Maintaining a healthy team is the key to a positive retention rate. On Episode 142 of Talent & Growth I had the pleasure of sitting down with Uri Gneezy, who is the Author of Mixed Signals, which is about how incentives really work in the workplace. When he’s not writing, Uri is the Professor of Economics and Strategy at the University of California in San Diego, where he studies people’s rationales and motivations. He talked me through how to make the most out of incentives, how people get them wrong and what we need to consider when we’re setting them up. Read on for the highlights of our conversation.

How do businesses send out mixed messages with their incentives?

Incentives work. There is no question about that. Instead of thinking, ‘that’s how people should react to incentives’, companies need to find out how incentives work and make sure that they design their incentives to send a clear signal, because whether we like it or not, when we design incentives, we send signals. When we send a signal, we have to make sure that it’s in line with what we actually want to get. Very often companies don’t do that, and then the results are not what they expected.

How can we really ensure that long term success is the goal of our incentives?

If the coach or manager knows that if the team fails they’re going to be fired, they’re not going to give chances to young players. They wouldn’t try new strategies. Leaders want to be remembered as a success, so the solution is to tell them that we care about the long run. For example, if I’m hiring a new CEO, I would tell them ‘We are not going to look at quarterly earnings and judge you based on that. We’re going to give you a couple of years to do whatever you want with the company, and we’re going to let you manage it for a long period of time before we decide whether we want to fire you or not.’ That way, if they looked at the company computer system and realised that the network needs an upgrade, they can invest in it without worrying about the next quarterly earnings being low. If you’re interested in long term growth you can’t micromanage quarterly performance, because these things take time. 

How can businesses use incentives to get the most out of their people?

An example that I talk about in my book is when I worked with a company that did some seminars that lasted for a week, and people were promised free parking. Every day, if you had a parking ticket, you could validate it and get free parking. If you didn’t park, you got $5, which incentivised people to not drive. We contrasted this with another case, which is the regret lottery. We entered the name of everybody who attended every day, then at the end of the week, we pulled one name out. If you’d brought the car that day we’d put it aside and pull another name until we found someone who didn’t use the parking, and then gave this person $2,000. That’s an example of motivation, because using the car that day could cost them $2,000. That’s something people would regret. That was useful for getting more people to use public transportation or carpooling. 

Do you think that we underestimate the value of public praise?

Praise is a relatively small fraction of incentives. It gives people social status and makes them feel good about the job they’re doing. Those are extremely important things to most people. If I want to be a good faculty member at UCSD, I’d be trying to pick up signals about what’s good. Everything I see raising other people’s status would be an incentive for me. Teaching evaluations are not going to influence my promotions, but I feel much better if the students like my class because that impacts my social standing. As employers, we need to make sure that those incentives are used in the right way.

How can businesses use incentives to help their people generate good habits?

Habits are some of the hardest things to change. If I want my kid to do well on the SATs I need to find an incentive that will make them invest in learning. That could be getting a new computer for reaching a certain grade. When you talk with educators though, what they try to do is to make people enjoy learning. How can I get someone to enjoy reading books? That’s very hard with incentives. Something that my mother did was let me read these trashy Western books. People would ask me ‘Why did she allow you to read them?’ The answer was ‘As long as he enjoys reading it, I don’t care. He will grow out of it, but he’ll still enjoy reading.’ She was right, I don’t read those trashy Western anymore, but I still read. That’s how companies need to approach incentives – they should be used to get people over the initial hurdle and into doing something productive. 

To learn more about using incentives in your team, tune in to Episode 142 of Talent & Growth here

Skills-based hiring is an alternative hiring strategy that companies can use to assess candidates’ suitability for the role. On Episode 141 of Talent & Growth I was joined by Johnny Campbell, the CEO of Social Talent, to discuss his experiences and advice around skills based hiring. Read on to learn how you can apply this method to your own hiring process. 

How is skills-based hiring different from traditional hiring methods?

Skills-based hiring is a popular phrase that’s been used recently by lots of companies and people. For the last 25 years at least we’ve hired largely based on experience. If you want a recruiter you would look for CVS recruiters, people with recruitment experience, people who worked in recruitment organisations, etc. It’s not rocket science. However, that hasn’t been working for a lot of jobs recently. 

