Human Resources is traditionally thought of as the department that creates policy and process for employees. They live by the book (the employee handbook) and support employees when issues arise. However, the HR department has changed.
In the last five to ten years, due mostly to an increasingly competitive hiring environment, HR has stepped away from its role of policymaker to take on an entirely new employee benefit—their experience. In taking ownership of the employee experience, the term Human Resources is being phased out and departments that serve this function are now known as the People team, People & Culture team, and Employee Experience team.
But putting employees first takes much more than a name change. Managed by Q’s new VP of People Maria Dunn has over a decade of experience working on teams (Recruiting, Human Resources, People & Culture) that have prioritized their employees. She talks about the shift teams need to make to create an environment that will attract and—more importantly—retain and grow its talent.
Focus on your greatest asset
“I’ve always believed that people are a company’s most valued asset,” says Maria. Throughout her career, Maria has brought a people-focused approach to all of her roles. One of her first positions was as recruiter for a global staffing firm during the recession in 2009. Here, she realized her passion for helping others succeed, as she provided coaching to help candidates secure long-term positions from temporary roles. “This is when I learned what great HR does,” Maria recalled.
Two years ago, Maria joined Managed by Q as the Director of People for Q Services, our service company that provides cleaning, maintenance, and administrative support. Q Services was founded on the Good Jobs Strategy, which aims to create superior value for employees, customers, and investors by combining investment in employees with operational choices that increase employee productivity, contribution, and motivation. This people-oriented approach was built into the fabric of the business, but its operations were scaling faster than management.
With over 800 hourly employees distributed across four cities, Maria’s approach was simple. “Instead of sitting in a room with operations leads trying to figure out what our Operators needed, I went out and asked them myself,” she said. “I invested a ton of my initial time talking to our hourly Operators, the ones actually doing the work, about what they needed from us. What I found is they needed the basics: clear expectations and believable management.” Within a year, Operator engagement scores had soared and retention had improved. Another year later, the business became profitable.
To be successful, the People team needs to deeply understand what their business does––how it makes money, who its customers are, how the product works, and what sets it apart in the market. “When you embed yourself in the departments you support, that’s when you can really make an impact,” said Maria. “If you are responsible for change and are looking for answers, go directly to the source, talk to the employees who interact the most with your customers. They have more answers than you think.”
Build real connections
For employees to tell their People or HR teams what’s really going on with your business, they need to trust you. According to Maria, you need a very high level of situational awareness to be a true agent of change in a company, which you can’t achieve from surveys and observation alone. “The most successful People leaders are those who can build and maintain trust,” she says, which also reflects Q’s overall culture of building trust through transparency, learning, and giving direct feedback.
Prior to joining Managed by Q, Maria was hired to open a remote technical support center for a growing start-up. In addition to hiring, Maria was responsible for building a team culture from scratch, while also bringing the company’s values to its first satellite office. In just eight months, the support team scaled from 20 to 100 employees, and experienced zero turnover in its first year of operations. But after a few years of continued growth, Maria found herself on the team that was responsible for assisting the company through an eventual shutdown.
The people who helped build the culture alongside Maria were learning that not only were their positions going away, but so was the company they loved. “It was a challenging time, but I made a choice to stick with the employees and stay by their side through the process. They needed honest answers, even if it was ‘I don’t know,’” Maria recalled. “Don’t give your team a BS answer that they’ll see right through. When you’re consistently providing them with the truth, your bond is much stronger. It’s a powerful thing.”
Cultivate, don’t create
The People team has the most unique vantage point in a company—by providing services to all employees, they can provide impartial insight to decision makers. In working with each department, they are also able to cultivate a community that will drive both individual and company-wide growth and help refine and focus a company’s singular culture. This is certainly the case for Maria at Q, who is focusing on how we can amplify our culture. “We are in our fourth year at Q and we have a solid foundation. It’s time to take it to the next level and raise the bar,” said Maria. “A lot of our departments have done a great job creating culture within their teams, now our team needs to bring it all together at a higher level.”
As Maria enters the second half of the year, she is focused on fostering an environment of understanding, empathy, and fun. To achieve this will ensure a great employee experience, and promote a workplace that clears the way for employees to do their best work. If the “HR” teams of today can put their people first, work to cultivate an inspiring work environment, and ensure that internal culture is a reflection of a company’s external brand, they will not only positively impact team productivity, but they will be able to attract and retain top talent that will bring their business to the next level.