As American society continues to grapple with a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest as a result of systemic racism, the relationship between companies and workers has shifted. Employees need more flexibility, support, and understanding than ever before. At the same time, businesses need to keep moving forward. To meet the demands of the new business landscape and the needs of employees navigating a new reality, corporate cultures must evolve.
To provide guidance on this front, From Day One recently hosted a panel during its September virtual conference, entitled When Corporate Culture Needs to Evolve. The panel featured: Christine Salerno, Global Head of Social Impact at Marsh & McLennan; Rosa Santos, HR and Talent Management Executive at PepsiCo; Randy Martinez Director of Strategic Diversity Management at CVS; Curtis Stancil, Director, Human Resources at Sodexo; and Jon Schlossberg, co-Founder and CEO of Even. Here are the highlights and key takeaways from the panel’s discussion.
Even’s CEO Jon Schlossberg kicked things off by explaining that we’re in the business of asking employers to look at their workers’ lives holistically — and we have no business giving that advice if we don’t do the same thing. It’s not just about asking employees to bring their best selves to work. They need to be able to bring their whole selves. During COVID-19, family life, and education for young kids, is now more enmeshed with our professional lives than ever before. People need to feel comfortable being who they are.
“These conversations get raw. They get real. But the business needs to learn about their experiences, so we engage and learn.”
Moreover, workers of color — especially your Black teammates — may not be able to bring their whole selves even if they want to, due to the stress and trauma of ongoing racial injustice. Randy Martinez from CVS noted that many employees feel unstable during this time; they don’t feel comfortable as they hear what’s happening in their communities.
Martinez described learning and listening sessions at CVS put on by employee resource groups (ERGs), particularly by Black employee groups. “They get raw. They get real. But the business needs to learn about their experiences, so we engage and learn.” Curtis Stancil from Sodexo advises that leaders need to “take conversations beyond the feel-good aspect,” and make sure they know what employees’ concerns, needs, and aspirations are.
During the conversation, the moderator posed an important question to the panelists. Recognizing that we as a society are currently living in a time that sparks stress and uncertainty, she asked, “How can you, as leaders, empower staff members to feel comfortable enough to carry out the company’s mission and values?”
“People are hurt and outraged. What are organizations going to do about that?”
Schlossberg returned to the ethos of empowering employees to bring their full selves to work, specifying that “it’s about cognitive energy.” He said, “if you have to pretend to be a version of yourself that you’re not, because you’re struggling or feel insecure, you’re not going to be thinking about the mission and values and carrying those out. It’s like math. You only have so much cognitive energy to spare.” If you help people not have to worry about whether they’re accepted, or heard or supported, they’re going to be more focused on their jobs.
Stancil stressed that efforts to help workers need to be tangible and meaningful, noting that “just having conversations doesn’t necessarily change the way people show up to work and perform.” He said that at Sodexo, they strive to go beyond the sentimentality aspect. “People are hurt and outraged. What are organizations going to do about that?” For example, Salerno notes that Marsh & McLennon is focusing on training for managers to create safe spaces for conversation, and implementing unconscious bias training as well as allyship trainings.
Another suggestion came from Martinez, who shared that at CVS, the company uses a peer recognition platform called “Values in Action.” When colleagues work together, they can write a note to thank one another for a job well done and embodying CVS’ core values of innovation, collaboration, caring, integrity, and accountability. These notes of public recognition go to the employees’ team and manager. Martinez noted that CVS has seen a dramatic uptick of the platform’s use during the company’s work-from-home transition, indicating that the entire company is helping one another support the company’s values and purpose.
None of this will happen by itself, the panelists were stressing. Rosa Santos described a complete overhaul of the expectations PepsiCo is placing on its managers as a result of the shifting needs of its workforce. She says that it’s “critical to define what the role of the manager is now” in order to support employees. PepsiCo’s defined new guidelines to ensure its managers are modeling listening behavior, displaying empathy, staying connected and engaged, leading by example, and being a source of optimism and stability for employees.
Salerno described a widespread response at Marsh & McLennan that included building a COVID-19 response fund that’s already granted over $2.5 million to thousands of employees. The company’s CEO has also repeatedly denounced bigotry in company-wide messages, the company has implemented an advisory counsel for senior leadership, stronger measurements and metrics, and training all around diversity and inclusion. Salerno says that the organization is “doing the hard work to ensure not just in our company but in our communities we’ll make a difference.”
Schlossberg described that as Even’s CEO, he’s taking on the responsibility of setting a company-level objective for Even to become a more anti-racist, inclusive company. To accomplish, he’s established a task force of people across the company’s functions — and up and down seniority levels — to meet this objective that’s equivalent to all the company’s other business objectives.
Trying to do business during an era when workers feel uncertain about their health, their economic wellbeing, and their very civil rights is a Herculean task. To do it right, leadership and culture need to evolve at the same pace as, if not faster than, the concerns and needs of their workforce. Listen to your employees, and create safe space for hard conversations. Help your workers do better at work and have stronger personal lives by meeting their needs. And finally, don’t be afraid to make big, structural changes in order to accomplish the first two things: It will pay off in the end.