The Power Of Connection

Sherri Kottman, chief people officer at Quickbase
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How we connect has changed with hybrid and distributed workplaces, but the importance of connection—and the role of CHROs is forging it—is paramount, says Sherri Kottmann, chief people officer at Quickbase.

If we’ve learned anything over the last few years it’s that “humans are healthy and well when they are connected,” says Sherri Kottmann, chief people officer at Quickbase, a Boston-based company that provides a no-code platform for complex project management. “That is not necessarily about physical connection,” she adds.

Kottmann spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about how to forge connection today, why it matters and the importance of “feeling” before you act.

As a leader in the HR industry, what initiatives have you led to support the hybrid work environment?

We are building our plans on two premises: our commitment to flexibility and our belief that human connection and social interaction remain essential to our culture and performance. These guiding principles are coming directly from our employees—both in engagement survey feedback, where, for example, they explained that social connection was paramount to keeping their experience at work strong, and because we are seeing social connection be prioritized in behavior patterns across our employee base.

In short, our offices are becoming rally points of connection for learning and social interaction led by employee interest more than corporate policy. We also believe that connection doesn’t have to happen in the office. We’re building out programs to connect our remote employees in similar zip codes to enable the same rally-point in non-office environments.

Overall, our approach is to discover trends versus declaring them and building momentum versus writing rules. We are all in unknown territory—and in the spirit of our value of “improving every day,” it’s a prime time for intentional listening, discovery and experimentation together.

How are you approaching the hybrid work environment and promoting collaboration despite being physically apart?

As mentioned above, we believe that there should be purposeful moments of in-person connection to foster rapport and deeper community, but that isn’t going to be our day-to-day experience. Beyond monthly town halls and cultural programming, we see meaningful synergy between a thriving distributed work environment, our inclusion and belonging programs, and the overall mental health and well-being of our community.

Humans are healthy and well when they are connected—that is not necessarily about physical connection. It’s fostered by learning how to be better at taking care of each other—through day-to-day stresses, and through moments of pain and crisis. Learning how to do this in community may even be more important than some of the individual self-care habits we all wrestle to find time for.

So, we are looking into programs that foster habits and rituals that will allow us to practice checking in with each other and walking beside each other in difficult times. Learning how to practice that in natural and organic ways in our community can keep us connected across time zones, diverse lived experiences and through Zoom. 

What trends are you currently seeing in the HR industry?

Whether in a receding market or accelerating one, the core trend I see playing out in HR right now is what I consider to be our next opportunity for great and differentiated leadership: shifting from frenzied response to massive disruption to leading focused, sustained and authentic change.

Heads of HR at great companies put themselves on the map because of bold, empathetic and courageous leadership through social unrest, a pandemic and a remarkably hot job market. And today our leaders, our employees and our programs are at risk of significant fatigue.

What was required to lead well through the last two years is not going to be sufficient for the next several. The problem sets, expectations and environments haven’t changed—but to sustain the progress that has been made over the past several years requires all of us to take a breath and redefine what our employees and companies really need to thrive.

That may mean taking our programs to a deeper level or picking the few things that really matter and doubling down on those. That may mean suspending our assumptions of what DEI or flexible work means and instead, stopping to check back in with our employees to understand what they see as the most important levers to pull for a great experience at work.

We have made amazing progress and unlocked potential in the workplace that is game changing in many ways. What matters most now is being wise with our time and energy, so that we can keep running the race set before us. 

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to HR leaders on how to be an authentic leader during the current social and political climate? 

I’ve learned two things over the past several months that are relevant here. First, don’t be afraid to feel before you act. Action has been the measure of companies as they respond to social issues in the U.S., and that, of course, must continue. But action should not replace feeling.

I believe that when pain or crisis hits, in healthy communities, the first step is to process how it makes you feel. That can be public or private, communal or personal. That is where there is space for difference to be honored and vulnerability is practiced. That is not the same work as driving company policy changes, public statements or donations.

Often, as HR leaders, we have been trained to park how we feel and move to action—to support others, survey the landscape, make decisions and implement change. My advice is to continue to do all of that, but first, model what it looks like to share how you feel. That is how true communities are built and strengthened. It doesn’t have to be deep, it shouldn’t be rushed, and if done with a desire to share and understand, it will build a strong cultural foundation for all the change we will continue to drive.

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