Set clear objectives, communicate them well, and look at what people need to meet those objectives; anything outside that, such as working hours, is a distraction from the real business of doing good and competitive work.
In a conversation with People Matters, Melissa Dreuth, Chief People Officer of cloud financial planning and analysis platform Planful, talks about the connection between productivity and expectations, and the importance of equipping people with the skills to perform well in the hybrid world of work. Here's what she said.
Tell us about your take on productivity. Where do you think we are now?
The concept of productivity really comes down to expectation setting. You want employees to feel like they can bring their whole selves to work, but there also need to be some expectations: this is our mission, this is the the goal for your job, this is when we need it to be done by. What we did was introduce OKRs (objectives and key results) to create transparency around our corporate objectives, then built department objectives out from there to align the teams and make the tasks more digestible.
Once you build on those expectations and objectives, you will have a clearer picture of whether people are doing their best work and what else they might need. That picture also depends on the role. For some roles, maybe that of an engineer, or maybe someone in sales, the tools they're already using to manage their projects and products will also track their progress. For other team members whose work is less measurable, it boils down to whether that person feels like they are doing their best work. Can they go to bed every night and wake up every morning feeling like they have given 110% of themselves to the job, and the product that they produce is the very best that they can?
When you get to this point, what their best work looks like from the outside actually becomes less important. For some people it could look like the traditional nine to five hours. For others, it could be nine to one, and then stepping out to take care of children for a few hours and coming back to work from six to nine. And it doesn't make a difference, because that's not actually what we're looking at. What we care about is that our employees are motivated to do great work, that they're able to do their best work, and that we're releasing the best product for the market.
What's your take on the impact that remote and hybrid collaboration has had on the traditional productivity and performance concepts?
Before the pandemic, there was a quote going around LinkedIn to the effect that if you don't trust someone to work from home, you should never hire them. And that is so true right now. But it is also very much an evolving process. When a team is not performing, it's natural instinct for the manager to say 'We need to get together in the same office, because we're missing things along the way'. It may be a knee-jerk reaction, because we've been conditioned to believe that we do better when we can physically see each other. But at the same time, we do realise that we are missing the in-person collaboration.
What we've done is to get the executive team together once a month, and the extended leadership team together once a quarter. We always make sure to do it at an outside venue where we can have a good balance of work and socialisation, and that has been really helpful for us. And while the focus is more on bringing the executives together here, we also want to empower our managers to do that for their teams.
Do you find there are certain qualities, maybe in the business culture or in the leaders and managers, that help this model to work more smoothly?
There is trust of course, as I mentioned. But you also need to look at your hiring profile.
You want to be hiring managers and employees who have a high degree of autonomy, but also ownership and accountability.
And then you have to make sure that your internal communication is good. You need to explain the role of the employee, the role of the manager, even the role of the job, and then people feel empowered and have a lot of ownership in the work that they're doing. It only works if people feel that they are connected to the company values and mission, that they know what role they play in the company structure.
If you look at those horror stories about the remote or hybrid model failing, you see some common issues, such as companies that thrived being remote but suddenly called all the employees back to the office without properly explaining why. Or you might find that they hired people who aren't used to working from home.
On the issue of people not being used to working from home, what are your thoughts on easing these people into the new working model? Do we need to train them in a hybrid-specific set of soft skills?
Yes, a big part is identifying the skills that are needed to do the job in this particular way. And in the hybrid or remote context in particular, if you've never been exposed to this way of working, it's so very different. My heart goes out to any fresh college graduate who had to get their first job in the pandemic, because the expectations and the style of management are not at all going to be what they might have learned to expect.
On the training end, I think it's something that companies need to prioritise regardless of where you are in your career. We have employees who are everywhere on the spectrum of life, and remote work is very new to a lot of them. And we have a very heavy Slack culture at our company. So in the onboarding boot camp, we actually do one-on-one Slack training to teach people how to use the statuses, how to show others where they are, how to interact a little bit better, and so on.
I think that as long as you are taking the time to set people up for as much success as possible, and giving them the tools to be successful in your company, they will be able to settle into the new world of work quite well.
Helping people to adapt is actually a big part of inclusion, and it helps contribute to diversity as well. How is that working out at Planful?
I mentioned the approach we take to hiring and onboarding, the way we look at the fundamentals and the transferable skills that people need – what's coachable and what's not, how we can leverage that for the workforce. Here's an example, we hired someone who had been a teacher for the last 15 years and wanted a change, but she'd never worked in a corporate environment before. I sat down for coffee with her and at the end of the conversation I hired her on the spot. She had so many transferable fundamental skills: educating people, bringing them along on the journey. She had never worked with a software company, but software and Slack are all teachable.
If you look at our initiatives, we prefer to focus internally rather than talk about it externally, because of where we are on our journey. The example I'll use is the George Floyd protests. We could have easily posted something, changed our logo, done all that. But the reality is we didn't have good internal representation in our team. And we didn't do a lot of education up until that point about what does inclusion look like. So instead of just checking a box, we really focused on educating our team working with our recruiting team to have a more inclusive environment, because you can have representation, but it's those people who don't feel included in your company who you really need to pay attention to.