Greenhouse Open: People-centric organizations, transparency and becoming a change agent

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8 mins, 7 secs read time

After an insightful and collaborative Structured Hiring Workshop on Day 1 of Greenhouse Open, attendees were ready to take on day 2!

Thursday was full of conversation and insights across the Talent Acquisition, People Ops, and HR industries, from Greenhouse CEO & Co-Founder Daniel Chait’s riveting keynote, to the honest and humbling fireside chat with Zenefits CEO David Sacks, to the dynamic “The New People Teams” break-out session, to the culminating evening rooftop party at 620 Jones in downtown San Francisco (GIF booth and fried chicken-n-waffles included).

Whether you were unable to join us onsite or simply want to relive the conversation from the comfort of your couch, check out these highlights and takeaways from the day:

How we’re shifting into people-centric organizations

Greenhouse CEO & co-founder Daniel Chait began his keynote by explaining how the talent landscape has evolved into what it is today. In the early 1900s, with the shift from an agrarian to a more industrial society, factory problems and labor unrest emerged. As a result, personnel departments were created to address workers’ needs and minimize risk. Then in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a rise in knowledge workers and offices which drove the need for more regulation, since personnel departments were unable to address all of the compliance issues that manifested in an office setting. This is when HR departments formed, and the idea that humans are a resource, not just the machines, became paramount. As a result of this shift in perspective, by the mid-1980s, nearly all companies had HR departments.

Now today, as we can all attest to, everything is based on technology. Tech companies have emerged as the fastest-growing and most successful companies. In fact, 10 years ago, the top 10 largest companies (by market capitalization) included just 1 technology company. Today, 5 out of the top 10 are technology companies, and 3 of them have been around for less than 20 years!

So, what does the new tech landscape mean for the future of People? Tech companies, at their core, are intellectual enterprises, whose greatest assets are their people. Unlike the companies of the industrial revolution, whose success depended on efficient factories, the value of a technology company comes from People functions—design, sales, marketing, customer support, engineering, etc. These roles are based on the work of our own minds, ideas, and efforts. Based on these insights, Dan presented 3 trends that are driving what’s coming next:

The digital revolution has elevated the value of people in an organization—the value of each person has skyrocketed as there is no longer an assembly line and people are contributing themselves through their skills and ideas.

The power has shifted from companies to people—the days of someone staying at their job for 40 years and then collecting a pension are over; people now have more control over their lives and the power to change their jobs.

Strong employee engagement and company culture have become a competitive advantage—Gallup research says that companies with high employee engagement and strong, diverse company cultures outperform their peers across all business metrics: profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee turnover, to name a few. Companies thus must prioritize company culture and strong management—overall, building a great place to work.

What do these trends mean? In order to stay competitive and attract and retain the best talent, companies must evolve their HR departments into People Teams.

Transparency, both inside and outside the organization

Dan sat down for a fireside chat with Zenefits CEO David Sacks to discuss the inside story of the new Zenefits—the one not so readily told by the media. After internal issues with regulation and compliance hit the news, David came into Zenefits with a goal to fix the issues at hand and restore faith in the employees. His sole focus was on transparency. He sees transparency as a business necessity, saying: “You can’t solve a problem—whether large or small—if you don’t admit it exists.” For him, transparency was first and foremost about fixing the business problem, not about addressing the media.

He achieved this by hiring third-party firms to audit everything Zenefits had done to successfully fix the problem and packaged this information up in a detailed report and handed it directly to regulators and other key stakeholders. This was the most transparent the company could be—they didn’t make the regulators hunt down the information nor did they spin it before presenting it to them. As David explained, “Let us be the ones who tell you everything that went wrong and exactly how we’re fixing it.” Further, he explained that, yes, the temptation is to not be transparent—to try to minimize the situation—but this is not the best way to approach it. The best way is to take the tough medicine up front and own the mistake—even if it gets you bad press—because in the long-run, it will work out the way it’s supposed to. And for Zenefits, it has. Transparency has restored employees’ trust in the company and has given them a sense of purpose, as more employees now than in the past know and understand the company’s mission and values. Clearly, Sacks’ approach of being transparent both internally and externally is working towards the company’s pursuit of reinventing itself.

Session snippet: how people teams propel career development

In one of our break-out sessions, Greenhouse VP of People & Strategy Maia Josebachvili led an all-star panel of People leaders on the theme of The New People Teams. One of the core topics of discussion was how career development is curated in companies that are driven by the new People Teams.

Panelist Chris Yeh, Co-Author, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, was fascinated by how overlooked and under-prioritized career development is in organizations. He stated that the number one reason people leave companies is that they’re pursuing another career development opportunity elsewhere. Further, he noted that people don’t necessarily want to leave their current employer, but they are unaware that opportunities for growth do exist at their current company. It’s a lack of awareness that’s the problem. His solution? Managers should play a direct role in people development. This is where the People Team comes in—it should empower managers with the tools and training they need to successfully develop their employees. Therefore, career development starts with the People Team but ultimately is in the hands of managers.

Fellow panelist Joris Luijke, VP of People at Grovo, noted that the foundation of career development starts with the manager. The manager needs to understand what the people in their teams actually love about their work. What most excites and energizes them? The key is to stop forcing people to work in areas of their weaknesses and instead, put them in areas of their strengths—areas where the work fulfills them the most and they can put their best foot forward. This is a win-win for the company.

Session snippet: how to drive change in your organization

Another break-out session highlight is from “Building a New People Culture: How to Become a Change Agent.” One topic discussed among the panel was how to drive change in your organization. Trello VP of People Liz Hall explained her foolproof process of getting buy-in from people in her organization for creating change. Her key insight is that a lot of the time, the issue is simply that people don’t have enough information explaining the why behind the change. They’re missing this crucial piece of the puzzle—so no wonder they’re automatically turned off to the idea! So instead of starting from a place of them being on the defensive and having to work backwards to gain their trust and buy-in, be an efficient communicator and provide all of the information they need upfront—before they ever even hear any mention of the proposed change. This way, when it’s time to sit down with them to talk it through, they’ll not only have all the information they need, but they’ll also have had time to digest it and see why their cooperation is so crucial. You’ll have a much higher chance of success if you carry out this method.

Greenhouse Open attendee Noah Love of also shared with us his insight from the audience about approaching people who may be resistant to change. What has helped him the most is showing his fellow employees that his intentions are pure—not sneaky. For Noah, more than half the battle is just showing to your employees that you’re human; you’re just like them. “Yes, this change needs to be made, but I’m coming from a good place, and I’m taking your concerns into consideration.” Like Liz, he finds that 1:1 meetings with any and all employees—no matter if they’re executives or entry level—work best to show that you genuinely care about their needs and concerns. And he further advises the value of doing this in person as opposed to through email or instant message. If online, the conversation loses a human quality that is so critical for your success.

Hopefully this gives you a taste of the multitude of topics and issues that are being discussed by the greatest minds in our industry—and which are surely making an impact on you and the work you do in your organization. Be sure to stay tuned into the Greenhouse Blog when next week, we’ll cover the best-of-the-best content from the entire event. Until then, we’re signing off from San Francisco, and wishing everyone a very pleasant Memorial Day weekend!

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