Rachel Bolsu

Rachel Bolsu

Rachel Bolsu is a Content Marketing Specialist at Namely, the HR, payroll, and benefits platform built for today's employees. Connect with Rachel and the Namely team on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Recent Articles


How to Talk About Diversity at Work

“Diversity is defined by who sits at the table, while inclusion is which voices get heard,” says Jamie Velazquez, Ph.D and Director of Staff Development at Crittenton Services for Children and Families. Diversity has become a top priority at the individual, corporate, and national scale, and Namely’s recent Diversity Report reveals several trends around implicit bias in the workplace.

Turning a blind eye to individual differences is no longer acceptable if companies truly want to make a change (or a profit). According to Velazquez, “today’s buyer doesn’t just buy into your product, they also buy the ideals and values of your company.” As an HR professional, building company values and culture often falls on you—but how can you change a systemic problem?

It can be challenging to initiate productive conversations around such sensitive topics, but short term discomfort is necessary for long term change. We spoke with Velazquez to learn how she helped her company embrace these tough conversations. Here are six simple ways to encourage an open dialogue around diversity in your own organization:


1. Teach Self Awareness

Cultural competency training is typically given in the form of an impersonal online certification quiz. While this checks the box, it’s is clearly not enough to change behavioral tendencies. Instead of taking this approach, Velazquez created an interactive series of self-awareness training with small groups of employees from different departments and levels.

“I work in the service community, and we always ask: how can I help others better? When I first started thinking about cultural competency training, I realized that we need to begin by learning about ourselves. Before you can help others you have to understand your own biases, triggers, and experiences,” says Velazquez.


2. Share Diverse Experiences

Velazquez also shared that “I’ve been sending bi-weekly emails about different topics to help employees encounter different perspectives. This week was about swimming. A study revealed that in 2010, 70 percent of black children did not know how to swim. This statistic can be traced back to the historic segregation of pools. Swimming is something many of us take for granted and raising awareness around this experience helps us become better allies.”

While swimming may be unrelated to your business, Velazquez’s emails are a great way of initiating difficult conversations around diversity with her colleagues. If you regularly and consistently learn about an experience different than your own, eventually it becomes second nature to look beyond surface-level stereotypes, ask questions, and empathize.


3. Understand Your Goals

Cultural competency training is an ongoing and ever-evolving process. Velazquez plans to grow her training program into a multi-year initiative to help her team advance and build a stronger community of allies. Velazquez formed a committee to help set goals for the training and clearly articulate why diversity is important to the larger company. Every organization will likely have their own answers to these questions, so it’s important to have a holistic understanding of company-wide goals before determining the format of your training program.


4. Be Vulnerable

Vulnerability starts with company culture. A culture where leaders are open to learning from their direct reports helps create comfort even in a hierarchical environment. HR is uniquely positioned to facilitate initiatives like trainings, group activities, and thoughtful hiring. It’s important to use this power to bring more underrepresented voices to the table, and raise awareness about experiences that differ from our own.

“It’s possible to talk about difficult topics without targeting someone, you just have to own up to your limits,” advises Velazquez. “In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt impelled to write to employees. I started by admitting that I’ve never been in that kind of situation, but I can still acknowledge that both sides are difficult and stressful. I invited employees to share their own experiences and concerns with me. In response, multiple people reached out and said that after reading the email they knew they could come talk to me. We are all impacted differently by current events, and it was important for me to build a safe space for employees to come to me.”


5. Act as an Ally

As seen in Namely’s Diversity Report, data reveals a pattern of managers hiring employees in their likeness, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “similar-to-me bias.” It’s natural to trust people who are like you, as you automatically connect with their experience, but even if it’s unintentional, we have to be conscious and proactive about embracing different voices. We may not always understand the experience of others, but we should act as allies to support them.

“Unless you do something, nothing is going to change,” says Velazquez. “Not everyone is ready to have these authentic conversations, and it’s harder for certain people to start them. To act as an ally we have a responsibility to speak up for people who can’t and also know when to shut up and listen. Emotional intelligence is critical for success.”

Velazquez notes several key practices we can adopt to become more effective allies:

  • Be humble
  • Replace judgement with wonder
  • Support and coach
  • Make space for diverse voices at the decision table
  • Be inquisitive and always ask questions

Empowering employees to bring their whole selves to work lays the foundation for better discussions around diversity and inclusion. When your leadership team is willing to be transparent, open minded, and even vulnerable at times, you’ll see employees at all levels follow suit. As HR professionals, you have the power to bring employees out of their comfort zone and encourage meaningful conversations around the parts of ourselves that we tend to bury during work hours.


