When Andrea Tang was thinking about her next career move, she decided she wanted to work with founders on a grand scale.
Tang had been tapped to run people strategy at hip New York-based restaurant group Momofuku in 2015, which at that time didn’t really have an HR structure.
CEO and founder David Chang was “so invested in and thinking about people” and this, combined with an opportunity to transform the organization and introduce processes to help it grow was “one of the most formative experiences of my career,” Tang says.
After a stint at the restaurant’s sister brand Milk Bar, she spotted an ad on LinkedIn that she thought might satisfy her need to reach higher.
“How do I continue to work with founders? How do I continue to help these earlier-stage companies grow through their people and the talent?” she asked herself.
She has been instrumental in bringing technology to ZX, to help it and the companies it invests in with diverse and inclusive hiring strategies. ZX uses tracking system Greenhouse to make sure the application process is “blind” to referrals, for example.
Tang explains: “We always say you can’t manage what you can’t measure. And from a technology standpoint, the tool blinds us to individual data so we can never look at anyone’s personal information individually.
But we can see an aggregate across stages… then we can take a look at our process and say, is our process biased? Are we being inclusive?
Her efforts are paying off: in July, ZX Ventures received its level 1 certification from Diversity VC, an organization that assesses venture funds’ efforts in D&I via a tech platform called Diversio.
Level 1 means a firm is “above average,” and ZX is now going for Level 2 certification, which would recognize it as a leader in D&I.
Tang is also introducing a CRM solution that integrates with its applicant tracking system to let potential candidates “meet” parts of the organization before a position might be available. It is helping the business to build a pipeline of talent.
Tech-based hiring at Gail’s
Like many firms during the pandemic, Gail’s switched to video calls as part of the recruitment process.
But instead of a standard interview, managers would try to understand a candidate’s passion for their craft – whether that be baking or becoming a barista – via a tour of their fridge or coffee cupboard using Microsoft Teams.
Gail’s has also shifted its questioning away from typical “why do you want to work here” enquiries to having people talk about themselves.
“What are the things that you’re looking to get out of your life in the next six to 12 months? And how can we play a part in that?” Burgum says.
While the company is “not as innovative as potentially we would like” when it comes to HR technology, Burgum thinks it is taking steps forward and the company is currently challenging the tech it does use.
It recently started trialing text messages rather than emails to ask employees questions, with a query about COVID-19 vaccinations answered by 56% of people in 24 hours using the Textlocal platform.
It is also building a communications platform so staff can access company information in one place.
Communication has been critical to Gail’s during the pandemic, with some of its outlets staying open throughout, as food companies were deemed an essential service.
When the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson announced the country’s shelter-in-place orders on March 23 2020, Burgum and the Gail’s leadership team stayed up until 6am working out the “right thing to do,” she says.
When England’s furlough scheme was launched a few weeks later, Burgum communicated a “clear message.”
She elaborates: “I wanted everyone to understand that you have a choice… if you feel like you want to capitalize on the furlough scheme, we will support you. But equally, we would love you to work.”
Team members rang each employee to ask how they were and provide information. Since the start of the pandemic Gail’s has opened 13 new outlets, bringing the total to 73.
One of Burgum’s current priorities is ensuring new staff feel thoroughly welcomed into the business, after seeing a spike in bakery teams leaving within a few weeks.
She has brought in a fuller induction process, made certain people are introduced to the company by a leadership team member, and also has operations managers personally speak to people leaving.
Burgum is proud of having created the HR function from scratch since she arrived in 2017, when she says the company “was built on nothing but passion.”
“My passion is all about seeing people thrive. And I think if you’ve got the tenacity and the will and the resilience of just driving that, and not compromise … you really can make a difference.”
Siemens prioritizes coaching
Like Burgum, people executive Rachel Wilson loves to see staff do well. Wilson heads up strategic HR projects for smart infrastructure at manufacturing giant Siemens and says her number one contribution is role-modelling the leadership of the future, with a supportive coaching style that helps people to be successful.
“The number two… would be our commitment to focusing strategically on bringing in digital talent,” Wilson says – people like software engineers, cybersecurity consultants and those who can “sell solutions and not boxes.”
Her team has built a portal to help candidates understand the impact they could have on society by joining Siemens, and she is enthusiastic about the firm’s evolving HR tech stack.
“I’m most excited about the growth of AI for HR with technologies such as Textio, teaching us how to use language that appeals to a more diverse audience [when hiring],” she explains.
As Wilson speaks to UNLEASH, she’s just finished a phone call about failure.
She explains: “We were talking about how we will be issuing our ‘How to fail at Siemens’ leaders’ toolkit, which is giving permission for people to fail… we’re complementing that with a podcast from one of our senior leaders in Singapore, talking about how he has failed in the past…and what you need to do to get an empowered culture.”
Toolkits covering different topics are issued to leaders each month and are part of a global ‘culture squad’ Wilson is running.
It’s an initiative that takes up about 40% of her time and is part of a broader push around revamping the organization under new CEO Roland Busch.
“We’re moving out of a hierarchical organization… where the bosses give out the work and you do the work,” she explains.
“This hierarchical structure doesn’t lend itself to an empowered organization that needs to be innovative. Because you need to have an idea, you need to be quick, you need to be trusted. You need to give it a go, you need to fail, you need to learn.”
Part of the empowerment Wilson talks about is a move towards people “owning” their careers and thinking about their next steps, with leaders playing a coaching role rather than telling them what to do.
But how is success measured? “The… ultimate measure has been our [employee] engagement survey, so pretty much everything across the board has jumped hugely,” says Wilson.
“Feeling recognized and trusted and being able to speak up – all of these things point towards an innovative organization.”
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Writer, journalist and consultant
Lucy Handley is freelance multimedia journalist and commissioning editor covering business, consumer trends and technology for an international audience.