HR Executive Roundtable: Four Key Takeaways on Leading Through Times of Change

October 26, 2020 Nidhi Madhavan

Panelists in our latest Envoy Conversations event discussed leadership in 2020

Envoy Global recently held the latest event in our Envoy Conversations Virtual Global Talent Series, which discussed ways in which human resources leaders can guide their organizations through periods of uncertainty and change.

Moderated by Envoy Global CEO Dick Burke, this event featured panelists from Upwork, Cogo Labs and Snyk. The trio discussed everything from maintaining employee experience during the COVID-19 pandemic to rethinking diversity and inclusion in 2020. 

Four key highlights from HR leaders at Cogo Labs, Snyk and Upwork

1. Stay committed to employee experience while being agile

All three panelists agreed that maintaining the employee experience was a “North Star” that has guided their organizations through the various changes this year brought. The companies made the decision to switch to remote work early in the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure employees were protected. 

Dipti Salopek, Vice President of People at Snyk, said that by taking care of employees and having empathy for their unique situations, Synk was able to easily exceed its revised business goals. 

“We know our employees are engaged, are motivated, are smart, are committed, and then all we did was take care of them,” Salopek said.

Zoe Harte, SVP of Human Resources and Talent Innovation at Upwork, also noted that the challenges of transitioning to remote work and addressing business needs led her company to break down traditional hierarchies and processes. This allowed employees to pivot to new tasks and responsibilities as needed to ensure the organization met its big-picture goals without additional stress.

Engagement surveys can help provide important insight on employee sentiment and leadership performance. Panelists pointed to Glint and OfficeVibe as two tools they use to field any potential concerns.

2. Balance authenticity with optimism

Panelists also noted that maintaining the employee experience meant addressing upfront the mental, social and emotional challenges that this period of uncertainty has created for employees. 

“The COVID climate has normalized talk about anxiety, about mental wellness, about burnout - all things that were brushed under the rug before,” Salopek said.

At Cogo Labs, Steve Brown, Vice President of People, said that they began to utilize a Slack bot called Kona by Sike Insights, which allowed employees to check in during specific times of day about how they were feeling. This allowed managers and leadership to approach conversations with more empathy and protect employee well-being.

However, the panelists also stressed the importance of engendering optimism and celebrating wins in what has been a challenging year. Harte said that sharing “silver linings,” whether personal or professional, with her team at Upwork has sparked better engagement. Meanwhile, Cogo Labs is in the process of developing more reward and recognition programs that encompass the entire organization.

3. Find ways to stay connected and in alignment

For many organizations, staying connected while remote means increasing intra-company communications to align on goals and company initiatives. 

“We've shifted to become an extremely high touch organization,” Brown said of Cogo. “Whether it's emails, company communications, team meetings or all hands meetings, the cadence has increased pretty considerably.”

Also important is making sure new hires share in this sense of alignment and community. Brown said that managers and new hires at Cogo gain alignment through an “expectations document” that maps out their duties and opportunity paths to help guide a more personalized onboarding process. Salopek said that Snyk has begun to use an internal communications tool called Pyn that allows new hires to ask questions across the organization and get to know coworkers in other departments. 

Connecting employees on both work and personal matters is a focus at Upwork. Harte says that leadership tries to check in regularly with employees on everything from work projects to how their families are doing. The company also employs a slack bot called Donut, which Harte compared to “employee speed dating” to facilitate cross-department communication by creating random groups of employers for water-cooler conversations who may not have interacted otherwise.

4. Rethink diversity, equity and inclusion

In the wake of recent racial justice protests across the U.S., promoting diversity, equity and inclusion has been a key focus for many organizations. Harte said that any efforts that employers make should center the black employee and consider their position. At Upwork, black employees were encouraged to use bereavement leave rather than paid time off when needed. 

“We recognize that this isn't PTO, this is a traumatic experience that you need time away from work to help grieve through,” Harte said. “I think the language that was used mattered a lot.” 

Harte said that Upwork also took active steps to improve diversity markers such as promotion and hiring rates.

At Cogo Labs, leadership took a data-driven approach to better understand and correct their organizational biases. By analyzing their equal employment opportunity and demographic data together, they were able to pinpoint a number of correlations among specific groups that led to negative outcomes like higher turnover rates and align on approaches to fix the underlying causes.

Salopek also pointed out the importance of looking at diversity in a global context. 

“When you're a global organization, there are issues that are unique to each country....how do we make this about privilege in general?” Salopek said. “We’re using this moment as a wake-up call to the company in so many different dimensions of what we need to do and change.”

Check out the full roundtable discussion here.

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