…Providing regular front-line manager interaction: Once you’ve hired the right skills and outlined the big picture, then it is down to the front-line manager to hold regular 1:1s and check-ins with team members. If you keep an open dialogue going and build up good trust, there is less chance that things go far off track and can’t be brought back. Human beings value having strong relationships with others, and I believe the adage that people don’t quit a job, they quit a manager. Don’t be that manager! Once you’ve built up the relationships it makes is easier to tackle the critical piece: giving feedback. It can be a hard thing to do, but without it, nobody can grow or develop. There are some great resources online as well as management training programs on how to give feedback more effectively, so the brain doesn’t shut down when hearing it. Whichever way you adopt, you can practice just by doing it regularly, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your team on how it went.
I had the pleasure to interview Jo Deal. Jo serves as LogMeIn’s Chief Human Resources Officer. She is responsible for leading global people strategy with a focus on attracting, developing and engaging world class talent by expanding LogMeIn’s reputation as one of tech’s most desirable career destinations, and by providing a collaborative learning environment where employees can grow their careers. Prior to LogMeIn, Jo held HR executive roles within the mobility application division of Citrix and at Informatica Corporation. She lives in the Greater Boston Area with her husband and two children. She holds a BA in Industrial economics from the University of Nottingham, England and a post graduate certification in HR through the Institute of Personnel & Development.
Thank you so much for joining us Jo! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It is rare that anyone grows up knowing that HR is what they want to do. I think many of us didn’t really know what it was before we got into it, especially 20 years ago. It has changed enormously as a profession and, with the increase in service and technology industries, people can be the main physical assets that organizations have. HR is evolving to match that, with the need for strategic, data driven and business focused HR leadership becoming imperative to its success.
I had a business (economics) degree and liked numbers but also liked working with people. I went traveling after I graduated college and didn’t know what I wanted to do when I came back, so I enrolled in a post grad HR program and was doing temporary work to pay the bills. I asked the temp agency to find me work in an HR department if possible. One Friday they called with a one-day work assignment in an HR department. I nearly didn’t take it as it was a Friday and only a day’s work, but I figured one day was better than nothing. They asked me to come back the following week, hired me permanently soon after and I stayed with that company for three years. They were a global conglomerate with many different business divisions across the UK and the US. I had a great boss who involved me in everything so that I could learn every aspect of the role, (and most importantly whether I was passionate for it or not). I got lucky finding a career that I love doing that suits my strengths.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading HR at your company?
There are always interesting stories in HR — most of which we can’t share, otherwise we’d have to make you disappear. 😊
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are adopting AI into some of our HR programs right now. It is pretty exciting to be working on some cutting-edge technology especially since we are using our own LogMeIn product, Bold360ai. The product is a service chatbot that has let us scale our HR operations/AskHR support team by adding a new 24/7 team member. It has been a great learning process in thinking through how our mostly millennial employees look for support, preferring to engage digitally in real time and have answers served up to them. That helped us understand how we could set our chatbot, Benny, up for success. Given that our inaugural launch was to support all our U.S. policies through open enrollment, we named her Benny. Benefits involves a complex set of choices and those choices are very unique to each employee, their family situation, needs and preferences so having extra, anytime support to guide people through the choices made a big difference.
The operations part of HR is often viewed as a back office, transactional function, not necessarily where you’d think innovation might happen, so it was great for that team to be taking a lead in doing something new and engaging with our own products. It has allowed us to scale our support offerings in parallel with LogMeIn’s rapid growth so we can onboard and service hundreds of new employees (through acquisitions) and our 3,500 (and expanding) global employee base. That has helped my team focus on more strategic higher value work and from the perspective of our employees since now they can get instant answers to the questions they have, at whatever time of day or night they are thinking about those questions. It is a way to remove a small point of friction out of their lives so they can also focus on more important things, whether that be work or more time with family and friends.
We are expanding Benny into new talent programs globally so we’ve been thinking through how people from different countries ask questions, what language or phrases they use so we can equip Benny respond appropriately. AI is creeping into so many areas of work and it is exciting to be adopting it into HR and seeing where we can take it next.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to a study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
There isn’t one silver bullet answer as there is a lot that goes into engaging your employees. Employees in certain industries have a lot of choice; the demand for skilled workers, especially in tech, outweighs the supply. I think companies have gone all-in to offer more and more perks and “cool stuff” in order to keep up with the other tech companies in their area. However, while perks are nice, they won’t translate into happy or productive employees if the key things are missing. As the Forbes study says, there are many managers who have never been trained in how to manage. If you consider that most of us want to come to work and a) know clearly what is expected of us in our job; b) understand how our part fits into the big picture of the company’s business goals; and c) receive recognition and feedback for our work, then it is easy to see how untrained or inexperienced managers can cause companies to fall short in these basic building blocks of engagement.
