Ask the Experts: New Ways to Build Great Teams

By Danielle Rocheleau

From the initial hits to our workforces, to shifting to working remotely, to trying to remain focused on strategy while getting dragged into the details, to managing burnout, mental health, and personal priorities… the pandemic has brought about significant change, growth, and evolution.

How will the events of the past year influence our approach to hiring in the future?

We are in the midst of a recruiting process right now at Laridae and are coming up against the same issues and asking the same questions that many of you are asking as well. If you were able to join us at The Pier in recent weeks, you may have listened in on sessions (live or in replay) with subject matter experts in HR law, recruitment and Indigenous engagement who offered some excellent advice.

This article is going to summarize some of the most interesting and actionable learnings from these sessions, including:

Advice for recruiting a more diverse team

Many of us came out of 2020 with an energized focus on enhancing workplace diversity. We are newly focused on improving our talent roster with voices from different cultures, worldviews, and experiences to better reflect the communities we serve. But if this is not something your organization has prioritized before, you will soon find out that it requires conscious pre-work, significant commitment, and follow-through.

At Laridae, we’re a team of primarily white women, and we are actively seeking to grow our team in a way that increases diversity in worldview, experience, and expertise. Aside from simply being the right thing to do, we believe this will contribute to meaningful dialogue, better team decision-making, and ultimately, to improved client experiences.

Understand Your “Why?”

Executive Recruiter, Suzanne Clark of Four Corners Group told participants at The Pier’s ‘Ask the Expert’ session a few weeks ago that when she hears this from clients, she likes to challenge their intent by asking, “Why do you want to do this?” Her point being that “because society says we should” isn’t a great reason. Instead, organizations need to first consider how a diverse team aligns with their organizational values and purpose. What changes, if any, would make the organization more attractive, safe and supportive to diverse individuals? From there, organizations need to identify (and then undertake) the necessary work of becoming an inclusive employer that supports and celebrates diversity at its core.

“Think about why someone who is not part of the dominant culture would even want to join you – and stay,”  she ventured. “What does your workplace have to offer that person? If there isn’t already a diverse culture, why isn’t there? Have these candidates applied before but not been selected, or have they self-selected out of the process because it didn’t seem like a safe space? What message, intended or not, are you sending with your About Us page?” 

These can be tough questions to answer honestly, and challenging also to rectify.

Improve Your Recruitment Language

One small step toward increasing our desirability as a workplace for a variety of candidates is to improve the language we use in our job ads. It’s important to ensure a wide range of individuals can see themselves in the role. Many organizations who hire continuously into a similar set of positions simply re-run old posts time and again. We were no different.

This time, we reworked our ads to be more explicit about who we are as a company, what we value, and to be more honest about what may not be ideal about our firm for all candidates.

We reflected on our expectations and adjusted how this was communicated to ensure the role was open to a broad set of backgrounds. We outlined our interest in lived experience as a core qualification/competency.

We went so far as to create a video that introduces Laridae and describes what it is like to work here – what types of workers tend to enjoy the environment, the pace, and the work we do – as well as what may be very challenging for others. 

Recruiting Members of Indigenous Communities

Also recently at The Pier, Lindsay Kretchmer gave a talk on Urban Indigenous Awareness, and addressed some key points about hiring Indigenous people for your team. She also stressed the need to understand the motive for this intention. This will help ensure equity and inclusivity once they get there, and will help you consider how to set that person up for success. For example, depending on the role, it might be advantageous to support your new hire by also partnering with an Indigenous agency so they have resources to tap into throughout their term.

Lindsay cautioned about making a token hire. It is an all-too common situation for a company to hire a single Indigenous person and then assume that this person can speak with and for all Indigenous communities – an impossible task.

