How to Put People First and Retain the Best

Sheri Kelleher of Incorta shares her experience in developing core values and building an employee-centered culture.

While love” might be a word we are used to see­ing in per­son­al con­texts, it’s not often that a com­pa­ny will choose to put it front and cen­ter… in their core val­ues, for exam­ple! But that’s pre­cise­ly what Incor­ta has done, and we recent­ly had a chance to wel­come their Senior Vice Pres­i­dent of Peo­ple Suc­cess, Sheri Kelle­her, onto The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture.

Incor­ta pro­vides a uni­fied data and ana­lyt­ics plat­form that elim­i­nates tra­di­tion­al data trans­for­ma­tion, with its mod­el­ing and aggre­ga­tion steps, and instead makes data instant­ly ready for analy­sis from mul­ti­ple com­plex source sys­tems. With deep­er analy­sis, teams can get insights faster and make smarter decisions.

Think. Act. Be. Love.

Incor­ta offers a great exam­ple of core val­ues not hav­ing to be com­pli­cat­ed. But that’s a new devel­op­ment. When Sheri first arrived the core val­ues were nice, but they were spelled out in three para­graphs. It was more of a sto­ry than val­ues that could be imprint­ed upon each team mem­ber across every­day activ­i­ties and work situations.

So Sheri got back­ing from lead­er­ship to redo the val­ues and tapped an inter­nal team of thought lead­ers and cul­tur­al ambas­sadors for help. She asked them to reduce these three para­graphs to just a few words. That process led to:

  • Think — con­sid­er inno­va­tion and impact on clients
  • Act — inten­tion­al­ly, respect­ful­ly, passionately
  • Be — leaders

But Sheri still felt like some­thing wasn’t quite right, and that’s when she cam­paigned to add love” as a fourth val­ue, lend­ing its first and last let­ters to make the val­ues spell out T‑A-B-L‑E, which relates back to bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er and offer­ing advice and hos­pi­tal­i­ty around a table. I love it,” the CEO said.

But it’s not enough to boil val­ues down to a few key words. All your team has to share that clar­i­ty… and know the mean­ing behind those words. So Sheri helped orga­nize an inter­nal mar­ket­ing cam­paign to com­mu­ni­cate these val­ues. As these val­ues became clear­er to team mem­bers, Sheri watched the work envi­ron­ment trans­form, as she saw peo­ple feel­ing freer to be their authen­tic selves at work rather than hav­ing to put on a pro­fes­sion­al face from 9 – 5.

Putting People First

As we’ve often seen when chat­ting with lead­ers at dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions, the pan­dem­ic has changed so much about work dynam­ics, and Incor­ta has felt those changes as well.

One of the best ways to know what your team mem­bers are think­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly about recent changes, is to ask them direct­ly, and when Sheri first arrived she did a sur­vey that received strong engage­ment, 75%. The feed­back they got was hum­bling, but that meant that they now had to do some­thing about that feed­back. When the next sur­vey went out, engage­ment was even high­er and it was clear that team mem­bers appre­ci­at­ed that effort had been put in on areas they had pre­vi­ous­ly iden­ti­fied as need­ing work.

But not every sug­ges­tion can be tak­en up, and that’s where trans­paren­cy and con­text come in. Peo­ple may accept that cer­tain deci­sions will go dif­fer­ent­ly from how they would have want­ed, but if they know the method­ol­o­gy and rea­son­ing behind those deci­sions, they feel heard and trust­ed, and that’s key to main­tain­ing a healthy work envi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing times that peo­ple feel are increas­ing­ly less eco­nom­i­cal­ly certain.

Keeping Your Best People

When times are eco­nom­i­cal­ly uncer­tain, it’s impor­tant to hold on to your best peo­ple. Your pipeline will shrink, which means bring­ing some­one in the door is going to take longer. Sheri stays ahead of that curve by iden­ti­fy­ing who her top tal­ent is and proac­tive­ly ask­ing them what they need, to be per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly successful.

She shared an exam­ple from a pre­vi­ous com­pa­ny in which one of the top per­form­ers want­ed to be able to pick up her child at 3 pm every day, which would mean that she would come in ear­ly to make up her time. There wasn’t real­ly a flex-time pol­i­cy at that com­pa­ny then, but they made an excep­tion for her because she was a top performer.

For oth­er employ­ees, it may be a desire to speak pub­licly more often, devel­op in man­age­ment, or cross-train in dif­fer­ent depart­ments. By going to employ­ees first and ask­ing them what they would like, an orga­ni­za­tion can show by its actions, not just its words, that it val­ues its best peo­ple and wants to do what­ev­er it can to retain them.

Meeting in Person

When Sheri first came on board, peo­ple were still very much work­ing from home due to Covid, but in recent months Incor­ta has tried to bridge the gap between total remote work (and the Zoom fatigue that can come with it) and 100% back in the office, which isn’t pos­si­ble any­more for peo­ple who’ve made adjust­ments to their lives in the last two years.

That’s led to more inten­tion­al­i­ty around dig­i­tal tools and in-per­son meet­ings. There are work­flows that dig­i­tal tools can help with but some­times peo­ple need to put their heads togeth­er in an in-per­son meet­ing to fig­ure issues and projects out. But rather than impos­ing those inter­vals from above, Sheri has encour­aged teams to fig­ure out what bal­ance works for them, know­ing too that some­times not every­one will be able to make it to those in-per­son meet­ings, no mat­ter how far in advance they are scheduled.

Final Thoughts

When Sheri reflects on love as a com­pa­ny val­ue, she insists that it’s not just there to give a warm fuzzy feel­ing. We love our com­mu­ni­ty and our cus­tomers and what we do,” she says, so nat­u­ral­ly, gen­uine car­ing and love spread through­out the com­pa­ny and dai­ly work life. By mak­ing sure her team mem­bers see that love in actions, not just on a wall some­where, she’s ensur­ing that they think and act with that love, which leads to bet­ter out­comes for everyone.

Check Out the Full Episode

Learn more about Sheri, Incor­ta, and the impor­tance of putting peo­ple first. Lis­ten to our full inter­view by tun­ing into the pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

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