True growth isn’t about expanding numbers; it’s nurturing a culture that values and retains its top talent. In this episode, talent expert Claire Chandler talks about real business growth that involves retaining your best talent. She discusses the often-overlooked yet critical link between organizational growth and talent retention. Claire explains the four main pillars necessary for a successful corporate culture: hiring the right people, keeping top performers, building trust, and sharing core values. Tune in now and learn how to foster business growth without sacrificing your most valuable asset—your talented workforce.
We are a show that guides leaders in how to elevate the workforce overall. We believe that people are at the heart of a successful organization. This means that team members’ well-being, rewards, and career development are all essential to a happy, healthy, and highly productive workforce. This show discusses the practical and effective leadership strategies for top executives, senior professionals, and talent managers. I do want to recognize the different hosts that we have in addition to myself. We have Char Miller and Sumit Singla.
Char Miller is a small business entrepreneur. She has deep expertise as a Chief People Officer in some major medical systems. We’re glad to have her advice here. We have Sumit Singla. He’s broadcasting out of India. He has a deep level of expertise working for many companies such as Accenture, Aon, and so forth. We’re happy to have him on the show. Thank you, Sumit. Howard Nizewitz is joining us as well. Howard is a seasoned HR and compensation expert who specializes in a lot of systems. I’ve worked with Howard for a number of years. I’m very pleased to have him here.
We are joined by Claire Chandler, President and Founder of Talent Boost, who’s turning the tide of how companies approach growth overall. One thing unique about Claire is that she’s a prolific writer. We’re going to show you some of the books that she’s put together. She has many years of experience in her field. She’s not just an expert. She’s a visionary who understands law, the heart of every successful expansion is people behind the scenes.
Her Growth On Purpose framework has become the North Star for businesses to determine to scale without losing their soul or best talent for that being. Claire is going to tell us about her book and how she’s transformed that philosophy into a book that’s going to be coming out here soon. Claire is no longer a stranger to the limelight. You have done 150 podcast appearances. That’s quite the dedication to getting out there. You’re a common voice on Forbes. Such a great achievement you did is that you’ve been crowned as the 2023 Best Entrepreneur in Business Consulting. Congrats on that.
I wanted to share with our audience here the different books you have, The Culture Effect, The Whirlpool Effect, and Turning New Leaders Into Performance Accelerators. There are a lot of different things here that you’ve been sharing with leaders over time. I’d love to dive into that a little bit more but first, let’s talk about how you get started and what you’re doing. What gives you the passion to be helping leaders and businesses grow?
I love that. Thank you for the opportunity to join your fine folks and have a conversation that I am energized by and passionate about. I am a self-proclaimed corporate survivor. I am tired when I think that it’s been 30 years. The first 20 or so I spent within the walls of Corporate America and then I have owned my business. I founded it a few years ago. I’m in a position where I advise leaders from the outside looking in.
Those first couple of decades working within a corporate, which I swore I would never do, I was never going to go in a corporate. That was not for me. I’m the product of a school teacher in a small business owner but at last, when I finished college, that’s where the opportunities were. I honestly wouldn’t trade the experience of spending a couple of decades in a couple of large organizations. It helps me hone some best practices.
One of the benefits of being in a large organization is you get a lot of structure. Not all that structure is positive and reinforces culture, which will get into but there is structure and you do learn how to separate the best practices that you want to replicate and the traits, experiences, and leadership behaviors that you never want to emulate. Those twenty or so years for me were invaluable.
Fast forward to the year 2011, I was the Vice President of Human Resources for a large global organization. I was being groomed to succeed as the Executive Vice President of HR. This was a big deal on a number of fronts first and foremost because I didn’t start in HR. Another thing I swear I was never going to do was go and work in human resources. I had to learn the hard way to stop using the word never because I, low and behold, found my way in through the side door. They had an opening for a training development lead. I took my shot.
