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The Art of Failing Fast & Learning From It in HR

, | Sep 28, 2022 1:54:36 PM | By

The venture-backed ecosystem never shies away from “failing fast,” which is especially important in times of economic uncertainty — so long as you learn from it.

In this conversation, serial HR executive Jessica Marucci shares top lessons from her decade at DigitalOcean as it scaled from 5 to 500 employees, first in the role of finance manager then director of employee experience — as well as what’s she’s doing differently (and the same) at Catalyst Software in her role as VP of People & Places.

This blog is adapted from that conversation and covers:

  1. Common HR mistakes during economic shifts
  2. Top reasons for employee attrition today
  3. How to encourage employees to vocalize what they need to be more productive at work

To hear the full episode, visit this page, or subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast player, such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Don’t miss the full episode: The Art of Failing Fast & Learning From it in HR


Common HR mistakes during economic shifts

In a large organization, giving employees what they need — like feedback cycles and compensation bands — becomes second nature; it’s something that evolves over many years of growth.

In the world of startups, however, new employee needs may pop up every day. Despite how common this is, startups don’t have to operate this way. All it requires is a shift from being reactive to proactive.

As Jessica explains: “You need to have the core foundation of giving people what they need: They can develop, communicate properly, get feedback from their manager, know what they're doing wrong and know what they're doing right. And starting that from the beginning is way easier to handle.”

Expect the unexpected

As we learned from navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, it can seem impossible to take a proactive approach for something so unexpected. But with a strong foundation, any company can take the most unexpected situation and still come out on top.

When the pandemic began, the grand plans for spending that Jessica had for employee experiences went out the window. All of a sudden, she needed to look at what would give the maximum ROI for engagement. A common misstep for companies in this situation would be to spend money on gifts for employees.

While a nice gesture, such gifts can lead to a negative employee response if all their top needs aren’t met, such as healthcare coverage and job security. If cuts are already taking place and an employee desperately needs a piece of technology to do their job well, a gift isn’t appropriate.

The same can be said for events. In times of stressed budgets, bringing the team together for a virtual escape room may seem like the right morale booster, but is just as likely to alienate employees — and an HR leader’s executive peers. Instead, Jessica suggests researching what really matters to your employees. For her team, for instance, what mattered most was having their Latinx group plan out events for the month. Most were simple and free, such as playing Latinx music at the start of All Hands and sharing 101 information on Slack.


Top reasons for employee attrition today

The state of the workers’ marketplace is constantly changing. With new opportunities popping up regularly in today’s heavily remote environment, workers are questioning their positions like never before. Jessica would bet a dollar that every one of her employees have received a message from a recruiter in the past two weeks.

Companies striving to keep their top talent must be in constant communication to identify each employee's goals and help make them a reality.

“Don't let it just be a conversation; put some action behind it. You're hearing a theme of what's going on with these people: “This is what I care about.” Okay, let's turn that into action.” — Jessica Marucci

One of the most common conversations Jessica has concerns internal mobility — an employee's ability to move into new desired career paths within the company.

Without a framework to let this mobility thrive, Jessica says, “you’re not giving people the growth that they want in their career today.”


Encouraging employees to vocalize their needs

Remote work has a lot of benefits, such as less time spent commuting and a more relaxed working environment. One detriment, however, is separating your work life from your personal life.

When an employee works and relaxes in the same room or house, it can be challenging to “shut down” at the end of the day. They might remember something, log back on, and find their afternoon completely evaporates. This is a dangerous situation as it results in many employees falling victim to burnout.

Leaders must stress the importance of separating home and work, Jessica says, as well as demonstrate desired behavior themselves. She personally prioritizes scheduling time to pick up her son and have lunch.

“If you want to take calls during family time, take calls. But if you don't, block off your time. It's really important.” — Jessica Marucci

Another issue with remote work is how easy it is for an employee to avoid difficult conversations about what they need to do their job well, especially when budgets are being cut across the organization. But if the employee isn’t vocalizing what their needs are, it can be near impossible to do anything about it.

This is another situation that can be solved from the top down. Check in daily with questions; if an employee doesn’t know that their needs could be met if only they said something, they won’t change.


A key takeaway

When companies prioritize the needs of their employees, they create an adaptable environment that remains resilient to even the most unexpected situations.

If you keep communication constant, and model behavior from the top down, you’ll see your efforts paid back in full.


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