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Clear HR Communication During Change

By OpenComp


When the business going gets tough and tough professionals get going, communication can easily fall to the wayside. In this episode we speak with seasoned operator — as well as personal, executive, and management consultant & coach — Dawn Raagas about the architecture of effective relationship- and business-building communication. Dawn is currently VP of People Operations at Daasity.



CAITLIN ALLEN: When the business going gets tough and tough professionals get going communication can easily fall to the wayside. And so in this episode, we speak with seasoned operator as well as personal executive and management consultant and coach, Dawn Ragaas, is about how the architecture of effective relationship and business building communication comes to the Dawn is currently the VP of People Operations at das city. Dawn, welcome. Thank you so much for being here.

DAWN RAGAAS: Thank you. Thank you. I'm so excited to chat with you today.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Me too. I love this topic. Before we dive into things, Dawn would love to give the audience a chance to get to know you a bit personally. What is something that most of your coworkers don't know about you?

DAWN RAGAAS: Yeah, this. So that's always a fun one, right? Especially those of us in the people roles. We're so used to talking about other people. And so when you know, I have to talk about myself, I'm like, Oh, why do people not know that they that I want them to know. So I would say the biggest thing, or one of the things that nobody that I work with knows is that when I got out of high school, and I started college, I was putting myself through college, and I did that with a job at a bank. I started out as a teller, and then I moved into their credit card department. And you may be wondering, like, Well, why is she sharing that. And, you know, if you've ever called into the credit card that you have, you know, the 800 number that's on the back of your card, and had to, you know, talk about your statement or anything like that. I was that person that people talk to. And this was way back before, we had all of the conveniences that we have online now, where we don't really have to talk to people. So if I guess you could say that was my crash course, in learning, really effective communication? Because you can probably imagine the variety of people that I interacted with over the phone and had to communicate with so that's a little bit about me.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I'm sure the word variety.

DAWN RAGAAS: Yes, I think that that's the that's the best word I can come up with.

CAITLIN ALLEN: That makes sense? Well, I think that's probably cooler than my first job, which was working at Starbucks, although if we weren't going fast enough, I definitely think I got some variety. And yes.

DAWN RAGAAS: Another another job where communication is key. Right? And, and obviously, the ability to make a really good latte, I think also helps.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Thank you for that. That was fun. Yeah. Any baby getting more to career topics, you you have had an interesting career journey that went from banking, answering answering questions, and then started in teaching and currently do in People Operations with some stops along the way. So can you tell us a little bit about that journey and how it exposed you to maybe what we can call common communication breakdowns and breakthroughs?