It kindled my passion for teaching and training others, which I should have seen coming from being the daughter of a school teacher. I expanded in that role and spent several years within a corporate HR function. As I was being groomed to take over for the head of HR, I was put into more of a line role where I was overseeing a talented team in a very large division of the company but was full cycle human resource. I learned a couple of things from that.
One is you are only as strong as your team. When you have an amazing team, you can have an amazing experience. When you have any weakness on your team, you better address that as proactively and compassionately as possible. I had the good fortune of having a wonderful team but the other thing I learned was that I was not super passionate about the full cycle of human resources.You are only as strong as your team. Click To Tweet
What I was passionate about was the talent space, helping our organization build a stronger culture and helping the right talent find the right roles and the right development paths to amplify their impact in all of those things. It still wasn’t enough for me to say, “I need to make a change.” One day, I was diagnosed with cancer. This was still in 2011. That gift, and it’s the only way I could describe it, reminded me that life is too short.
Fast forward, I’m cancer-free. That is not where the story is heading but the great thing about that experience was that it reminded me that if you’re going to make an impact in the world in the limited time that you’re given, you’d better do it in ways where you can be passionate, feel fulfilled, play all out, and fully commit to what you’re doing.
That was the excuse I needed to take these musings around, “I wonder how I can get back into the talent space and go off into the entrepreneurial unknown.” It took about two years to find my way, hone my craft, and get down to what I wanted to focus on as a business owner, which is why I didn’t find my company Talent Boost until 2013 but that’s how I got here.
You mentioned that important awakening of going through something a bit of a shock to your life and to make you reframe it. We’ve spoken to many professionals who have experienced that in the past few years and like many of the workforce have gone through that, surviving the pandemic and then rethinking what’s important to them in life and so forth, and going to work with much more purpose than they had before. Work is more than just a paycheck. That’s great to know that happened to you early on. It framed your success and how you help others.
It’s interesting you talk to most entrepreneurs, which is what I consider myself. Almost without exception, they have some transformational moment, event, or experience like I did with cancer that knocked them off of their complacency and made them stop waiting to pursue their dream. It certainly happened to me. It has happened to more entrepreneurs that I’ve interacted with than not. The pandemic was the global awakening for people to say, “I can’t keep waiting to go take my shot.” To your point, that was the opportunity that a lot of other people needed or were perhaps waiting for to give themselves permission to do more with their lives and careers.
Another thing you mentioned resonated with me as well because I too came from a corporate background for the first fifteen years of my career working with ADP, McKesson, BlackRock, and Barclays. I too noticed the beautiful structure that is provided in some of those organizations. That’s why I was excited to start my consulting practice. I was like, “I got to take all these great ideas and help small to medium-sized businesses grow and scale.”
I had the best intentions when I started. When I was putting these ideas to practice and a lot of these smaller organizations, I found that they didn’t have the basic infrastructure pieces that were necessary to ensure that the overall structure took hold. Have you had a serious similar experience with leadership and coaching your leaders as far as these advanced structures compared to what they may be starting with?
That hits me so hard because it is true and that’s been my experience. There is a very fine line, first of all, in larger organizations between structure and bureaucracy. It’s the same conversation you have around the longer an organization exists and the larger it gets, the more silos get formed. No one intentionally forms silos but they formed nonetheless. I have certainly found that to be my experience. When I first became an entrepreneur and started to form my business, my first clients were not large corporate organizations. They were the small ones and the startups. They were the ones that had a big growth appetite and to your point, zero infrastructure to make that happen.
It’s an exciting time to partner with a founder of a small startup or a small family-run business and help them elevate to that next level. It’s also critical. I always say that the most critical hire you ever make is your first one and then it’s also that first pivot point in your growth journey that is critical because you’re laying the foundation. What you found is certainly what I found, which is we had all this corporate experience and best practices and frameworks.
We thought we were building the floor for these organizations to grow up from and what we were coming in with were the load-bearing wall. We were finding the hard way in the early years. I don’t want to speak for you but you’re not emphatic. I’m sure you were living this as well. We had to take a step back from these frameworks we knew could help them and make sure that they built a solid foundation first. A lot of being an entrepreneur is getting so enamored with what we know is going to be the solution that saves them and we have to wait for them to catch up to the moment when they can receive, implement, and own it.