An example is from a customer of mine, his CEO came to him and said, “We need to have a solution for general AI in our product base, and we need people to do that.” So my client went out and tried to hire someone, but there’s nobody out there with experience in heading up the generative AI team in a company because it’s such a new thing. So, he had to go, “Okay, I can’t find people with generative AI on their CV, but who could do the job?” So he went and found people with strong numeracy, experience with programming languages, good communication skills, smart business acumen, etc, etc. That’s skills-based hiring. Rather than looking for the exact experience, you’re looking for someone who has the skills required, not the experience required to do that job. 

Why should companies move towards skills-based hiring rather than the traditional approach?

People are being forced to do it because they cannot fill jobs. Organisations are looking at their roles and realising that there aren’t enough graduates coming out of universities or working for their competitors to fill their demand. This is happening a lot in the tech field because the pandemic forced everyone to move online. Companies like H&M and Zara suddenly had to change their skillset from finding a good shop location to digital marketing, and there weren’t enough people with experience to fill those roles. And you can’t create people with that experience overnight, it just doesn’t work. 

What we’re seeing in loads of areas is an increasingly large range of skills but a shortage of experienced staff. This isn’t just about white collar skills – it’s everywhere. In the service industry people are often hired because they demonstrate good people skills, basic maths and the ability to think on their feet. That’s how most of us got into our first jobs. When you’re 36 years of age and you’re going for a job that’s paying 100k, you don’t expect someone to be hiring in the same way. Because of the way the market is at the moment, people are having to go back to that model for the higher-paying roles, because that allows them to access far more talent and find a good fit. 

What would your advice be for companies who are taking this approach for the first time?

Don’t start with everything. Look at your most difficult to find roles. Talk to those clients or hiring managers and present the data from what you’ve done so far. LinkedIn have done a good job on this – they’ve got a tool you can use that takes the sector, job, category and location and shows you the increase in talent pool you’ll get from skills-based hiring. That’s great because the talent pool is tiny and it’s going to be very expensive to hire for these roles and it’ll take a long time. Use that data to get their buy-in. 

Next, you need to go look at the requirements again, because it will probably need to change from experience to skills. You will have to dig into things like “When you said you want someone who’s from a similar sized company, why is that?” That creates more well-defined qualities like ‘scrappiness’ or ‘versatility’. But how would you assess that? Have those conversations with your hiring managers. 

It’s harder to source skills, because you can’t type in a bunch of keywords into LinkedIn for them. You can’t rely on experience-related job titles during your search. You have to build your own assessment and interview questions that probe your candidates. You’ll need a rubric to measure against to decide what is good and what is bad. There’s a bunch of processes that come from this hiring model that you might not have thought of before. The good news is that once you’ve gone through the cycle of recruiting for one role, you can apply that model to every role. Then you’ll be set up to fill the next role much faster. You’ll also have a story to tell the next hiring manager about how successful it was for the role that you were struggling to find candidates for two months ago.

To learn more about skills-based hiring, tune into the Talent & Growth podcast here

Diversity and Inclusion is a prominent topic in the talent acquisition industry. With that in mind, I spoke to Lynn In Ok Schaefer, the Head of People and Culture at homee & stromee, about how business can create an equitable recruitment process on Episode 139 of Talent & Growth. Lynn has a background in HR and recruitment, having previously worked at McKinsey and a number of other leading firms in a talent or advisory capacity. Read on for her advice on how to build an equitable recruitment process. 

From your research, how can companies promote D&I in their workforce?

One of the biggest projects we did was a comparative case study analysis of gender inclusion in talent management. We investigated the peculiarities of talent management and gender inclusion in two companies. This was when companies in Germany started to heavily invest in diversity and female initiatives because of new legislation. The companies we talked to were interested in finding out if those initiatives were paying off, because they invested millions in female mentoring and talent management programmes, but they thought nothing really changed. They still had problems with female quotas in higher management positions. The percentage of women in senior leadership was still very low. 

