Episode 35 Transcript

Creating a Collective Culture and Enhancing the Remote Employee Experience w/ Christine Dunham

    Banoo Behboodi: Welcome to the Professional Services Pursuit, a podcast featuring expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. I'm Banoo, and today I am joined by our very own Christine Dunham. Christine is Kantata’s Senior Director of People Development and Culture, and I'm extremely excited to have her on today. Christine has spent 21 years working at Ingram Micro before Kantata in global talent management and organizational development. She's extremely passionate about company culture and employee engagement and has an infectious enthusiasm for the topic as you will very soon find out. Welcome to the podcast, Christine.

    Christine Dunham: Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, I'm really excited to have you. I've seen your passion repeatedly on this topic and really wanted to have you as a guest to share your experience and your passion with our listeners. So tell us a little bit more about yourself, your background and how you ended up in people development and culture. This is quite a unique role.

    Christine Dunham: Yeah, absolutely. So I went to school where my bachelor's was in speech communication. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but when I figured out that I was really comfortable speaking in front of people and I'm pretty passionate about communication in general, just conveying ideas and information and how it influences people. I got very excited about that. And then I ended up going to graduate school for communication studies to continue that learning. In graduate school, I got an internship at the Hershey Entertainment and Resort Company in Pennsylvania because I'm from Pennsylvania originally. And I got hired to work in the learning and development department. And what was asked of me, my role was in learning and development and it was to do customer service training. And so if you think about Hershey Entertainment Resort Company, they have a big amusement park and I got to do customer service training with all of those team members. And I loved it. And I loved just thinking about what are the behaviors and the skills that these people need to go out and be really effective and really have a positive impact on the customers.

    And so beyond the training, I got to be a secret shopper, which meant I could go out throughout the park and interact with the team members and just see if they were applying what they learned. And when I saw that they were, and I saw the positive impact it had on the customers, they felt special and valued, I just realized that this was pretty cool. And so after that internship, I actually moved to California and all of my roles beyond that were in learning development and organizational development. That's my educational background, but along the way the companies I worked for really invested in me and I was able to attain so many different certifications on leadership and change management and just behaviors and all of that amazing stuff that I get to do today. So I'm pretty obsessed, and you mentioned in the intro I'm enthusiastic, I am obsessed with really just the employee experience. I just want people to love what they're doing, I want them to feel confident in what they're doing, and I want them to be able to do it in an environment that really sets them up for success. So that is how I landed here.

    Banoo Behboodi: Love that. I know there's so much we can focus on and time is limited. So with the onset of the switch to hybrid and remote work that's been going on, we're gonna focus this conversation to understand how with your experience and all your knowledge, you've sort of directed Kantata and have been able to position best practices in this environment. It's been fantastic, right? Having the flexibility to be in my pajamas, have the cat go across the desk with the dog barking in the background, all of that is great. But to ensure that everyone, all the employees are staying engaged, they are aligned with the value culture of the company and basically driving the company forward while allowing them that flexibility. Now there's a new challenge ahead of us to make sure that that happens. So what are some of the most critical elements we have lost with the new remote environment, in your opinion?

    Christine Dunham: Yeah, when I think about that, you know, just being someone who's been in the corporate environment for so many years and just being in person a majority of the time. And then switching to this fully remote and distributed workforce, right? We're across the globe in time zones. And as you mentioned, I'm a huge fan of wearing my pajamas or my sweatpants to work. But there are some key things I think that are challenges that impact our engagement and culture. And there's about three I'd mention, the first one is informal communication and connection. And you think about when we were in-person and in the office, we had those informal check-ins and conversations while getting coffee, while you have a meeting in a conference room and it ends and you linger. And in these casual interactions, amazing things can happen, right? There's problem-solving, there's brainstorming, there's these amazing face-to-face, real-life check-ins where you're getting feedback based on how things are going? And not only the words that people are sharing, but when you're face-to-face exchanging that energy, you can read body language and see how someone's really feeling. So the ability to have that informal communication and connection and that immediate feedback is one.

    The second is, and this is obvious, but the in-person interaction. And what I mean by that is, again, being someone who studied communication and the behaviors of human beings, that in-person communication just accelerates connection and trust. And so you meet people through a screen, but it's so different when you meet someone in person. So I feel that we've had to work really hard and be really intentional to replace that in a virtual environment. Because I'll say it again, in-person interactions accelerate trust, the getting-to-know-you phase is more of an emotional connection. And that's really foundational for how we work and collaborate.