Tell me a little bit about how this all comes into the Growth On Purpose framework. What are the core tenets of this framework and how does it help companies expand without losing their best talent?
Growth On Purpose is the methodology that I have been honing over the last few years as a business owner and over my corporate experiences that then morphed into entrepreneurial experience. It’s a methodology that while it has a lot of structure and sequencing in terms of a methodology, it can be overwhelming at first to your point for those earlier less mature organizations or large organizations that have become siloed that they can’t get out of their way.
One of the benefits of this particular methodology is it meets you where you are. There are four main pillars or tenets of the methodology but depending on where you are in your growth trajectory and maturity as an organization, you don’t necessarily have to start at zero. You can start midstream if those first pillars have already taken root and are starting to mature and bear fruit for you.
The entire methodology is built around attracting the right talent, finding ways to retain that talent by putting them into roles that best suit their fast lanes or natural talents, accelerating their ability to get deeply engaged and contribute in meaningful ways, and then building up that alignment between what matters to them and how they can collectively move the needle toward achieving their growth strategy.
I often find that when you’re thinking about the first steps that organizations need to take, it’s important to break it down into those simple steps. I’m glad to know that you have those four main pillars that entrepreneurs can get their arms around.
It’s certainly helped me organize the chaos of my entrepreneurial journey because jumping out of a large bureaucratic, structured, rigid, corporate experience into the entrepreneurial unknown, you can go 1 of 2 ways. You can do what you described earlier which is take up all your best practices stuff, I mean your briefcase, and go out and sell them to the market. Stay true to those best practices and find that they don’t fit everybody, or you might err on the other side and say, “I’m going to invent the new great thing. I’m going to become so enamored with it that I can’t believe that nobody is lining up at my door to buy it.”
There are these two roads at diverge in the woods. They can easily send you down a path of frustration. For me, part of compiling the methodology, evolving it over time, testing it with clients, and bulletproofing it was to understand that it had to strike the right balance between being reliable enough so we can replicate it and being flexible enough that it can truly meet the leaders in the culture and the organization where they are.
As you first engage with leaders, what is the first thing that you discuss? Are there some certain non-negotiables that you think about that value and where they have to have their mindset that’s important to have with your framework?
There are a couple of things. I think it in terms of mindset. I love that you started there because I’ve gotten to a point in my business where I don’t need to work with everybody but who I get to work with is such a humbling and awe-inspiring experience like in the early days when you start your business. You go where clients are going to pay you to do something that will generate value and then you grow the relationship from there. I do get the honor to work with some amazing people.
Their companies are amazing because the leaders get it. The leaders are humble enough to know that they got to where they are through hard work and luck. The only way to continue to grow themselves, their team, or their organization is through a good balance of self-awareness, vulnerability, and transparency that will build trust over time.The leaders are humble enough to know that they got to where they are through hard work. Click To Tweet
For me, that is one of the non-negotiables. I have to work with leaders at the highest level of an organization who can get deeply involved in the work, not where it constrains their bandwidth but in terms of having the mental endorsement of what we’re about to do, knowing it may change some things and shake a couple of people up but the result is going to pay off. That’s a non-negotiable.
The other thing I find is one of the benefits of the methodology is it’s flexible enough to meet people where they are. They typically will engage me because they are feeling 1 of 4 main pains. The first one is low attraction. They can’t seem to bring in enough of the right talent to their organization to make their mission possible. They’re finding it hard to attract talent that is extending their time to fill their quality of higher, the cost of external hires, and all of those sorts of things. That’s one of the pains.
The second one is low retention. When I ask anyone what is their biggest pain point, they typically will tell me a high turnover. This is low retention. Part of that is you may not be attracting the right talent to begin with. Once you’ve got them in your organization, you’re standing around waiting for them to be brilliant and not doing enough to give them a compelling reason to stay. There’s low engagement. It’s interesting because most of the organizations, the bigger ones, do annual and maybe quarterly engagement surveys.