Beyond Perks: How to Uplevel Your Benefits Package

The field of human resources is changing. In our HR Redefined series, we give innovators a medium to share personal reflections, professional advice, and best practice guidance.

The following is a recap of a panel discussion at HR Redefined 2018, moderated by Matt Monahan, VP of Benefits at Namely and featuring Colleen McElroy, Benefits Consulting Team Lead at Namely; Brett Davis, Senior New Business Manager at Cigna; and Asha Mungara, Director of People Operations at b8ta.

Busy May 6-7? Join us at HR Redefined 2019 for even more panels led by industry experts and thought leaders. Grab your tickets now!


Benefits are a crucial piece of talent acquisition, engagement, and retention. At Namely’s HR Redefined 2018 conference, we brought together industry experts to share their advice for maximizing your benefits offering. Learn how to set your company apart with their tips:


Start with the Basics

Before evaluating novel perks, make sure your current medical offering is a good fit for your employee population. Medical insurance is the second largest form of compensation after salary, so make sure this money is not going to waste. Employee needs are different for diverse segments of your workforce—for example, if your company includes both a corporate office and warehouse environment, take that into account.

Once you optimize your benefits package, communication is key. “You can offer the best health plan in the world,” says Colleen McElroy, “but if employees don’t understand it, they’re not going to use it.” With good communication comes increased participation, awareness, and even behavioral changes.


Use Data as a Guide

Data is hugely important when it comes to making decisions about benefits programming. If you are on a fully insured health plan, you may not have access to as much claim and utilization data as with self-funded or level-funded plans. “Survey employees or create a focus group to learn about employee needs and wants,” suggests McElroy. “Don’t throw money around blindly, but identify where employees are seeing gaps and find a way to address them.” Data can help you design meaningful programs and also identify areas where you could reduce costs.

“In my previous role, we tried to implement biometric screenings, but it didn’t go well,” shares Asha Mungara. “Employees wondered why we were requiring this, and it just wasn’t a good culture fit. We changed course and did a Fitbit step competition. It was a huge hit with 50 percent initial participation, weekly prizes, and a grand prize at the end. You have to be cognizant of what’s right for your individual organization.”



Communication is Key

“If there’s one thing you’ll hear over and over again,” says Matt Monahan, “it’s that communication is paramount to success. Nobody is going to know how great their benefits package is unless you tell them.” Benefits are complicated, and it takes work to convey value to employees.

The best moment to communicate is during open enrollment. Consider how your population likes to receive information—paper, digital, in person? Then, incentivize employees to adopt new programs early on. You might offer a financial incentive such as an HSA match or raffle prize for anyone who takes that first step. According to Mungara, education can be simple. “List all the benefits that you offer employees for free. They tend to be overlooked, so sometimes you need to break it down to the basics.”


Get Leadership Buy-In

Once you know what matters to employees, it’s time to get leadership on board. “At Namely, we offered a six month trial of Peerfit,” shares Monahan. “Employees are given credits to use at a variety of fitness studios. We encouraged all of the team leads to sign up for a class and invite their team members. We expected to see about a five percent adoption rate, but we saw 20 percent––in fact, we almost had a mutiny on our hands when the trial ended.”


Start Small

Expanding your benefits offering doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, most insurance providers already offer services within your existing plan. For example, dental plans often provide extra visits for pregnant women, most medical providers will help employees find in-network doctors, and Life & Disability plans often include access to employee assistance programs (EAPs). Ask your provider about services that employees may not be aware of, and remind employees that they have access to resources around mental health, personal finance, and more.

You can also build your own custom wellness initiatives at low or no cost. “Building a wellness committee encourages involvement throughout the organization,” says Brett Davis. “At the Cigna office, we started a program called ‘Talking Taste Tuesdays.’ Once a month, for 20 minutes, we get together to chat about the benefits of different health foods. It’s one fun way to incorporate wellness into the daily routine.”


Stay Current on Benefits Trends

A good benefits package isn’t just about physical health. For example, Talkspace provides mental health services, allowing employees to reach certified therapists digitally 24/7. Similarly, student loan repayment and financial wellness perks can also contribute to a more holistic benefits package.

As the health tech industry continues to grow, there’s an increasing number of  concierge services to help employees navigate the medical industry. These services help employees save money and access second opinions—which means fewer questions for HR teams.