    And then the third piece, I think that's a challenge that I think about day in and day out and make a great deal of effort around is collective culture. And what I mean is that collective culture is really these rituals and these routines and these interactions that are across the organization. In a remote environment, we meet a great deal with our teams or our clients or the departments that we need to work with on a regular basis, but we get less interaction exposure to everyone across the company. So that's one of the things that I think about and we'll talk about best practices later, but really having cohesion and shared common language and shared culture, it's something you have to work harder at in this environment.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, and I know each of these challenges with the work environment as it is the hybrid and the remote is going to probably take hours of discussion or can take hours of discussion. For the purposes of today though, I know we've discussed maybe going at it with the top four or five best practices that we can leave our listeners with of things to watch out for to mitigate some of these issues that can come up because of the new work environment. So do you wanna share with us the first one?

    Christine Dunham: Absolutely. So when you think about some best practices to really strengthen that engagement and that connection and the culture, the first one I would mention is nothing new. So our listeners are gonna hear this and go, yes, of course, but I'll talk about it from a bit of a different angle: shared vision, clear roles and goals. And so this is just fundamental to the success of any organization, but I believe that having this shared vision and these goals is more important now than ever because we are sitting at home in our own offices. And so we have all of our little mini offices and just to be able to think about each and every day, what is our north star. Really as an organization, what's our purpose and our promise? That's what we really call our vision here at Kantata, but what are we working toward? How do I fit into that as an individual contributor? And it's so motivating when you understand that and you know that the work that you're doing day in and day out, that it's really contributing to the success of why your organization exists and really what your vision and your purpose is.

    And I think in today's remote environment, one of the things I think is incredible because I'm a fan of flexibility is that it doesn't matter where you're working, in some scenarios it doesn't matter when you're working, it's just that you're focusing on and doing the right work. So again, I would just say having that shared vision and those goals, not just having them because that's the thing where everyone will say, well, of course, but it's communicating them, making them compelling, repeatedly communicating them, and on a regular basis when your company comes back together, just really kicking off those meetings by saying, here's why we exist, here's what our purpose, our promise, our vision is. Here's what's most important to do this quarter, this year and really give everybody that north star. I think that's absolutely critical.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, and you're right, having a common vision and clear roles and goals is in itself not new, it's the what, but it's the how that has evolved and changed. And so I really like your suggestions, again, the workforce and how they interact has changed. The workforce itself is very much being dominated by Generation Z, which in itself, the way they've been brought up, what their expectations are, are very different from what the generations before had. So in addition to that flexibility, like making sure that everyone, regardless of the generation you come from and the experience that you've had, you understand the direction you need to head to make sure that the company's successful and the customers are successful. So again, that shared vision and clear roles and goals in this remote environment and how you make sure that everyone is clear and directed towards that same goal was a fantastic first one to start with. And so let's get to the second one.

    Christine Dunham: Yeah, the second one, I would say, is a shared set of values. Again, not new Banoo, it's not new, but I just had the amazing opportunity to go through a values refresh and a values launch. And when we say have a shared set of values or have core values that are the guiding principles of your organization. First and foremost, I just encourage everyone, don't just put these corporate jargon, gobbly words together to say things that you think people want to hear. Really think about what you want your guiding principles to be, how you want your people to show up day in and day out when they're interacting with colleagues, when they're interacting with clients and the community. So I want them to be true to the organization. So really having these values because I'll say it again, these bump things up a bit, it's not just what we're doing, but it's how we're doing them. And so I think about my values, a lot of our team members say they have their values posted in their office just because it helps guide them in the actions they take, and the decisions that they make. Maybe they're at a crossroads and they're trying to decide something and having those values just right there in front of you. I think what that does, again, is it gives us all this sort of common language, common behavior that really represents who Kantata is and what we wanna be known for.

