[Event Summary] Under Construction: Rebuilding Engagement Through Leadership & Culture

As organizations continue to evaluate and respond to labor market developments–the Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffle, and more– one truth remains constant: building a culture of engagement is more critical than ever.

In exploring this important topic, we brought together a panel of experts to share sustainable solutions and strategies that make a genuine impact on engagement, including CEO of HeatherP Solutions Heather Polivka, Managing Director of Radiance Resources Carole Burton, and President & CEO of Sansom Consulting Kirstyn Sansom.

Here’s a summary of what we learned.


What are the 3 most mistakes companies make when it comes to culture?  

“When we look at culture, it’s best defined as a system of shared values–beliefs that can lead behavioral norms and in turn guide the way that members of the organization approach their work, interact with each other, and solve problems.” –Kirstyn Sansom

Number one: Not understanding what culture is

Company culture is not found in free lunches and a ping pong table, or even your employee benefits package: It’s found in mission statements and core values. Company culture is a system of shared values and beliefs, and the behavioral norms that guide who you are as a company and how employees interact and solve problems.

Number two: Failing to communicate your culture to employees

We’ve all seen job postings touting “great company culture,” but when you ask a new hire what that culture is, many don’t know the answer. Culture is meant to guide the way employees interact, so it has to be crystal clear to employees during onboarding, visible in the day-to-day, and consistent across remote and on-site teams. Managers must be trained on how to lead in the context of your company culture to ensure that culture is understood and implemented in a way that employees

Number three: Maintaining a static culture 

How many times have you heard the phrase, “that’s just how we do it?” Often, companies that have a defined culture in place haven’t updated it since the 80’s or 90’s, leading to a culture that no longer aligns with the current world of work. Not only does this ignore the needs of today’s employees, but also the mentality of a static culture fosters an environment where critical innovations are consistently met with opposition.

When promoting employees, what’s the most effective way to prepare them to successfully lead and manage others?  

It’s not about ‘earning’ your time to lead or the seniority constructs–that’s an old way of thinking. For me, it’s about what are we creating, on a daily basis, that makes people feel seen, heard and valued.” – Carole Burton

Preparing successful leaders takes internal work to understand who each individual is and the internal work they have done. Promoting employees to leadership roles is not about seniority constructs such as “earning or deserving” leadership roles, but rather about selecting leaders who help people feel seen, heard, and valued on a daily basis. When determining who you want your next leaders to be, ask questions like:

“How is this person communicating?”
“Are they open to divergent thinking?”
“Are they vulnerable enough as an emerging leader to be able to say: I don’t know, I need help?”

Every group has people who lead through their actions and it’s important to read the signals and look for these “follower-leaders.” These are your leaders in the pipeline because the way that managers connect and communicate every day is how they drive your company culture and the future leadership pipeline of your organization.

Keep in mind, that in a world where managers are often overloaded with a multitude of responsibilities, it’s also important to remember that they are human beings leading human beings. Rather than focusing purely on technical skills in our leadership, we need to bring humanity back to the workplace and value the role of the “people leader.” A leader’s primary goal, after all, is to help grow, nurture and develop talent within the organization.

Does being vulnerable help or hinder progression in management?

Speaking of vulnerability, The question to ask yourself as a leader is: are you being vulnerable and sharing yourself to advance relationships, encourage authenticity and solve problems, or are you working out your personal “stuff” on people? While vulnerability is valuable in leadership, it’s important to keep interactions professional.

In leadership development, vulnerability leads to trust, authenticity, and an adaptive mindset. When adaptive leaders step back and allow others to come to the table with them, they willingly ask for help and invite others’ thought processes to shape a more holistic picture. This leads to innovative and creative ways for our organizations to thrive while surviving through change.

How do we increase engagement when resources are lean?    

“When I think about what are the most important things we can do from an engagement perspective […] that means that we have people leaders who know how to develop talents and know people well enough to know what their career aspirations are and be their partner in fulfilling their career goals.” –Heather Polivka

As much as we’d like, the answer is not the latest in happy hour Zoom socials. The real answer is simple, but not always easy.

The only time engagement has increased in the U.S. in the past few decades was during the first 4 months of pandemic. Why? Because during this time, companies showed that they care about their employees when everything was uncertain. Leaders were vulnerable, people were seen, heard and valued, and this led to higher engagement.

Positive Reinforcement Feedback: Leaders need to be partners with their employees in helping them fulfill their career goals. Part of this is positive reinforcement feedback, and commemorating employees when they do something well. In fact, as a rule of thumb, positive reinforcement feedback should be used 4 times more than redirecting feedback, and this process of this should be a constant across the organization and throughout the year.