Forward-thinking and personalized benefits give companies a leg up. “We compete with the Googles and Ubers of Silicon Valley,” says Mungara. “We don’t try to outdo them, but we make it clear that the benefits we provide reflect employee needs and our company’s culture. That’s how you stand out and differentiate yourself in such a competitive space.”


Namely’s Diversity Report Identifies Barriers to Equal Pay

For HR, building a workplace culture of inclusivity and equality is a worthy goal—but as Namely’s latest Workplace Diversity Report reveals, the goal is a lofty one. While much conversation focuses on equal pay, and the oft-repeated stat that women make only 80 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts,  we identified other key areas of inequality: employee recognition and mobility.

In our Workplace Diversity Report 2018, expert analysts poured over data from over 175,000 employees. Our findings indicate that gender inequality extends beyond compensation and impacts recognition and advancement opportunities. As companies continue to combat inequity, it’s crucial to pinpoint and address the subtler forms of gender bias in the workplace.

How do we tackle a problem that seems to be systemic? Based on our findings, we can begin to trace the roots of pay inequity to each stage of the employee lifecycle. We’ve outlined our findings and opportunities to take action.


Are Women Recognized for Their Work?

The Findings

Recognition is a key driver of employee engagement, productivity, and ultimately retention. Recognizing employees can be as direct as a pay raise or bonus, or as simple as a verbal acknowledgement. Nobody deserves to be passed over for well-deserved praise, and our data identified a strong correlation between the demographics of those doing the recognizing and those being recognized, particularly when it came to gender.

To quantify recognition, we looked at the usage of Namely’s “appreciation” feature, a way that colleagues can praise each other digitally in front of the whole company. This recognition is logged for managers to reference during performance reviews, so appreciations impact promotion and advancement opportunities.

Appreciation data showed that men and women tend to recognize colleagues of their own gender more so than others. However, male employees receive nearly the same amount of recognition from both male and female colleagues, whereas only 36 percent of recognition for female employees comes from their male peers. Nearly 64 percent of recognition given to women comes from other women.

What This Means for HR

Recognizing this trend is the first step in designing policies that drive meaningful change. While you can’t force employees to recognize diverse peers, you can put programs in place to help employees see the value of all coworkers. First, consider whether your teams have a distribution of female and male employees. It’s hard to recognize someone if you never work with them. Second, chisel away at the inequity by creating women’s groups and including male colleagues, facilitating mentorship programs, and providing bias training for employees. Behavioral changes take time, but small efforts can add up.


Do Men and Women Have an Equal Chance for Promotion?

The Findings

The short answer? It all depends on your manager. Data showed that women and men reward direct reports of the same gender nearly twice as often. Both men and women are more likely to report to a manager of the same gender, but we found that while half of all women report to men, only 31 percent of all raises granted by male managers actually go to female reports. Here’s how it breaks down:

In layman's terms, this chart shows that male managers are significantly more likely to give raises and promotions to their male direct reports. On the flipside, female employees are far more likely to receive raises and promotions if their manager is female. This affirms that women are often overlooked and under-recognized when it comes to career advancement, further perpetuating the cycle of pay inequity and the leadership gap.

What This Means for HR

In addition to introducing employee trainings, pay and leadership inequity calls for a greater emphasis on HR data analysis. A deep dive into diversity metrics and a closer look at  organizational charts will paint a clear picture of where work needs to be done. You can also use this data to get leadership buy-in and drive company-wide commitment to changing the numbers.

Surrounding the topic of equal pay, the Workplace Diversity Report reveals that gender inequity also meaningfully impacts career advancement. The good news? We believe innovative HR professionals are up for the challenge of building better workplaces for all employees.

Want more of our findings? Download the free Workplace Diversity Report.


Top 5 Takeaways from SHRM 2018

This year over 22,000 HR professionals met in Chicago to learn and network with peers and thought leaders. With such a wide array of sessions, keynotes, and activities it was impossible to be everywhere and see everything in just a few short days. We’ve rounded up our five top takeaways to help you take your HR practice to the next level!


1. Unless You Do Something about Diversity, Nothing Will Change

“Diversity is who sits at the table. Inclusion is who gets heard,” says Jamie Velazquez, Director of Staff Development at Crittenton Services for Children and Families. Diversity has been top of mind for many HR professionals, and in a session entitled Cultural Competency & Humility Training, Velazquez and her colleague CaMesha Reece, Director of HR, shared their tips for making impactful individual changes in an organization. With an open and humble mindset, we’ll be more equipped to face down taboos and contribute to a more diverse and inclusive workplace.