If you do need someone on your team to liaise with Indigenous communities on your behalf, make sure you ask whether they have these relationships in advance. It can take a long time to develop trust with Indigenous groups (or anyone) and build a willingness to collaborate; being Indigenous doesn’t mean you can “skip over” this part. If this is the reason behind your hire, instead of one person, consider recruiting a group of Indigenous people who can collaborate with each other. Or partner with a local Indigenous agency to do the recruiting for you to ensure you get someone with the right connections.

One last thought on attracting the right candidate for any role in 2021 is to consider how remote work has expanded the available talent pool far beyond your local geography. Where it may have been a challenge to find specific qualifications – bilingualism for example – within commuting distance, distance is no longer a concern for many organizations.


Tips for Conducting a Great Job Interview via Zoom

Another massive change we’re facing with our recruitment process is interviewing by Zoom (or a similar platform). I think by now, we’ve all left a Zoom call with absolutely no concept of whether or not it went well.  Suzanne Clark recently shared some tips during a recent session on The Pier.

“We’ve been finding that when candidates log off of an interview – even if they’ve had a very successful interview – they really don’t have a good feeling about their performance,” said Suzanne. “I think they’re missing that after experience of walking around the room, shaking hands, looking into people’s eyes, seeing that smile and getting that validation that yeah, that was a great interview. The wave and log off just doesn’t cut it!”

As recruiters, Suzanne and her team are trying to “reimagine” many of the processes typical to screening and interviewing.

Pre-pandemic, these were face-to-face, in-person meetings, with a chance for friendly chit-chat to help put people at ease, with a handshake, even. We might pepper in social niceties like offering a coffee, or hanging up their coat – it all has quite a different feel to it than logging into Zoom.

“Do what you can to allow that person to feel welcome and to be able to be their full selves in that interview.”

Nonetheless, Suzanne stresses, “The outcomes need to be the same. I still need to gather information about the candidate.” Her challenge (and ours) today is to consider what doesn’t exist in the virtual environment and reimagine the process. One way her team has reimagined this experience is to reach out to the candidate immediately following and do a debrief by phone.

If your workplace is prone to conducting panel interviews, consider how this experience is going to play out for a candidate staring at a grid of faces on their Zoom screen. “Let’s face it, it’s weird,” said Suzanne. Her advice is to be straightforward about it and acknowledge the weirdness up front. Maybe some of you are working from home with imperfect setups, so you’re not facing the camera, or you might be looking down taking notes. Whatever it is, set an introductory tone by calling out these anomalies to pre-pandemic interviewing while assuring the interviewee that what they have to say is important to you all.

It is also important not to skip over things you would have done in person, such as doing proper introductions. Be friendly. Take the time to share a little about yourself to break the tension and help your candidate do their best.


New Competencies to Prioritize in 2021

2020 gave us all a crash course in adapting to change. We dug deep to find resilience and grace and some days were surely better than others, but it isn’t over yet. There are still many unknowns about the year ahead and how the pandemic will continue to shape our workplaces. What does this mean for hiring?

Kalen Ingram, an employment lawyer with Cunningham Swan, who spoke at The Pier in early February, said “I think employers should be considering a job candidate’s ability to adapt to new and unforeseen circumstances in the recruitment process.”

Indeed, Suzanne shared that, of the 50 top competencies typically sought by her non-profit clients, a specific handful have vaulted to the top of the list for 2021. These are:

  • Adaptability/Flexibility
  • Creativity/Innovation
  • Dealing with Change
  • Leadership
  • Learner Attitude
  • Listening
  • Resilience
  • Sensitivity to Others

I would also add that, in Laridae’s case, candidates also need to be technically inclined: in the world of remote work, we have a higher dependency on web-based tools to enhance efficiency and communication. Our office has (as everything has) increased our use of things like project management software, learning management tools, and communications platforms.

“What we have seen over the course of this pandemic is organizations having to quickly transition and adapt as the pandemic has evolved. Staff that are able to seamlessly transition to new processes, new work locations, and new rules and regulations have been the most successful,” offered Kalen.

Adding screening questions that enable candidates to share examples of resilience and adaptability could help determine appropriate fit for the role.