We hear about promotions being given out to retain a key person, but often there is little consideration given to whether they have the skills it takes to lead a team of people, especially a team of former peers. I have always thought that managing people carries a huge obligation with it and I am not sure all companies explain that responsibility well, nor equip their managers with the skills and training to help them transition from a highly productive individual contributor to a role where you get work done through motivating and leading others. Plus, the more senior a leader gets, the more everyone assumes they know how to manage and lead and the harder it is for them to seek guidance or find training. So, with that increasing expectation of “promote me or I will leave and get the title elsewhere” we are just exacerbating the problem further.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
There is an abundance of research that ties engagement to company results. It is well documented and at the most fundamental level, I think it is obvious that we do our best work when we feel good about what we are doing, know why we are doing it and what purpose it is serving. Being told we are doing good work or being given input on how to course correct and do it even better, is such a simple thing, but ironically, there is also an abundance of research around how hard it is to give feedback in an effective way. So many of us don’t do it as often as we should. I am a big fan of the work done by David Rock and the Neuro Leadership Institute on how the brain works and how we react to hearing feedback.
Working in an organization where the strategy or goals are unclear, where you aren’t totally sure of what you ought to be focusing on or where your manager never guides you on what is going well is naturally going to lead to lower quality results. This impacts company results and probably profitability too. And we know when we aren’t putting our best foot forward, that frustration of not being able to do your best work is bound to impact your well-being for anyone who cares about their brand, their output and their team’s success.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Getting the basics down: Building an amazing culture isn’t about having flashy or cool things that nobody else has. Those are nice but without the basics in place, they won’t be enough to keep people happy. A culture will be what it will be, it is an organic evolving thing. Whatever it is, be authentic and honest about it. There is no harm in acknowledging that there is room to improve and outlining what you aspire it to be, but the biggest damage you can do is to say it is one thing, then have leaders’ actions belie those words. That inevitably is going to lead to unhappiness, frustration and a reduction in engagement and productivity.
- Setting expectations: It starts when we hire someone: have we explained the role and our expectations properly? I have seen companies examine their turnover data and think things are fine but when you dig in, you can see there is an abnormally high number of people leaving within their first year. It can be lost in the overall average unless you dig into the data. Looking at first year attrition can give you great insight into how you are hiring and onboarding new employees and whether it is working or not. The cost to the business of getting that wrong is huge and it often comes down to the job not being what the person thought it was going to be or them not understanding what success looks like. As the hiring manager: be clear, be specific and invest the time up front with a new hire — it will reap great rewards in the long run.
- Ensuring executive visibility: How visible are the executives? It is hard when employees are spread all over the world, but you need to be known to them and share information on the bigger picture, the function and company goals so that everyone works towards the overall vision of success. Traveling is great so you can meet face-to-face, but it isn’t always practical, nor is it needed. With the advance in video technology tools, you can easily connect face to face with teams from all the world and share slides, content and ideas. We all want context, the “why” and we can do much better work if we have it.
- Providing regular front-line manager interaction: Once you’ve hired the right skills and outlined the big picture, then it is down to the front-line manager to hold regular 1:1s and check-ins with team members. If you keep an open dialogue going and build up good trust, there is less chance that things go far off track and can’t be brought back. Human beings value having strong relationships with others, and I believe the adage that people don’t quit a job, they quit a manager. Don’t be that manager! Once you’ve built up the relationships it makes is easier to tackle the critical piece: giving feedback. It can be a hard thing to do, but without it, nobody can grow or develop. There are some great resources online as well as management training programs on how to give feedback more effectively, so the brain doesn’t shut down when hearing it. Whichever way you adopt, you can practice just by doing it regularly, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your team on how it went.
- Giving recognition: Who doesn’t like to be told thank you or acknowledged for a job well done? This isn’t about large-scale recognition budgets or platforms — sometimes a simple thank you can go much further, especially if it is personal and sincere. Some companies spend vast amounts of money on platforms and technology to enable us to do it more effectively; those can be great but making a quick note to yourself in the moment, so you don’t forget is an easy way to remember. Grab a stack of thank you cards and carry a few in your notebook, it is nice to receive a handwritten note from someone letting you know you are appreciated.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
At a more macro level, we are definitely living in a time where society and social media are creating unrealistic expectations that we all put on ourselves, especially when we see others’ lives lived so happily through the filter of online posts. We have created an impossible amount of pressure to be happy, to succeed and to show off that success. With people living and working longer, you also have multiple generations in the workforce, each with a different perception of hard work and of who is entitled to what and when — that makes it harder to build out a culture that works for everyone.
