Keep Your Engine Running

Preventive maintenance is key to keeping your workplace working well, but it’s important to do it intentionally. Thinking about the organisation running smoothly, like a well-oiled car, is a good analogy. Just like healthy machines, there are things that you should do to keep it in tip-top condition.

Here are 6 maintenance tips that will help boost your culture (engine power) and ensure your journey lasts longer.

  1. Check The Tyre Pressure

You should check the tyre pressure regularly, even if they look fully inflated. Your tyres can lose pressure with each fluctuation in culture temperature, so this task is especially important in weary times. Proper inflation prevents wear and tear, and it also increases taxing demotivation mileage.

If your engine is humming you might want to think about your Employee Experience (Ex). If there’s any ubiquitous phrase in HR right now, it’s “employee experience” or a version of it. At Spotify, we used to call it Social, because it was simply focussed on socialising the employees. When you think of it, that’s not a small feat, but like everything that is important to your culture, it should, and it will, evolve. Consciously or in ways you did not intend. In our next stage and during intense scale up we referred to this work as People Experience (Px), which is a much more complex topic that comprises all sorts of topics. 

Ex work takes place in a couple of steps: Firstly, you have to listen to your people, analyse, and identify your opportunities. Secondly, you need to cross-pollinate the work of several of your HR teams. Once you apply design thinking (or as one of my teammates tells me: “there is a method to the madness” – thank you MK!) you will benefit from the output a cross-functional team provides. You also need to respond with a holistic strategy. This means bringing together all of our People Constituents to collaborate; HR, IT, Facilities, Business Protection and Operations. As an amalgamated team, they can think, build, ship and tweak the holistic strategy. Today, this is what we call Community Experience (Cx) at Spotify.

Thirdly, you need to look at your distributed first offerings. All employees with a hybrid choice will need self-service options, but they also need to talk with their HR Business Partner, the IT Bar, or your HR Specialist team for different issues. Cx at its core is a care and belonging-delivery strategy, so you have to rethink how your culture plays into this and what sets you apart. 

  1. Use Glass Cleaner on Your Rear Windscreen

Much of the time, I subscribe to the idea of never looking back. But to know your history will help you come to terms with today and set you up for success in the future. There’s a great difference between dwelling on the past and building on what’s still good. To do that you’ll need relevant data sets. Essentially, you should use glass cleaners on your rear windscreen to make sure when you glance out of it, you can get a sober view of where you’re going. The best mix is 95% looking forwards with 5% checks behind. 

And don’t cut corners on the product you use. In other words, when cleaning your screens, always use a cleaner designed specifically for the job (or for your business). Listen and adapt. Be future-focused and research-driven when developing your strategic HR-domain capabilities. This means that you and your team of HR professionals must stay up to date. Any organisation with great HR capabilities can outhire, outperform, and out innovate their competitors. Think about it this way: you wouldn’t run a school with teachers who don’t know the school philosophy, their own topic(s) of expertise, or who aren’t educated themselves, would you? Similarly, how can you run a good HR organisation without behavioural scientists continuously learning, challenging, developing and innovating the organisation? You can’t.  

  1. Regular Oil Changes

If your motor oil sits too long, it will break down and leave gunky deposits in your engine, potentially damaging it. Like adhering diligently to the auto manufacturer’s recommendation on oil changes, you should not fear attrition. Healthy attrition is part of a healthy organisation. 

Every company will likely be talent-constrained, which tells us two things. First, that those of us who work in HR will be busy like never before, and second, that we are therefore considered (or should be considered) more important to the organisation than ever before. If there’s any truth to the fact that only 15% of companies are attracting and retaining candidates, well then, we have our work cut out for ourselves. Lots and lots of room for improvement. 

Those that are thriving have, like Spotify, previously focused on Ex, and have invested in becoming a healthy organisation already. We are the group of companies who are seeing the benefits of our work now, but we still feel the pain of the post pandemic itch, combined with the search for work-life mindfulness, which are causing talent complexity issues. 

  1. Quality Battery 

Not all car batteries are created equally, so make sure you know what gives your car the best energy. This is no different in the working world. You should find the best way to get your people fired up and ready to go. Help people find purpose and understand the company mission. And don’t forget to dive beyond the financial goals of your organisation as very few people will get up to go to work every morning for a financial goal. Diving deeper into the collaborative purpose will help you to rally the masses. Consider the main universal drivers for motivation like; autonomy, competence development, belonging and benevolence, transparency, empathy, and integrity of leadership. 

Continuous investment in people will pay off. Focusing on society, environment, and community will only get more important over time. Facilitated job and role mobility that gives careers growth opportunities in multiple paths (rather than ‘monkey-bar’ growth) will be taken for granted. Making all of this open, transparent and democratic like our internal talent marketplace, Echo, will give the support of a fully charged, high-quality, battery. 

  1. Regularly Change Your Windscreen Wiper Blades

Change your windscreen wiper blades as soon as they start leaving streaks, otherwise you risk impaired vision in dangerous conditions like rain and snow. Or in organisational terms, the need for soft skills is more and more obvious. Teaching people how to lead, work in teams, collaborate, communicate, create and tell stories and to think strategically are reusable skills that perpetually add value to each individual and your workforce as a whole.

