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TecHRseries Interview with Abbie Buck, Chief People Officer at Collective Health

The People team are critical stewards of corporate culture, but the whole company is responsible for maintaining that culture opines Abbie Buck in this TecHRseries interview as she shares her thoughts on the short-term changes in priorities that HR leaders had to face as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold over the last few weeks. Catch the complete story…


Tell us a little about yourself Abbie, you’ve recently joined Collective Health as their new Chief People Officer: what are some of the biggest highlights/goals you’re aiming at in your new role here?

In the short-term, our response to COVID-19 has clearly been a focus — from shifting our entire workforce to working from home, to understanding the impact that new legislation has on employers and employees, it has provided me with plenty to do right out of the gate. While there are certain topics that have been more in focus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s further reinforced the importance of foundational priorities for the People function and the company. Whether it’s enabling people managers to support, coach, and lead their teams, or our ability to maintain corporate culture regardless of geography, I find myself doubling down on those key principles more than ever.

Given your vast experience in Human Resource Management and creating engaging employee programs- we’d love your thoughts on the top factors that should be part of any employee engagement framework, can you also talk about some of your most successful strategies so far?

First and foremost, I believe that the People team are critical stewards of corporate culture, but the whole company is responsible for maintaining culture. A healthy thriving culture is certainly reinforced by the experiences and programs we create, but it’s shaped more deeply by the application of those things and the day to day experiences we all have at work.  What we’re really focused on is influencing organizational habits and the behaviors of our workforce. The programmatic elements create the structure and systems which encourage the desired behaviors to show up in the moments that matter: how we recognize positive contributions, how information is shared, how we provide feedback, how decisions get made, how mistakes are handled, etc. These are the moments where we have the opportunity to “walk the talk.”

I also think that having a universally reinforced set of company values is really important for driving engagement. That’s one thing that really drew me to Collective Health – the mission. Every person in the company is inspired, motivated and empowered by our mission to improve US healthcare. That’s really powerful in itself. Our programs are all in service of reinforcing and fostering that mentality – to tackle big problems and bring your best self to work.

Read More: TecHRseries Interview with Sarah Hamilton, Sr. Director of Human Resources – Workhuman

Tech startups and mid-sized entities who go through a growth spurt require stronger HR practices when the team starts expanding – how would you advise them to shape an effective and collaborative company culture at this juncture?

In global organizations, it’s common to index investment towards headquarter locations, where global roles are often located, which to those outside of headquarters can feel like it’s at the expense of local investment. At the same time, those offices often have very different types of complexity, less corporate infrastructure and fewer leaders on the ground. You have to find the right balance of investment along the way, which is not easy. It’s important to stay curious and empathetic and – to the extent possible – spend enough time in regional or global offices to understand their experiences. In addition, in my experience, you have to embrace the unique traditions, cultural differences, and different practices at each location while also maintaining a unifying employee experience – certain touchpoints that hold true across all locations.

In my last role, I was tackling increasing our investment to support our business in more than 30 countries, in a hyper-growth environment with numerous emerging markets. It was challenging to support our entire workforce given the array of countries, languages, and needs. We fundamentally shifted how HR operated to support the growth – building out new shared service capability, evolving the role of the HR business partners and investing in our systems infrastructure. Just as the business was scaling, we worked to scale HR in a cost-effective model focused on high quality support to the rest of the business. Our mantra was “intimacy at scale” to preserve the experiences employees and leaders had with the HR team even while we were making important changes.

In what ways would you advise tech teams / HR teams to use their HR Technology to enable better employee engagement at a time when work from home is becoming a norm due to the current global pandemic?

There are some fantastic software solutions that enable companies to range from  measuring employee sentiment on a broad array of topics periodically to pulsing frequently on specific topics. The right approach can vary depending on the company, but in this time where everyone is distributed, indexing towards pulsing sentiment more frequently is valuable in my mind. The ability to understand what is working and areas for improvement to support your workforce while keeping employees engaged is always important. And given a fast changing environment, doing more of that can be enormously useful if you’re prepared to take action based on feedback. To the extent that companies have the capability to merge that engagement data with data from your HCM, ATS and other sources to understand the impact on performance, attrition, etc. that is an opportunity to do deeper analyses which can generate insight and allow HR teams and leadership to be more targeted with responses and solutions.