2. HR Has a Seat at the Table

As we saw at HR Redefined, HR is one of the most strategic members of the business, but also often the most under-recognized. In Making Your Case to the C-Suite: Why You Should Be at the Table, Sheryl Simmons, Chief Human Resources Officer at Maestro Health shared the importance of HR’s voice in executive decision-making and strategic planning. This was a consistent theme throughout the conference as experts shared tips for calculating HR's ROI and gaining leadership buy-in. One of our favorite tidbits? The CEOs of GM, Dunkin' Donuts, and Xerox all share one thing in common: they studied or worked in HR early in their careers.


3. The Future of Work is Human

Fresh off of his keynote at HR Redefined 2018, Adam Grant returned to the HR stage to share the importance of recruiting and retaining original thinkers. While at SHRM, Grant also sat down with close friend and coauthor of Option B, Sheryl Sandberg for an unscripted Q&A. Sandberg highlighted the business advantages of creating a more human workplace. She noted the need for more inclusion of underrepresented groups as well as more empathetic leave policies and benefits: “Creating an environment where employees can bring their whole selves to work is not just the right decision, it’s the smart decision.”


4. HR is Global

With attendees from over 90 countries, it is clear that HR and business stretch far beyond a company’s headquarters. The increasing globalization of the workplace was more apparent than ever at this year’s SHRM, from the diverse range of international HR professionals, to the representatives we met from multi-national organizations. From engagement to compliance, speakers and attendees shared their best advice for taking on a more global workforce.


5. Your Most Important Resource is...You

As an HR professional, you spend the majority of your time taking care of your team, so it’s often easy to lose sight of your own career goals. According to Amanda Haddaway, SHRM-SCP, Managing director at HR Answerbox, this is especially true as an HR department of one. Whether it be taking the time to build your personal brand, cultivating a network of mentors, or learning about other parts of the business, “no one cares about your career more than you do,” so make the time to invest in your own development.


“Original Thinking and HR” Is Not an Oxymoron

“Are you someone who speaks up, or stays silent? I’ve always been the person who stays silent.” Adam Grant opened his keynote speech at HR Redefined 2018 with a confession. He too has been guilty of the pervasive mentality that is so detrimental to original thinking.

He recounted a time when he spoke up for a colleague who was treated unfairly. As a result, his boss pulled him aside (into the women’s restroom, no less) and warned him that if he ever spoke up again, he would be fired. This marked a turning point in his career and led him to pursue a career in organizational psychology with a focus on workplace culture.

Grant has spent extensive time studying how to nurture originality, and he affirms—with no hesitation—that HR is the lifeblood of this effort. “Original thinking and HR are not an oxymoron,” says Grant. “You have the power to drive real change and define culture more than anyone else in your organization.” In a landscape where job candidates have more leverage than ever, HR is tasked to create a culture that supports employees who challenge the status quo.

Here are four ways Grant suggests HR can create a work environment where original thinking thrives.


Source Original Talent

Grant cautions that HR should be as analytic and rigorous as possible in the recruiting process. He spoke from the direct experience of helping a client get to the bottom of their turnover problem. In the process, Grant ended up disproving the client’s idea that Ivy league graduates were most valuable to the company. Looking at nine years in performance data, they found no difference between Ivy league employees and high performers from state universities.

Even more interesting, they found that when it came to high performers, Ivy league grads were significantly more likely to leave the company after a few years than top performers from state schools. The learning that employees from less elite schools were ultimately more loyal led the company to completely rethink their talent sourcing model.

In your HR practice, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. When it comes to talent acquisition, HR has the power to drive organization-wide success. In Grant’s words: “The most leverage you have in an organization is who you let in a door.”


Help us write the future of HR and build a better workplace—Join Namely this year at HR Redefined 2019!


Weed Out Detractors

Grant has dedicated a large part of his career to identifying givers and takers in the workplace. While givers always look for ways to help others, takers tend to focus on how to help themselves. According to Grant, takers can be detrimental to a team and detract from the overall culture, leading to a toxic work environment. To avoid mis-hires from the get-go, it’s crucial to manage impressions during the interview process.

References rarely provide critical feedback on an applicant, so Grant encourages HR to ask the better questions that get at how the candidate will impact the rest of the team. How? Try pushing references to choose between two negative traits, asking whether the candidate is more likely to be self-serving or stepped on. “I’m more likely to hire someone who is likely to get stepped on and be kind, than someone who is only focused on themself,” Grant explains.

By asking the right questions, you can better understand who is a good fit, and get the wrong people off the bus before your culture pays the price.


