In our most recent Cohesion Podcast with Layla Kajer, Director of People Experience, and Will Leahy, VP People Development & Business Partners, at Greenhouse Software we discussed workplace culture, psychological safety, DE&I and more!
Easier said than done
Will and Layla are passionate about psychological safety in the workplace. Gone are the days of command and control by a negative leader in a toxic work environment. Today’s workers have a choice of work environment and culture, and it has been proven that teamwork is much more productive when people feel safe and included in a collaborative space.
This requires more effort than the typical “how is your day going?” type of employee engagement. Tangible interactions are essential, those regular rituals to fit in around the main events of the day. How are we showing up in face-to-face meetings, or on Zoom, and what are the norms?
Killing the Slack monster
Ever been in a virtual meeting where everyone is nodding along in agreement but a colleague is privately typing negative stuff about the content to one or two of you, all the while? Kill that monster because that is not a safe psychological space.
Here’s where leadership can be empowered to show up and create space for psychological safety, by showing humanity, vulnerability, and laughing a little. It’s not about the big things, it’s the micro-moments that reinforce psychological safety, so those must be fine-tuned.
“Things like the Slack monster are toxic to team culture,” Layla says, “and a core indicator of low psychological safety.”
Catalysts, rituals, and vibes
Catalysts like a big roll-out initiative in a company can be a huge moment to make connections and for employees to feel inspired by the enthusiasm. But while a big launch is great, the feelings it creates are fleeting.
Layla and Will describe how to engage people more effectively around true inspiration and move away from the average check-in experience or flashy moments. “Engagement is the most precious resource people have now, and we need cultures where people can be fully human, fully themselves.”
Greenhouse gets away from the overloaded slide deck presentations of the past by using artists, meditation coaches, and other mediums to allow participants to be truly present in meetings and create a memorable vibe.
Always on the lookout for new, great ideas, Greenhouse discovered a number of people with expertise spanning many creative disciplines in their own ranks—and they were keen to share their knowledge and passion in the name of safe organizational culture.
Engagement at Greenhouse goes beyond a job description to touch people’s lives.
Reaching for the stars, again
Layoffs across all sectors of industry are a way of life now, causing low psychological safety. Will and Layla agree that there’s not much we can do about external influences here, and that it’s a real challenge to maintain an atmosphere of psychological safety with transparency when things go wrong.
Companies need to work out how best to keep employees informed, how much they should know, and whether they need a shared space to give and receive feedback, as well as when and how to follow up. “The hard choices are better made through a people-first lens. It’s not what you do, but how.”
‘Weathering the storm’ playbook
Given the new norms of remote and hybrid work, tight budgets, and layoffs, it’s difficult to create and connect within a culture of psychological safety. Nobody wants another Zoom happy hour, and individual preferences are coming into play. “One size no longer fits all. One size fits one.”
Because everyone is different and needs different types of connection, a multi-faceted approach is a must. Not something that’s a scattershot, but one that focuses on the individual and being inclusive of their needs.
Those moments of connection are the building blocks of psychological safety. To facilitate this, Greenhouse has begun offering new ways to organize regional events, meet-ups, and virtual get-togethers to build this foundation together.
The Greenhouse mirror
Layla and Will hold a mirror up to themselves to reveal how they ensure their actions speak louder than words. This is where leadership keeps one another accountable, and it makes a big difference here.
People do not have the same energy outputs at the same time, and it makes sense to expect everyone to work differently and at different times around their unique capabilities. So, working around different demands and schedules must be considered, and co-workers must be made aware of these differences if they’re expected to appreciate and respect them.
Care, but don’t share
Not everyone wants to share, right? Will tells us how it’s possible to be aware of issues and to show care around those without people having to share things they want to keep private. This is a key hallmark of creating a place of psychological safety.
No one in the workplace needs to explain what their personal issues are, nor how many hours or minutes they require of ‘work time’ to deal with those. That attitude is a thing of the distant past.
“Honoring these things, and accepting when and how they must happen, is almost all of the battle.”
Leadership user guide
Not so much a to-do list, but more about asking the right questions, finding out what employees are doing, when they work and sleep, when they are their most creative, do they think there are too many meetings, respecting, caring, how can you best work and fit your life around that? Leaders have to set the tone, and listen, ask, act. Individuals must know their comfort levels, set boundaries, and share their needs.
“Relationship-building is such a path to accelerated psychological safety, and that’s what makes work great and a lot of fun.”
Mission-critical DE&I approaches
Will touches on how Greenhouse embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to create that extra layer of psychological safety. He emphasizes how Greenhouse doesn’t just talk about it, but how they are about it.
The ‘inclusion in the flow’ initiative gives underrepresented voices an opportunity to tell their story. A storyteller is helped by a guide to explore how they have or have not experienced inclusion, and this brings moments of precious connections, along with tears, laughter, and goosebumps.
To cast the inclusion net even wider through Greenhouse communities, Will outlines the ‘Arbors’ initiatives, or safe places where, just as one example of many, parents can seek support and solutions, and discuss problems and pressures with others in the same boat. He stresses how popular the guest sleep expert was, and you can hear more about this on the podcast.
Layla found her own interviewing process amazing. There was a panel interview entirely dedicated to how best she would drive the culture forward.
“It wasn’t saying here is the box we believe our culture fits into. Do you?” It was an open-ended exchange of ideas that left participants hopeful and invigorated.
Having been pretty well educated in the DE&I space, she was blown away by the support and huge learning that was happening organically around the language and terminology and its impact.
Greenhouse communication guides around gender and language are super-valuable, and a separate tool called Ally Bot can be used on Slack and other places to flag inclusion issues.
Listen to the podcast for more
Given that psychological safety is the cornerstone of a great work culture, Will and Layla talk about the dos and don’ts for leaders building areas of safety in their own teams.
“The power of vulnerability is limitless,” says Will, “and it takes bravery and courage. But when leaders show up in spaces as real human beings, this counts big.”
Layla highlights the importance of an accessible executive. The days are over for employees to feel star-struck by their leaders. Interacting naturally and equally is the norm encouraged by Greenhouse, and it’s great to see this difference.
Will also discusses the advantage of curiosity “Get deeply curious. Ask questions. Why were you so quiet today? What’s going on for you? How did you find that meeting? And then really listen to the answers.” Also, be willing to take accountability very publicly on an issue that’s gone haywire. Own up and own it. Showing up and showing you’re human is everything.
In Layla’s words “Here is a way to a culture where you can be fully human, and we want to celebrate this by giving you this platform.”
Listen to the podcast, to learn more about how you can get better at these crucial hiring and engagement elements, and subscribe, so you don’t miss out on further great content.
Find out everything there is to know about Greenhouse here. And finally—Will Leahy and Layla Kajer are both active on LinkedIn and welcome new connections!