    And what we've done as an organization to really, again, make these values come to life is obviously we share them and we repeat them and we have many places that you can access them. But we have awards that have been designed to acknowledge and celebrate values-based behavior. So specifically not numbers that you hit, you know, not hitting a certain percentage, but really we have something called Flair Awards, which enables anyone across the organization to recognize a colleague and say I saw something great today when it comes to values-based behavior and I'm gonna nominate that person for a Flair Award and share what they did in accordance with our values. And then we share that across the organization and we hand out some prizes, but it sends the message that these things are important. And that we really value the behaviors that our employees, how they're showing up and just living by with what we think is most important.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah. And as both a nominee and a nominator of Flair awards, I've gotta tell you what a fantastic idea because you're constantly thinking and refocusing yourself on the values that Kantata has communicated and placed out there. And assessing people's performance and your own performance in the context of those values and then rewarding them and recognizing them. So it's not enough to direct people, but to be able to measure and recognize, going back to your point about OKRs. I mean having throughout the organization measurements that will drive to that goal. And everyone clearly understands what they're being measured on, what the company's performance is measured on, and what your trickle down role is actually contributing to that. And therefore, what do you need to do and how will that be measured to meet that? So I love the Flair Awards and I actually think we have an excess of 50 each month. I mean the participation has been incredible.

    Christine Dunham:Absolutely. And I'm always thrilled to see how many come through. And I think what you're seeing is we're creating a culture of feedback because these Flair Awards, it is not just leaders nominating and recognizing. I mean it's anybody at any level throughout the organization. I will say, when you see something great, say something. So if somebody shows up on your team or in a meeting or on a client call and they do something remarkable, worth remarking on, I always say, then it's amazing that we can have that across the organization. So absolutely, it just brings things to life. I always say it move things from, as we used to say, a plaque on the wall, but now we're remote. But these values are on our internet site or they're in our new hire guidebook, but it takes those things off the page. Literally shows people living them and we just wanna celebrate. We saw you do this, this is the impact that it had and it makes a difference.

    Banoo Behboodi: I love that. Okay, so now moving on to the third best practice.

    Christine Dunham: Yeah, absolutely. So the third best practice I would say is around people and leadership development. So you think about, again, this concept of engagement and performance and building culture in a remote environment. Our people, our leaders and their development. So really providing growth and learning opportunities across the organization to really equip our people with the mindset and the skills to be successful. And that's, again, very broad, but what we do is we think about in today's remote world and the goals that we have. What we're trying to accomplish, and what are the skills and behaviors that are gonna really move us forward. So honing in on those and bringing people together to learn. And I'll say there's a couple reasons why. Obviously, investment in your people's development is critical. You know, if you wanna attract amazing talent, you need to have learning and development opportunities.

    The other thing that I see happening that is phenomenal is that we are bringing people together in these classes that I get to facilitate from all over the organization. So I'd mentioned earlier about collective culture, so here's an opportunity to hear from, to interact with, to gain insights. You know, we use breakout groups quite a bit throughout Zoom so we can have smaller groups discuss a question. I can't tell you how many times people come back and say that was an amazing session. And yes, I learned things, but the most valuable piece was to connect and network with people in my breakout group that I don't always get to speak to and share their insights and learn a bit more about them. So just the methodology, the format that we use and having these offerings across the organization, I think is so valuable.

    The other thing I would mention is in this remote distributed environment, the role that leaders play is so critical. And I talked earlier about how we don't always have an opportunity to always interact cross-functionally, but when we have our leaders, and again, they have bought into our purpose, promise and our values. They are learning how to best manage, coach and lead in a remote environment. You know, they're really out there influencing culture, influencing performance, and really being sort of our ambassadors of our culture. And I think that that's just so critical. So we do a great deal of training when it comes to our leaders and our people, again, to not only invest in them, but to ensure all of these important things we've talked about are reinforced. And really we just want to provide everybody the opportunity to grow and evolve and really be successful in their careers.

    Banoo Behboodi: And in that context, and this may be a bit of a sidetrack from the conversation, but just was curious about your thoughts around mentorship in this distributed work environment. Both of us are women leaders in technology, and mentorships specifically in terms of what it could mean for women. Just your perspective on that would be interesting.

    Christine Dunham: Yeah, I'm a big fan of mentorships and I think the reason is when you really think about the relationship of a mentor and a mentee, you have an individual where you're having this one-on-one attention where you get to have conversations as the mentee. You have someone that you admire, someone that has achieved something or a role or they have experience that you can learn from. And you have this opportunity to have conversations and really ask them questions and gain advice and hear about the journey they've taken. And about the mistakes they've made, choices they've made, successes they've had. And so I think that that is so powerful. You know, there's so many ways in which we can grow and evolve and gain self-awareness and grow our skills. And I think that mentorship is really important.