One of my discovery questions is, “Do you do surveys? What’s your engagement rate?” They’ll tell me, “We’re 63% or 72%,” and then I go, “That’s great. What’s your real engagement rate?” They stop. I say, “Your real engagement rate is what your survey score comes out to multiplied by the participation rate.” They get a little bit depressed, which is great because then they lean into the conversation. We can work with that. That’s a key pain point as well. They don’t have enough of the right people in the right roles leaning in and fully committing with their best efforts, talents, and ideas.
The fourth pain is what I call low IHR or Internal Higher Rate or Internal Fill Rate or IFR. They don’t express it that way but it’s a metric that can quantify how leaky their talent pipeline is. If they are constantly going to the outside market to fill critical positions at all levels of leadership, it’s because something farther upstream is broken. Probably, one of those other pain points.
Those are some of the things that I will ask them during an intake call where they will come to me and say, “Turnover is crazy. Engagement is bad. We lost one of our top talent. We can’t get people to believe us when we say our employer brand and culture are in alignment.” It’s all of those things but they translate into those four problems which on a good note, you can measure.
You’re speaking my language. That’s what we focus on a lot at CompTeam and the show, helping leaders understand those issues and how to solve them. It’s great to have you on the show. You’re such a perfect fit in that element. Thank you so much. Let’s go ahead and dive into each one of those elements and how your framework helps solve these important issues. Let’s talk about the first piece there, attracting talent. Sumit and I often have this conversation a lot. You had to create a culture in a workplace that is what people want. Everybody wants something a little bit different. How do you ensure that companies are attracting the right talent for that?
That brings up the first pillar of this four-pillar methodology, which is aspiration. You mentioned it before and you called it purpose. It’s almost like I fed you that line. It was perfectly in alignment because that is what an aspiration is. It’s your purpose and why. If you’re a student of Simon Sinek, you know he does a lot of thought leadership in that concept of Starting With Why but it is so important. Before we start bringing in the load-bearing walls, which the other three pillars help to prop up, we have to make sure of the company’s aspiration. Their why or the reason for existing in the first place is dialed in.
What’s interesting is it’s a very clear tell of the leaders who get it and the leaders who don’t when you ask them what their mission, vision, and values are. If they look at you sideways and go, “Didn’t you do any research before you called me? On the website, we’ve got that mission statement,” and I’ll go, “Tell me what it says,” you hear them visually calling up their website to look at what the mission statement is or maybe it’s on a framed poster on the wall. It’s like, “You’re missing the point. The mission statement is not your aspiration. Your mission statement is for your shareholders because you have to have something in that spot on your website. What are you in business to achieve? Why are you doing this?”
Life is too short to build a business you can’t stand in with complete and deep conviction. It’s the reason, in my opinion, a lot of organizations struggle with attracting and keeping the right talent. It’s either they have this cool-sounding mission, vision, and set of values. They don’t follow those when you join the company or they have a mission, vision, and values that are either out of date or out of alignment that even the top leadership doesn’t believe. If they don’t believe it, they can’t sell it.
The aspiration pillar is all about getting dialed in sometimes for the first time if it’s a startup or a maturing organization. Sometimes, it’s a full refresh to say, “You probably haven’t looked at your mission statement for a while. Let’s take a fresh look at what you’re here in business to accomplish and what you want to become aspirationally.” Achieving that aspirational clarity is always a foundational activity. If an organization cannot with full conviction stand there and say, “We have a very solid mission, vision, and values,” and they are congruous with what our culture is like, then we start there.
That’s important as far as when we often hear in a leader’s mission and vision, we think of those two blocks that we all have to have some answer for when we’re asked that question in organizations but when you break it down to, “What is your aspiration? What’s behind that,” it’s breaking it down in a normal language. It’s making it real. I’d like to bring Char out because her brand is HR with a heart. Char, tell us your mission.
