Doubling down on people

I’ve been informally calling the current financial year “the year we focused on people”, and we thought we’d discuss why in this blog.

When COVID-19 arrived, we were lucky enough to be prepared and our business model supports working from home.  However, when the pandemic didn’t end in a single season, we started to look at mitigating the impacts on our team from all the strain, uncertainty and anxiety that it was generating.

Enter Yentle.

I met Catharine Payze, one of the founders of Yentle, when we were implementing our ADAPT framework, which we implemented due to the tools that it provides around helping to support our people, especially around the cultural aspects of work.  We still use the ADAPT platform, but specifically we use it to support our team in the cultural aspects of their work.  

After some really interesting and exciting discussions with Catharine, we decided to start looking at “soft skills” together.  These are the skills that enable people to interact with each other effectively, and if they are well developed, can lead to a really pleasant place to work.  

I’ll add a caveat here: we didn’t think Gaia Resources was a bad place to work, but again, we were worried that the anxieties around COVID and the fact we weren’t all working face to face and could “see” issues arising would mean that things, and people would slip through the cracks.  To me, this is worse than missing a project deadline – without people we don’t have a business at all, so they need to be supported and looked after.

Catharine and her team ran a “soft skills” survey with our crew around mid-2021, with the aim of identifying areas where the whole team needed development.  The survey was run, and through it we got an understanding of the areas our team struggled with – some of which was a bit of a surprise, and some of it wasn’t.  After all, we’re a bunch of intelligent, introverted knowledge workers, so we already knew where some of the challenges might come from (we know our introverted natures, because we often do the “What Star Wars Character are you?” test, to see our Myers-Briggs personality types – which is a bit of fun that also gives some semi-serious insights into our traits).

After the survey, Catharine developed a program of soft skills training for us.  This program has been implemented company wide, and every Tuesday since, we have all done an hour and a half session with Catharine and her team on particular modules of training (with catchup sessions for new starters as well).  This has included work on emotional regulation at work, effective listening & assertiveness and we are just in the third module of the series, constructive conversations.  These modules build on each other and have been delivered in a sensitive, constructive manner that has been really valuable.

While it has been a big investment in time for our people, and in the Yentle team, I believe it has already paid for itself.  More on that later.

While our workplace has always been open and transparent (we talk about company finances every week in the team meeting, for example) this was a different sort of transparent.  It was seeing us as a team become transparent to each other around how we are dealing with things, and it’s created an environment that’s really supportive and productive.  We are having fewer and fewer of those situations where people misunderstand, get upset and brood about things, or worse, start shutting out colleagues.  We have the skills – and tools – to work through that in a constructive manner.

The tooling for this is also important, and that’s where the ADAPT platform comes back in.   Through that we have methods of seeing how our culture is operating within the company, as clearly as we can do that for the financial side.  Through the ADAPT platform, we can use “Peer to Peer” conversation templates (which really get to the heart of issues between people and help solve them), and “Career Valuation Framework” reviews that mean that we can see how people are travelling within the company as well.  All this gives us nice neat “dashboards” of the company in terms of culture.

The other big change is a new staff announcement. Gaye Mackenzie, who we’ve worked with for years, has joined Gaia Resources in the newly created position of Chief People Officer.  Gaye’s background (starting with her sociology PhD and moving through her work in consulting and as the CEO of the Rangelands NRM group) means that she intimately knows our business and people already, and she’s been helping us as a contractor for the last year or so before taking the leap to joining our executive team.  With Gaye as part of our team, we have someone whose job it is to support our people and to make sure that our most important asset – our people – is running as smoothly as our servers the DevOps team manages.

The year of doubling down on people has meant that we have made a lot of investment in our people, and I can imagine there are a lot of sceptics out there wondering about the results.  As I mentioned, our teams are starting to really hum, and we’re having fewer and fewer points of contention, and we’re bouncing back quicker from distressing or annoying things that happen, and our team are appreciating the support – as challenging as some of the material can be.  All of this is hard to measure the exact return on investment method, but from our back of the envelope calculations, the work has paid for itself pretty quickly.  According to a Vitalsmarts study referred to in this great article (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/high-cost-conversation-failure-maggie-waples), not having the conversation costs companies money – $7500 per conversation in fact.  And we are having a whole lot less avoided conversations these days.

All of this could not be possible without a few things, though.  Firstly, the team – being willing to come along on the journey and help us to resolve a range of issues that often means changing their own behaviour and learning and expanding their knowledge.  Without them it would not be possible to really get any benefits out of this.  And of course, Catharine and the team at Yentle have been just amazing, and when you put that together with the tools from ADAPT – it’s a great combination.

So, there’s another insight into our company and the way we work.  This last financial year has been a big one, but it’s put us in the position that in the next financial year, we are poised, ready to spring into a new year.  I can’t think of a time when I’ve been as excited and as ready to move forward as now – bring it on!

If you want to know more about how we work, or you’re interested in joining our team to come along on the journey with us, then drop me a line at piers.higgs@gaiaresources.com.au or start a conversation with us via our social media channels of Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Piers

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