Seek Feedback on Leadership

“Fill in the blanks,” says Grant: “Don’t bring me ________, bring me _________.” If you said “problems,” and “solutions,” you’ve probably had a manager make this demand. However, Grant argues that this sentence is a dangerous philosophy. If you don’t encourage employees to speak up about problems, you won’t hear about them until it’s too late—which can be especially harmful when the problem is too big for any one individual to solve.

When an employee leaves the company, an exit interview is already too late. Companies should instead invert the idea of exit interviews and turn them into entry interviews. Doing so does two amazing things: first, it tells you exactly what motivates your workforce, and second, it shows applicants that their voice is important from day one.

To build this culture, HR has to create a psychologically safe environment where everyone in the company is comfortable with admitting their shortcomings. Grant says it starts from the top down, and it’s important for leadership to show that they too are open to criticism and suggestions. When leaders acknowledge their mistakes and take the initiative to improve, you’ll see a stronger sense of trust increase throughout the organization.


Tailor Jobs to People, Not People to Jobs

In reality, most jobs were not designed for the people that do them. “Job crafting is what you do to take ownership of those jobs,” says Grant. Right now, this is happening at the individual level, with employees taking the initiative to reshape how they do their work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen as often as it should at the organizational level.

Why should organizations take on this problem? If you ask employees to map their current job duties to what they want their job to look like, you start to see that it’s not an individual problem. Grant says a great way to visualize this is through word clouds. When you compare how employees spend their days (often emails and meetings) with what they’d like to be doing, you can easily pinpoint the disconnect. “In HR, you have a 30,000 foot view of what everyone is doing,” says Grant. “Often managers are too in the weeds to identify a problem across the organization, but HR has the power to connect those dots.”

When you encourage employees to share their problems and concerns, you begin to build a more agile and forward-thinking culture. Grant affirms that the HR department is well positioned to drive a culture of givers and original thinkers. “I would love every single organization in the world to see HR as the most important strategic part of the company.”

But you probably already knew that, so follow these tips to get the buy-in and the voice to make a real impact.



5 Can’t-Miss Sessions at HR Redefined 2018

We’re less than a week away from HR Redefined and if you’re as excited as we are, you probably can’t stop thinking about it! Whether you’re a first time attendee or returning for your second year, this year’s conference is sure to have something new and exciting in store for everyone. But don’t just take it from us—we asked our community of attendees which sessions they’re most looking forward to, and here’s what they had to say:


1. Keynote Speaker: Adam Grant

“I've been a fan of his work since reading Relational job design and the motivation to make a prosocial difference. Motivation is such an important part of working, but one that is always seen as more touchy-feely (and HR people get a lot of guff for that aspect of our work already). Plus, it’s interesting to hear the academic perspective.”

- Sarosh Sualehi, Senior HR Manager, Center for Economic Research in Pakistan


2. The Kids Are All Right: Preparing for Gen Z in the Workplace

“I think it's important to stay on top of the goings on in the HR world and foster an environment of understanding for cultural differences. I think generational changes are areas where many individuals and businesses have room for improvement, and I am excited to explore the topic of connecting with the next generation.”

- Caleb Wood, Payroll and HRIS Administrator, Kestra Financial, Inc.


3. Redefine Live

“I’m excited for this interactive session and working as a team to solve real-world HR problems. I love working with people across industries and situations to see hear solutions to build the best one.”

- Yvonne Reinke, VP of HR, Illumitex


4. The Executive Yes: Using HR Data to Gain Leadership Buy-In

“I’m excited to learn more about the KPIs that companies are using to track progress on HR initiatives and how they've been able to get their executive teams to commit to focusing on those data points (vs. asking for one-off reports/insights day in and day out).”

- Anonymous


5. Namely's Product Roadmap

“I always look forward to the Product Roadmap webinars, so I'm excited to see this in person! I love that Namely is transparent about product priorities & upcoming releases. It helps for my planning around internal process improvement.”

- Micquella Anthony, Employee Programs Director, Velir

Last year's HR Redefined was sold out, but if you weren't able to join us—or weren't able to attend every amazing session you wanted to—you can find more HR Redefined content on The Namely Blog, where we’ll be covering the conference highlights! Secure your ticket to this year's HR Redefined conference before they sell out! 


