Featured: How to Hire, On-board, and Nurture Your Team

Malika Jacobs, 2021 Tory Burch Fellow and founder of HR technology Myriad, spoke to our community about ways for managers to foster connection and belonging with their teams. Listen to her strategies, applicable to in-person, remote and hybrid offices.
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The following in an excerpt from an interview with Malika Jacobs, Founder and CEO of Myriad.

"Malika Jacobs, 2021 Tory Burch Fellow and founder of HR technology Myriad, spoke to our community about ways for managers to foster connection and belonging with their teams. Listen to her strategies, applicable to in-person, remote and hybrid offices."

Read the article on the Tory Burch Foundation website here.

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A good company culture is critical, especially as employers struggle to recruit and retain talent. “So often, in the early days, you don’t have anything that really is going to attract talent to your company…except the culture that you’re building,” said Myriad founder Malika Jacobs in a webinar presentation. The 2020 Tory Burch Fellow shared strategies for building and managing healthy working environments. Jacobs admitted her advice works best for teams with 20 people or fewer. “I do think as companies scale, you can maintain these tactics [as an] approach on individual teams, led by managers, but it gets harder and harder to apply to the company as a whole without sort of tweaking some of the structures that we’re talking about.”

Hire with trust.

Your job description is your first opportunity to be completely transparent. Include both the technical skills and the soft skills the job needs, such as communication, time management and problem solving. “You should be hiring to fill in the gaps and your skill set or knowledge or time,” she explained. To screen for soft skills, you have to first understand your existing company culture to understand what those skills are. If you have a team, ask them how they feel about the environment, as well as their work styles. Their answers should inform how you describe the team culture to a prospective employee in your job description.

The interview is another opportunity to build trust within a company, if done correctly. “Usually, the employer is trying to suss out a bad fit by making an employee jump through a number of tests,” explained Jacobs. “A different option is to enter hiring with a mindset of finding [a] mutual best fit for that period of time in your company.” Be upfront about the expectations for the role and be honest with candidates about the current company culture. Though every business is different, Jacobs offered that most startups need employees who are self-motivated, able to prioritize their tasks, willing to speak up, and work asynchronously. Are you in the process of correcting things about your company’s environment? Be honest about that during the interview as well. It’s important to be intentional about finding people who enhance your company’s environment because, as Jacobs believes, employees are “one of, if not the biggest investments you are going to make.” Remember, hiring “mistakes” will happen–you may recruit someone who isn’t a good fit, despite being very skilled or interviewing well. That’s OK, too.

Once you bring someone onto your team, get out of their way. “After you set clear expectations, you should play a facilitator role from that point forward,” advised Jacobs. This approach prevents micromanaging, which can quickly erode a company’s culture and even slow down productivity.

“Usually, the employer is trying to suss out a bad fit by making an employee jump through a number of tests,” explained Jacobs. “A different option is to enter hiring with a mindset of finding [a] mutual best fit for that period of time in your company.”

Manage morale.

The transparency in a good, nurturing company culture has to extend beyond the hiring process. Be honest with your teams about any organizational changes you’re making and why. Keep in mind that it’s normal for morale to dip when there are lots of changes happening. When people know why those changes are happening, they feel better.

Lead your team in full participation.

Every team member has to participate fully for an organization to be at its best. Jacobs recommends that teams have regular, dedicated time for brainstorming. Everyone should be able to share their ideas in this judgment-free idea exchange. “So, this isn’t about moments of execution, so much as strategic thinking and sort of fostering that climate where those ideas emerge.”

Dedicated brainstorming helps flatten hierarchy, another leadership tool that brings the best out in teams. When employees aren’t worried about strict power dynamics or angering higher ups with an out-of-the-box idea, everyone benefits. “Usually, when you flatten hierarchy, it’s replaced with collaboration, participation, and interaction across the company and the team,” Jacobs said. A flattened hierarchy can also encourage more ownership of the organization’s goals. Employees that feel a sense of ownership are likely to hold themselves and their coworkers to a higher standard. “This is about constantly questioning and assessing where hierarchy serves you and your company, and where it can be removed.” For example, your more junior employees may have a lot to share.

Have you opened the floor for ideas, only for employees to stay quiet? Consider bringing in an outside facilitator. This facilitator doesn’t need to be a trained professional; they can be anyone who’s able to maintain objectivity.

Make space for the good, the bad and the healthy.

A good company culture takes the full person into account. If you tell your teams that their wellbeing is important to you, you should model that by caring for your own wellbeing. Jacobs recommends leaders model trust by naming the appointments essential to their self-care, like therapy or, in her case, yoga. That honesty shows your company values wellness better than any memo can.

Taking employees’ whole selves into account means preparing for their bad days, too. “So employers say they want employees to show up fully. But really what that means is only when it’s positive, right, only when it’s good and fun,” said Jacobs.  “And I think just acknowledging how you deal with the parts of people that aren’t always the most positive, that can be challenging, that can disrupt work that can cause you to pause, is equally important.” Make space for your team to talk to you about their challenges. If a team member is consistently difficult, try to connect with them outside of their difficult behavior or patterns. That goes back to establishing trust and, hopefully, encouraging them to change.  

Separate urgency from motivation.

A culture of urgency, where seemingly everything is a high priority, isn’t one where people can thrive. “A culture of urgency…starts to erode at people’s ability to separate out their time to eat lunch, to take a quick walk, to laugh at something that has nothing to do with work,” Jacobs cautioned. Soon, your employees may experience burnout.

Instead, figure out what motivates your team members. Long-term planning with clear goals can also alleviate a false sense of urgency in an organization.

Jacobs also warned that putting undue emphasis on work relationships contributes to false urgency. Referring to a team or staff as a work family undermines the importance of a person’s actual family or other significant outside commitments. Jacobs stressed that work is never so important “that it has to overcome someone’s personal well being or the way that they prioritize their personal time or what matters to them in their personal lives.”

As companies grow, founders will face new challenges fostering a work culture that works for everyone. Go slowly and remember, you can’t do everything at once. “Your company is a constant learning moment,” said Jacobs.

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