DAWN RAGAAS: Absolutely, absolutely. Yes. So I did go to school to become a teacher. You know, did my undergrad then did an additional two years to get my teaching credential. This is a long time ago. At the time, when I finished my credential, I landed in an environment that we are having, honestly a hiring freeze for teachers. And so it made it really, really difficult to get a full time teaching position. And as many can understand and appreciate, I think, you know, we have rent to pay, we have bills to pay student loans to pay. And so I didn't have the luxury of being able to wait around to get that teaching position. And so I had to pivot. And that was really what I call now the pivotal moment of my career trajectory, if you will, because it landed me into the tech space. And that was early on in days. So I you know, I worked for a number of small startups. I worked For a publicly traded company, and learned a ton, I, that's where I really got my start in kind of the HR people ops sphere, if you will. And then as life, you know, happens, I was at the point, my husband and I wanted to start a family. And so I knew at that stage that for me, and for our family, I wanted to have the flexibility to create my own schedule to be the one that was able to be there, you know, for our daughter, we didn't know we were having a girl, but now, in hindsight, be there for our daughter. And so I, you know, left my corporate job I was on track to I was on the VP track at that time. And so I took a huge risk. And I left the corporate world, and I started my own consulting business. And I just started taking whatever I could get, you know, and people asked me, Well, why didn't you specialize? Why weren't you just focused on one area, and I said, you know, there are times in life where you really just need to take what you can get. And that was one of those times, and it was a blessing in disguise. I learned more through that experience and 15 years of consulting work, than I think I ever would have learned had I stayed on the corporate track. And that's not to take away from those that choose that path, because I think there's a ton to be learned there as well. For me, personally, I got the variety that I think is hard to come by, when you stay on one particular track, you know, that's why I'm able to have a perspective of operations, you know, accounting, product developments, just the full gamut of, you know, business. And so that's really what led me to Destiny, to be honest. You know, it was at the stage of my consulting work, where I was looking for a new opportunity. I happen to come across das study, when I was looking, you know, at some different startups, specifically, in my area, I'm in San Diego, and they happen to be local. And that's really where my journey with them started. I, I interviewed, this is going to be I tell the story to all of the new hires that we have. But I interviewed for a project management position that they posted, because I read about them. And I said, You know what, yes, I can do project management. But I also can help in all of these other areas, because I've been there, and I've experienced it, and so what value can I bring to them beyond what they're looking for. And so, I reached out, I got the interview, I met the co founders. And, you know, as they say, the rest is history. And so here I am today, as the VP of people ups. I started out with das duty as a consultant, you know, getting their project management setup, I moved into Chief of Staff, again, that's a multifaceted role. And then realized, you know, I do have this ability and its talent to bring teams together and to build teams. And that's what I've been able to do here at dassie. That's my, my professional life in a three minute nutshell, I guess.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Thank you. Yeah. And I, what I love about it, Dawn, is you've highlighted some very different roles and responsibilities, right, like operations accounting, Chief of Staff, people, program management, and yet caught communication is a commonality through it all. To your point about consulting being kind of a indirect blessing or gift. I imagine you got to see trends in a way that you wouldn't have otherwise because you were working with so many different organizations.

DAWN RAGAAS: Absolutely.

CAITLIN ALLEN: The eye that just the volume of data points is speaks there. Where would you say communication usually falls down in a fast growing business particularly?

DAWN RAGAAS: Yeah, I think that there are really what I call kind of the, what I see as the top five areas that communication can can really fall in, I hesitate to say fail, but it really does, it fails in these fast moving organizations. Number one is we make assumptions, right, we're moving so fast, we have one meeting or a couple of meetings, and we just assume that the information we exchanged landed, they understood it, and also that they're going to tell the rest of their team or that they're going to, you know, relay that information to another team. So we make assumptions. Another number two is really around, we never take the time to, to establish rapport with our employees. So if you can imagine a fast growing company, you know, maybe you're hiring very quickly. Or maybe you're just a small team, and you're moving just really fast. And again, you don't pause long enough to build that rapport with your employees. And what happens when you don't build that rapport or take the time to build rapport, that usually means you're probably not meeting with them regularly, right, that's number three, that's another place that communication can fail. Because you're not having it right, you're just not taking that time. And if you haven't done that, then you're likely not providing enough context, right around their assignments or around what's happening, you're not giving them the clarity, so they understand where you're headed as an organization, so that they can get on the bus, so to speak, and be riding along with you. And last but not least, you know, when those four things don't happen, you haven't built trust, you haven't built trust with the people that are on that bus with you. And that makes it really, really, really difficult from a communication perspective. So those are, those are typically for me, kind of the five areas where I see or where I've seen over the course of my career, in working with multiple different startups, as well as established companies, where communication can fail.

CAITLIN ALLEN: It's a interesting mix of interpersonal stickiness, so to speak, as it relates to investing, getting to know people, and then being clear on the details you give, and then also checking to make sure that the details that you wanted to land landed around why and what

DAWN RAGAAS: exactly

CAITLIN ALLEN: what changes, if anything, about communication, and it's the areas that it breaks down during economic climates like we're in today.

