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503 – Tactics for Overwhelmed HR | Panel Discussion

May 21, 2020 | 00:00

00:00 00:00

Episode Description

This week we are leaning into the topic of how to lead with empathy and transparency with some of the tactical insights. On the panel, we’re featuring Adam Weber, Emplify’s Chief People Officer and Co-Founder, Christine Kaszubski, Chief People Officer at SalesLoft, and John Grover Chief People Officer at Endsight.

While there is no handbook for the times we are in, these seasoned people leaders share their experiences and examples to help you navigate. The conversation shared in this episode was recorded live. If there’s anything you’re learning or looking to understand more please reach out to us at

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Episode Transcription

Nicole [00:00:03] Welcome back to Insights on Emplify Original. I'm Nicole McLean, bringing you insights to empower executives, H.R. professionals, managers and leaders of all kinds with best in class information to help your employees unlock their true potential. This week, we are leaning into the topic of how to lead with empathy and transparency with some of the tactical how tos. I am thrilled to have three guests with us. Back again is Adam Weber, our own chief people officer and co-founder at Emplify, Christine Kozlowski, the chief people officer at SalesLoft, and John Grover, chief people officer at EndSight. While there is no handbook for the times that we're in, these seasoned people, leaders share their experiences and examples to help you navigate. Now, before we jump into the content, just a quick reminder that while there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we are all still going through a lot and it's a lot to process. So I just want to encourage you to take care of yourselves so that you can take care of your people. Now, to kick off the conversation, I asked John to share ways we can find the balance between transparency and empathy.

John Grover [00:01:15] So we've been going through this right now at Incyte through this created some first principles first around transparency. The first principle is straight talk early and often, even when it's hard news, especially when it's hard news, avoid spin. Right. As we were heard and we talk about difficult things, there's a tendency to want to get into spin mode and then to soften the message. But people are especially attuned to spin. So it's it's better to be transparent and open and honest. Number two, explain the why. This isn't easy stuff. These are people that have chosen to follow us and hitch their wagon to our companies. And we owe them explanations. So they need to be candid and honest and truthful. They deserve to know the why behind these hard decisions. We're gonna have to make now, some people still won't agree with our decisions. Number three, this is a bit of tagging on with what Adam just kind of alluded to, and that's that. Manage your own burnout to be transparent, open and honest. It's stressful and it feels bad. So if you're having trouble, find yourself a fellow leader, a colleague. You can talk it out, make sure that others know that they can reach out to you for support. We don't have to do all this stuff alone as leaders. Quick word about empathy. Empathy does not mean sugar coating. Hard stuff doesn't even mean you agree with people. All right. Empathy is simply understanding the emotional state of another person and communicating that you understand their emotional state. This is where active listening play and stuff back to people. This is where this comes in. The mistake I see a lot of people making when we're trying to be empathetic is that they try to mix in their own stories to achieve some common ground. They say things like I've had a lot of sleepless nights over this stuff. It's been really hard for us. Just some first principles around transparency and empathy. There's no easy answers.

Nicole [00:03:20] Adam, Christine, is there anything that you would add that to build off of that?

Christine [00:03:24] Is is that another way to think about it? Is it if you don't tell the truth, people will make up their own truth. And in this time, people look to us as the North Star. Some others have compared it to the flight attendant. So if you're not disturbed by the turbulence, then there's nothing else to be concerned about during the flight. We need to be transparent and honest about the path around. There is no handbook or this in particular for H.R. professionals as we navigate this every day and we have to make sure that we are speaking the truth to the best of our ability.

Nicole [00:03:59] Transitioning a little bit, too, if someone actually contracts or someone or family contracts or even just the anxiety around this global pandemic. Christine, could you maybe share how you guys are supporting employees and their families?

Christine [00:04:17] So when we think about this situation, there is so much that is unknown and unknown equates to fear. And so we have to navigate that situation not just for our employees and their families, but then for our organization as a whole. So we're very lucky that so far we have not had an employee that has tested positive. We have had family members that have. And so we have continued to build off of our culture and our approach that we would do for other situations. In that instance. So as an example, you know, we have unlimited PTO and we want to continue to support the families and through whatever specific needs that that might be. And we have a legal obligation as H.R. professionals under the Privacy Act in order to make sure that we're maintaining their confidentiality. Explaining that to our organization is essential because of that fear that we talked about initially. We need to understand and as John mentioned, about explaining the why we have to explain the why around. We do not disclose names. We don't disclose, you know, what department they're in. And in those type of situations, we will communicate the exposure risk. But we will not communicate that. And I think that that's also very important for organizations to understand why we do it that way. And then, of course, now that we have the family first initiatives and everything else that goes along with that, there's new regulations that are literally seem to be coming out all the time. We have that legal obligation as professionals in order to make sure that we are staying on top of what that is so that we can best support not just our individuals and our employees, but also our organizations as strategic business partners.