What are some of your top leadership tactics that you’d say help enable better team building and alignment of goals? 

The right tactics really depend on the context and unique needs of an organization. I do like to guide any approach by being clear about the outcomes we’re working to achieve, of course, and leveraging tools to measure how effective a team is over time. There are various ways to do that but I’m personally a fan of the frameworks Patrick Lencioni has developed focused on team and organizational health. They’re simple but powerful. I also think building the right organizational habits are crucial. To do that, you need the right amount of structure to support and reinforce habits, but not so much that it dies under its own weight. I personally value simplicity and consistency, particularly when it comes to aligning goals throughout an entire company. That consistency needs to start at the top. Without leaders placing value on practices and behaviors – with words and actions – any initiative is at risk of failing.

Read More: Keeping the Human Touch in a World of Tech Recruiting 

Can you talk about some of the most innovative HR/ Workplace Culture trends that you see taking over the tech and B2B industry, given the current world situation? How according to you is the Future of Work (and life!) going to evolve given the current pandemic and the influence of HR Tech?

As companies work harder than ever to differentiate themselves, it’s essential to engage and unlock the full capability of our teams. To do this well, I anticipate more and more companies will apply the practices you see employed by great product and consumer companies to connect with people at an emotional level. From a technology perspective, that means translating the best experiences we have as consumers to the work environment, with easy and intuitive solutions and user interfaces. For People teams, taking best practices from other parts of the business like customer oriented design (in our case, the customer is the employee) and tailoring methodologies to be specific to the work we do, creates potential to drive innovation. This is similar to the process associated with the software development lifecycle and the principles of being agile. I would say there is an increasing appreciation of the value of creating a meaningful employee experience given how important that is to business performance.

What are the top 5 points of advice you’d give SaaS teams and SaaS leaders/Technology leaders struggling to cope in times of this pandemic and the global uncertainty? 

This period is demanding for teams and leaders – whether their company is  growing or struggling.

  1. For leaders, now more than ever, focusing on excellent people management practices is critical to keeping your team engaged and productive. Taking the time to provide frequent feedback, checking in on their personal situations, making sure they’ve got the tools and resources to do their jobs well, being intentional about including people and ensuring different voices are heard, etc. will pay long term dividends.
  1. Many teams and leaders are adjusting to an entirely new way of working virtually. Approaching this new normal with patience and empathy, and taking the time to communicate proactively, including with people beyond those in your next video meeting, will go a long way towards maintaining a connected and effective team.
  1. With all of us working from home, it’s easy to get fully consumed by the demands of your job. Develop tactics for maintaining some boundaries – whether it’s a stand-up meeting at the end of the day after which team members log off or agreeing to set hours for meetings, etc. it’s valuable to have some team norms that support balance.
  1. Take advantage of a unique time. Operating in intense and financially constrained environments can spur creativity and innovation. I’m mindful that some companies are really struggling right now so this won’t apply to everyone but to the degree that teams can create space for ideation, this could be a great time to find new solutions to existing problems or generate new product ideas.
  2. I always try to maintain a sense of humor and have some fun along the way. Whether through themed team happy hours, funny virtual background or celebrating the unexpected appearance of a 3 year old in a video conference, I look for opportunities to enjoy each other and laugh.

Thank you for your time Abbie!

Collective Health simplifies employee healthcare with an integrated technology solution that makes health insurance work for everyone. With nearly a quarter of a million members and over 50 clients—including Driscoll’s, Pinterest, Red Bull, Restoration Hardware (RH), Zendesk, and more—Collective Health is reinventing the healthcare experience for forward-thinking organizations and their people across the U.S.

Abbie Buck is the new Chief People Officer at Collective Health and helps oversee the company’s people operations and culture across global locations.