5 Reasons We Can’t Wait for HR Redefined 2018

HR Redefined is less than a month away, and we hope you’re as excited as we are! Whether or not you attended last year’s inaugural HR Redefined conference, this year is one not to miss. We have a variety of surprises up our sleeve, but to get the excitement brewing, here are five things we’re looking forward to at this year’s HR Redefined:


1. Adam Grant Takes the Stage

Organizational psychologist and New York Times best-selling author Adam Grant will keynote the HR Redefined conference. With his wealth of management expertise, Adam Grant is well positioned to inspire today’s HR leaders. His extensive research on building strong collaborative communities and supporting a more original workforce will help you inspire employees to do their best work.


2. Spotlight on Data

In response to the overwhelming success of last year’s HR data session, this year we dedicated an entire track to the “Analyze” function of HR. Namely’s own Manager of People Analytics, Eric Knudsen, will return to the stage to delve into the Quality of Hire metric, providing actionable insights to help you make smarter hiring decisions. The Analyze track will be jam-packed with information on how to quantify difficult-to-measure initiatives, like culture and employee engagement.


Don't miss out on the fun this year! Join HR professionals from all over the world at HR Redefined 2019!

3. Redefine Live Hackathon

Conferences should be more than just listening to presentations. We want every attendee to walk away with new connections, ideas, and strategies to implement in their own companies. Last year, clients teamed up with Namely engineers in our third hackathon to help build innovative solutions for the Namely product.

This year, attendees will hack solutions to top HR challenges in our Redefine Live hackathon. With help from a Sayge coach and Namely advisor, teams will create innovative solutions to real world HR problems (and the winners will take home some great prizes)!


4. Exclusive Product Sneak Peek

Wondering what Namely’s product team has in store for the rest of 2018? We’ve got just the session for you! Namely’s VP of Product, Bryan Tsao, and Chief Client Officer, Debra Squyres, team up to share a sneak peek at some of the most exciting upcoming product features. Whether or not you use Namely in your own company, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to see what the future holds for HR technology.


5. Work Hard, Play Hard

After a full day of learning and innovating, it’s time to come together and celebrate. Join us Thursday evening at STK Downtown for food, drinks, networking, and amazing rooftop views of the Big Apple. We can’t wait to toast to HR Redefined 2018 with you!

Don’t have your ticket yet? We have just a few spots remaining. Snag your ticket today, and we’ll see you there!

Special thanks to our 2018 partners:

Lever logoBluemarble global payrollNew York SHRM logoGreenhouse logoDiscovery benefits logoLatticeCigna logoFoolWorks logoTouchcare logo                                      15Five logoGrovo logoGuardian logoJazzHR logo




What Improv Theater Can Teach HR

With a reputation as “the fun police” or “the principal’s office,” it’s hard to imagine HR as the place employees can go for an easy “yes.” However, in their new management book, Happy Accidents: The Transformative Power of “Yes, And” at Work and in Life, improv comedy troupe Four Day Weekend shares how their improv strategies are an effective business model.

To learn more about how improv practices can support a more creative and collaborative company culture, we spoke with Four Day Weekend co-founder, Frank Ford.

What was the inspiration behind Happy Accidents?

Frank Ford: Happy Accidents is an autobiographical look at our journey over the last 21 years as we built our business. What’s great about improv comedy is that it’s all about collaboration and teamwork. The philosophy that is fundamental to all improvisation is called “yes, and” [an exercise where participants must actively listen to a partner on stage, acknowledge and accept what they are saying as real, and then add onto it] Our book chronicles how we built the Four Day Weekend business and shares how we applied the improv philosophy that we use on stage to our business model and culture.

We started a show in 1997 that was supposed to have a six week run. Before we knew it, six weeks turned into six months, then six years, and now it’s been 21 years (and counting!). But none of us were business majors. So as we grew, we had to ask ourselves, what kind of business model do we want to operate from?

The “yes, and” philosophy is all about accepting ideas in the moment, being present and non-judgemental, and building on those ideas with a very unselfish approach. It hit us like a ton of bricks, and we realized that we could apply those same principles to our business.

The book explores how the “yes, and” framework led to great success, along with the risks of deviating from it. We explore the power of active listening, collaboration, and teamwork, resulting in a more positive approach to work, life, and relationships. It really is transformative!


How can companies get started implementing a “yes, and” philosophy?

FF: The fastest growing part of our business has been our workshops, in which we .help clients implement this philosophy in their culture. Corporate America can often be a cynical environment, and over time, this negativity becomes ingrained in our psyche. People are paid very well to say no, and good ideas often get thrown away before they have the chance to develop into something great.

In business, everything tends to be seen as black and white, but in our world, we tell our clients that there is no right and wrong, there are only higher and lower percentage choices. If you create an open culture where employees feel engaged and listened to, they'll be more willing to contribute ideas that help the business grow.