Nicole [00:05:55] So I know the Family First Act in a lot of legislation has been coming out recently, but I know Amplify has in a moment a PPO policy of like Salesforce does as well. Do you have any recommendations for companies that maybe don't have an unlimited sick day PPO, whatever you would call it, how to maybe think about what that policy is and how to lead empathetically while still making sure that the business is getting run effectively. And Adam Jon, if you have any thoughts on that as well.

Christine [00:06:23] I would lead with these are unprecedented times. This is a situation that is global. It is affecting such a large percentage of the population. And I do not feel that if you if a company has the ability to not have to apply their everyday business practices and can make exception that this is the time to do it, we need to absolutely think about the situation differently than anything that we have faced before.

Adam Weber [00:06:52] I do just think being flexible right now is key as business. It's not business as usual. We've created a document that is like our source of truth where we are constantly updating whether it's the legislative or latest information on where it is kind of our single source of truth. And so in different environments, something like that might work where your employees have a place to reference. Things seem to be changing. Like every you know, that document gets updated about every 48 hours probably right now.

John Grover [00:07:20] I want to share with you a quick story. So a couple days ago, I started getting blown up with questions about the essential business letters. So we're in I.T. support company and we're we're considered an essential business. So we're allowed to be out and about. So there was a rumor going around that police were starting to pull people over and looking into it, you know, like asking them for their papers and all this sort of stuff. And our team member, our employee put that stuff out on teams channels. And so I call I call the person and just reminded him specifically, hey, come come see me with this stuff. We really need to be careful individually about spreading untruths or fear and panic and in most people's hearts are in the right place. So we just have to be extra diligent as leaders for sure. And then also reminding everybody that we're around to be to be cautious and make sure and speak from a place of verification.

Christine [00:08:26] We have an obligation to share facts, not fear.

Nicole [00:08:29] Really quickly, we did have a question comment for Christine, but anyone land? How is an unlimited PPO policy financially sustainable for a long term crisis?

Christine [00:08:40] So we are on limited PTO policy. We do have guidelines around when an illness occurs. So anytime they employee needs to be offered more than five days, typically that would then fall under short term disability, usually doctors. That's the kind of thing. This is a situation where we are trying to be as flexible as possible in order to sustain the business need as well as be flexible to an employee's need. So that is where we are looking at individual circumstances as they as they come up. Again, we have not had a direct employee that has had taken ill, but we did provide flexibility for individuals that had family members. And again, you have to remember, if a family member or a loved one is in the hospital, that person is in quarantine. So the emotional toll that it takes on an individual that cannot be there to support their loved one is real. And so that's another one of these idiosyncrasies and these components about this particular situation that we need to take into account.

Nicole [00:09:44] Speaking of flexibility, I want you to listen to how to support parents that are now working remote. Can you share just maybe some examples of what's worked for you personally or stories that you have in your employees and how they're kind of balancing that work life, parental need or personal need if a family member?

Adam Weber [00:10:03] A couple of things. You know, one is we tast. So we took our office administrative staff who now has a little bit more open bandwidth than they would have had previously. And we really sent them about doing research and coming up with creative activities and advice and ways to support parents who are working from home. So that's like the one tactical thing that we're doing. But I will say, like the bigger thing behind this is the communication that exists in that relationship between the employee and the manager and making sure that managers do have a level of empathy and understanding on what it is like to work. My my wife owns a business as well, and we have to attend an eleven year old. We're in the middle of this. There are people, though, who have babies and 2 year olds and 3 year olds that are demanding lots and lots of attention. One of the things that we're really leading on is for a manager to make sure that the two people are just having honest conversations about their situation and and mutually aligning on the outcomes that are reasonable. I think that key is the outcomes we're switching out of this hourly based. Are you? How many hours are you working at? More like what are the outcomes that are reasonable to expect based on your current situation? Why this is challenging in some environments is that there are a lot of managers out there who have not fostered psychological safety in their relationships with their direct reports. And it's. This is a time where you have to have a truly safe environment. So I would challenge managers to make sure that you are creating an open and inviting environment for your team to be real about illnesses they're facing right now, about what it's like, whether it's it can be slow Internet, it could be the children like there's all sorts of variables right now that are at play. And then the last one, I'll say just more of a humorous example. I got a call from one of our directors who has a two year old baby and that she is newly a director. Just can't. I have no idea how to do this. You know, kids are really clingy. And we started brainstorming and she started walking out the front door pretending like she was going to work and then sneaking in the back door so she could have a couple hours to work while her husband watched the kids. That's the reality is we're all kind of scrambling right now, trying to get creative with solutions to help solve this.