We identified five elements, which are talent definition, career orientation, talent development program content, the talent management approach and the talent selection process. These criteria determine the degree of gender bias and the discriminatory risk of talent management in that specific company. We looked at whether the overall organisational talent definition was equally associated with the typically feminine or masculine traits in these five places. 

One has to be very aware of certain biases when defining who and what is talent. Does that apply to vertical and horizontal career progression as well? What about diverse supervisors and nominators or when it comes to talent nominations and talent reviews? Companies need to be aware of that and have transparent criteria and processes. What we also found is that the companies investing in talent management programmes often had female networking and mentoring programmes for different age groups. One company found that they had a 50% quota of women at the entry level, but only 15 to 20% at the top level, so they investigated the level they were losing talent and how they could promote them more effectively. 

There are so many gender gaps in terms of pay, time, knowledge and health. It’s up to companies to even the playing field. There’s still so much room for improvement and so many things we have to look at.

How can companies ensure that their recruitment processes are unbiased and equitable for all candidates?

There’s a quote saying, “If you have a brain, you’re biassed.” That’s true for everyone, but in recruitment it’s important to be able to put that aside. When thinking about biases in general, there’s a short visualisation exercise I use. Imagine the following scenario: 

You are late to catch a flight. You rush to the airport, make it through security, run to the gates and get on the plane just as they close the door behind you. The pilot steps out of the cockpit and says Hi as you sit down. When you get to your destination, you go to the local restaurant and at the table next to you is a couple happily celebrating their anniversary. The next morning, you go to the biggest tech conference in the world, and the CEO of this year’s hottest tech startup just took the stage to speak. 

In your mental image, was the pilot black? Was the married couple two men? Was the tech CEO a woman? These are just a couple of questions that help you examine your own behaviour. They’re a powerful way to reveal how your unconscious bias works and the way you see things. 

Some pragmatic recommendations for companies start with the job posting. Try to improve them through your language by appealing to a diverse range of potential candidates. Have a balanced pipeline in your sourcing stage. Conduct blind screenings. There were a couple of experiments in Germany where they tried to screen candidates without names, pictures, demographic, age, nationality, etc. to try and remove these biases from their interview. 

Use standardised questions. Train your recruiters on unconscious biases and cognitive ability testing. Have diverse interview panels and a clear competence-based evaluation criteria. Collect, monitor and analyse data for disparities in your hiring process. 

To learn more about equitable talent strategies, tune into Episode 139 of Talent & Growth here

Company culture is one of the most important parts of a business’s retention strategy. On Episode 137 of Talent & Growth I spoke to Bruce Daisley, the host of the Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat podcast and 2x Sunday Times Best Seller about what he’s learned from working in big companies like Twitter and how their culture impacted the team. Bruce is now a Workplace Culture Consultant, giving him some fantastic insights into getting the most from your team. He shared his advice on how to get your company culture right.

What are the biggest challenges you see around companies trying to get workplace culture right? 

Workplace culture is a strange thing, isn’t it? I did loads of bar work and fast food restaurant service before I got anything close to a desk job. You can tell from the first shift in a pub if it’s going to be a good place to work. It’s a combination of the interactions you have with customers and the people you work with. The same goes for any organisation. In good firms where there’s a really good energy, people laugh more with their colleagues. And there’s more trust. Good cultures do often have more humour in them. 

Right now a lot of organisations are saying that work doesn’t feel the same. If you’re thinking specifically about candidates and the job market, we know that asking workers to come into the office more is demanding a price premium. If you want workers to come into the office five days a week, it seems to cost about 20% more. Most workers say that if they’re given any degree of flexibility, it’s equivalent to about an 8-10% pay rise. For a lot of people, the flexibility that they’ve had in the last three years is something they’re very reluctant to concede, so a lot of organisations I’ve chatted to have said, ‘We mandated people to come back into the office, and they didn’t come. Then we offered a free breakfast, but they didn’t come. We don’t know what to do next.’ 

The interesting challenge is that employees want flexibility or more money, and most firms aren’t willing to provide either of those things. When I hear bosses, leaders, or managers saying it doesn’t feel the same, it’s because they’re not listening to their employees and their needs. People don’t want to be in the office, so of course the culture feels different. 

