How to create a hybrid culture that drives competitive advantage

Being authentic and intentional lie at the heart of developing an inspiring environment that will attract and retain talent

by John Stern
Last Updated: 12 Jan 2022

“I don’t think it’s ever been harder to be a manager,” says Dawn Sharifan, VP of People at Slack, a messaging app for business. In a world of hybrid working, of seismic social change and advancing technologies, the responsibilities and expectations of leaders are considerable. But there is immense opportunity too, for the best to use their own capabilities to gain a crucial edge.

“Now more than ever, what creates competitive advantage is the talent that you’re able to attract and retain,” Sharifan adds. “I’ve never seen a talent marketplace as tight as it is today – but a manager or leader can be an attractor of talent.”

Flexibility with a framework

Slack’s Future Forum research revealed that flexibility – in when and where work gets done – ranks second only to compensation in priority for employees. But there is a balance to be struck: empowering employees and giving them choice versus having a robust enough framework to ensure clarity and also that when teams come together physically the interaction is meaningful. Establishing norms, like flex team agreements, about when people come together is a useful starting point but with the freedom of choice to be on site more often if employees so choose.

“What people have really been missing is the celebration and the connection and the community,” says Sharifan. “So why do we get together? Because it's Thursday or are we actually working on something? There has to be an intention or purpose.”

Why do I want to work for your company?

Having a strong mission or purpose can attract and retain talent but they have to be authentic. “I think the BS metre of employees is higher than ever,” says Sharifan. “If you’re trying to sell them something, people will sniff it out quickly. But if you can do it in an authentic way, that is incredibly powerful and important.

“The entire employee experience should have a consistent, authentic theme. I’ve worked in places where we say the culture is one thing but actually it’s another. Slack’s the first place where the gap between those two things is very small. Transparency and access for all are part of our culture.” Using integrations like onboarding assistant GreetBot, you can automate welcome messages and reminders, and share helpful links and documents.

Online luxury fashion retailer Farfetch, uses Slack to uphold one of its core values “todos juntos,” which translates as “all together.” The company has created a global, public Q&A Slack channel where anyone can ask a question about topics from racism to loneliness in lockdown.

The hybrid mentor

Professional development is not all about training courses and certificates. There are the intangibles of learning by osmosis from your seniors and peers. Sharifan believes that nothing needs to be lost in a hybrid world.

“Mentorship will continue to evolve,” she says. “Slack is all about transparency – most of our channels are set to public as default – so you can see how conversations are happening, how a deal came together, the thought process and how a solution was reached. That’s incredibly powerful and is close to sitting in a meeting room or a conference room with somebody.

“A lot of people also build their social lives from work and that can absolutely happen electronically, but I’m hearing more from people that are younger in their careers, how they are making those social connections with colleagues digitally. Having both options available for people is important.”

The future of work

“It’s been a tiring last 18 to 24 months but it’s also an incredibly fascinating time to be thinking about the future of work,” says Sharifan. “We have fast-forwarded maybe 10 years and it can seem terrifying because there’s no playbook. But executives have the opportunity to be more influential.”

Dawn's five essentials for creating a successful hybrid culture

1. Self-awareness is the key to everything. If you can understand your own nuance, your own triggers, then you can be available for other people.

2. Have the courage to be kind. I steal this from the writer Brené Brown but I say it a lot – clarity is kindness. It’s actually kind to tell someone they’re not meeting expectations. That’s a courageous conversation but it’s very important. Kindness will get you a long way as a manager. Being nice and being kind are two different things.

3. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important than ever. Soft skills are no longer soft, they’re actually the fundamentals of how we’re doing business.

4. Having the ability to inspire and lead people, especially at a time where it feels like cynicism is at an all time high.

5. Navigating ambiguity in a time when there’s not a lot of space for nuance.

Learn more about reinventing work and the new imperatives for the future of working with Slack.


Image credit: twinsterphoto via Getty Images 

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