Mentorship and Training during a Global Downtime

In Conversation with Euwart Anderson, Chief People Officer, Kibo

Keeping your employees united despite an elongated remote work culture while ensuring the right Mentorship and training is imparted where needed can enable a better employee-manager business relationship. Euwart Anderson, Chief People Officer at Kibo shares a few thoughts in this conversation:

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Hi Euwart! How has the ongoing pandemic and working through it been for you and the team at Kibo?

Our journey as a company during this time has been centered around reflection, awareness and action:

Reflection: The pandemic made us reflect the work we’ve done as a company thus far in terms of making this a great place to work for our employee base and the steps we need to put in place moving forward to further take care of our employees and their families, as well as our clients and our partners. It’s been a time to ask ourselves if we are really doing everything that we should be.

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Awareness: It’s made us aware of areas where we can and should be doing more – specifically around helping our employees succeed in a virtual working environment. Frankly, this is an area we should have been building up even before COVID-19 hit. The move to facilitating a virtual working environment has had a positive effect on our employee base in, especially around limiting their commuting time to a physical office. As a result, we’ve seen an improvement in mental health by removing the element of spending time in traffic. Rather they can now utilize that time to spend more time with their family.

Action: Our actions have been really centered around uniting our employee base and de-centralizing our physical footprint. We’re now able to take employees, arm them with new tools and new technology and new best practices internally that allow us to actually be closer while being virtual.

In general, we’ve seen our employee engagement scores improve, as well increased productivity and overall output. As well, our employees have still been able to take time off – we’ve made this a point of emphasis to create balance.

From outside of a pandemic perspective, the social unrest has made us go through those same three steps:

Reflection: The question here was, are we doing everything we could to impact our communities in a positive way? We needed to make sure that our stand for equality was not just an internal stand but also external stand and went beyond just checking a box.

Awareness: We’ve been able to become aware of those areas and identify a process for further amplifying our stance on equality. Although we had previously implemented really strong best practices related to recruiting diversity and have showcased favorably compared to our peers, we have since become aware we were not showcasing favorably in the communities in which our employee base resides (Dallas, Austin and Philadelphia).  We’re focused on changing that.

Actions: The actions we’ve taken here internally is making sure that we have diverse candidates in every search. We are pushing this agenda very aggressively as it relates to blind resume screening and removing potentially unintentional bias at certain elements of a job search. This will allow us to attain higher diversity in a more organic way and make this that part of our culture, not just a best practice or a tactic.

Externally, Kibo now offers a 20% discount on all products and services to certified Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) in the US that the company is doing business with for the first time. This is a part of a larger, long-term strategy to support diversity across the ecommerce industry and in our global communities.

We’d love to hear about some of the top measures taken during this global downtime at Kibo, to initiate better employee engagement and also, to help promote mentorship and employer-employee relationships?

We’ve since created a diversity and inclusion committee that’s cross-regional global and cross-functional from our employee base. The committee is 100% voluntary and currently consists of 13 of our employees who report to two leads. This ensures we bring in employees from different backgrounds and different demographics to help lead us, guide us and give us feedback upward and across the organization on steps we should be taking. And in doing so, I think we will ultimately see our culture, core values and beliefs exuded through our diversity initiatives.

To address employee satisfaction and retention, we’ve developed what we like to call a “Culture of Accountability & Feedback”. Every “Kibonaut” hire joining Kibo is guided through an extensive training to arm them with an understanding of how we’re committed to interact as colleagues and to align them with the expectation that everyone has the opportunity to mentor or be mentored by practically anyone using a feedback toolkit.  The intersection of our “Kibonaut ROI” (what we’re committed to giving each team member), our core values and a feedback-centric culture drives mentoring in an organic way.  During 1:1’s, our managers encourage their team members to reach out to others across the business who possess certain strengths that may help w/development and that’s how much of our mentoring occurs.  Ultimately, this leads to a heightened level of buy-in and commitment from both the mentor and mentee as it’s mutually voluntary and beneficial.

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Mentorship is a two-way path at Kibo.  Both parties involved tend to experience the opportunity to be mentored and to mentor their colleague as our method intentionally transcends hierarchy to a degree.  Titles and other potentially ego-centric aspects of a traditional program are less of a focus and instead, areas of strength and areas of opportunity are targeted to drive continual improvement.  At Kibo, we’re proud of this approach as it has led to favorable business results including improved employee retention, innovation and increased net-new sales.