What has working at Google and Twitter taught you about what retains and motivates great people?

The really interesting thing is that people who work in big tech firms often have all of their immediate needs met. They’ve got a gym, food vendors and all manner of perks and benefits on site. And yet, there’s a strange phenomenon where people have affluenza, which is the idea that they’ve got every material need fulfilled but they’re still unhappy. Why is that? It’s largely because big firms don’t give you any autonomy. You don’t have any decisions to make, you’re pretty much just a cell on a spreadsheet. As a result of that you often meet people who’ve worked in big corporations, specifically tech firms, who are deeply unhappy and can’t work out why that is. 

A lack of autonomy can be really demotivating and create a strange sense of dissonance. That ties into the myth of resilience and the secret of inner strength, because the idea of control has a huge impact on our sense of well being. When we feel like we’ve got control over our lives – whether it’s financial control, emotional control or control over our childcare responsibilities – that agency is really motivating and liberating for us. Quite often when candidates are looking for jobs, they might think ‘I want to go and work at a big firm’, and the best employees typically want to work at the biggest brands, because it says something about them and it adds the halo effect to their resumes. But, that can be illusory. It can be a red herring, because you can end up doing the job, which has got immense status to it, but has got no personal fulfilment.

To learn more about Bruce’s takes on company culture, tune into Episode 137 of Talent & Growth here

AI has been changing the way we work for several months now. On Episode 135 of Talent & Growth I was joined by Matt Alder, the Author of Digital Talent and Host of The Recruiting Future Podcast, to talk about how he sees AI impacting the future of the recruitment industry. Read on to find out what he had to say about the way we can implement AI to improve talent acquisition!

What impact with AI have on recruitment in the day-to-day? 

It’s accelerating the trend towards automation within recruiting. Lots of organisations are looking at how they do recruitment. Something that we need to think about is the potential of these tools to take automation deeper into the recruitment process than we ever thought was possible. We need to think about the future of our industry and ask questions that we’ve not asked before. I’m encouraging people to try and get out of short term thinking while experimenting with these tools and consider what the long term impacts could be for their organisation, their team and their career. 

How can recruiters use AI to improve the candidate experience?

Something that’s always cited as a massive issue in the candidate experience is the quality of communication. When organisations use automation in their communication it actually improves the candidate experience. We live digital lives, and we’re often very happy talking to a machine if it’s giving us the information that we need, moving things along and keeping us informed. 

With airlines for example, a decade ago you had to go and check in manually with a bit of paper. It was very onerous because you had to queue up multiple times at the airport. Now you just check in online and you can have all kinds of conversations about your flight with an app whenever you want. That’s a much better experience than having to deal with humans. 

Recruiters need to think about how technology can improve their communication and the customer experience. Let humans do the bit that humans do really well, which is building relationships, interviewing or persuading people. Humans don’t need to keep scheduling calls or providing information – that can be automated and personalised effectively.

How can AI be used to create more diverse and inclusive hiring practices? 

Humans are inherently biassed. Could AI therefore create processes that have less bias in them? The flip side of that is the question, ‘Who is checking that these technologies are unbiased, and they’re not learning bias from us?’ There’s legislation emerging in various states in America that look at transparency in terms of how AI makes decisions about hiring. There is potential to remove bias and help make things more diverse, but I don’t think it’s that simple yet. 

What are the ethical concerns around new developments in AI?

We’ve talked about governments and other institutions not moving quickly enough to deal with the implications of AI, but there’s a huge discussion around ethics and regulation coming down the pipeline that we haven’t really touched on yet. New York State is introducing a regulation that requires any AI or other technology that’s involved in selecting people for jobs to be fully transparent. There are already court cases racking up about copyright infringement and plagiarism coming from these AI models as well. Until we get down the line and see what happens legally, it’s difficult to say what’s going to be a major concern. It always takes a while for our institutions to catch up with technology, and there’s an argument that they never really do. However, we will quickly reach the point where these huge conversations about ethics, transparency and legality start happening. 