Many companies who have completed our workshops say that simply integrating “yes, and” into the everyday lexicon helps everyone listen with a more open mind. In that environment, more ideas can flourish because employees feel that they are really being heard.

One immediate and easy thing companies can do is to simply practice saying “yes, and.” While I am a professional improviser, however every single one of us is an improviser of sorts. We all improvise every day without realizing it. The world is but a stage, and we can choose to improvise in a positive environment rather than a negative environment.


HR is sometimes forced to be the bearer of bad news. How can HR create a more positive work environment?

FF: HR is often put in the position of being a naysayer. We do a lot of corporate events and often jokingly ask “is HR in the room?” There is that stigma attached to HR, because HR is responsible for ensuring that employees are honoring the company policies and values. But at the end of the day, HR is dealing with people in the same way that managers deal with their employees, and they can apply “yes, and” to the HR function too.

As the ears and eyes of the company, HR is on the front lines of identifying a company’s challenges. Active listening is crucial to finding “yes, and” solutions, and HR is well-positioned to initiate conversations that can solve whatever obstacles a company may face. HR has the opportunity to be thought leaders within a company.

In the real world, you have to say no sometimes, but with “yes, and” there’s always a workaround. If you’re going to say no make sure it’s a thoughtful no—not a reactionary, knee-jerk no.


Is there a danger in saying “yes” too much?

FF: It’s important to create a culture that rejects the dog-eat-dog mentality. You have to be careful not to work people to death, or else you’re going to see burnout. If the company understands employees need that time to recharge, you’ll see better performance and happier employees.

As human beings, we’re hardwired to be empathetic, but unfortunately it sometimes takes a disaster for that to surface. People are inherently more similar than different, and we try to promote those natural human instincts to help each other, rather than give into that cut-throat approach to business. Collaboration and empathy are a part of who we are, so why not embrace that and bring that into our business and culture?


How to Create an Engaging Employee Handbook

If someone’s only interaction with your company brand was the employee handbook, what would their impression be? How would they perceive your company culture and values? On an employee’s first day, new hires experience a similar thought process as they go through onboarding. The employee handbook is HR’s opportunity to excite and engage new hires with all of the details around what makes your company a great place to work.

If you haven’t taken a constructive look at your handbook in a while, it might be time for a refresh. With the right branding and communication, your employee handbook can double as an informational tool and a secret weapon to help you attract and retain talent. Our customizable template breaks down everything you need to design an engaging and memorable handbook. But before jumping into the template, consider these three tips:

1.  Leverage Company Branding

While your handbook is likely to be an internal document, you should think of it as an important asset for your employer brand. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of your company’s culture, and let that guide the tone and visual elements of the handbook. Does your company have a playful voice? Consider using a lighthearted voice to describe office policies. Does your brand utilize bright colors? Spruce the layout up with accents and images to bring the document to life. If your handbook doesn’t align with your brand, employees will be less likely to take it seriously.


2. Make It Consumable

A lengthy informational document that employees will need to reference down the line should be easily legible and searchable. Avoid long blocks of text, highlight the most important parts of each page, and break up sections with images or stylistic touches. Make sure to have a clearly organized table of contents. If employees want to review the company’s benefits policy, they won’t want to have to turn through pages and pages to find it.


3. Go Digital

While you may not go as far as publishing the employee handbook on your company’s public website, having a digitally accessible copy ensures employees always know where to find it. There’s a lot of new information to take in on the first day, and your new hires may not have to expense something, for example, in his or her first six months. When the time comes, the policy should be easily accessible somewhere employees know where to look, such as the resources section in your HRIS.


Now that you’re equipped with the know-how, our easy-to-use employee template is here to help you turn vision into reality. Download the customizable form and start showcasing your amazing culture. 


What is Radical Candor? A Conversation with Jason Rosoff

After nearly a decade at Khan Academy, helping the edtech company grow from three to over 200 employees, Jason Rosoff was looking for his next career opportunity. In a parallel world, Kim Scott had just published Radical Candor: How to Be A Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. When a colleague introduced Rosoff to Scott, the two formed a connection that would inspire them to build a company that helps others implement the radical candor framework.

We chatted with Jason to learn more about what Radical Candor is all about and how HR can help drive radical candor in their organizations.


How did you get involved with Kim Scott and the Radical Candor movement?


JR: Before I met Kim, I was the Chief Product Officer and Chief People Officer at Khan Academy. I started when the team was just three people and helped build the product to 20 million active users with over 200 employees. When I first saw Kim’s talk on Radical Candor, I felt like it put words to my own experiences. She gave a vocabulary to the lessons I’ve learned throughout my career.