DAWN RAGAAS: Yeah. So, I mean, if we think about kind of this macro, economic season that we're in, you know, there's three major concerns, right? We're talking about we watch unemployment level, inflation and economic growth, right, that's what's happening during the season. So how does that translate over into, you know, a company setting? And what are the things that that we're faced with? Or, and and how do we navigate that from a communication perspective, we have to be really, really clear and over communicate in, in this type of environment, right? We have to not make assumptions. Like I said, before, you know, we have to really remember that perception is reality for everyone on our team. So our perception, my perception is likely different from your perception on certain things, right? We have to realize that and we also have to realize that if we don't over communicate, if we're not transparent, in our communication, our employees are going to create their own narrative, their own story. They're inundated with information, just like all of us are, right, good, bad. Unfortunately, most of a lot of it is bad or negative in this type of a climate. So if we as an organization, are not over communicating, and being really transparent, in our communication, they're going to create their own story of what's happening.

CAITLIN ALLEN: And I think to that, that kind of self created narrative, it can scale from zero to 50, or zero to 60. Absolutely, like or two. So it's absolutely a really good point to keep in mind.

DAWN RAGAAS: Absolutely. I mean, imagine, you know, to your point, you have a manager that's created this narrative because As we as a company maybe haven't provided them with this transparent communication. So they create the narrative, they have a team of say, 10, they share that narrative with their team of 10, the team of 10, then shares with their friends that are on another team, you can see how that can quickly spread in a way that's not going to be beneficial to the organization.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, it definitely can. And that's a really good reminder to a lot of how people experience culture is simply based upon who they talk to most during the day. So when those stories go from one person to another, the communication all of a sudden can spiral one way or the other. Absolutely. Absolutely. So one of the things, I think that's endemic, to your point about, you know, verifying that the way we want to communicate has been received in the way that we want it to be received, is really understanding how to position ourselves to understand others. So I'm curious, we're living in this season, I think of what you called. So actually, when we had our prep call of change, and challenge, a season that change, love to double click into how we can position ourselves to really understand others during seasons such as now.

DAWN RAGAAS: Yeah, I mean, you kind of touched on it right in that is really starting with listening to understand. So so often, what happens is we as individuals, we listen to respond, right, or we listen, and wait to provide feedback are in it in an intent to provide feedback, as opposed to just stop, just listen to understand what the person is communicating to you. And then, as I touched on earlier, you know, remembering that perception is reality. So our perceptions are based on our individual life experiences, which means that no two of us are exactly the same. And so we have to keep that in mind. When we are in, you know, this type, the season of change and challenge because it looks different for everyone. And, you know, last but not least, really practicing empathy that truly is at the center of what I think has really helped diversity in you know, the times have changed and challenges that we are coming to conversations and communication with that, you know, empathetic framework, honestly, in mindset.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Might be a dumb question. But for those of us that are those people that are listening, and they're saying, okay, great, I really want to learn how to be a good listener effectively to, to come a conversation seeking to understand what our whole markers that our listeners can look for, whether it's in their own conversations, or if they're trying to teach their teams to be better listeners, what does good listening look like?