To learn more about the impact of AI on recruitment and the wider people industry, tune into the Talent & Growth podcast here

There have been widespread lay offs in the last six to nine months, and the talent acquisition industry is no exception. As somebody who has been laid off before myself, I took time to offer some advice to people who might be going through a similar situation at the moment on Episode 133 of Talent & Growth. Here are five steps you can take to re-start your career: 

1 – Change Your Perspective

If you’ve been laid off recently, the chances are, it’s not about you. We’re living through a crazy time in the economy and the talent market, so this is an unfortunate part of the cycle. Talent acquisition is one of the first functions to be hit by periods of uncertainty, so try to remove some of the emotion from your situation and look at it more objectively. These cycles always happen, but it’s not your fault. 

2 – Upskill Yourself 

Use this time to upskill. Think about the areas which you haven’t had exposure to or training in, and think of it as a way you can add another string to your bow. Companies often need someone who can wear two or three hats at once, so how do you get to that level? What courses can you do to make you more attractive to a company moving forwards? Everyone wants to save money, so if you can demonstrate to a company that they can save money by hiring you for two or three roles rather than just one of them, they’re going to be interested. 

Businesses are going to want to know how they can save money using automation. AI is everywhere, so get yourself up to date with what functions are out there that you could implement for a new company. When a company asks you, ‘What AI should we be using to save our business money?’ You want to have an answer. If you don’t get all over it, you’re probably going to fall behind. 

3 – Ask for Help 

What I’ve always loved about TA is that everyone’s sharing and helping each other out. LinkedIn is my favourite social media by far because it’s so positive. It’s always worth posting that you’re looking for work. People who don’t even know you will tag you and tag other people to start a conversation about it, because they want to help. It’s that kind of platform. Put out what you’re looking for and what you’re good at. Don’t be afraid to do that. 

Find the best recruitment agencies out there and speak to them. Find out what’s going on in the market. If you find a good one, they’re absolutely worth their weight in gold. When the time comes for you to help other people, you will as well. Think of asking for help as an opportunity for someone to pay it forward, and you will pay it back. That’s how you build a really great community and network. 

4 – Don’t Rely on Your CV

You go on LinkedIn to connect with people. There’s no point just sending a CV to an advert, you should connect with a line manager, send them a personal message, and then follow up. Explain why you want to work for that company, and don’t be afraid to get personal. You’ve got to stand out, because there are a lot of people out there looking for a job. The difference between somebody giving you a job or never looking at your application could be a personal message that really spoke to them. It really can’t hurt to try. 

5 – Research Your Opportunities 

If you apply for a job as a Chief Talent Officer and you do some follow ups, that’s great. But, wouldn’t it be even better if you found an opportunity before it went out and 1000 people applied to it? Look into the companies who are making moves, who’ve just received investment, and who you know that could be interested in someone with your skill set. Try and spot the opportunity before it’s posted on job boards. 

To hear more in-depth discussion of the advice in this blog, tune into Episode 133 of the Talent & Growth podcast here

During a cost of living crisis, financial wellbeing is a significant concern for employers and employees alike. On episode 131 of Talent & Growth, I spoke to Anita Lettink, a veteran of the HR and Payroll industry and author of How to Select Your Next Payroll, about how we can promote financial wellbeing in our employees. We covered topics from salary transparency to financial literacy, so read on to find out how you can improve the financial wellbeing of your team. 

Why do you think financial wellbeing is not talked about enough? 

I think the pandemic normalised talking about mental health, so we started to delve into that. We found that there were four problems that people were having – one of which was financial issues. That is completely understandable, because if you are worried about paying your invoices you are not bringing your best self to work. Instead you’re constantly trying to figure out how to pay the next bill or how to avoid the debt collectors. 

Last year, after the war in Ukraine started, we were also faced with inflation, so you can see why the financial aspects of the employer-employee relationship suddenly became much more important in the first half of last year. What I noticed last year as I tracked a lot of investments in the HR tech startup space was a shift from funding talent and mental health solutions to funding HR and Payroll solutions and compensation and financial education tools. There is some progress being made, but it’s coming after the problems emerged. 

How does supporting the financial health of employees contribute to that overall mental well being job satisfaction, and what can companies do to prioritise this aspect of care? 