Compassion, dignity, and respect. To go on about that, Claire, I wish I had your books and did your consulting when I was ahead of talent management organizational effectiveness for one of my positions. It was very challenging to be sitting at the executive table because I was in an experimental position in talent management strategy to break in and have the right words. Quite candidly, I didn’t find that they were very compassionate or treated even me with compassion, dignity, and respect because I was the person that had to call out various behaviors, silos, and issues in the organization.
All of a sudden, I was like, “You can’t handle the truth.” I felt like I should be screaming it. It’s engagement scores, people’s stores, turnover, silos, bureaucracy, and all of these things that were impeding our talent management strategy. It’s everything from recruiting to career mobility and all those aspects. You’re right. When I opened up my company, I had to have my philosophy about compassion, respect, HR with a heart, and the whole thing to be able to run my company effectively, and I had the ability to implement it.
I was so excited to start partnering with Sam and CompTeam because when we started getting the TMA Method, I was able to apply positive psychology to the way I coached, mentored, and developed every aspect and element of hiring. It aligned back to the purpose. It aligned with my mission, vision, values, and purpose with the company. That makes a lot of sense to me.
It’s telling me that the organization you referenced treated a role around talent management and strategy as experimental. There are certain organizations that have changed the window dressing around what they call human resources but view them still as the personnel department. They keep stuff and bodies in our vacancies and keep backfilling positions. They wonder why they are constantly interviewing candidates, which I hate to do.
You experience what so many organizations experience. The leaders have the biggest impact on the culture of a company, their behavior, the way that they show up, whether they deeply believe in the path that their company is on or they are there because they finally got to the pinnacle in their career and they’re drunk with power. If the leadership doesn’t believe it and doesn’t walk the walk, how do you expect your people to do the same?
I have to say one quick story. There were 14 executives all probably making nearly $800,000 each. They’re all sitting around their table and making each other feel good. I was supposed to stand up and push the envelope about time management strategy. They weren’t used to my role and what I do. At one point, I was standing up on the whiteboard trying to talk through and was told by one of the executives, “You’re confusing us. We don’t get what you’re talking about.” It was basic recruiting, alignment, talent strategy, and all that stuff you said. I’m sitting there thinking, “I am not in the right organization if I’m confusing the executive team. This should not be that hard.” They expected more of a traditional HR person talking.
What annoyed them I’m sure about that whole conversation was, “Why are you coming in and taking up time on our agenda to talk about something you should be handling? That’s HR’s job to deal with talent.” If we have a corporate communications department, and I love this, then it’s their sole job. They are the ones solely responsible for communicating consistent messages inside and outside of the company.
That’s not true. They might be the champions of it, the organizers of it, or the ones who stand up the frameworks to make sure you can replicate what works and engineer out what doesn’t but everyone is a nurturer of talent. One is a talent manager. The leaders in the companies who don’t get that are the ones that are not on a growth march. They’re on a death march.
This is a structure in which each of us are talent management expert. That’s a very good point.
This is a piece that Howard and I can attest to you. It’s a memory of some of the organizations that we’re helping. The executive leadership, getting involved in some of those critical projects is essential. A lot of times, you would see a leader comment, “We got to do something with DEI. Somebody go do that and come back with a package and a bow when it’s done,” a compensation program, talent management, or career path thing, whatever it may be. The important thing is that leaders need to be involved to the extent that they’re driving the discussion around the topic so that it aligns with the company’s why. A critical mindset of leadership is to ensure that they are interested enough to ensure that they’re getting a good result and their giving their input as necessary.
That’s why start with that pillar and check in with organizations that may claim that their aspirations are dialed in. You want to always verify that because this is one of those do-not-pass moments. If your aspiration is not clear, everything else stems from that. That’s your floor. Those other three pillars are load-bearing walls but if your floor is shaky, it doesn’t matter how good those other three pillars are. You’re building your house on sand.