DAWN RAGAAS: Yeah, I mean, I'm gonna, I'm gonna hammer this one home, because I think it's just critically important, because I don't think that people are, well, let me step back. I think we live in a world where because we are inundated with information so rapidly, that we haven't, we don't inherently have that muscle to just pause, and to stop and listen to understand, right? It's just not inherently how the world is operating. So again, I'm going to hammer that home, start by listening to understand, that's number one, when you come into any kind of communication, just stop and listen. Number two, really, again, remembering that, you know, it's important to be 100% focused, remove distraction, right? When you're, maybe you're on a zoom, right? We live in this world now where destiny is 100% remote organization. Some are, you know, some organizations, organizations are hybrid. So you've got some FaceTime but we adapted we're remote. So turn your slack off. When you're on a zoom, you know, you're on your one on one with a you know, with your colleague or with it, you know, a team member or direct report, I should say. Remove those distractions so you can be there and be focused and be intent. You know, use what I call mirroring or matching. And you can do this even in a remote environment, you know, we're maintain eye contact I'm not in agreement when you agree with what they're saying, or maybe you know, when you're not clear, maybe you have more of a, an unclear look on your face and you say, you know, I'm not quite sure, can I ask you a questions is that mirroring and matching, the person that you're communicating with, you know, tone of voice is also something that's really important. If you're trying to get a point across, and the other person is very, you know, passionate, or maybe they're, they're agitated, you know, maintain that calmer tone of voice so that you can communicate more effectively. You know, and restate what you've heard. Don't paraphrase, don't change words, literally restate what you heard the person say, and make sure that you're, you're clear, right, that you heard what they said correctly. And last, but not least, one of the most important things we can do as a good listener, is leave our judgment at the door, but bring your empathy. Just leave it just come to the conversation with no judgment, and be completely empathetic to the person on the other end. I think with those, you know, those five things really can improve, listening and create an engaging environment, even with really hard conversations.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I'm doing so much nodding over here. In agreement, you know, one of the things that is coming to mind a few are and I'll go through them, but the first is a series of statistics about how communication breaks down. 7% of communication is the words we use. Yeah, B percent, is our facial expression. Or sorry, language is the body language. Yes. 5% is the tone of voice, which obviously kind of strikes email and slack only off the charts for, for good conversation. But I, I think you're bringing up such good points around tone and body language. And I've read a lot of research about how the best salespeople are really amazing at doing what you call mirroring, body posture, they give positive affirmation with leaning forward or sitting up or asking a question with their eyebrow, or, you know, whatever else it is. And I just am glad you're reminding us of those basics. And also just focusing right, not not having an email up, it's, that really does does break down into what good communication is.

DAWN RAGAAS: Absolutely, I mean, I think, you know, if we're practicing these better listening skills, we're you know, the other thing we can also do in this environment where you're taking away that 55%, right, your, your, your, I shouldn't say you're taking away the 55%, because you do have a little bit of body language that can happen on Zoom. But let's just take slack, for example, right? We don't have any of that it's all words. But what we can do it and even that environment is we can focus on really being clear, right in our communication, taking emotion out of it. And just the words that we share are just very clear and concise, that then can help with the communication because there is no kind of reading tone, right? When you leave emotion out or words that that symbolizes emotion, you leave those words out. And you're just being very clear and concise. I think though, those two kind of skills, if you will, can help even in you know, a Slack communication and email communication, make it about the information, you're trying to exchange which the definite communication is an information exchange. But so often we'd like to layer in kind of emotion and some of those other things that can kind of cloud, what we're trying to communicate. So I think that that coupled with the good listening skills really can improve, especially in this remote world that that we live in now.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, I can't tell you how often my eyes will glaze over when I get slacks that are like paragraphs long, right. And I also think your point about assuming good intent or showing up with empathy. Empathy is very important there as well. Where, you know, maybe someone's communicating something that doesn't feel like it was communicated in the way you would want but because it's over slack, it's hard to know. So it's super tense. There is it comes into play as well.

DAWN RAGAAS: and ask questions, right? And if it doesn't, then ask clarifying questions. You know, I can't tell you how many times how many times I've had a situation where I'll read something. And I perceive it right, based on my own experiences. And I read it as I, you know, as I've experienced life, and, and I ask clarifying questions, and I'll say it in just that fashion, you know, my perception of what you sent me, is this, is that correct? Or can you, you know, maybe clarify for me. There's nothing wrong with that, right? It's showing engagement, it's showing that, that you care that you're interested in what the person is trying to communicate, and that you want to understand. So yes, I think that that, even in written communication, show up assuming good intent. And if you think otherwise, or you read otherwise, or perception is other is not that Then ask questions.
Yeah, that's, that's basically the reverse way of making sure that the message has landed correctly,

DAWN RAGAAS: absolutely. 100%.