When I started exploring my next career move, a mutual connection introduced me to Kim, and we had an instant “mind-meld.” Our connection went beyond her book—we found that we have a lot of symbiotic experiences and values. We stayed in touch and last October, we decided to found a company together. We both wanted to stay hands-on and work directly with people who were trying to implement the radical candor framework.

As the CEO of Radical Candor, I’m responsible for all operations, from basic bookkeeping to delivering talks and workshops. We operate as a management consultancy, helping clients define and execute a plan to implement radical candor in their organization. In addition to our workshops, we’re investing in more scalable methods of teaching, such as online classes.


What quadrant of the Radical Candor framework do you most fall into?


JR: Ruinous empathy, for sure. I care so much about the people in my life, and I’m very sensitive myself. I’m also a pretty good listener (when I’m not being interviewed), and as a result, people often have to encourage me to move out on the challenge directly axis of the Radical Candor framework.


What can HR do to help facilitate a more radically candid company culture?


JR: As with most things in HR, you can’t do it alone. We always try to get an executive sponsor for each of our client trainings—someone with operational responsibility over at least some subset of the team. There needs to be someone who is in the weeds to carry the torch and serve as a role model. HR is best positioned to build those relationships with the executive suite and get the buy-in that drives it home. Beyond that, they can help incorporate the radical candor framework into the full employee lifecycle—from onboarding to performance reviews.

A lot of organizations think the only way to do things is at a large scale, but sometimes the best way to help initiatives like radical candor grow is to start small. Create “pockets of excellence,” or a few departments to champion the initiative, and other employees will naturally follow suit. HR is uniquely positioned to provide the glue that helps the organization function more cohesively and can help build a platform that gets employees to better communicate.


What’s the most difficult radically candid conversation you’ve had to initiate?


JR: Early on in my career, I had to have a conversation with a designer on my team. He struggled with adapting his own unique style to what the company needed. I really liked him as a person, but he would consistently deliver work that reflected his personal style. As a result, we had to do a lot of iteration to get his work into shape. It turned out that he needed to move out of state and asked me if he could work remotely, and I had to tell him that it wasn’t going to work out. He was improving but going remote was going to make that iteration prohibitively difficult. I felt awful, like I failed him. It was heartbreaking to know that everybody was trying their best, but it just wasn’t a good fit. In the spirit of radical candor, parting ways was the right thing to do, and luckily he understood that.


What’s the most radically candid conversation someone had with you?


JR: Early in my career at Khan Academy, I was working on a project to give teachers tools that would help increase usage in classrooms. I led a meeting with my counterpart, we’ll call her “Dana,” and she did an amazing job getting everyone excited. After the meeting, we were getting lunch, and I told her she did a great job. To my surprise, she said “I’m glad to hear you say that because you looked so frustrated, and I felt like I was totally blowing it.”

It was the total inverse of my intention, but when I reflected on the meeting, I realized that others in the room felt the same way. I found out that Dana was not the only one who had noticed this, and other colleagues actually referred to it as my “thinking face.” It was this part of me that was making it harder to work with me, but until that point, no one told me! Thankfully Dana took the risk, and gave me the opportunity to improve my work relationships and be more alert to my nonverbal communications.


What are the biggest challenges companies have to overcome when implementing radical candor?


JR: The bad news is, the hardest thing is to overcome is human nature. Our limbic system doesn’t perceive a difference between threats to our ego and threats to our physical self. Being radically candid forces people to be more vulnerable and risk harming a relationship. It takes some effort to build this social muscle, but if we acknowledge how hard it can be to give feedback, we give ourselves and our peers permission to build a different type of social contract.


For those who are just getting started, what’s the easiest way to make changes that you can see right away?


JR: The best things are to ask for feedback and celebrate that feedback. Create an environment where feedback––including criticism––is valued. The only person you have the power to change is you, so start with yourself, and spend time learning how people see you.

In addition, don’t underestimate the importance of praise. Radically candid praise is just as powerful as criticism, and it combines the same principles of “care personally, challenge directly.” Explain the situation, highlight their behavior, and praise the impact. Meaningful praise helps others recognize what good work looks like, and challenges employees to push themselves.

As we wrap our April HRreads book, we hope Jason’s advice can help guide HR and individuals in their efforts to implement radical candor. Join us this month as we dive into our next book: Originals by New York Times bestselling offer and HR Redefined keynote speaker, Adam Grant.

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