Clear JDs, Goals, and Measurements: Many employees don’t understand how their performance is measured, or even have a job description – meaning employees are being hired, fired, and managed based on something they do not understand. However, if employees are given realistic, measurable, and achievable goals, are engaged in conversation around their personal aspirations, and feel that their wants and needs are understood by leadership and met by the company culture, then engagement will increase. Leaders need to ask employees what they want rather than assuming what they would like.

And the best part? None of this costs a thing.

How do you gain leadership buy-in when resources are lean?   

“The ‘aha!’ moments don’t happen in the noise, but in the quiet–how are we taking time to listen- authentically and actively listen – to meet people where they are and teach managers how to lead?” –Carole Burton

In both lean and abundant times, the key to this is meeting people where they are. We need to be flexible and listen and communicate regularly to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Many leaders are not taught to be in management positions, so programs that develop leadership skills in employee engagement are also important. Only 30% of managers get people leadership training, yet 70% of differences in engagement are due to managers. These statistics are not unfixable: in a world where the focus is primarily on technical skills, investing the time in developing leadership training programs to ensure managers are strong people leaders. Having skilled leaders leads to greater retention and engagement, cutting costs in recruiting and promoting equity by developing a strong pipeline of leaders within your organization.

Finally, remember to listen when it matters. Instead of exit surveys, do retention surveys when employees hit a rough patch, gaining valuable feedback from them while they are still your employees. Take the opportunity to thank them for their work and share and discuss the findings with leaders in your organization.

In one sentence, how can we get better alignment and buy-in from our employees?  

Kirstyn: Listen to people when they are down and focus on retention surveys, not exit surveys.

Heather: We need to be really clear about who we are, who we aren’t, what we’re promising – and then walk the talk.

Carole: Be aware of what employees are telling us every day, then step onto the balcony space and look over the big picture to become follower-leaders. Employees have the answers, we just need to be aware and listen!

Meet the Panelists

Carole Burton

As the founder and managing director of Radiance Resources, Carole Burton is the go-to resource for tough conversations. Combining the principles of ethics, equity, and accountability, Carole helps leaders and their teams connect, adapt, and simplify day-to-day processes. She helps people feel heard, seen and valued. Walking beside mid-level leaders and their teams, Carole guides people to learn how to trust in the workplace and life.

Carole is the host of LadyBoss Virtual, a community support group that connects and builds relationships, expanding women’s networks. Carole holds a Master’s in Leadership and Certifications in Cultural Competence and Mental Health wellness.

Kirstyn Sansom

Kirstyn Sansom is the CEO of Sansom Consulting. She has a true passion for employees, organizational culture, and leadership effectiveness. With more than 20 years of experience in HR and Global Staffing in Australia and as a VP of a Fortune 500 North American company, she gained insight into the data analytics behind why people leave their roles and what they look for in their next employer.

In global staffing, Kirstyn worked with thousands of companies and saw many trends in leadership and turnover. Kirstyn is accredited with Human Synergistics and her passion and vision is to help companies realize and act on the fact that company culture and leadership are key differentiators for success. Kirstyn enjoys partnering with companies to attract, retain and develop their number one asset – their people.

Heather Polivka

As the Founder & CEO HeatherP Solutions, Heather Polivka is a trusted business advisor accelerating the growth and success of progressive small to mid-sized businesses, and their leaders, through practical leadership, employee performance, and thriving workplace cultures. Heather’s methodology has been masterfully crafted with over a decade’s worth of experience transforming people, processes, and profits of businesses of all sizes.

Heather unites marketing and HR expertise to craft authentic employer brands, cultivate healthy workplace cultures, improve employee engagement, and develop strong people leadership.

About Advent Talent Group

Advent Talent Group is an independent, woman-owned staffing and recruiting agency based in Minneapolis. We specialize in Office Operations, Human Resources, and Marketing/Creative and provide temporary, direct placement, and payrolling services. 

Our small, award-winning team puts people at the center of everything we do. Every year, we give back more than 10% of our profits through our giving program, Advent Cares. We are committed to partnering with organizations that share a dedication to service, collaboration, and equity. Our core values are be you, make a difference, save the day, have fun, and always be growing. 

About Advent Events

Advent Talent Group’s event programming includes a variety of complimentary educational and social events for Twin Cities organizational leaders in HR, Marketing and Creative, and Operations.

On a scale of five, attendees give our events an average rating of 4.8 on topic, speakers, and the quality of the information provided. Advent Talent Group is recognized by SHRM and HRCI as a re-certification provider for PDCs. 

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