This month, Phil Weiss of CipherHealth led a discussion centered around building connection, safety, trust, and belonging within a team.
With a remote workforce, it’s more critical than ever to ensure each team member feels connected and engaged. Without the in-person opportunities to bond, how does a CS leader help make sure that the employee experience is strong?
Additionally, we’re entering a world where transition is easier than ever. How do we ensure changing jobs entails more for employees than simply changing the logo on their Slack login page?
For each of those four words – the key pillars of a strong culture – Phil unpacked “what are the signs that they exist in the environment?” and shared practical examples and activities to cultivate each of them. Fundamentally, they’re about building an environment where work can enrich people’s lives, where people are able to connect in an authentic and meaningful way.
*Links will be shared at the end of the document
The questions discussed in the breakout session were:
- From your experience as an employee, what factors have led to the presence (or absence) of connection, trust, safety, or belonging in a work environment?
- As a leader, what approaches, tools, tactics, etc. have you put in place to enhance connection, safety, trust, or belonging within your team(s)? What’s been most successful?
- What’s unique or challenging about building culture within a CS team (as compared to other departments or even other industries)? What obstacles do you face?
Here are the key takeaways from the attendees on this topic:
Factors that contribute to a strong, healthy culture:
- Transparency – how to keep the team focused in a role that’s so multifaceted
- This can encompass so many angles within a business that it can be a challenge to be clear and focused
- Be clear on goals and objectives both within the team and the organization
- Being willing to say “I don’t know that answer, but I will get more information. What can I do to support you?
- Being consistent makes a difference for the whole team: setting expectations, building trust
- Empathy –It’s something you have to work toward and work on, but the effort pays off. This applies not only to customer but also with managing up
- There will be failures and it’s important to keep moving forward
- Allow people flexibility around work – from where, etc. with the alignment between company, team, and individual goals in mind.
- Encourage employees to voice opinions on important matters and make them feel seen and supported
- Follow through with what you say you are going to do. It is worse to listen to employees and do nothing than not listening at all per research. Talk the talk and walk the walk
- Instilling confidence in your people drives trust. Having conversations about growth, future, etc
- Take a genuine interest in team members
- Knowing what to do, how to operate CS can become a catch all – it can feel like you’re spending time doing meaningless stuff – so setting clear expectations up front, early, and often, is key
- Knowing where you stand
- Knowing that it’s a safe space to push back, have discourse
- A strong onboarding experience for new team members
- Open transparent conversations, feedback, open lines of communication about struggles of both work and life
- Time to be human, connect, reach out, say hi
- Vulnerability is key, openness to talking about the “human component”
- Meeting regularly, time for connection, getting to know everyone, make it clear they are supported
- Team wraps arms around, set up 1-1s, lots of different venues to get to know the team (daily, 3X/week), daily office hours
- Including the quiet people in communication methods outside of the meeting
- When the culture is strong, people are eager to help each other out and share their learnings
- Sharing goals and plans – both the IC and the manager
Things that damage a culture
- Unprofessional behavior from the management team makes it feel unsafe for employees
- Remote – more challenging to share feedback and connect with colleagues
- Coordinate different time zones and locations
- Lack of trust for those working remotely
- Whenever the founders fail to be transparent in sharing the reality.
- Lack of open communication can erode trust quickly
- When leaders do not live up to their own goals
Tools and Tactics
- Held “worst meeting ever” with the team – 30 minutes, no planned agenda, no action items, nothing to discuss – with the goal of gaining an understanding of the individual and their circumstances – learned how to best support them as individuals. Felt awkward asking to take this time, but it was massive for the whole team. Helped them break down barriers to ask each other for time as well
- Book club
- Onboarding mentor – pairing up with a SCM or established product person. Great from a development standpoint.
- Strong onboarding of a new hire makes such a difference! Focusing on building those relationships that will lead to long term support and success within the company.
- Coffee chats – build long term relationships with team members and learn about them
- CS team meet for an hour a week and the rule was not to talk about work
- Having quick check-ins with your folk like Stand ups. Make them personal
- Talking to employees to get a feel for their workload
- Brown bag lunch sessions. These are open discussions around different topics
- Skip Level Meetings. Recurring meetings with individual contributors that may be a level or two below your direct reports. Take this conversation to a more casual setting. At the end of the conversation, have a micro 360 to get some understanding around what is top of mind
- Icebreakers – eg. 2 truths and a lie
- “Tech Talks” – regular meetings for CS to take turns leading the meeting and sharing something technical they learned recently – let to “no silly questions”, great to practice presenting and develop leadership for CSMs and in turn improve confidence and knowledge to be better advisors with customers
- Online community – have conversations about software – share opinions and feedback – post release notes and documentation – opportunity for cross collaboration between teams
- Mapping out the employee journeys
- Active listening, shared experiences (sports, volunteering)
- NPS and employee surveys – watch for red flags if any answers are missed or there are causes for concern
- Creating Stay interviews – why do you like your current role? What keeps bringing you back?
- Highlight wins!
- Ask “how do you get the best from me”
- Remember that they are a person first, and employee second
- Ask ‘what do you find the most rewarding?’
- Set the tone of the relationship you want
- Cross functional team relationship development – has to come from leadership
- Include individual OKRs and how those tie back to the company
- “CS Corner” – creating an environment for learning. Taking clips from customer call recordings and leveraging those in a session to learn from each other and workshop ways to improv our approach and discuss the difficulties or reality of our jobs.
- Quarterly start-stop-continue conversation
Challenges to creating culture
- Can be difficult empowering people to share and be open to sharing knowledge that would be valuable for a broader audience
- Needs to be genuine. The employees can sense if it is not genuine
- Treat the CSM team as a community. Encouraging the people to work together vs. always going straight to the top for answers
- CS can feel very silo’d when each person is head down in their book of business, creating community despite that is really critical
- As a leader, having the back of your team whether with a customer or internally is a great way to build trust
- Ensuring you as a leader are asking for feedback on yourself and the team
- Burnout avoidance - Making it really clear that it’s ok to bring up burnout- be vulnerable that you’ve brought it up to your leaders as well
- In CS we are people who thrive interacting with other people – in remote environment we can’t have face to face connection
- Honoring the need of each different person with different personalities and including different outlets to allow them to “speak"
- Learning how to tap into someone’s potential when they are the quiet person in the room
- Where is the friction? Who wants what and why can’t they have it?
- Difficult to connect daily in a remote space – how can you use tech to create touchpoints and create engagement questions throughout the day
- Can be difficult to prioritize culture cultivation when you are constantly fighting fires throughout the day (reactive vs proactive)
- Does your company really want to hear how things are going? Do they pay attention to employee health
Work = Community
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