the decision making process. Recently I talked about how even something as seemingly simple as a policy decision can be affected by the organization’s culture.

culture policy decisionThe corporate culture influences the determination from the initial consideration through to the final steps of implementation. Over at the Brandon Hall Group blog, we’ll look at some of those underlying factors and how you can leverage them to make policy decisions stick.

Check out Culture Drives Policy Implementation at Human Resources Today to learn more

I talk about corporate culture often. Very often, in fact. You can tell what people value by what they talk about most often, so it’s no surprise that I believe a solid culture is one of the key ways to differentiate your organization.

But there’s a problem with that. See, you have to know what it means when you talk about this “culture” thing. If a new hire comes in, how do you explain it to them? If someone is not fitting the culture and needs to move on, how do you explain the invisible requirements they are not satisfying?

 

It’s time to take a few moments to articulate your culture. Define, in concrete terms, what it really looks like. Whether it’s through legends, core values, or something else. I was recently hiring for an opening, and I wanted to put together my “service philosophy,” but it’s also a good peek at what the culture is like and what we expect from our people. Here are a few of those key pieces:

  • Find ways to say “yes” as often as possible
  • No job is too small or insignificant
  • The better we treat our staff, the better they treat our customers
  • Talk about the “why” of what you do as often as the “what”
  • Everyone should know what winning looks like

Those are just a few of the concepts, but it gives you an idea of what I mean. If more people took the time to explain these sorts of things, there would be fewer poor hires and thus fewer unhappy/disengaged staff.

Have you ever taken the time to articulate your culture in real terms? What sort of information did you share? What would your bullet points look like?

Event planning? Really? I thought HR was supposed to give up the “party planner” role in the move to strategic partner… Well, let’s hear what the indubitable Sue Meisinger has to say about that:

Open Communication Spurs Innovation

Meisinger then pointed to employee social events as an opportunity to tear down boundaries that many HR professionals seem to miss. She asked the audience to raise their hand if they resented the fact that their organization expected them to organize social events, such as holiday parties and corporate picnics. Dozens of hands shot up in the audience.

“Excuse me while I go on a rant here. You’re looking at this from the wrong perspective, and you shouldn’t resent this opportunity and instead embrace it,” she said. “You need to look at these employee events as strategic opportunities to open communication channels.”

In social settings, people talk and get to know each other, and HR’s role should be to help encourage that interaction and promote the culture where people talk to people, she added.

“Is it more likely that someone from accounting will return a call or consider a suggestion from someone in publications that they barely know, or is it likely that they will listen and pay attention to someone whom they remember meeting and sharing a good time?” Meisinger asked. “HR’s role is to ensure clarity and the organization’s efforts to develop and maintain a culture that encourages and celebrates innovation.” Source: SHRM

Bringing it home

I am the events team lead at work. To be totally honest, I’m not very good at the details part of the event planning. It’s just not an area that I am strong in.

However, I do put effort into determining what events support the culture we want to develop and how to use the events as a way to link diverse groups of employees. There is no substitute for the conversations and camaraderie that develop as a result of the events we have for our staff.

Another element is seeing our senior leaders participating in these events alongside our staff. That opportunity to interact on a personal level increases the trust in our leadership.

So, say what you will, but I’m going to keep putting the effort into developing events that our staff enjoy, because that is one of the things that makes our culture what it is. What are your thoughts on the topic?

Less than a week ago we wrapped up the interviewing process for a new hire at our local office. After reviewing dozens of candidates, talking with half a dozen, and bringing a few back for another round, we settled on the one who we thought was the best fit for the position.

We work hard to provide a solid first round interview to verify skills/abilities and general fit. It’s very much a “standard” interview.

The second interview has a very different feel. We bring the person in, let them talk with their potential future coworkers, and leave them alone. Before the second round, I tell both parties (the peers and the candidate) that it’s their chance to interview their future teammate. I want both parties to be invested in the success of the interview, and I also want them to honestly ask themselves the question, “Would I really want to work with this person?”

Recently I had the opportunity to do a short podcast interview with Tim Muma of LocalJobNetwork. I talked a lot about asking good interview questions, how to research culture as a candidate, etc. I think there’s some good stuff in there, especially for the job seekers out there. If you know someone looking for work, feel free to share the link with them!

Click here to listen to the podcast