    I even think as we're talking about this theme of a remote environment, you know, being intentional about connections is really important. So if you have a real mentor-mentee relationship set up where you're meeting regularly and then you have goals and specific things that you're talking about, I think that that is so critical. Because again, in the days when we worked in-person, we might get to know somebody and then go to lunch sometimes, and sort of an informal mentorship occurs. But now that that isn't always an opportunity, I think having mentorships is such a great idea and you can learn so much again from somebody who's done things that you hope to do and really gain their insights and hopefully be able to make some choices that help you achieve those goals.

    Banoo Behboodi: No, I love that. I mean that's exactly the reason I brought it up is because when we were in-person, I think there was some level of informal mentorship that happened. Because a mentor is not always your direct manager or even your organizational direct leadership, right? It could be someone else that you feel is in line with where you wanna go career-wise. And you can basically reach out and have conversations, have a coffee, and through that you are getting mentored. So I love the fact that you were encouraging people to actually have formal mentorship programs where now that we are remote. To make sure that if it doesn't happen naturally because you're having a coffee or a lunch, that it does because you've got a program that allows for people to basically have a mentor and be a mentor to others and help them with their career development. So that's great. And then the fourth one.

    Christine Dunham: Yeah, the fourth one I would say is a culture of feedback. So if we take a moment and we think about what I've shared so far, we talked about having a shared vision, clear roles and goals. And making sure that they're designed well, that there is a community created across the organization, that they're compelling, and that you're bought into them. We have a shared set of values, right? Here's our guiding principles and we're rewarding you for showing up and behaving in this amazing way. We talked about developing our people and our leaders. So the culture of feedback, and I think when you have all of those things built into your ecosystem and into your culture, now, as you mentioned earlier, we know what's expected of us and we know what we could need to do to be successful and influential and to make a contribution. So I think we wrap it up with this culture of feedback because how amazing it is to have an environment. And I say culture of feedback because here's the difference, we could throw around that yeah, we give feedback, feedback is part of our manager toolkit, but a culture of feedback means that it's a norm. And that it's comfortable, that it happens regularly and frequently, and that it's not only giving feedback. I think that's really common, right? You know, we have our managers and they give feedback and they're one-to-ones and performance review time. But it's also seeking feedback from all levels of the organization to say wow, we've been working on a project now for months, what could I do differently when it comes to leading meetings or whatever the case may be. So the norm, regular reoccurring feedback where we're not only giving it, but we're seeking it. And I just know that from a connection perspective, from focusing on the right things, from building trust, from learning a culture of feedback. You know, many studies and lots of research exists where organizations that have a culture of feedback outperform those organizations that don't. And I'm proud to say at Kantata, no one's perfect, we're building and enhancing our culture of feedback, but one, we've been training our managers on the importance of quality conversations. And a quality conversation is one where we're providing coaching and direction and support and ensuring that we're providing that positive feedback or course correcting when we need to so we can focus on the right things.

    We also have a performance management process, which again, all organizations do, or they should, but again, what that means is that it's not just end of year review time. What we do is we ensure that we are revisiting our goals, we are talking about them, we are changing them if need be. And it's not just saving all of your feedback for that one final conversation. It is ensuring that you're having conversations month to month, week to week, so that everybody knows how they're doing and you know where they can do better and what they're doing really well. And we also have Officevibe which is an employee engagement platform and it's built around these automated pulse surveys. And I'm a huge fan of it because again, especially in a remote environment where we're not having these casual check-ins while getting coffee or at a meeting or at the water cooler as they say. But in Kantata we receive these really quick, well designed five question engagement surveys where we answer them and then we take that feedback really seriously.

    So the leadership team is looking at this feedback regularly, looking for trends, looking at areas where things are going really well, looking at areas where things are not going so well. And then discussing those things with our teams, creating action plans so that ultimately we're just staying in touch with how things are doing and actually doing things to improve the employee experience and to address the feedback that's coming through. And we started I guess last summer, and I'm excited that we're gonna continue to do that because having a system in place that supports one of the things that we wanna do, which is to create a culture of feedback. And it's an easy to use system, I think, that's absolutely critical to keeping up and building our culture of feedback.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, I've gotta say I'm a total fan of Officevibe, I thought it was a fantastic investment by the company. But the most critical part and the reason why, myself and my team, we all provide the feedback because the surveys are quick, is because it's a closed loop process. The management, we see that during all hands that feedback is addressed. So I'm not just providing feedback into a vacuum, but I'm seeing action is being taken, my feedback is being recognized and I think that is so critical of any feedback system. But also to have put this back in my hands, to be able to recognize people and have others recognize me again in conjunction with the Flair Awards. I just think it helped our culture in terms of team building, recognition, having a means to step back and say hey, I think I am recognizing people much more now with Officevibe because it's graded that mentality for me.