These kinds of softer skills were not widely discussed prior to the pandemic, which meant we have learned the lesson the hard way. These soft skills are essential to success. 

Learning and developing these important, soft skills is difficult. For example, change management and strategic thinking do not come easy. Every organisation has its own context for these capabilities and we need to learn them together, in teams, and as leaders. 

Putting people first is of essence. If the pandemic taught us anything good, it showed us that it’s so necessary to embrace complexity and polarities, and not to fear controlled chaos. Our early investment in Heart & Soul, Spotify’s mental health initiative, helped our band mates express their vulnerability. How do you nudge your managers to check in with people, really check in? By listening to their struggles, and giving them support and trust while offering more flexibility and freedom than ever before. Change whatever needs to be changed to have a clean view and make sure this is in your muscle memory. Just like changing your wiper blades before you get into trouble on a dark desert highway, cool wind in your hair. Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air…

  1. Wax On and Wax Off

Although dish soap can effectively remove grease from a vehicle’s exterior, it will also strip off the much important wax and sealer, leaving its finish unprotected. This does not mean you should stop looking for diverse solutions, but more that you should focus on systems thinking – identify why problems occur and what to do (or not do) about them.

For instance, leaking people en masse is not a great thing, but a healthy attrition is. Using  behavioural assessments to match behavioural skills of employees with open positions, can identify and shortlist people who might be good add-on for open roles. We have tried several times to set up a function of internal headhunters whose job it is to search inside the company to find the right person for an open job, and for several reasons this has failed. Until now. Our Talent Intelligence coupled with Echo (our internal talent marketplace) is a new way to recruit. The leaders who understand that the talent does not belong to them, or their team specifically, but to the organisation as a whole, is one of the enablers to make this jive. Make sure you get their understanding and buy-in. 

If you put all your trust in the notion that top leaders only make good decisions you’re in for a surprise. If you also forget how important good role modelling is, you will be in the business of wet soap catching. Talent scarcity is a global challenge and retaining that same talent will be harder than before. In addition, generally, people at the top have a tendency to stay longer (i.e. block for promotions). All this combined means we have a problem. 

For key talent decisions (who to hire, who to promote, who to move to a new role), we trust managers to do the right thing, which means that the traditional tools and models the HR industry has used (like the nine-box grids, ranking systems, rating scales) to validate management’s decisions about their people are not very helpful. It’s easy for me to say since we never believed in them at Spotify HR. Some of our managers and a lot of our employees were asking for these kinds of tools for a long time, and in some cases when we did not provide them, they designed or created them for themselves. Why did they do this? Because they felt safe, they knew how to follow an instruction and they could hide behind the system if they wanted protection. Of course, this is the simplest form showcasing that they are not yet mature yet to lead and grow in a modern organisation, which puts a lot of trust in their leadership and their people. We spent countless hours explaining our philosophy, onboarding leaders on our way of thinking when it comes to competence development, career development, promotion etc. It’s a hard task, especially as most of them have worked in other places where the nine-box grids and the rating scales were used. All of us humans are, and will continue to be creatures of habit, but repeating something that is not good only offers a feeling of comfort. And feeling comfortable has nothing to do with development and growth.

Now, as these beliefs are being questioned by the wider business industry, more and more people are daring to say that top managers do not always know what to do. There’s an appreciation that they have lots of insights and perspectives, for sure, but it’s also more obviously stated that many of the best decisions in any company are made at the bottom, from the people who have an up-close view of the work and related issues. The whole idea of job crafting and empowering frontline workers has become a big theme in disruptive growth. A talent marketplace supports this. When you open up internal opportunities to people inside the company (and this means jobs, projects, mentors, assignments, etc.), you get the power of marketplace dynamics. Highly expert and ambitious people rise to the top; projects get staffed with the best people (not just the leader’s favourites), and promotions and opportunities are more democratised. And in a world where it’s harder than ever to find external candidates, the marketplace becomes essential. 

We believe that an internal talent marketplace is one of the most important systems that should exist in a business. This is bad news for all those who have built complicated internal career systems, which are time consuming, administratively heavily, hard to use, and over time have become less and less relevant. 

We took a good look at Fuel 50 and Gloat when we were ready to automate our way of thinking when it comes to career pathing. It was easy for us to shortlist suppliers since our way of thinking of our business (the two sided marketplace) also influenced our thoughts about an internal talent marketplace. It’s still early days, but so far the data is telling us that our people are embracing this internal platform. This puts career mobility into the hands of the band members, and if we get it right, it will help them follow their passions more closely.

If you can crack this code and figure out how to also use it for skills development, learning and promotion, you will not strip off the much important wax and sealer, but rather you’ll be making sure you offer a long lasting, healthy, and equitable development market. 

Keeping The Engine Humming Comes With a Cost

Owning and driving a vehicle is an expensive commodity, but taking shortcuts in your vehicle care can be even more costly in the long run. All the care and maintenance work we do in HR to build long lasting healthy organisations has an ever-increasing focus on mission, purpose, values and employee growth. Be prepared to invest and enjoy a vehicle that is reliable and has longevity. 

And don’t forget to step back and appreciate what a great era to be in HR!

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