TecHRseries Interview with Gary Beckstrand, Vice President, O.C. Tanner

Health, economic, and social crises have shined new light on today’s typical workplace and organizational culture, exposing the biggest strengths and weaknesses. “Organizations with thriving cultures have weathered the storm far better than most because their people have been more resilient and have met the challenges head-on to keep business going and in many cases increase productivity,’’ shares Gary Beckstrand, Vice President, O.C. Tanner in this chat with TecHRseries where he dives into greater detail on how thriving workplace cultures have enabled companies to better negate the impact of COVID on employee engagement, retention, and employee net promoter score.



Tell us a little about yourself Gary …tell us about your career journey…how have you seen workplace culture and employee behaviors evolve over the years; what about today’s workforce or work culture are things that leaders of yesteryear wouldn’t have imagined having as part of the working world, according to you?

I’ve had the pleasure of working at O.C. Tanner for 21 years! I’ve assumed various roles in marketing, business development, and professional services. I’ve been fortunate over the years to work with and advise business leaders in many top companies around the world about workplace culture, the employee experience, and employee recognition. Currently, I oversee work done in the O.C. Tanner Institute, our in-house research and education division. Our team researches and identifies insights to inform the market, our customers, and our intellectual property.

Workplace culture and the employee experience continue to change rapidly. Collaborative work is shifting power from individual leaders to teams. The work itself is becoming more complex, and younger employees are rejecting outdated leadership styles and practices, ushering in a new wave of modern leadership. It’s no longer the exception for team members to know more about a particular topic than their leader. This requires modern leaders to move from doers to influencers who create a workplace environment where team members can thrive and do their best work. It’s about balancing direction with autonomy and connecting others to information and resources for success.

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Also, employees now have access to more information and a stronger voice than in the past, and the employee experience is paramount. All HR and business initiatives must take the employee experience into account. We should be asking ourselves how this strategy or initiative will improve the employee experience, so our people can thrive, do their best work, and deliver positive business results.

We’d love to know a little about O.C. Tanner’s experience and the team’s response to adjusting to the new normal…what are some top employee practices that were put in place especially because of the pandemic?

O.C. Tanner quickly made the decision for most employees around the world to work remotely. We put safety measures and practices in place for “essential” employees who continued to work onsite. The health and safety of our people is clearly a priority that has been demonstrated in both word and deed. We’ve leveraged technologies and provided tools to our remote employees, so they can be productive and stay in contact with coworkers via remote video and chat technology.

Our senior leaders early on increased the frequency and transparency of communication. They have increased the number of video meetings and town halls to create “face-to-face” communication. They continue to share in-depth details about various aspects of the business and resulting decisions with all employees on a daily/weekly basis. For example, our president and CEO partnered with our CHRO at the onset of COVID-19 to send out a daily company-wide email – a practice that continues to this day.

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We’ve leveraged technology to directly address recent social issues. For example, we recently conducted a company-wide town hall to share experiences and discuss concerns. We’ve also found ways to give back to the community. We transitioned a portion of our manufacturing resources to produce reusable face shields and powered air purifying respirator hose adapters for frontline medical workers. We’ve also partnered with organizations around the globe to find creative ways to recognize their frontline heroes.

How according to you should business leaders adapt to this change in terms of the way they lead teams and plan strategies going forward?

The good news is that opportunities emerge from adversity. 2020’s challenges have reminded us what matters most and how we can course correct for future success. Those companies that actively address shortcomings in workplace culture and double down on best practices like transparency, recognition, and inclusion will be the long-term winners.

Our research shows that companies that practiced radical transparency during COVID-19—who told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—and told it often saw a 241% increase in the employee net promoter score, an 85% increase in employee engagement, and a 152% increase in employee motivation to do more.

The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of our people. Now, more than ever, they need to feel our gratitude – that they are valued, on track, and doing meaningful work. In fact, when employees were not recognized during the COVID crisis, we saw an increase of 20% in their intention to leave and a 49% decrease in engagement.

Leaders need to commit to real progress in establishing inclusive workplace cultures. The way an organization responded to issues of discrimination–both internally and in the community—had a direct impact on how employees viewed the integrity of their workplace culture. For example, when leaders responded well to instances of discrimination that reinforce established cultural values, we saw a 10X increase in employee engagement, a 7X increase in sense of belonging, a 12X increase in sense of inclusion, and a 7X increase in connection to organizational purpose.

We’d love your take on the top 5 impacts (positive/negative) of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic on work-life and corporate structures in general and how you see this play a role in reshaping the future of work.

  1. Workplace culture: The pandemic exposed weak cultures and shined a spotlight on the benefits of thriving cultures. Elevating workplace culture with a focus on enhancing the everyday employee experience should be a top priority for HR and executive teams.
  1. People: The pandemic has increased our awareness of and appreciation for our people. When people feel appreciated, they will adjust, adapt, and find new ways to deliver great work. Those companies that cut back on recognition during the pandemic suffered. Those that found creative ways to continue to communicate appreciation through meaningful and purposeful recognition were the winners. Companies must find ways to make recognition an integral characteristic of their workplace cultures.
  2. Transparency: For too long companies have hesitated to communicate too much. Information has often been shared on a need-to-know basis. The pandemic has clearly shown that frequent and transparent communication to all employees will be the new standard.
  3. Inclusion: Now is the time to take action to improve inclusion in the workplace. The window of social change is open and those companies that make progress will be the winners. Creating a culture where all employees feel like they can bring their entire selves to work and feel empowered to do great work is now more important than ever.
  4. Work: Where and how work gets done has changed and expectations have changed. HR must reevaluate and make changes to their remote-work policies.

What are some best practices you’d advise HR teams to follow in the new normal?

There are a few things that have proven so effective that they essentially have already changed expectations moving forward.

Employees have demonstrated that they can work remotely and be productive. Not all employees want to work remotely full- time, but most are expressing a desire for greater flexibility. HR will need to reevaluate policies and adjust to this new reality and expectation among employees.

Radical transparency will be the new standard of communication. Employees have responded enthusiastically to more frequent, transparent communication. While many companies may cut back a bit, we need to make sure that we don’t fall back into old habits. Employees have demonstrated that they respond well and can be trusted to be in the know.

HR will need to take a new approach to employee safety. Safety will need to expand to include more preventative measures and expectations of how employees interact. For example, in many organizations it’s been an expectation to come to work even when you’re sick. That most likely will no longer be a reasonable expectation.

A few parting thoughts before we wrap up for today?

Opportunities emerge from adversity. This year and next will be watersheds for all employers. Organizations will either intentionally position themselves to thrive for the next decade, or default to a path of fragmented disengagement, turnover, and less-than-inspired work. Now is the time to move forward. With so much unknown, seize this rare opportunity to shed old practices, policies, or philosophies that would otherwise stop you from creating workplace cultures where all your people can thrive.

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O.C. Tanner

O.C. Tanner helps organizations inspire and appreciate great work. Thousands of clients globally use O.C. Tanner’s cloud-based technology and tools to provide meaningful recognition for their employees.

With 30 years of game-changing research, business development, and leadership experience, Gary works with top organizations around the world to help them achieve lasting cultural impact. As a vice president at O.C. Tanner and a co-author of “Appreciate: Celebrating People, Inspiring Greatness,” Gary’s insights are sought after by multiple Fortune 100 and Global 2000 companies, and he has spoken to tens of thousands of business leaders across his career.