Let’s go to the next piece. The next element that you’re trying to solve is retaining your top performers in the organization. Sumit, in your experiences as far as looking across the globe, what are the main factors that keep your top performers in the seats that you’ve experienced?
Communication is the most important factor. What happens is as companies grow, and I belong to a region that is hyper-growth or faster growth than a lot of others, when you’re a small team that fits around a table and you get to talk to each other multiple times a day, suddenly as you expand, you find lesser and lesser time with the top leadership. You feel valued well enough and that’s when things start getting wrong.
People start having second thoughts about a long-term career. That’s where a lot of the engagement goes away. Whereas if you ask a leader, they’d say, “Nothing has changed. It’s only people who’ve changed. We’re still the same. We’ve still got the same business model. We’re growing. I’ve got no idea why people want to move out and are not willing to grow with us.” Communication is where it begins and ends at the same time.
What is your perspective, Claire?
I could not agree with you more. Communication is foundational as a culture and is trust in your leadership. Communication has to be consistent and transparent. There has to be some cohesion across messaging from the leaders. You can’t have one leader conveying a certain message and the other leaders saying, “That’s not what I believe,” and go this way. That’s how silos continue to form.
You were sharing some of my earlier books. The first book that I released was called The Whirlpool Effect. There was this portion of that where I talked about leaders reflecting on action to say, “If we’re not getting the results we want, we have to hire better people.” I always counter that to say, “It’s not necessarily that you have to hire better people. You have to hire people better. It’s not enough to attract the right talent. You have to bring them in and nurture that talent as you go.”
Char, to your earlier point, that is not solely the responsibility of HR. HR can drive a conversation. HR can help the business become more accountable and see early returns on taking that accountability so that they would do it more. It’s like if you start an exercise routine. If you can drop a couple of pounds in the first week, you might keep going. If you don’t and it takes one year to see any progress, you’re more likely to give that up.
To come back to what we were talking about, this notion of not just bringing in the right people but doing it the right way starts to chip away at that high turnover in that low retention. That’s where we bring in that first load-bearing wall, which is the second pillar called awareness. It is extremely vital for any organization. First of all, for an organization to be super aware of what they have and what they lack as far as it relates to the mission and the aspirational journey that they’re on, it’s like, “What are the things that we’re doing? What are the traits that we have? What is a talent that we employ that helps reinforce getting closer to that aspiration? What does not serve us?”
It is also in common upon leaders who shape culture, these leaders have the biggest impact on culture, to be deeply self-aware of what they’re bringing to the table. It is equally important to raise the self-awareness of every single person in your organization but it has to start with the leaders. There are too many leaders in my corporate experience who are famous for saying things like, “Do as I say, not as they do. I got to where I am without any development. I don’t need any. I don’t need a coach. We don’t need to invest in their development. It worked for me this way. It should work for others.”
The rule of fourteen was probably shocked and full of that mentality. It is important that they gain self-awareness of what they’re bringing to the table individually. This is everything from what they are uniquely good at. What are their fast lane and natural talents? How do they turn them into a strength? What motivates them as leaders, individual contributors, and everybody in between? What are their communication must-haves and turn-offs?
Back to the point, the communication is so important. It’s also important that it’s not a one-size-fits-all. If it were, we could equip every leader no matter how dysfunctional with a script. As long as they write that script, you’re going to get engagement. It doesn’t work like that. It has to be authentic, natural to their style, and be in alignment with what they do well. That second pillar is important as well to start to hold up the rest of the business.
Everyone has to be aware of their strengths, blind spots, and communication preferences. The real trick is to put all of those people or leaders down the chain into roles that best play to their strengths and feed their motivations because then the other stuff starts to come. They are going to feel more deeply committed and more likely to stay longer. Do people stay in the same company for their entire career anymore? No, but we can get them to stay a little bit longer than perhaps they wanted to. While they’re with us, we can tap into their strengths, ideas, energy, and motivation in more impactful ways.