Christine [00:12:17] Yeah, a big significant portion of our population have our young families and they both are both working parents as well. And so we created a kid loft or slack channel in addition to our work from home success slack channel in order to share best practices. We are trying to really get creative and there's virtual babysitters that are now available online and we are sharing talents of our laughter. So the laughter wants to run a do a music session with other laughters kids or do an arts session and then film that and then send it out, providing additional resources for our work from home families. We're trying to do that. All that can be said is I'm just gonna support Adam's comment about flexibility is key. This is absolutely not business as usual. A lot of my dual working families are like putting morning and afternoon. Some are getting on super early summer working late. You just have to be flexible and understanding kids going to walk through a webinar. I mean, it's just it's gonna happen. And at the end of the day, understanding that we have this luxury that companies do and that we have this luxury about being able to work remotely and just taking that as a silver lining in themselves, and that is a benefit.

Nicole [00:13:37] John, another question for you. You mentioned that your company was already moving forward with layoffs. Did you have other options that you were considering?

John Grover [00:13:45] So this was the absolute minimum. This is this is this is a minimum kind of situation. But, yeah, we're considering what's called furloughs in the state of California. We can bring people down to is is cut there, cut their hours as much as like 60 percent in the state of California will step up with unemployment insurance benefits for them. Obviously, there's a lot of federal system assistance right now for people that are fully unemployed, but it's not something you want to do lightly because everybody can attest to this is rehiring, retraining people. You don't want to just be doing layoffs in a knee-jerk fashion. So with us, we're gonna be eliminating some positions. This is a last resort thing t.

Nicole [00:14:27] Two more questions before I move on. What advice do you have for companies that don't have the luxury of working from home, both from physical safety and physiological safety, and then both, if you can kind of talk about that from an executive leadership position and then how you talk to your managers about leading them on the front line.

Christine [00:14:45] So if you find yourself in a position where you can not work remotely, you think that it's two things that are very essential in this situation. Number one is that you have to be transparent about your needs as an individual and communicate that with your manager. And then you have to understand that the manager is working their best in order to work with you, in order to make sure that we get the business taken care of. So there are things that can still be done. PPE, social distancing, a dispersed workforce separating, be a time, a location. All of these things can come into play when you still have to be physically on the job and still take in to account, making sure that you are protecting yourself and protecting others. And John, it sounds like you guys are deemed essential, so you guys might be actually dealing with that a little bit more directly.

John Grover [00:15:33] We are, although we're where knowledge workers. So we're able to and we set up remote access and support a lot of this stuff for our clients. So we're able to do a ton remotely. Now we have to go out on client site and client site and basically right now means go into people's homes and we have to do what's needed. So we've got a list of best practices and there's tons of stuff available on that, on how to stay safe in these times and keep your hands clean and be careful about what you do it and trying to minimize whatever social contact we can have where possible.

Nicole [00:16:11] One person on here said that they read the local transit system, which means they're considered essential work and they are trying to balance those on the team that can do their work from home or work virtually versus those. That actually still need to be out. Do you have any recommendations on how to communicate? Basically asking some to go home and be safe and others that still need to go out and put themselves at risk in the world.

John Grover [00:16:38] We're doing this and it's not easy. We don't value one person's safety more than another. So what I can say is we're we're having individual conversations. It also informs our recruiting process when we recruit somebody for field service work. We want to make sure that they're up for the emergencies and the crisis is. So people are not screened for this a little bit. Thank God we do, because our team right now that's out in the field, on the front lines are heroes. It's amazing. It gets me emotional to even think about how awesome they're stepping up. So so we're having these conversations. We're making sure that we're we're in tune with any fears and things that people don't feel comfortable in doing. And we're just tiptoeing through this and taking it case by case and then trying to be kind and compassionate along the way. But also remember in these lessons, so that as as we select people in the future and recruit for four people, we're not just. We're not just peacetime leaders. We're thinking about the crisis's that can come up and we want to make sure that have the right right humans in the right spot for that stuff.

Nicole [00:17:49] Thinking through a lot of company and trying to be a good financial steward. I know, Adam, you mentioned that in the beginning. You have ideas on ways that you can keep incentivizing your teams without being able to put in this or some sort of monetary incentive, whether it's a happy hour or stuff like that, that kind of stuff keep people interested in.

