EXPERT ADVICE: SAMANTHA GADD - Lightning Lab
Humankind

EXPERT ADVICE: SAMANTHA GADD

There’s no better way to learn about teams and ways to improve employee experience than to speak to someone who does it on the daily.

We’ve caught up with Samantha Gadd, the founder of Humankind, to chat about all things people, team culture and leadership. At Humankind, Samantha and her team of dedicated folks strive to bring to life creative solutions for companies of all shapes and sizes and of course, their people. Their services range from people and culture to outsourced HR.

 

When did you start Humankind?  

I started Humankind about six years ago because I saw a gap in the market when it came to HR services for small to medium-sized businesses. They needed people in culture, engagement and HR support, and they didn’t have a need nor the means to hire their own internal person. It was me and a couple other part-time working mums servicing lots of small businesses and in the last six years, Humankind has grown a lot. The premise is still the same, but now we’re also doing a lot of strategic projects with corporate and government entities.

 

What kind of services do you guys offer?

We do everything HR, right from transactional HR services, employment relations, and policy process as well as performance development, onboarding and exit interviews. We also do a lot with change management, organisation design, culture, values, employee relationships and leadership. Often organisations come to us with a burning need. They have a problem they need to fix. Depending on the size of the business they might have a role that’s not working, the cultures not going so great or the leadership skills might be lacking. The normal way that we kick off with any organisation is the discovery, where we go in and find out what’s really going on. Often organisations come to us with a symptom, but they don’t know the cause, so we’ll do a series of interviews and discovery activity to help us understand the organisation.

 

There’s lots of talk around team culture. Are there ways that you can consciously improve team culture?

You can’t really ‘do’ culture because culture is essentially employee experience. It’s a combination of so many different things from perceptions around an employer brand to the promise that people get when they take on a new job. For example – what the benefits are, what their working environment might be like, what the leadership might be like and what the development opportunities are. There’s the promise that people have, and then there’s how things happen.

The biggest impact on a culture or employee experience is leadership. Leaders need to be competent and in so many organisations, in particular small organisations, people have ended up in leadership roles without any leadership training, or they don’t really understand what it takes to be a really good, modern leader. Being a modern leader is no easy task: you’ve got to be collaborative, inspiring and purpose-driven. You have to be able to connect intimately with each of your people and care about them personally and professionally.

 

How might a leader facilitate the growth of their employees?

Every leader needs to understand what their people are there for. It’s important to understand both the employee’s professional and personal goals. A leader’s role is to create an environment where people can succeed; it’s about connecting them with opportunities to help them move where they’d like to. As long as a leader is by their side, helping that person achieve their professional goals, the organisation will succeed.

 

What can companies do to improve employee experience?

The first thing an organisation can do is get feedback from its existing team. Often organisations focus on exit interviews, but they don’t focus on stay interviews. It’s more worthwhile to interview the people that are going to stay, because they are most likely to have a better insight as to what’s going well, why they joined and what’s not working for them. You can also gain useful intel about what their strengths are and what they might want to do more of.

Improving employee experience would look different for every organisation. In one organisation that could mean strengthening the leadership, in another organisation, there could be a lack of role clarity. In some cases, people might not understand the company’s direction, in others the office might be too cramped, and employees might not have a quiet place to work. You can’t really do culture. You have to find out where the problems are, and where the opportunities that can improve all aspects of team culture lie.

 

What’s the best way to encourage people to come together in a fast-paced environment?

It’s about the rituals. People here are often offsite, but we have a WIP (Work In Progress) a couple of times a month where everyone attends, and we have monthly meetings where Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland teams ’Zoom’ in. Between then everyone will catch up with their leader individually. So it’s about baking those rhythms and rituals into how you do business to make sure even though you are busy, there are those times when everyone comes together and can share those important messages. We also use communication tools like Slack to keep the team in the loop with what’s going on – whether that be winning new clients or celebrating a birthday and important milestones.

 

What’s an example of a good interview process?

Every organisation does this slightly different. You don’t need to have 59 interviews to make the right choice but you need to have a bit of rigour through your recruitment process to make sure you hire only good people that will fit with your organisational values. Through that, you need to also be making sure that you’ve got good measures for getting good diversity into your business, asking good questions and making sure you’re selling the role right because it’s a two-way decision-making process. It’s about the individual deciding that they want to work there too. It’s important not to oversell or undersell the opportunities, and there’s a bit of skill involved in that.  

Having clarity when a person starts is really important. I fundamentally believe people want to do a good job, so if they’re not performing well, there’s something wrong; either they don’t understand what they’re supposed to do or there’s something getting in their way.

 

Can you give us an example of companies who have a great culture?

If I think about companies that have great brands out in the market, culture is a really big part of their brand. An example that comes to mind is Flick Energy – they’ve been focussed on culture since day 1. Phenomenal story, amazing growth, and they would not have been able to do it without an awesome culture. They’re very inclusive and very focused on their people. They’ve got a strong brand and a lot of that is about who they are and how they work.

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