I want to mention one thing about your point there because I found that our executive team would often put our senior leader who was having performance issues into coaching. They felt that the consultant coach could fix the performance issues. I kept conveying, “No, this is supposed to be positive, inspirational, and aspirational,” everything that you said. It’s not like you’re going to fix a problem of a person by giving him a coach. They would ask me if we could have the coach sit in on the corrective action dialogue. I was like, “I can’t even understand how we misunderstand the whole purpose of that process.” Did you see that?
Unfortunately, yes. Too many organizations misuse, misapply, and misunderstand the value of the coach. A coach is not intended to be part of your performance improvement plan or some last train stop on the progressive discipline train. A coach is supposed to help elevate what is already working well and help you to unleash your full potential. It is not meant as an intervention that is a password failure.Coaches help you to unleash full potential, it is not meant as an intervention. Click To Tweet
I say that to organizations all the time, “If you want to bring me into be a coach, I want to work with the folks that you want to put some investment in because coaching is an investment. I’m not going to come in there and be a stopgap for all the things that you should have been doing all along.” Do I ever think somebody is a lost cause? No. However, there is a portion of the population and unfortunately, one of them is the executive leadership wing, which is uncoachable.
One of the limitations of coaching is there’s this very sacred cone of silence around a coaching relationship. How else can you get somebody to truly be vulnerable, become self-aware, and own what is unique to them in ways that will serve them better throughout their career? If you violate that and you go report back to their direct manager and say, “He or she is failing in this,” it breaks down and then you have no chance of coaching helping that person to move the needle.
You’re protecting this cone of silence so the progress that the coachee is making or not making is self-reported. You may have a coaching participant who doesn’t have self-awareness. No amount of coaching if they’re not ready to drop the walls and do the work is going to help that. The self-reporting aspect to me is going to continue to be a challenge in the coaching relationship if it is not brought in the right way, not framed up in the right way, and not endorsed by executive leadership as an investment in talent.
I’m glad I’m not alone because I was like, “This is common sense but not.” That’s exactly what I’m thinking.
Claire, one of our audience has a question related to that. A lot of times in smaller startups, we have a lot of executives that come in and all have these leadership-driven mindsets, their ideas on how they want to run things. I had that experience with a couple of my clients as well. They may manage different locations or departments but want to do their thing. They want to lead their organization the way they want to do so. When you’re trying to build a consistent culture, you want everybody to be marching in the same direction. What are the types of communication tools or surveys that help you ensure that you’re getting all these executives going in the same direction?
Surveys can be extremely valuable when they are owned across the organization not seen as an HR exercise and when they are followed and used to drive action and decisions. Too often, organizations, small and large, startups and mature, pay for engagement surveys but don’t invest in them. What I mean by that is they generously will hire a survey consultant or get an online survey technology and pat themselves on the back that they’re measuring engagement.
This is why when you’re measuring engagement, you want to get the true number which is the score times the participation rate. Speaking specifically to your point, Sam, and the audience’s question, surveys can be valuable but they have to be set up the right way. I see it too often when an organization does an annual survey. It’s great that they do it but they can’t just go through the motions.
When a new executive leader is brought in, they inherit this jumping in on the deep end of the pool. They say, “It’s already swirling so we’re going to do this annual survey. You’ll get your results.” Do with them what you will. There’s this cavalier and almost complacent attitude about it and they’re missing the point. To me, they’re burning money. Rather than paying for surveys, they need to invest in them. They need to ask the right questions.
It doesn’t have to be the kitchen sink or 100 questions. It could be the Gallup 13 but it also has to be positioned in the right way. When it is teed up as it’s that time of year again like, “HR is going to send you a link to a survey. We appreciate your input and everything’s confidential. We’re listening. We want your feedback,” it is going to be dismissed as another check-the-box exercise like the year-end performance review because it’s not positioned in the right way.
Surveys can be beneficial in getting people aligned and starting to break down silos upon the first signals of that. For example, I get migraines. If my peripheral vision starts to go, the earlier I can notice that and pop an Excedrin, the more likely I’m going to keep the effects of the migraine at bay. It’s the same here. The earlier you can start to see the signs of the signals that silos are forming or leadership is breaking down, you want to be able to address that.
