AceUp recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jeff Belanger, VP of People & Culture at Buildium and a thought leader in the field. For Jeff’s take on all things people and talent, read on for part 2 of our continued conversation and enjoy!
Creating an Effective Culture of Learning
Josh from AceUp: Could you talk a little bit about what goes into a thriving company culture from a talent development standpoint?
Jeff: Let’s start with an example of an effective learning culture, a company might be sponsoring a set of learning events on the topic of effective feedback or recognizing unconscious bias for managers. A strong learning culture is that safe place where the manager can go back and practice what they’ve learned without repercussions. Do they work in an environment where they can make mistakes and learn from them, take some risks with their learning? If not, they’re going to study their notes, and be worried about making mistakes and what people will think of them. They will struggle to make sense of the training or learning event they experienced in the context of what their company wants. It’s like learning or teaching to the test, it just doesn't work…that's not how people really form new habits or can practically change a behavior or adopt a new skill.
If the manager (in this same situation) doesn't work in a learning culture where they’re able to take risks and try out their new skill, well…learning events become useless without the chance to practice. A learning culture builds in this room for practicing. It would be OK to tell your colleagues, “hey, I’m practicing something new…can you help me out? Then they have allies in their own development. It’s a coaching environment, and that’s an absolutely great spot to be in. A transparent learning environment, where someone can go from concept to practice and have colleagues and managers as advocates in their journey. This takes commitment on a team and organizational level to foster an environment that's supportive and where anyone is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, that's authentic learning.
The Concept of Failing Fast
Josh from AceUp: We’ve heard you talk about the concept of “failing fast” could you elaborate on that?
Jeff: I worked closely with an SVP of Sales at a big tech company, and one of his go-to phrases was, “I want all my people to be successful, but I want them to fail fast. I want to know as quickly as possible if the role isn’t the right fit.” At first, it was a strange statement to hear, but it got me thinking…can we change up the model of supporting an employee’s onboarding and development? Shouldn’t we indeed find out faster if they’re not in the right role, whether we made a mis-hire or if the employee really wanted something different. “Failing fast” becomes a very powerful way to think about growth and development. The faster you learn and the faster you identify gaps allows you to build stronger teams. When I interview candidates I’m always looking for the gaps because I know that at some point we’re going to have to fill them or coach employees through situations where that gap may become much more obvious. It is a balance…hiring for gaps too, rather than just for strengths knowing that some gaps are more manageable and able to be supported than others. Having been an L&OD
leader in my past…this different way of thinking about development…was incredibly liberating as a manager and a People Leader.
My go-to example is…wouldn’t it be great if a person could take ski lessons for three months before going out on a big ski trip with their friends? The reality is they might not have the luxury of this much preparation. Maybe they only had a couple of lessons before their friends took them to the top of the mountain and they’re faced with the struggle of getting down the hill. In that moment, do they learn how to fall, how to get back up? Can they do all this without getting hurt and getting that free ride down with Ski Patrol? They’re learning as they go, they’re adapting. That’s failing faster…learning faster, recovering and having a self-directed teaching moment. For the record, that is how I learned to ski…and it wasn’t fun at all. The first thing I learned was how to fall!
Career Defining Experiences: Let's Talk About the Hard Stuff
Josh from AceUp: What do you want most for your people?
Jeff: Career defining experiences, and not just the fun ones where someone knows they’ve done an amazing job and they feel great and confident. It’s the hard stuff too, when someone makes mistakes, and learns often times under stress and when there’s a lot on the line. Each company and industry has a different way to think about it, but career defining experiences, both the hard ones and the easy ones are what I want to provide my people because I truly believe that’s how a company becomes a great learning culture…cultures we see in companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Digitas, PWC, etc. They crank out amazing talent because that’s where those challenging experiences occurred. By the way, you don’t have to be large a company to do this. You can be a company of 50 or 150, it just takes commitment.
Driving towards career defining experiences is what growth minded companies should be leaning into right now, giving people permission to work through challenges…make the mistakes and then ask themselves, what did they learn? What did someone learn should always be the next question asked. That’s where I spend my time...enabling my managers and employees. Ultimately, I want our company to be a safe place to learn and grow. I want our people to achieve some semblance of fulfillment and have that be additive to the next step in their career journey whether it’s here or elsewhere. That’s what I most want.
Putting People at the Center of How You Run Your Business
Josh from AceUp: Creating this type of learning culture takes a level of commitment and ultimately resources. For someone who’s looking more at the bottom line of this investment, how do we best define ROI?
Jeff: As we speak, more and more HR and People Operations functions are moving beyond just the hire and fire functions. As People Leaders, we have access to ample amounts of data and we're fine tuning our ability to better analyze the data and derive insights. Many of these insights aren’t the classics either…such as recruiting efficiencies, time to fill, cost of hire, and other financially aligned metrics. Today we’re gathering data points and insights from a multitude of other places, such as cross referencing recruiting, employee engagement and L&D training datasets, and then doing a gap analysis through the entire employee experience continuum. This gives us a more informed perspective as to where we should be spending money to address skill gaps, before employees even come in the door and all the way through the other stages of an employee’s tenure with us. The purposeful gathering of data at all the employee experience touchpoints combined with capturing ongoing input from employees and managers through growth & development conversations and pulse surveys…is what gives us our focus, and in the end, the path to tracking and achieving results.
Other areas to consider measuring to derive better ROI and gauge the health of an organization are measurement of internal movement and mobility: how many people are promoted, have changes in roles, increases in role scopes, as well as the number of performance plans that are in place and if they resulted in attrition or role changes.
Additionally, CULTURE can be measured over time. How do we measure culture? Well, it’s not always easy and every organization needs to define the right data points that map how they define their unique culture…but the datasets I track are trending engagement and inclusion survey results (over time), number and quality of regular growth & development conversations, number of internal employee related events, and overall participation, as a starting point. There are also some newer tools to measure real time cultural engagement to proactively manage cultural health that I haven’t tried just yet. Josh Bersin refers to these HR tech tools, which are a growing trend, as Employee Experience Platforms (See CultureHQ), that integrate employee conversations, preferences, attributes and interests in combination with more real time engagement measures across the full experience, to go from insights to actions quicker. (Reference: The Employee Experience Platform: A New Category Arrives by Josh Bersin)
In the end, any people analytics that you can track can be analyzed and woven into the storyline. This gives you the insights needed to understand, take action and make decisions to increase your organization’s effectiveness. You just have to start, be committed, and tell the right stories that will deliver the greatest impact. As an example, when we better understand the trends in churn and internal movement throughout our organization, we’re not just gaining insights into how our people are gaining new skills or changing career paths, we’re also understanding where we are spending critical budget $ in the right or wrong places. This is the difference between measuring effectiveness vs. efficiency. It’s the effectiveness metrics not efficiency metrics that become invaluable in your journey towards putting “people” at the center of how you run your business. Afterall…People Leaders should be (and many are) business leaders too!