I suspect we all need to re-think and maybe reset our expectations. The question will be different for everyone: are you in the right job, do you love what you do, do you understand what you need to get done, do you need help, more resources or skills? It could start with something as simple as a conversation with a manager, a mentor or a team member. It is tempting to keep your head down and keep plugging away or just jump to a new job but stopping to breathe for a moment and reflecting on what is important to you is a better first step. Change is hard but if you can start with understanding and acknowledging what needs to change and why, you’ve taken the first step. Next step is being conscious of looking inwards as well as upwards to your manager or employer to fix things.
Driving change at a societal level requires a lot of individuals taking small steps to readjust and realign. At the same time, organizations could take a moment to re-think how we work together and how to design work, processes and internal plans to ensure flexibility, collaboration and productivity by truly engaging their employees with more than competitive pay and lots of free stuff.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I am pretty straightforward and simple in regard to my leadership style. I try and provide the big picture but also connect the dots for people so they can see how their piece is a critical part of the bigger picture. I have a busy life as a working mom and know that other people do too, so I appreciate it when my team puts in extra hours and try to bring flexibility to their work lives whenever I can. Like everyone else, I have good days and sometimes not so good days trying to juggle everything. I tend to share those moments with my team, and I hope they see me as another flawed human working alongside them. I believe authenticity is key to building relationships and a strong culture — plus it is exhausting trying to be something you are not, and I have too many other things on my plate to take that on too!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Not to sound like an Oscar speech, but the first people I’d thank are my parents for giving me a great start. I inherited the best of both of them. I think HR is a balance of art and science, personality and data and they blessed me with a nice balance of both. I’ve had a lot of help and encouragement along the way, and I think you can learn from everyone around you, whether you are seeing what not to do or gaining inspiration from a great leader. I worked with a manager early on in my career when I was at BT, who encouraged me to aim higher when I wasn’t sure I was ready. He was a mentor and a friend and occasionally a pushy “won’t take no for an answer” colleague who gave me confidence to try the next step, and then the one after that. It gives you confidence to know someone believes in you and that is something I have tried to pay forward since.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Recently, I was explaining to my 8-year-old what karma is — my kids are at a great age where we have all sorts of interesting conversations about the world, from religion to politics to being a good loser in sports. No matter who you are or what role you have, I think you have a responsibility to be a good role model and do good for others. When each of my children were born, I started a sponsorship for each of them through the Save the Children organization and we’ve enjoyed getting a perspective into another child’s life who is growing up in quite different circumstances.
Not all of us can help out financially but everyone can take the time to help someone out, to lend a hand and to give someone a boost when they need it. We have an amazing CSR program at LogMeIn, Mission Possible, and I love seeing how many of our employees around the world jump in with their time and their passion, helping at foodbanks, building houses or teaching coding skills in the local community.
It has helped me be a better leader and parent to have perspective, to understand what it might be like to walk in another person’s shoes and it is always humbling to see how others who may be less fortunate in terms of material things can bring such a positive attitude towards life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from the John Lennon song, Beautiful Boy: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Things never go quite how you’d expect even when you’ve planned them meticulously, so you may as well not stress about it. I used to get really wound up when things didn’t go according to plan, and I was sitting on a train stuck outside Waterloo station one day, getting irritated that we weren’t moving, when my brother asked me why I was stressing out. It was a bit of a slap in the face, (as only a sibling can give you), and I realized I’d be better off focusing on adapting instead of wasting my time getting frustrated with things I couldn’t control.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s a tough question. I am not sure how much influence I have. My daughter told me she wanted to be home schooled the other day and I told her I wouldn’t be anywhere near as capable as her second-grade teacher. I asked her and my son what they had learned from me and all they could offer was “brushing our teeth” and “breathing.” So, one out of two!
I do spend a lot of time thinking about the hugely talented parents and caregivers I know who can’t, or prefer not to, work a 40- or 60-hour week. When I talk to them, they have such smart brains, great skills and a commitment that I know would be invaluable to so many companies, yet our jobs aren’t designed to fit them in. There is a big untapped pool of potential talent out there and I think companies are missing out on it. I keep thinking about how to tap into it in a way that works for both sides. With the shift to the gig economy and a different way of thinking about work, I am hopeful the more forward-thinking companies will create more flexible opportunities and find a way to access this pool of smart, experienced talent. If I can play a role in helping disrupt the traditional working model and help some of the amazing caregivers I know get back to contributing to the workplace, on their terms, that would be something I’d be really proud of.