CAITLIN ALLEN: What are signals maybe in Daasity and other organizations that you've guided over the years that that a business is communicating effectively? Is there anything that you can see maybe it's just on Slack? Maybe it's in NPS surveys, maybe it's something else, where you, as a leader can say to yourself, or listeners consider themselves? Okay. We're doing an okay job.

DAWN RAGAAS: Yeah, I think there's, you know, it's organization dependent on a certain level, right? Because it depends on kind of how you as an organization, drive, do you drive by OKRs? Do you drive by basic, you know, SMART goal setting, like, what is your kind of data point, if you will, that you measure the success of business, right, or data points, I should say, at das city, we do drive by OKRs. So it's really measuring cross departmental performance, that's really important. Because if you've got cross departmental performance, that where you can see everyone's moving in the right direction, hitting their their goals, you know, doing the things that you've outlined as a company, that's, that's one measurement, right? That That kind of tells you, okay, our communications landing, people are getting it, it's clear. Another piece that we use at Destiny, we used post surveys. Okay. So we use polls surveys, just, um, it depends, you know, depends on what the maybe the topic is, at the moment, where we just kind of check in, you know, we check in with employees, we make sure that what we're sharing, is understood and is landing, you know, in a third really is, yeah, watch slack. When you post something like, at Destiny, we have a corporate announcements channel, when we post something in there, I always go in and look at how many people have either just, you know, liked it, or those that have commented or asked a question. If it's really low, then what I will always suggest is, let's try another vehicle of communication, right? So let's not just use Slack. Let's also make that a topic of our bimonthly company meeting, so that we can deliver it, quote, unquote, live, you know, on Zoom, people can ask questions live in the moment, that gives another vehicle of communication. Maybe that's not an option for you know, you as a company, maybe it has to just be a video message that comes from the CEO, or it comes from another member of the leadership team. You know, you can throw that video up in Slack. See how many people view the video, those are all things that I think can really signal to us as a business, whether we're communicating effectively or not. So lots of different vehicles. And then really, at Destiny, I think one of the things that has been so phenomenal is that we have really created this feedback culture, if you will. And what I mean by that is, we have created all of these opportunities for employees to give and receive feedback whether that is our bimonthly company meetings, our you know, mandatory weekly one on ones that all managers have with their direct reports. You know, monthly corporate announcements that get posted in Slack. We've created this cadence that employees can rely on and gives them have an opportunity to provide that feedback, ask questions. That's a great measurement of whether or not your communication is landing or not based on kind of that feedback that you're getting in those different, those different opportunities.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love how practical those are. So thank you for really making

DAWN RAGAAS: absolutely every day. I think that's power, right? It has to be easy. Yes, it has to be easy,

CAITLIN ALLEN: especially during seasons like now where we're extra in our heads about things that need to happen and could happen and extra busy with to dues because our teams are leaner, and it's just except extra important to keep it basic. Well, fabulous. Rounding out the conversation with the final questions. Sure. Given your amazing background, what is one commonly held belief in people that you really disagree with?