Before the pandemic it was unheard of that you would talk about your financial situation with employees.You could know that they are not managing their financial situation very well, but you could not really bring it up because it was considered their private business. I think after the pandemic, we started to realise that, first of all, mental health and financial health are sometimes very closely related. We also realised that not everyone gets a good financial education at home, and when you do not get it at home, you don’t get it anywhere else. 

The first environment where you are faced with this situation is your job. Thankfully the pandemic has normalised the employer-employee relationship in the sense that we now find it easier to talk about private issues. One of those everyday conversations is slowly but surely also taking a financial turn. That means that when people find it really hard to manage their money, that can be a conversation at work. Employers are also making tools available, because they now understand that sometimes that is an issue where people can be taught how to be more aware of their income versus their outflow, but also manage it in such a way that it is beneficial to them. 

A number of tools can tie into your Payroll solution or to tie into your bank account which give you a more accurate picture of your financial situation. All of these things coming together has created the perfect opportunity for employers to start having these conversations with employees, but also employees asking for solutions and help with their finances from employers.

The interesting thing is that these money issues happen at all levels. It is not just that employees with lower salaries suffer from these issues more often than employees with very high salaries. The reason is that when people earn a certain amount of money, they start to adjust their spending patterns, and before you know it, even people that we would consider rich have trouble managing their income.

What ways can companies effectively educate and empower their employees to make informed decisions about their financial health?

Make the right information available. Don’t just send people a payslip, but give them insight on compensation. A lot of companies provide benefits which have a monetary value, such as pension support, which is building wealth in a certain way. People assume that they understand their own financial situation, but there are cases where people switched companies thinking that they would get a higher salary, but their compensation amount did not change or was lower than before because of a change in additional benefits.Giving people access to an overview of their total rewards packages is really helpful, because it shows what you as a company invest in them. That’s when they can make much more informed decisions about their financial planning.

To learn more about financial wellbeing, tune into Episode 131 of the Talent & Growth podcast here. 

Company culture has become a prominent topic in the past couple of years. On Episode 129 of the Talent & Growth podcast I sat down with the Head of People and Culture at SciLeads, Rob Rees, to talk about how they have created a healthy culture in their remote-first business. I was really interested to find out how they keep their culture positive and inclusive  while making everyone feel recognised. Read on to learn Rob’s secrets!

SciLeads have developed a strong culture in a remote environment. What were the keys to success with that?

One thing that stands out for me is that we know who we are. We also know what our collective view on the world is. We believe that work should fit around your life, so you can do your best work when it suits you. It’s really about changing and breaking the social barriers or constraints that we put on ourselves. There is a sense of community in our company, and there is a sense that we are all in this together, regardless of your position. Because the organisation is incredibly flat, we’re open to new suggestions, experimenting and new ways of doing things. 

Our community is built on relationships. For me it’s really important to know the person behind the camera. For example, five of us are running the Belfast marathon. A couple of weeks ago, one of our newly promoted team managers was speaking at a panel and we went along to give him moral support, and then that turned into a social event. With things like that you get to know what the other person is doing and how they operate. 

Self identity is also really important to our culture. We don’t take it personally if someone says it’s not for them because they want to go to the office – that’s totally fine. Somebody asked me the other day if I like working for a remote organisation, but SciLeads does not feel like a remote organisation, it feels very much like we’re all doing our bit on a collective goal. We’re in it together, we know each other, and we trust each other. 

How do you ensure that communication remains effective and efficient in a remote culture?

We don’t use email. All of my email is all external, with accountants, candidates or recruitment agencies. I don’t get a single email from anybody internally, because we communicate in an asynchronous manner. That increases the volume of information that you get, because there’s lots of different Slack channels. When you first come into SciLeads you’re used to having your Gmail organised with labels, now you have to do that with Slack. You get to have an opinion on lots of different things, which is very uplifting, because you’re not just stuck in your lane. The majority of our team use our virtual office too. If you’ve got a question you can jump into a quick room and somebody can share their screen. 

Those are really simple ways that really helped us communicate, but also you’ve got to over communicate. If you’re communicating asynchronously, you’ve got to be really clear. You’ve got to make sure they understand this. Not everything requires a Zoom call. Sometimes you need to have a Zoom call where you are talking in real time to that person, but not everything does. You can decide what can be asynchronous, and what needs to be a call. We’re then very intentional with who attends those calls. That communication style gives you the freedom to be truly flexible in the way that you approach work. 

