When I was hired in late 2020 as the new Head of HR at Scaleway, the exciting leading European alternative cloud, I knew I had hit the jackpot, and not just because I was one of the lucky few to still have a job in these challenging times. I’ve encountered all kinds of challenges during my career, and in my experience, when I see team members who throw all they have into the challenges of the day, are constantly pushing for perfection, and who go the extra mile, I know those are good problems to have.
Wait a minute, did she just say those things are problems? Well, yes and no.
Let me explain. Passionate workers are essential to excelling, but unchecked passion can burn too hot, which can lead to one of the toughest challenges workplaces face in 2021: Burnout. A superstar employee who gets burned out is far more likely to jump ship to a competitor, and as bad as that sounds, it could be your best case scenario. If someone either chooses to stay in a burned out situation, or feels they can't leave because of the stalled economy, (more and more common with a barely controlled pandemic and the stress of being so disconnected on our shoulders) it can negatively impact not only that individual’s work, but the ability of their colleagues to operate effectively as well. Left untreated, symptoms of impending burnout can manifest themselves in ways that include, but are not limited to waning engagement, isolation fatigue, lack of empathy and failing to appreciate individual employee progress. This can spread from employee to employee, and create a toxic work environment that consumes the entire culture.
But lucky for you, that doesn’t have to happen!
If you work for Scaleway, or another company that prides itself on (mostly) knowing what’s up, your HR teams have stepped up their games, done surveys, collected data, and diagnosed the challenges for 2021. And here’s the good news: knowing what’s wrong is half the battle, and any organization absolutely can resurrect a winning work culture in 2021.
So let’s get our hands dirty! Here are SIX CHALLENGES faced by many workplaces (no, you’re not alone) along with concrete actions you can implement NOW to directly address them:
Culture Challenge #1: Productivity Fail.
What you see happening: Missed deadlines, arguments breaking out, low productivity.
What could be going on: Employees may not be aligned with the mission of the company.
If you gave a piece of paper to 10 different people across the firm and asked them to write down what the mission of the company was, would you get 10 different answers?
What you can do: If you have a team of soccer stars on the field together, they need to know where the goal is. Put your head down and drive the mission forward to everyone. Model an excellent communication game from the top down and encourage others to do the same. Department heads should share and re-share their strategies periodically and anyone in a leadership role should have as a KPI to champion the message. And the goal, like it is in soccer, should be obvious. Like “giant 150 foot square net we’re all staring at the entire game” obvious. Constantly repeat your message and align leaders and teams. Constantly repeat your message and align leaders and teams. Constantly repeat your message and align leaders and teams. (getting it yet?)
What you can expect: By adding regular communication with direct access to leadership, employees become empowered to ask questions and have impactful discussions with management. If each department presents their strategy and roadmap openly to the whole company with Q&A, managers can tap employees to take the stage and highlight individual contributions of teammates, which fosters trust, employee buy-in, and boosts empathy among the team.
Culture Challenge #2: Teamwork Fail.
What you see happening: Employees complain of others’ behavior at work. Colleagues call out others’ mistakes in front of others. Egos are bruised and deadlines further affected because of poor teamwork.
What could be going on: Employees don’t trust one another.
One of the key aspects of a high-performing team is trust. But with trust, comes vulnerability, allowing team members to feel more comfortable being open and honest. A freedom to air concerns, questions, mistakes and roadblocks, ultimately allows for stronger team performance.
What you can do: Empathy and community grow from familiarity. Your team has to get to know each other! It’s kind of like that classic sitcom plot where two enemies get stuck in an elevator together and by the time they’re liberated, they’re lifelong friends. Your people need to spend time together when they aren’t at work, sharing personal stories and interests with each other. Hold team building sessions (and no, don’t lock them in the elevator together.) Team building can happen virtually, in person or blended with both - just make sure to mix up teams randomly and encourage people to share and work together on non-work related challenges. A great way to do this is with a pub quiz or group game featuring general or company knowledge topics, and don’t forget the prizes!
Once you’ve achieved familiarity, the next step you can take is to initiate “Communities of Practice” A community of practice or CoP, is a way to boost accountability, engagement, and community by intentionally empowering small groups to own topic areas. Take a group of people who you know are likely to rally around a topic area, and empower them to grow and maintain their knowledge base so they are the experts in the area. Yes, they own a budget, and can bring in external speakers, but they must ALWAYS document and present the new knowledge to the company. This promotes cross-departmental collaboration, a feeling of involvement and belonging to another group outside the daily grind.
Culture Challenge #3: Transparency Fail.
What you see happening: Employees are gossiping which disrupts the team spirit. They are distracted from their mission and spend time speculating over work topics and about their colleagues’ salaries.
What could be going on: You might not be providing enough information and transparency around career paths, compensation and organizational changes in the company. People will always speculate on topics they don’t have enough information about, so if that’s happening, it’s time to address it with a strong message.
What you can do: Weave transparency through everything that you do. Create a culture of coaching that allows employees to constantly address questions and have reassurance continuously, alternate which leaders you put in front of people to avoid a monarchist vibe in the company.
Culture Challenge #4: Management Fail.
What you see happening: People are leaving the company and turnover is becoming a problem.
What could be going on: People leave managers, not companies. As Jim Clifton said, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.” If you find that managers are not motivating people to succeed in a way that makes them want to stay, you need to provide coaching to help them get better before they impact the entire team.
What you can do: Create a culture of feedback and coaching. It might be time to revisit your appraisal process and remind everyone how to set measurable smart goals. You’ll need to up the frequency of appraisal sessions too. Coaching sessions should be as often as quarterly so that everyone knows where they stand throughout the year. Spontaneous feedback should always be allowed from all sides.
Feedback and coaching sessions should be scheduled every three months and the opportunity to provide spontaneous feedback should be highlighted. During calendar-driven coaching sessions, managers should hold a discussion in this type of framework “What were the major events that have taken place since the last time we sat down like this?” Then they spend the next 30–45 minutes reviewing successes, problems, and lessons learned. The “do more/do less/continue” framework works well to guide this type of discussion.
Culture Challenge #5: Integration Fail.
What you see happening: Nobody knows anybody, with both in-person and remote colleagues, people feel isolated and disconnected.
What could be going on: Your onboarding process may be too short and might not involve enough players to ensure real integration.
What you can do: Beef up your onboarding process from a single integration day to a full six months and give refresher presentations to veteran employees. Add in-person and virtual live presentations from management-level employees so that new people get to know them personally in order to build empathy among colleagues. Right up front, include an “ask me anything” portion, and encourage new team members to share something personal. Present best practices around “how we collaborate” and include them in the onboarding process.
Culture Challenge #6: Visibility Fail.
What you see happening: Slack messages are overly critical and desperate sounding.
What could be going on: After months of staying indoors or wearing a mask at work, employees want to be seen.
What you can do: Ask for volunteers to be buddies for new hires, give a lightning talk or lunch, and learn or join a “Culture Club” to share ideas around improving life at the company. Add a “shout out” section on Slack or in the newsletters so that people can give shout outs for good work and nice deeds, and most importantly, say “thanks” to colleagues. People will feel seen and more connected to their colleagues, this improves their mood, engagement and results, not to mention their wellbeing.
Whatever challenges we face, we need empathy, trust and community to succeed as a team. Prioritize any actions in your company that promote these three values and you are sure to see team collaboration and morale improve.