by Hanna Kanabiajeuskaja, co-CEO of Spaciously
Do you sometimes feel like you are doing a “thankless” job? According to one survey, almost half of employees don’t trust their HR teams. One of the reasons may be that they have no idea who you are.
A year ago, I ran a series of interviews with culture team managers. To find people to interview, I asked friends to connect me with their companies’ HR teams. To my great surprise, my friends had no idea who their HR partners were.
Feeling invisible is pretty common in the corporate world. But if a people team is invisible, it’s a huge problem. When employees don’t know who you are, they can’t get help, and you don’t get the recognition you deserve.
So how do you get more people to know you? By getting to know them.
Getting to know your people
Most companies send pulse surveys. I say that pulse surveys aren’t good enough because they are conducted outside of the everyday work context. By the time you run a survey, an employee will forget that they were ever unhappy. Or worse, they’ll reach a boiling point and leave the company. Pulse surveys give you an overview of how your company is doing on average over time. Instead, is there a way to capture your employees’ thoughts here and now?
I’d like to share a habit, which I learned from the best leaders I worked with and adopted when I started Spaciously. I will let you judge if it’s applicable to managing employees. The habit is to spend most of your time with customers.
Real-time vs retrospective feedback
I stay as available as possible to my customers. I give them my email, messengers and personal phone number. I have text threads going with my customers. I am there when they need me. And let me tell you, sometimes it makes me jittery. So why do I do this? Because it is the only way for me to collect accurate feedback. Without it, I would not know what technology and resources to create for my customers.
Let’s compare real-time feedback with retrospective feedback.
Notice how specific and contextualized my client’s real-time question is. I know exactly what worries her. More than that, I know how to improve my technical product to erase her worry (make the venue capacity and hours visible).
Now look at the retrospective feedback, received a week after my work with the client was done. This feedback is flattering but gives me nothing to improve. And it’s all my fault! I asked for feedback too late. Even if my client had more specific things to tell me, he’d already forgotten about them.
What kind of feedback do you want?
Do you care only about how your employees feel on average? Or do you want to get the kind of feedback you can act upon? Giving away your phone number sounds overwhelming if you manage a large company. But there are other ways.
General company questions
Use any messenger technology to start a channel for general company questions. Nudge employees to start asking questions by giving them a few examples in the header. The examples should illustrate that there is no such thing as a stupid question. For example:
- What is HMO in insurance?
- Can I bring my 5-year-old to the office?
- Where can I charge my car around here?
Answer the questions yourself or tag an expert. Make sure to understand not only the question but also why the person is asking it.
Questions will start repeating. Keep track of them in an FAQ, categorize them, and publish a well-organized knowledge base. You will see that employees will start jumping in to answer each other’s questions, perpetuating knowledge and a sense of camaraderie.
It’s not enough to assign an HR partner to each employee. The HR partner needs to send regular reminders that they are available to take questions privately. In the reminders, give examples of questions people can ask their HR partner. For example:
- I’m in sales but I want to transition to marketing. Can I start learning more without worrying my manager?
- I am feeling burnt out but I’m working on an urgent project. Can I take time off?
- I’m worried I won’t meet my OKR but I’m afraid to ask for help.
Yes, you will get random questions that have nothing to do with your job. Try to be helpful and connect employees with the right resources. Better yet, connect them with the right people—mentors and experts—even if they’re outside your company.
To be good at something, you need to be bad at something else
You must be thinking, “This is way too much work.” It is. But if the CEO of Adidas could do it, you can, too!
To be good at building relationships and learning from your employees, you will need to be bad at something else. The good thing is that almost everything (except relationships) can be automated and outsourced. Can you automate your benefits, payroll, outsource management training and social events (hey, we’re here to help with that!)? If your CEO didn’t want to give you a budget to do that, present them with the tradeoff: staying close and learning from employees vs spending a little on automation. I would chose people every time.
Why do this extra work?
Your employees will benefit from all the extra support. But how does all this extra work help you?
- If you are at a startup, I can guarantee that your CEO will appreciate it. Being close to customers and doing things that don’t scale (in order to learn) are startup mantras.
- If you are at a larger company, having good relationships will help you gain influence. People will know who you are and will be able to say how exactly you helped them. Your impact on the organization will be more visible. When you help people, they perceive you as competent in all areas of business, not just HR.
- Finally, you will become more confident. You’ll know all there is to know about the people at your company.
Have you tried collecting real-time questions from your employees? Do you have tool recommendations? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, “Real-time feedback.” I love to feature real-life anecdotes and tactical advice from practitioners in our newsletter.