The shift to remote work in the last year has taught HR leaders a lot about their workforces and their organizations. For HCM software provider Workhuman, it has highlighted just how vital the company’s mission and work are, says CHRO Steve Pemberton.
Workhuman’s emphasis on employee recognition, in particular, has become even more integral, Pemberton says, as companies navigate the challenging task of maintaining a strong company culture in newly remote settings. The pandemic has also spurred the organization to continue to “practice empathy, flexibility and creativity when making decisions that impact our people,” as well as invest in employee wellbeing and diversity, equity and inclusion–all with the goal of creating a more “human workplace.”
DE&I has been a particular focus for Pemberton, who–before joining Workhuman in 2017–served as the chief diversity officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance and Monster Worldwide. Pemberton shared how Workhuman is deepening its commitment to DE&I as well as taking other lessons from the pandemic forward.
HRE: When it comes to DE&I, what do you think are some of the mistakes companies make in trying to move from conversation to real, sustainable action?
Pemberton: It is harder to measure big organizational goals than it is to measure goals tailored to each department. Big goals can get in the way of real progress because strategies for advancing DEI initiatives are not one-size-fits-all. For example, the way that our recruiting team looks to attract diverse talent in IT is different than what we would do to recruit for our sales team. A better strategy is to determine numerical goals that can be met by the end of the year, which will demonstrate a company’s progress.
One of the mistakes I often see is the sole focus on that which needs fixing. That is important of course but, to create sustainable action, start with the area of DEI where you are doing well. It helps to create a common narrative, something to rally around and a strong foundation from which to work through existing challenges.
HRE: How has Workhuman expanded its DEI work in the last year?
Pemberton: Diversity, equity and inclusion have always been important to Workhuman. Improving company culture is ingrained in our mission, and inclusion is essential to that–but, in the last year, we have adjusted our strategy slightly. We needed to further recognize the competitive advantage of a diverse and inclusive workforce, rather than only focusing on corrective action.
To ensure that our recognition program always fosters a sense of inclusion, we started in-the-moment coaching on issues of unconscious bias and microaggressions from our database of recognition moments to prevent further damage from taking root. We also regularly survey employees through our employee pulse survey tools such as the Moodtracker™, so that we have insight into perspectives on Workhuman’s performance on the DEI front from all levels of the organization. This helps leadership shape our goals for everything from lessons we want to impart at different events to changing our company culture as a whole. The topic of equity that has been unfolding in the public square has not been lost on us either and so we have felt it important to lend our voice to that conversation by affirming the value that DEI has to us as a company.
HRE: Workhuman’s solutions help clients keep their employees connected–how has the company worked to overcome remote work barriers over the last year to keep its own employees connected and engaged?
Pemberton: While we still faced challenges transitioning to remote work, we found measurable success with our employee engagement platform, which we use internally. The early days of the pandemic were strange and confusing for a lot of our employees, but we found clarity in moments of social recognition and connection through our platform. Our platform, Workhuman Cloud, makes peer-to-peer employee recognition easy and connects our people to shared purpose through a consistent stream of gratitude and acknowledgment.
For example, at the start of remote work, one of our colleagues announced she’d given birth and shared a picture of her new baby through our platform Life Events. Everyone immediately started congratulating her, and it reminded me–and our employees–that there were still opportunities to find joy in the new, uncertain world we were experiencing.
Moments like that have kept Workhuman’s company culture strong, which has made our transition to remote work smoother. Employees still feel valued and connected, which makes being apart a little less taxing.
HRE: What impact do you think the pandemic has had for continuous performance management; do you see more employers ultimately recognizing its value?
Pemberton: Especially in a remote world, a lot of managers don’t see all the work their own subordinates do. The performance management process has evolved through peer involvement. Taking in commentary from peers gives a truer picture of performance and eliminates some of the stress of high-stakes, low-frequency performance evaluations.
The more this information is communicated between manager and subordinate, the more success the team will find. Frequent check-ins remind employees to remain agile and adapt to feedback so they can better support their team. This type of feedback empowers individuals to contribute to colleagues’ success and helps create a culture of feedback, recognition and connectedness. Managers stay up to date on what their subordinates are working on, which allows them to steer the direction of their team, hit important goals and improve collectively. Remote work has only reminded us of the importance of this kind of culture.
HRE: Do you have a motto or mantra that guides your work?
Pemberton: New beginnings are possible is how I go about approaching each and every day. That has always been true but 2021 is reminding us of this even more so. We will have to redefine our ways of working while also reaffirming our connection to one another, our community and humanity.
HRE: Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
Pemberton: Like most of us, family and friends are my greatest passions. On the weekends, you’re likely to find me with my family, on the golf course or working on my latest book.
HRE: If you hadn’t gone into HR, where do you think your career would have taken you?
Pemberton: I was actually accepted to law school and thought that was where I was headed when the world of HR came calling. I’m not entirely sure what type of practice specifically but it certainly would have been focused on justice, fairness and equity.