One of the elements that we’re going to be focused on forward is making sure that every senior leader in our organization has a mentee. This will create a scenario for a more targeted approach for training minority employees of varying demographics to take on roles of leadership and to advance over time.

As an HR leader; what are some of the bigger opportunities that HR leaders can work on to help contribute to overall business success during this Covid-19 pandemic? Can you talk about some of the outstanding initiatives taken by a few HR leaders in tech in the recent past?

HR leaders are doing a really good job of making sure that they are empowering the operational leadership of the organization with employee engagement best practices. Increased town halls increased functional all-hands and daily check ins. Making sure that that operational leaders are getting that guidance because a bit distracted by just trying to operate the business. And they might not realize the employee and practice of us being all virtual and, and the employee effect, frankly, of COVID in itself. People have lost family members and loved ones from the pandemic and frankly, it’s not done doing its work and people are impacted emotionally.

A specific focus on mental health. I’ve seen my peers over the last month really hype up the engagement on making sure that employees have effective EAP programs or employees in those programs, making sure they’re aware of what those programs entail and that they’re utilizing them for themselves and their families. They also make sure they are utilizing any preventative measures that they offer their employee base relative to contracting go through the utilization of their other medical venues and outside of the EAP.

What best practices would you share with teams and HR leaders who are looking to revamp their review and hiring, even training and mentoring processes during this time?

I would strongly advise that HR and talent acquisition teams adjust their hiring practices to specifically target characteristics of people who can work well unsupervised or who are self-motivated and self-guided. From a profile perspective it’s really important that we use behavioral interviewing tactics to target those soft skills in new hires going forward. In a physical office environment, you might’ve been able to just by mere presence create a little bit more accountability. I would strongly encourage peers to revisit their recognition programs and make sure that from an engagement perspective, employees and managers have very easy to use tools and have a compelling reason to use those tools.

What bigger HR trends and HR Tech trends do you foresee for the tech marketplace for the near-term?

Recognition platforms things like Disco, and tools that are integrated with messaging tools or communication tools like Slack and Teams. It’s about being able to leverage recognition tools that are integrated. It increases engagement and utilization, increases adoption and ease of use. It gives HR an opportunity to engage with staff in a positive manner. I’m also seeing companies move away from more transactional tools like ADP to tools that are more consultative, like Workday. Tools that are robust are a bit more expensive, but they allow managers to be more concentrated and prescriptive with their employee base.

Finally, I’m seeing an investment in video engagement beyond Zoom. Companies are investing in cameras and mobile phones and tripod apparatus. These tools are inexpensive and allow employees to feel good about being on camera. That in itself increases employee engagement.

If you had to share 5 secrets to better team management while working remote; what would they be? 

  1. Create the North star for your team. Everyone on your team needs to know exactly what they are collectively working toward.
  2. Have frequent check-ins and partner with team members to help each other to move toward that end goal/North star. Better clarity leads to a better team.
  3. Have frequent and transparency feedback conversations. Be very clear with your employees about where they’re performing well and where they have some constructive opportunity.
  4. Find out what your employees are doing day-to-day and recognize them for that. Recognition is hyper-critical. Call out great demonstrations of core values and great outcomes for employees and do so in public way that just says, I see you.
  5. Encourage employees or almost demand employees take time off and unplug. It’s really easy right now for people to feel that they’re to some degree “off” since they are at home, but that is not the case. Allow employers to decouple business from personal, as they do not have this balance anymore, and lead your employees in a way that encourages them to take that balance. You may have days where you don’t have meetings or activities and allow your employees focus on key tasks uninterrupted.

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A few concluding thoughts on why it is more crucial now than ever before for teams to focus on creating balanced mentorship within organizations.

Make sure that you have a formalized plan now. Before when we were in an office, you could use anecdotal interactions from people you work with to create an organic environment for mentorship and guidance. In today’s virtual reality, a formal plan is more important than ever. The plan has to be prescriptive and structured about how you mentor others and set that expectation with them. This will help you be accountable for that mentorship by imparting knowledge and guidance.

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