Last summer, Google topped out a 35-floor behemoth of a building. Upon its completion in May 2022, it will forever change the shape of the Austin, Texas, skyline and will solidify Google’s imprint in the city that has been attracting Silicon Valley tech companies for the past decade.
For a long time, Google has been the leader in defining and executing on extraordinary workplace culture, albeit with some recent criticism and falling out of the Top 10 ranking of Best Companies to Work For in 2021. But long before it broke the ceiling on downtown Austin, there have been other tech companies that also lead with a strong mission and values.
What I’ve seen in the offices of companies like Atlassian, BigCommerce, Optimizely, WP Engine and Twilio as well as brands like Adobe, Electronic Arts, Zoom, GoDaddy, Hubspot and Zendesk — well, let’s just say they don’t need new office buildings to attract talent.
They’ve been able to show their values not just through words, but through actions. Their ability to attract and retain top talent has nothing to do with Austin being a cool city (which it is, of course!) or free lunches. From our vantage point, also being part of this tech ecosystem — since 1998, so a “founding member,” really — we have a particular perspective on what HR strategies make companies stand out to potential employees.
As we face this Great Resignation, or rather the Great Reset or Great Reshuffling as I prefer to view it, we also need to resign our old ways. We must reshuffle our approaches and expectations. Everyone — from legacy Fortune 500 CEOs to newly minted startup CEOs, from HR leaders with decades of experience to teams of frustrated recruiters — must find a new strategy for recruitment and team-building and retention. Here is the three-legged stool of HR strategies that we found works for us:
1. Stop being lazy and customize your work-from-home policy
While some companies are going 100% remote, or at least remote-first, others (like aforementioned Google) are continuing to invest in offices and collaboration spaces. All this makes the way forward confusing for many, including me!
It seems that a fully distributed workforce is now the direction that many companies are going. However, I must ask: Is it because it’s easier to implement and track than a hybrid model? And/Or because they are simply looking at Gallup polls of how many Americans do not want to ever go back to an office?
We need to stop being lazy and be more deterministic about our own fate. Right now, it feels a bit like Whack A Mole, going after potential obstacles with a blunt instrument. Instead, we should be using a scalpel.
We see that employees want a flexible schedule, so we do “No-Meeting Fridays.” We suspect a lack of unity or efficiency in remote work, so we create “Collaboration Tuesdays.” This is a cat and mouse game that will never work.
It’s the manager’s responsibility to anticipate those kinds of disconnects and get ahead of them with a clear plan that drives ownership and accountability across all team members. And it requires that they build relationships with employees, so we can understand not what they say they want, but what they really need.
Those needs will differ, of course. Some people might work better working half days once or twice a week, then playing catch up on Sunday afternoons. Others may cherish the no-meeting Fridays because they crush it in meetings Monday through Thursday. The uninterrupted Friday then allows them to either work on a head-down project or take time to recharge themselves.
Yes, it’s harder to customize remote work. In the long run, though, it’s easier because you’re setting a standard upfront and then requiring that they stick to it. It offers flexibility, yes, but ultimately creates more structure.
2. Build a team that reflects your community and opens doors
Diversity and inclusion are known issues, especially in high-growth tech companies. The shift to remote work has now broken down the issue of geography. While 75% of VC investment is focused in more homogenous cities like Boston, New York and the Bay Area, team leaders now can branch out recruitment strategies into places with high-tech talent diversity scores and relatively low cost of living, like Georgia, Florida, Texas and Maryland.
For us, being based in Texas, we have naturally built a team that is reflective of our community, and I’m not just talking about overall ratios of employees. Our leadership team is 30% female, and we have a strong representation of LatinX, Black and Asian backgrounds across all management. I’m proud to be part of a multi-billion dollar tech company that has maintained such a high level of executive diversity.
With that kind of leadership, we’ve also found that programs like peer-to-peer mentoring and CSR and volunteer initiatives led by authentically passionate executives, directors and managers, have taken off organically because they are natural extensions of the values and interests of those people, vs. constructed programs that are meant to look good on paper.
3. Differentiate the employee experience, from macro to micro-experiences
One of the fascinating things that has come to light as neuroscientists study the effects of the pandemic on our psyche is the way that economic calamities like hyperinflation, stock market crashes, and unemployment spikes tend to affect people’s attitudes and choices for a long time. The dramatic social and economic changes that we’ve experienced the past two years have literally rewired our brains.
What does this mean for you as a leader? This is an opportunity, not an obstacle. It’s a chance to realize that everyone is sharing similar struggles, questions and choices as they are impacted by the same external forces and conditions. Fear and anxiety stemming from the uncertainty of what’s going on around us (globally, not just locally) are at some of the highest levels we’ve ever seen. We all seem to be craving some kind of psychological safety.
This is your chance, as a leader, to instill more trust, not less. To build hope and create a strong vision for the future. And guess what? When you do that for the business — taking that “growth mindset” approach to a macro level and setting goals that are attainable, and by being transparent about bumps you hit along the road — it has a trickle-down effect on your employees. It makes it safe to fail. It teaches people how to enjoy the ride, not just the destination.
This growth mindset approach is not new. However, we seem to have forgotten that it’s our corporate responsibility to implement policies that encourage appropriate risk-taking, reward employees for important and useful lessons learned, and support collaboration across the organization.
That’s the level of reinforcement that I believe is lacking today, and believe me, employees see it. They see the lip service to the mission statement vs. the actual deeds and concrete guidelines that allow them to advance and develop, too.
It’s quite possible to grow your top line, your bottom line and the personal and professional progress “line” of every person in your company — and that’s the differentiation that will create loyal, high-impact team members.
Sylvia Krzmarzick, Digital Turbine’s chief people officer, has 20 years of HR experience and believes in a people-first strategy. Sylvia leads with passion, humor and a focus on results that improves all aspects of employee experience, culture and values. She has helped apply a “people lens” to the company as it experienced explosive growth, and believes in the inherent opportunity it provides the Digital Turbine community. Previously, Sylvia was in a variety of leadership roles at National Instruments, NASA Johnson Space Center, and Whole Foods.