No one wants to see a headline describing their organization as a “constant culture of sexual harassment” or as having a “frat boy culture.” But those are some of the phrases recently used to describe the environment at Activision Blizzard, a maker of some of today's most popular video games.
Activision Blizzard isn’t the only tech company caught up in a recent workplace misconduct scandal and tech isn’t the only industry sector that’s come under fire for discrimination. However, it does have a “tech bro” reputation, with many companies facing criticism for the treatment of staff. While there are many reasons for this, including that tech is still a male-dominated sector, its rapid growth also plays a major contribution to the problem.
As a tech company founder and leader, I’ve seen firsthand how intense fast growth can be. During these stages of rapid expansion, HR’s resources are typically focused on recruiting people with difficult-to-find skills, leaving employee relations (ER) as a more reactive than proactive function. But with focus and intention, there are ways to navigate growth successfully without sacrificing treating our employees right. Here are some tips for growing tech companies to build positive, productive cultures that are inclusive for everyone.
- Be intentional about building your culture: A lot of tech companies start off small. It’s not unusual for a group of friends with similar backgrounds, outlooks and expectations to get together and start a company. This naturally leads to a lack of diversity within leadership if diversity is not prioritized. It’s important to realize that as the company grows, a culture will take hold whether you plan for it or not. Be proactive by defining and executing on your core values right from the start. Be intentional by consistently sharing those values with your company and applying them in your decision-making and actions.
- Codify policies: The need to create specific policies to handle employee behavior, time-off requests, etc., might not seem pressing in the early days of the company. But trust me, it becomes much more urgent as companies grow, new people come aboard and unexpected issues arise. As HR Acuity grew, we had to formalize what had been an informal understanding about office rules to ensure fairness and consistency. This process of creating clear policies has become even more important in the new hybrid work environment. Companies need to capitalize on this opportunity and be proactive about putting clear employee policies in place upfront – and clearly communicating those policies to staff. It will not only save you time and hassle but ensure your employees are on the same page.
- Use technology to document and track employee issues: You’d think this would be a no-brainer for tech-forward companies, but it’s easy to get so caught up in delivering great solutions to your customers that you neglect your own back-office technology needs. Don’t let this fall through the cracks because having a system in place to track incidents, resolve cases and analyze data to spot patterns is critical for addressing emerging issues before they become headlines. Companies frequently claim that “employees are the company’s number one asset”– which is undoubtedly true, so it’s important to invest in technology that protects them and ensures consistency.
- Be transparent to create accountability and build trust: Accountability is directly related to employee perceptions of fairness at work, so be transparent about your objectives and be accountable when you fall short. For example, if you’re trying to build a more diverse workforce or ensure more women take on leadership roles, share your goals with employees and provide updates on progress. Having a consistent process for handling ER issues is essential to creating a sense of trust. The decision to share aggregated, anonymous investigation data signals a genuine commitment to transparency.
- Go deeper into your data: While tracking ER data is essential, you’ll get better visibility into your workforce when you bring other information sources into your system and conduct in-depth analysis. For instance, cross-referencing business data with demographics from your HRIS, employee engagement scores, manager data and ER case files. This gives you a more holistic view that reveals how well your HR practices align with stated goals and highlights areas for improvement.
One of the most striking findings I’ve seen from HR Acuity’s research on the employee experience is how much process matters. In fact, the way employee issues are handled matters as much or more as the ultimate outcome of a case. Employees who open a complaint that isn’t resolved in their favor are as likely to stay with the company as those whose issue is settled in their favor — if they feel they’ve been treated fairly.
As anyone in the tech industry knows, every company and its workforce are unique, but the experience of starting and growing a tech business taught me this: It’s possible to create a positive, high-performance workplace culture if you have the right values backed up by clear processes and tools.
If your company is growing quickly, keep in mind that you need expert insight. Your ER peers can be a wonderful source for exploring and discussing best practices. But if you are committed to creating a trust-based workplace culture, where employees are confident they’ll be treated fairly, following these tips can help you achieve it.
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, a technology solution that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world. Be proactive. Manage risk. Create a safer workplace.