How can we make sure that people feel recognition in a virtual environment?

A big part of it is understanding that not everybody likes to receive recognition in the same way. Some people love hearing ‘Well done, that was a great job’ at the beginning of a meeting. Some people don’t. Our sales team is ultra competitive, so they have a good old lead table where our head of sales will put up how many contacts that they’ve booked this week and highlight the top spot. Our operations team on the other hand would just prefer a note on slack to say ‘Thank you, that was really helpful’. It’s about understanding what works for everybody, and how to get the best out of everybody. 

People want a level playing field, so we are as transparent as possible. We’ve put a lot of work into making sure that our structure is fair. We tailor that recognition to the individual, and that works really well in a remote organisation because we have those different means of giving it out. 

To learn more about building a strong company culture, tune into the Talent & Growth podcast here

Human resources and talent acquisition are intrinsically linked people functions. Both play an integral role in the health of your company, so it was great to sit down with Jacqueline Cornielje to talk about innovative ways that HR can improve lives. Jacqueline is the Head of People and Culture at Media Distillery, where she is doing some really interesting things, such as trialling unlimited holiday schemes and decoupling salary raises from performance and progression plans. Read on for the insights she shared during Episode 127 of the Talent & Growth podcast!

Talk us through your experience of offering unlimited holiday? 

We’re doing a pilot this year to see if it would work for us. We felt that it fit with our values, because autonomy and courage are two of the things we work towards. We’re trying this courageously and trusting people to be autonomous in their work and with holidays. We have quite a young group of people, and research shows that millennials really value their work life balance. 

We also have a group of international colleagues from all over Europe who want to go home to visit their family, which was a struggle because usually travel days to see your family are not really relaxing, but they still take up vacation days. We also had some people that were taking longer vacations at the beginning of the year, and then in September they had a busy month but they were not able to take a long weekend to recharge because they didn’t have any vacation days left. It was leading to stress and burnout. That is why we started looking into unlimited holiday.

There’s a lot of research on it where some companies have failed while others have implemented it successfully. That’s why we chose to do a pilot to see what would happen. We have only three general rules: 

1) Make sure it doesn’t impact your team or your customers. We ask permission from the team so that it’s not the whole team taking the day off, because then it won’t work. 

2) Take at least 20 days a year. One of the biggest problems we found with the system is that people are actually taking less vacation than than more. We really wanted to make sure people take the minimum of 20 days. 

3) Use it in a reasonable way. With that, we mean, don’t use it to start working part time taking every Friday off, so you end up working 32 hours a week and getting paid for 40. Don’t use it to prolong your pregnancy leave because we have different things in place for that. Do use it when you need it and use it reasonably. 

We’re not halfway through the year and the summer vacation is still approaching, but we haven’t encountered any problems yet. I’m quite confident that the pilot will become a real benefit after this year, because people are getting what they need. 

Can you explain how and why you’ve decoupled raises from performance reviews?

I’ve noticed throughout my whole career that every time I had a yearly performance review, I felt a motivational dip right after. When I became a manager I had the same problem. I also noticed the same with a lot of my colleagues, so that made me research what was happening and why it was happening. I learned about a lot of the cognitive biases that we have, and it makes perfect sense that this system doesn’t work for a lot of people. 

The Dunning Kruger Effect states that when you are less experienced at something, you tend to overestimate your abilities on the subject. But, when you are more skilled, you tend to underestimate your own abilities. This is one of the effects that make people think they are performing better than they might be performing. On the manager’s side, there’s the Halo Effect where when you really appreciate a small part of somebody, you will tend to think they have other positive traits which might not be proven. If somebody has a negative trait, you tend to think more negatively about that person in other areas as well. That’s really what influences managers in the performance review. 