    Christine Dunham: I love that you brought that up and it's my favorite part. So as part of Officevibe, what you're referring to is this internal mechanism called Good Vibes where again, you get to send a postcard, so it's very cool. You know, we talk about Generation Z, right? I came from the world where I'd write a thank you note, but now you get to send these electronic postcards. And it's the best feeling in your inbox when you've received good vibes and you open it up and it's an envelope and then you put your cursor on it and it opens up. I just agree, and just think about the feeling that you get. And when you talk about engagement, you know, kind of in the Christine Dunham language, I always say I wanna interact with people and I want them to leave me with a hop in their step, with more energy, kind of invigorated a little bit, and feeling excited about whatever they're doing next. And I just think we've got our Flair awards, we've got these conversations, we're encouraging everybody to have. We have Officevibe, we have good vibes, and I use this word quite a bit, but when I think about my role, like people development and culture, now obviously everyone owns the culture. I sometimes feel like whoa, that's in my title and I'm passionate about it. But everybody, every day in every way that they're showing up is building our culture.

    And I just think about all of these things that we have in place. They're like deposits, we really are. We're showing up every day and we're all just making deposits into relationships with each other, into relationships with our clients. And then you think collectively about what's happening across the organization. That's the feeling, the energy, the vibe, that's the culture. And so all of these different things are not new and I know that. And even going into this, I'm like, what's a big wow thing I could say? These things are proven. They are grounded in psychology and these things work. You just have to design these things well. You have to ensure that you're using them, applying them, rewarding them, communicating them, and they do work when it comes to engagement and motivation.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah. And in conjunction with that, there are so many systematic IT solutions out there like Officevibe, like Kantata and the context of professional services. But my point is, there's so much enablement, there's technology to address our changing lifestyle and needs that helps with this process. So I wanna encourage listeners to look at Officevibe and other tools that's gonna help close the gap and sort of bring us all together in a different evolving environment. So this has been great Christine. And I'm sure there's a lot more to discuss and maybe another podcast, but before I let you go, I always like to ask what my guests are reading and if they have a recommendation for our listeners in terms of a good book that they should pick up and read.

    Christine Dunham: Yeah, I like this question and I'm giggling because you did warn me that you were gonna ask me this question. And I am honest to a fault, and I said Banoo, I am reading a fictional book, and it's called The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green, and I am enjoying it. Jane Green's a British author and she writes light and fun family drama rom-com kind of books. But I thought I'm gonna mention that anyway because I'm a big fan of balance. So none of us need to put our head in every single professional heavy book. So I am reading The Sunshine Sisters, I'm enjoying it thoroughly; Jane Green, I'd recommend her. But also I thought about some of the books that I've read that have been influential for me professionally, and I'm a huge fan of the Heath brothers. So Chip and Dan Heath are authors, they have multiple books. But the one book that I wanted to highlight is called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. And as an individual who needs to communicate, I'm trying to move people, inspire people, persuade people, teach people, make them feel something. Communication, I'm passionate about that, obviously, but this book is incredible.

    So the way they write is engaging, it is not dry, they use stories. I even wanna highlight that they have an acronym [SUCCES] with one s, but really when it comes to Made to Stick, they talk about communicating in a way that is simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and using stories. And I will tell you that that has just stayed with me and that's a book I'm a fan of. And then I'll put one more little mention there for the Heath brothers, they also wrote a book called Switch: How to change when change is Hard. I'm a huge fan of it as well because one thing that is inevitable in our corporate environments and our organizations is change. And that book highlights how to not only reach people rationally, but emotionally as well. So those authors and those couple books are books that I would absolutely recommend and I refer back to them to this day and I read them many years ago.

    Banoo Behboodi: I don't think I've read either of those, nor have I read any of Jane Green's books, but I definitely will pick them up. So thanks for those recommendations. It's been great Christine, I really appreciate your energy and your insights and for being on this podcast. So thank you very much.

    Christine Dunham: Thank you so much. I'm so happy that I had a chance to chat with you and to be a part of this podcast. I enjoyed it, thank you.

    Banoo Behboodi: Fantastic. Thank you for listening today. And as always, feel free to reach out to us at podcast@kantata.com with any follow-up questions. We would love to hear from you.