DAWN RAGAAS: I think it comes down to this is more of, I think, a perception of individuals that aren't necessarily in HR or people. And that perception is that our role is all about hiring, firing and onboarding. That's what we do, right? We manage benefits, we payroll like all that, though, is tied up in hiring, firing and onboarding. And in reality, it's such a comprehensive function. And it really is all about the entire employee experience. It's so much more, and it's so much more proactive, right? I feel like there's this stigma within HR, that it's a reactive role. That's a reactive group. And it really has made I think, even in the last 510 years, this pivot to being very proactive, it's not to say that we don't have to still focus on those important, reactive scenarios and things, right. It's not to say that it's not important that you pay attention to all the laws, and you know, all of those things, that's not at all what I'm saying, what I'm saying is that it really is a proactive employee experience based role. And people can say all the time, you know, oh, we put employees first. Do you really? Are you really looking at the entire experience? Or is it really just about hiring and onboarding and firing? It? That's one of the things. Sorry, keep going. No, no, no, go ahead. Go ahead.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I was I was just playing off of what you what you were saying there, it is a really big trend, we've seen that the rise of people in HR leaders in the organization to much more of a strategic position absolutely regularly, you know, right now, when we're all thinking about retention of top talent, and, you know, for lack of a better phrase, like optimizing the resources that we have, like, how do we empower them to be their best selves and also be their most productive selves? Because we have fewer people on the team? Right? You bring up a really good point about how, you know, sometimes reality and perception, there's a big gap. And I do think there's sometimes a lag between how people organizations are perceived versus what their role actually looks like today. And I would anticipate that given another five or 10 years, those will be perception and reality will be much closer in terms of their I agree, their you know, their reality. And, and I think to the additional scrutiny that boards and investors are giving things like retention and patrons parents see right now is just gonna further that. 

DAWN RAGAAS: Oh, 100% 100% I love what you touched on. And that is that it truly is a strategic role. It is not an administrative tactical role. It is a strategic role at the highest level, because of the fact that we literally need to understand the entire business and how everything operates to be able to create that employee experience in a way that's going to be impactful and effective within the within the organization.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yeah, it's, it involves needing to understand a lot of different departments, a lot of different psychologies the business strategy, the business plan, and then somehow combined Seeing all of those factors and many, many more things into one cohesive culture and employee experience


CAITLIN ALLEN: Well, this has been amazing Dawn, as we wrap out, our wrap up rather, a is the most important thing that we can all take from today's conversation.

DAWN RAGAAS: I would have to say, really having a communication strategy in place, I think we take for granted that communication just happens. And you don't have to have a strategy, right? And it couldn't be further from the truth. Because, as I've mentioned, kind of throughout this conversation, there are so many things that you need to think about when you're communicating, why wouldn't you spend that time upfront, putting a strategy in place. And what I mean by that is really, like I've mentioned, create that cadence for your team, set up those weekly one on one setup, you know, bi monthly company meetings, set up things that are predictable, so that you can then measure if your communication is landing correctly, and if you're using the right vehicles for your team, to communicate your your most important messages. So yeah, I would say, make sure that you have a communication strategy in place, and you spend the time really working on that and, and revisit it often, right? Like you're gonna have people that come in and go and the culture of the company will likely stay similar, but you'll have some nuances and some changes. And so that means you need to reevaluate how you're communicating, is it still working. But you can't do that if you don't have a strategy in place.

CAITLIN ALLEN: One of the things that I love about my current HR partner, Ashley is her name. And she's our head of people, is how closely we get to work together as Head of Marketing and heard of people on things like communication strategy, and it is the basics of what you're talking about, do we have something that's documented? Does the rest of the executive leadership team know about it? What is their feedback on it? And then at what cadence? Are we communicating or looking at it and seeing if the communication strategy needs to change? And I'm thinking back to some research that I remember was very popular about a decade ago about how so much of a strategies, strategies execution is, really begins with just having a documented.

DAWN RAGAAS: Yeah, if you don't have a plan, then you're kind of flying by the seat of your pants, right. And so, in those environments, it's really difficult to execute on on anything, because you don't have anything to reference. You don't have anything to go back to. And then on the flip side, or on the, you know, the the end of that, it's like, what do you measure against if you haven't documented that plan? Right? So how do you know if if things are working, and that you're being effective? So I agree with you 100%. It's, you've got to put the time in to create that, that strategy and document it, have it in place and then revisit it, revisit it often, and love it?

CAITLIN ALLEN: Well, to our audience, we are at the end of today's episode, so don't forget to give us a five star rating and you can email If you have ideas for topics or guests. And Dawn, thank you so much. This has been really enjoyable. Thank you.

DAWN RAGAAS: Oh, it was such a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it tremendously. And I look forward to to chatting with you again soon. Thank you. Thanks so much.

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