In our last posts, we shared the hidden opportunities within the Great Resignation and advice from culture expert Bob Gower on building cultures that survive the talent churn. In our most recent webinar, we brought together real leaders to share their greatest tips for seizing this moment to create the strongest, most productive teams — and the most loyal employees.
A level playing field
With the Great Resignation, there’s a new power dynamic in town. Employees are re-prioritizing, looking to new careers and internal mobility to help them grow and find meaning. As you get used to this new landscape, there are many benefits to be received — not only for workers, but for the companies they serve.
Our own Catie Brand, VP & GM of Employer Solutions at General Assembly, sat down with 5 culture experts, with expertise ranging from high-functioning tech teams to driving talent through digital transformation, to hear how they’re building strong teams in this new landscape. The new work world thrives on authenticity, trust, and mutual investment, they said, and they have some tips for making the most of it.
Your toolkit for creating businesses where employees stay
#1: Create space for your own self-evolution
The new normal of meaningful, flexible work requires that everyone bring self-awareness and emotional intelligence to the table. And while our experts agreed that some amount of EQ is naturally-given, much of the work of growth takes active self-reflection that everyone can do.
Christina Vidaic, Senior Manager of People Strategy at hiring marketplace Hired, emphasized that in today’s work, “It’s about self-awareness. How do you operate under stress? What makes you tick? And the same thing for your team.” Creating open dialogue about these different styles can transform not only your own ability to collaborate and work smarter, but the way your whole team functions.
Kimberly Graham, Director of AI Transformation at Sage, a top cloud financial management software company, recommended sessions that proactively encourage reflection and sharing, citing a positive intelligence workshop that transformed her team’s collaboration: “We identified our saboteurs” – those colleagues whose opposite work styles felt detrimental to their own – and paired together to openly discuss their different ways of working.
“Not only did it help me understand the other work styles and personality traits that I’m working with, but it helped them to see me as well,” Graham said. This has had incredible results: “Some of these people [with] completely opposite work styles from me before are some of my closest working relationships now because we see the complement.”
Graham recommended approaching this work from many sides, from running surveys on job satisfaction, temperament, mental health awareness and support to creating opportunities for remote coaching and remote pod sessions. “We’re pushing our employees to become more daring and experimental, to fail fast and learn.”
Bob Gower, author and leadership consultant, agreed that any method of driving self-awareness and evolution will help: “It’s not so much what the typology is but that you’re creating the opportunity for conversation.”
#2: Build systems to weed out the bad apples
Clear processes are critical because for leaders, this is easier said than done. Marilyn McDonald, Senior Vice President of Customer Interoperability at MasterCard, flagged that toxic culture review requires a lot of self-reflection and honesty from leaders. “Companies try to set values but there is always an exception,” she said. “You have to look at the company based on the most egregious example, because that’s the norm — that’s what the company will tolerate.”
Gower flagged that this can be tricky. “What you find with toxic characters is that they’re very charismatic at managing up — so their bosses think they’re great. They’re managing up and bullying down.”
The key to success is building structures to understand the other sides of the story. At Hired, Christina Vidaic does quarterly engagement surveys to understand how employees are feeling about their managers and the work they’re doing, and overall mental health. McDonald suggested skip-levels, randomly-generated coffee chats, and open-feedback mechanisms that allow employees to not only speak up for themselves but for each other: it’s easier to say “I saw this happen to someone else” than “this happens to me”.
Once you identify the bad behavior, be proactive about weeding it out. “The metaphor is the bad apple spoils the bushel, not a bad apple is just a bad apple that we should ignore,” Gower said.
#3: Lean into career mobility to fill your most important roles
The answers to your talent shortage are right in front of you. “We all have hiring gaps, we’re all scrambling to fill those gaps,” McDonald empathized, but skill gaps can be overcome with motivation: “We have employees who want to transition up.” The solution? “Take the people in the building who are already invested in you and help them build into the open roles, which is a wonderful investment in both them and in the company.“
Christina Vidiac noted that our new digital working world has helped more talent raise their hands: “Remote hiring has brought forth talent that we probably wouldn’t have had access to in the past.” Kimberly Graham agreed: “From an upskilling and reskilling perspective, it really has changed in the last couple years.” Programs like Sage’s customized AI upskilling and data science bootcamps with General Assembly, originally geared only to those who are involved in directly-applicable projects, have generated much broader interest. “We need to help create a tidal wave of excitement and interest and engagement so that it becomes more of a movement.”
At MasterCard, McDonald has found that being intentional about reskilling and upskilling delivers outsized benefits, both for keeping and growing employees. “It’s so much easier to help people achieve their career goals within a company.” McDonald urged leaders to think not just about loyalty from workers to the business, but a dual commitment to each other, because growth is critical to retention. “People don’t stay at boring [jobs] anymore.”
#4: Celebrate proactivity as a measure of productivity
The old proxies for productivity don’t work anymore. “Often we’ve used “time in chair” or “time in office” as a proxy for productivity,” Gower said, and many orgs want to do the same with time-on-screen, when they should really figure out impact. “We should measure people based on what they are contributing to the job.”
One major way for an employee to contribute is to invest in their skill growth at work. In Graham’s experience, these are the employees that shine and provide the most value over time: “In one of our cohorts with GA, Data Science, somebody begged me to get in. He was working on something that was almost a legacy product — and he was one of the stars of the program. He was the only person that remained when we sunset that product and it was because he raised his hand for that bootcamp.”
Graham has lots more examples where that came from. “A brilliant young woman in the UK told her boss about something I said and he inspired her to reach out, and I’m her informal mentor now,” she shared. In this day and age, that proactive action-taking is what helps turn workers into stars. “It’s a matter of people understanding what they want out of the job…and then making that happen.”
#5: Make trust your secret weapon
The final key to retention today? “Trust,” Gower said. “The organization needs to trust the individual; the individual needs to trust the organization.”
In her experience creating healthy cultures, Vidiac agrees. “Transparency and communication is the biggest thing. If employees feel like they can trust their leaders, they will always be inclined to stay.” She recommends building trust through a variety of means, from surveys and town halls to more personal coffee chats.
Trust must be developed over time. But if you need help, McDonald has a formula to help you stay on track. “There’s a math formula for trust,” she says: Trust = ( Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy ) / Self-Orientation. Whenever team challenges come up, she references this equation to identify the breakdown.
Gower agreed, sharing that employees are subconsciously asking themselves two questions: ”One, can this person deliver on their promise? Do they have the capability and authority? And two, do they care about me as a human?”
Caring can be subtle and unconscious, but you can take tangible steps to demonstrate it through investing in employees as individuals: “Caring can be demonstrated with reskilling,” for example, Gower said. It also helps to create high-context relationships through workshops and personal connections.
A better working world for all
With its new foundation of self-reflection, communication and respect, the new power dynamic of work is nothing to fear. In fact, it’s one where you can embrace and fully-recognize talent of all kinds. Brand flags that for ambitious learners and career-changers, they bring to the table the “soft skills” that help teams thrive in this landscape: “Empathy, hunger and ambition make a big difference for the success of their jobs and desire to stay.”
As you lean in to authenticity, trust, and mutual investment within your organization, you will create stronger, more productive teams — and more loyal employees — for years to come.
If you’re interested in learning about how GA has helped leaders build positive cultures through upskilling and reskilling, get in touch.