A lot of companies do stack ranking, where you have a certain amount of money that you have to divide over all your colleagues. That makes people start not cooperating but competing with each other. That causes an overjustification effect. There was even a study among toddlers when they had to do some colouring, and some got a reward after. The next time they had to do some colouring, they had lost all the fun in it. When they didn’t get a reward again, they didn’t want to do it anymore. They lost all their intrinsic motivation. So there are a lot of psychological reasons why coupling performance with a raise is not a good idea. 

Then I read the book Drive by Daniel Pink. He claims that rewarding people for tasks is harmful. For example with data entry, if you say that for every 20 addresses you enter, you get a reward, people are going to enter more addresses, because that’s how it works. For more complex tasks, it doesn’t work that way. It might actually have the opposite effect. 

However, it is important that people feel they are rewarded in a good way. That’s why benchmarking is still really important when looking at the salaries we pay and the raises we give. What we do is we make two separate processes. First of all, the yearly raise is a really simple process. We look at company performance, we look at the budget that is available for raises and then everybody gets a fair share. We tend to move towards each other and we don’t get big differences in salary. Two times a year we benchmark our salaries to make sure that we don’t pay too little or that people will leave just because of the salary. 

We really help people to set personal development goals, because it’s not coupled to raises anymore. We hope that the plans will be more ambitious, because people can take more risks if they’re not punished for not reaching their goals. They can really set those goals for themselves. For this we have a normal conversation with your manager, get feedback from your colleagues, and see where you want to grow into and what you can develop. That’s how we set personal plans. 

To learn more about radical HR strategies, tune into the Talent & Growth podcast here

Leadership is a difficult position to be in during challenging economic times. On Episode 122 of the Talent & Growth podcast I spoke to Elisa Hebert, the VP of Operations and Engineering at Fairwinds. Her experience has been centred around periods of change in businesses and navigating those changes with her people, particularly through mergers and acquisition. She joined me on the podcast to talk about how leaders can steer their teams through similar periods of change.  

What do leaders need to consider when communicating with their staff during times of change?

I’m biassed towards transparency. You have to be thoughtful about what you’re putting out and the way you’re talking about it though, because it can overwhelm or worry people if you’re not being specific about what you’re trying to communicate and why. Always give people the context to process the information you’re giving them. Part of your job as a leader is to make sure that people have the right environment to be successful in their role and in the company. People need to feel like they have a place in the organisation, like they understand where they fit and how the things that they’re doing contribute to the larger success. As managers, your job is to give people that context around what’s going on at the higher levels of the organisation, but it’s important to let people know how it will affect them without overwhelming them. 

How can leaders determine how much information is appropriate to share with their staff? 

Mergers and acquisitions are inherently stressful activities. It can be anxiety provoking. You need to start with a baseline plan of what information you want to share, how much you should tell people and a way to share it constructively. You should make sure that you understand where people are coming from, such as if people have been through an acquisition before and if they know what to expect. In any scenario, you want to share the information that helps people be able to do their job well, and you don’t want to gate-keep or block information that they need. Fundamentally, protecting people means helping them understand context, not hiding context from them. 

What are some of the mistakes that leaders make in terms of their communication?

The biggest mistake that I’ve seen is making a big blanket statement. Saying something like  ‘We’re not going to lay anybody off’, or ‘We are definitely going to do XYZ’ will create mistrust because you don’t know that that is true. Saying things like ‘We’re all gonna get along’ is a similar issue, because people can come back and say ‘You told me everything was going to be the same, but you’re changing this thing that I really care about, and now I think you’re full of crap’. It will erode your credibility as a leader if you’ve made definitive statements and then things beyond your control end up changing. Those statements create unnecessary emotional blockers.

What are the best practices for communicating with staff during changes? 

You should try to protect people and help them find a soft landing. You should be open about what’s happening. The first step is reducing the noise around layoffs. If you want to continue to employ people in a place that they think is good to work in with other interesting people, you have to make sure that the business is healthy. Sometimes that does mean costs have to be reduced. People get really frustrated around layoffs that they didn’t know about in advance, but if you announce you’re gonna have layoffs, everybody gets nervous. I want people to be able to make the best decisions for themselves, and I have to protect the business at the same time. Leaders should keep those two things in balance as much as possible. 

To hear more of Elisa’s insights into communicating effectively in leadership, tune into the Talent & Growth Podcast here