Words of Wisdom from HR Executives on Creating Culture, Accountability, and Work-Life Balance

Posted by Lauren Lessard on April 5th, 2018


The third installation of The Bowdoin Group and Marsh & McLennan’s HR Panel Series, Building Cultures of Innovation and Accountability, took place on March 29th at Bowdoin’s office in Waltham, MA, and featured four inspirational HR innovators from leading companies in the Boston area.  The event, moderated by Karen Walker Beecher, COO of The Bowdoin Group, touched on many topics, including culture and career development accountability.

In this post, we’ll share quotes directly from the panelists that highlight the topics that stood out:

On culture and creating a diverse workforce

  • “The term ‘fit’ makes me uncomfortable because it sounds like you’re joining a club.” – It’s always critical to understand cultural fit, regardless of who you’re hiring. One panelist commented that the word “fit” just doesn’t feel right; it gives the impression that everyone should be the same.  At the risk of perpetuating similar profiles, she prefers to use the word additive instead.  What are candidates going to add to the team and the company?  Takeaway: Help your team overcome biases as some of the most exciting cultural changes are brought on by diversity.
  • “’He seems like a good guy’ and ‘I didn’t get a good vibe’ are not good reasons to hire or not to hire.” – One panelist stressed the importance of the internal team understanding their role during interviews. She said that prior to her scheduling pre-briefs and debriefs and outlining a behavioral interview process, interviewers were ambiguous about their impressions of a candidate post-interview.  They’d say things like, “I didn’t get a good vibe,” which was simply not enough.  The new framework deployed, where interviewers probe for cultural fit with questions related to the company’s core values, has pushed people outside of their comfort zone.  They now hire candidates they may not have considered otherwise and new hire attrition has gone from 50% to 15%.  Takeaway: Look for methodologies that overcome unclear (or personal) reactions.

On whether “development is the new equity” 

  • “You’ve got to hold people accountable for their own career.” During annual reviews, one panelist’s employees ask, “What should my career path be?” like she has the magic answer. In the growing tech company she works for, employees have to carve out their own path, which she has found can be frustrating for them.  She asks them to choose one thing they want to do to develop themselves (within reason, of course).  Her job is to make that happen for them and to hold them accountable for their own development.  Takeaway: Initiative is an incredibly valuable trait – help those that help themselves.
  • Your L&D department can’t solve everything.” – Larger organizations with formal L&D departments may have leadership development programs or management training programs in place to foster career development. In some cases, though, managers come to expect that they can hand the development of their people over to L&D, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Managers need to help people understand the different options available to their team for development, and as it relates to L&D, be in tune with the learnings so that they can reinforce them on the job.  Takeaway: L&D is a critical asset, but actively engage, don’t wash your hands of responsibility.

On work-life balance and flexibility

  • “People need to know they’re not going to be fired if they leave early.” – These days, people appreciate flexibility more and more – from working from home during bad weather to avoiding peak commuting hours. One panelist described her working environment as one where employees are required to be in the office as often as possible.  Although being in the office every day is the norm, she says it’s important for people to understand that it’s okay if they need to come in late or leave early.  It’s her job to empower people to make the right choices about workplace flexibility.  Takeaway: Embrace the flexibility that will make people loyal and committed.
  • “We try to achieve balance, not flexibility. Flexibility is basically a given with today’s technology.” – In a virtual world, people can be online at all times, so one panelist’s challenge is setting realistic expectations for team communication.  Some of her team works early mornings and others who perform better in the evening send emails late into the night.  What works for one person may not work for another, so establishing individual and team boundaries helps to keep a healthy work-life balance.  Takeaway: Collaboration and communication remain essential, no matter how it’s achieved.

The discussion revealed that HR is at the center of fostering great cultures, encouraging diversity and development, rewarding accountability, and creating flexibility.

Special thanks to our panelists:

Learn more here about attending future events, joining the HR Leadership Online Forum to exchange ideas and ask questions of your industry peers, or receiving best practices and insights from the Bowdoin team.

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