Christine [00:18:10] Yeah, I'm going to be really transparent in the fact that we are financial stewards of the business and in particular in our roles as people leaders. That's really hard sometimes in order to make the hard call. But my main obligation is to make sure that every laughter that I can keeps a paycheck. And that is sometimes hard when we have in particular in the tech world, quite robust perks and benefits package. I mean, making those hard decisions that it may not be sustainable in today's economy and what it's going to look like three, six know even three months from now. So I think that it's just our responsibility to make those hard decisions. And again, going back to what John and Adam both said, which is about communicating the why. I don't ever want to say that. I just want to have somebody to be incentivized because they get to work at sales. I want you to want to stay because of the work we do. The commitment that we have to our customers is that we deal with it. We're making a difference in their lives. And you can work with amazing people and that there is the sustainable, great culture. And so that kind of stuff that like that is what our goal is as people leaders. And just to make we have a vision is to navigate our organization through these tough times in these tough decisions. But I know I'm hoping that the feedback and that's it. Two weeks ago, we announced the company where we're freezing all discretionary spend to try to save as much money.

Adam Weber [00:19:36] So, yes, all those great perks that people think of when you work at a tech company. But to me, this moment is about at is is your purpose truly activated? And the reality is, even prior to this, that the number one reason people worked at companies was not for comp and benefits. That is a date that is like what they're looking for is authenticity of leadership and a purpose that's worth fighting for. And this is really the time to lean into that purpose like we and finding what is that noble thing that makes what you do worth doing every day. And then reminding people now, you know, as a leader, it's your job to do the work, to help them know how their job ties to that purpose. And right now in this season, John, any closing thoughts on that?

John Grover [00:20:17] Just exactly what you're saying, your mission, your why would you have a good enough reason why you can do anything?

Nicole [00:20:24] I feel like this is really showcasing the importance of having a strategic H.R. leader at the table, helping to guide both your people and your business, a strategy. And this is, I think, kind of shining light to why that's so needed. That hopefully will allow strategic people, leaders to continue to have that faith in the future. So how has this unprecedented crisis made you a better leader?

John Grover [00:20:51] I can start. We'll talk about overwhelmed. I feel overwhelmed and I go back and forth. And when I feel overwhelmed, it usually comes from looking at all of the impact. I'm looking at too much Internet news and thinking about all the jobs lost and the unemployment. It's too much. So what I've come refocussed with and I knew these lessons, but I kind of feel like I've forgotten. But what I'm doing right now is I'm getting really micro focused. I'm focusing on today the immediate future, maybe the next five minutes all. Micro-. I'm getting really specific and deliberate and I'm doing what my dad used to say, going to chop wood and carry water. [00:21:32]We're not gonna worry about the world's problems right now. We're gonna keep moving forward and we're gonna think about making it to the next milestone and we're gonna celebrate each other's performance metrics on the micro. And we're gonna let the future and some of this long term stuff play out because we don't understand it. We don't control it. We never did. [16.8s] By the way. Right. It's kind of a myth. So that's one thing that I'm really focusing on when I feel overwhelmed. I'm getting small, I'm getting tiny, and I'm getting specific to the next five minutes, the next hour. The next day,.

Christine [00:22:03] I lean in and say I'm totally stuck into the word of overwhelmed and the pressure that I think that we feel as leaders to steer our organizations, our people, our other leaders in making the right decisions. It can be very, very heavy and a lot. I hear that with gratitude in the fact that the decisions that I make and the communications that I share impact families, impact individuals. The organization is the one that is being talked around the dinner tables as you're all sitting there, because you probably weren't able to sit there four weeks ago. And it's our companies and our leaders that have this opportunity to really make not just organizational impact, but personal impact. And I'm I'm really leaning on that gratitude for that opportunity.

Adam Weber [00:22:56] I would say as a leader, I've I've recognized the value of intentionality. I don't want to pretend like this hasn't been a dramatic life shift and that what's being expected of me is more than what's ever been expected of me in my entire career. I've never been through anything like this. So I'm taking my mornings and I'm protecting them with everything I have. I'm giving myself the space and freedom to make sure that I'm centered and grounded and that I connect myself outside of this present moment, which is probably the most important thing I do every day, whether it's through gratitude or reading poetry or journaling or reading something that's old, something that's true bigger than this very moment, because this very moment will come and go. But if we get so caught up just in this moment, we lose that ability to make decisions bigger than this. And so I think I just am realizing that doesn't happen by accident. There's no there's no secret answer. No one else is holding some secret answer. If I take time and space for myself, I can confidently make the very best decisions and live with those decisions right now.

Nicole [00:23:59] I love that. Adam, John, Christine. Thank you, all three of you, for being here and sharing your insights. I think there are some excellent ideas. And if I.

Show Outro [00:24:12] Thank you for joining us for this week's Insights. Don't forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode. And in the meantime, if you have questions or topics that you'd like to see us cover, please go to emplify dot com slash questions.

[00:24:25] That's e m p l i f y dot com slash questions. And let us know what's on your mind.

[00:24:31] Stay safe. Stay sane and we'll see you next week.