Surveys are a great tool but you have to present them the right way. It can’t be keyed up as an HR exercise. If you can find time, please help them out. They also have to be positioned as a leadership resource. The leaders have to endorse it. Coming back to communication, the leaders have to own that this is something that provides immense value in terms of honest input. “What are we doing well? Where are we missing the mark? How can we become a stronger company? How can you take part in that?”
If you go after that with your survey, thank people for the results, and tie in your follow-up actions to what they contributed, then your engagement is going to start to go up. The way you do that is to involve the leadership up front. You have them own the fact that you’re doing engagement surveys in the first place. You give them the business case for why that should matter. If they can’t get there, then don’t do the survey.
It’s a great advice. Thank you so much, Claire. As we’re moving to the end of the time that we have here, when we think about all that we’ve discussed, what are the core things you want our readers to walk away with based on our discussion?
I appreciate how deeply we’ve gotten into some of the stuff in the soapbox. You have given me permission to jump upon and talk about all this great stuff. I did reference that there are four pillars to this methodology. The other two around them are acceleration of trust and alignment on what matters. I am working on my next book, which is taking longer because it’s going to be a deeper dive into this specific methodology. It goes into much more detail in all of this stuff.
The bottom line is that culture is the foundation of business success. There is a direct correlation between the strength and fitness of your culture, and the potential of your business to grow versus die. Those are the only two choices. You can’t stay stuck. You’re either growing or dying. Culture is so foundational and important that you build it the right way as early as possible and that you take active intentional steps to address the problems and the symptoms as you see them.
Leaders are the ones who shape culture. It doesn’t bubble up organically, form from the ground up, or just happen. They either do that intentionally or let it form around them. Your people are watching and paying attention. Leaders need to understand that they are the nurturers of talent, whether you’re inside or outside of HR. Show up, lean in, own, and take accountability for helping to attract the right talent by standing in your conviction, retaining that talent, and helping other people become self-aware.
You demonstrate your awareness, reinforcing, building, and defending trust between yourself, your leaders, and across teams. Help people to make a more powerful connection and more tangible one between what they do individually in the role and why it matters to the bigger aspiration and the bigger journey that we’re on, all of those things plant the seeds and strengthen the walls, not the silos. When leaders lead the way in authentic ways, stand in their convictions, and do things that are in alignment with their mission, vision, and values, their employees will follow suit. If they don’t, then what employees will understand and believe is what matters to them.
Thank you so much, Claire. For our readers out there who want to know where to get your books and how to engage with you, what would you tell them?
The easiest place to come find me is my website ClaireChandler.net. The book is not out yet. I am still working on it but it will be out in Q1 of 2024. If you want to get on the waiting list and be the first one to know when it hits Amazon, go to ClaireChandler.net/growth. You can put in your email address. I will not spam you with all sorts of other stuff. I will let you know if the book is available. As far as social media, LinkedIn is where I spend more of my most of my time. I’d love for your audience to come connect with me and say hello.
It’s a true pleasure to have you on, Claire. Thank you so much.
Same here. I have loved the conversation and all of our rants about what is wrong with culture and leadership, and some of the easy ways that we can ride the ship. I appreciate the time.
You take care. We’ll see everyone on the next episode. Thank you.
President and founder of Talent Boost, Claire Chandler deeply believes that leaders shape cultures, and stronger cultures drive greater success. Leveraging 30 years of experience in people leadership, human resources, and business ownership, Claire specializes in helping businesses expand without losing their best talent through her proven “Growth on Purpose” framework.
Claire holds a certificate in strategic HR leadership from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, a master’s degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and a bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University. She has appeared as a guest on more than 150 podcasts, is the author of several books on leadership and business strategy, and is a contributing writer for Forbes. She received the 2023 Best of America Small Business Award as Best Entrepreneur—Business Consulting.