Remote Onboarding and Workplace Culture

As important as it is to find a candidate that can adapt well to a new role in challenging times, it is just as important is to ensure your organization can support the candidate through the transition, and beyond.

Onboarding someone remotely into your culture is another concern for many leaders because many tried-and-true onboarding practices have gone by the wayside. So, how do we engage new team members? What even is our workplace culture right now?

“Be sure they see and understand what keeps the group together and what keeps you working toward common goals.”

As you consider the challenge of bringing someone into your culture in a remote environment, also consider that your culture probably isn’t your culture anymore. Your culture, as you knew it, is suspended – or perhaps it’s changed forever. In light of this, Suzanne advised that “Trying to introduce someone to a culture that doesn’t exist in current state isn’t going to be successful.” She suggests instead to focus on ensuring your new hire sees alignment between stated values and demonstrated behaviours. “Be sure they see and understand what keeps the group together and what keeps you working toward common goals.”

I admit it is a challenge adding new consultants to our team over Zoom. It means taking more time to think through how we can share information with all the necessary context that would happen in person – in conversation on the way to the meeting room, for example, or on the drive to see the client. Thinking through new opportunities to provide the back-stories of legend and lessons-learned anecdotes is important. It’s difficult to remember that new staff aren’t privy to the environment in which this material is usually shared, or that they may not understand the reason behind practices typical for the rest of the team.

“Research has shown that the quality of an onboarding program has the potential to impact a candidate’s longevity with an organization,” advised Suzanne. “So, it’s worth putting thought into how you can reimagine this process in the new environment.”

“In a traditional onboarding scenario, you arrive at your new job location, maybe sit in on some meetings, get to know people, and possibly spend time with the IT team to set up your technology. Now, on your first day you’re logging into Zoom on the laptop that arrived by Fedex that morning. It’s a different vibe.”


The Importance of Updating your Employment Contracts

Finally, as employers we all need to be aware that a number of swift changes hit the Employment Standards Act in early 2020 as a result of the pandemic. It is important to ensure contracts, human resource policies and manuals, and your team practices reflect these changes. This is also a good time to review them to be sure they are welcoming, inviting and inclusive of everyone that is (or will soon be) employed by your organization. These documents need to support not only the employer but the new employees as well.

From a legal perspective, Kalen Ingram advised that, “Properly drafted employment contracts and employment policies can provide employers with the discretion they need in order to make necessary larger-scale changes in response to the pandemic or any other market forces that might impact an organization, while limiting potential liability associated with such changes.”


Key Takeaways

Throughout this past year, we have met many employees who have started new jobs with our clients during the pandemic who seem to be thriving in their roles. Laridae itself has onboarded three new team members in the past year. It has been a very challenging time, but not everything resulting from the tumult of 2020 is bad.

For example, it’s good that we’re putting in effort to bring more diversity to our organizations. We should be asking tough questions and changing our policies and language. We should have done this earlier.

  • Challenge your intent on hiring for diversity and consider what you have in place to support these hires once they have joined. Add what’s missing.
  • Make sure your job ad hits the right tone, appeals to a broader candidate pool, and emphasizes the value of lived experience. Question your requirements for excessive credentials.

It’s also a good thing that remote working has expanded the talent pool, and increased possibilities for people to work where and as they need to.

  • Reimagine your interviewing and onboarding processes for an online environment.
  • Ask questions that enable candidates to share their lived experience and set a tone that allows them to bring their full selves to the interview.
  • Ensure you’re not forcing candidates to adopt a suspended (possibly outdated) culture. Reinvent ways to add meaningful context to your workplace.
  • Be flexible and seek resilience as a core competency.
  • Update your legal docs to set both the organization and the employee up for success.

Did you find this information helpful? If you did, consider joining The Pier.

All of the experts referenced above were guest speakers in February and March. The recorded sessions are available on-demand within the platform. Knowing that different subjects may appeal to leaders of different teams in your organization, our group rate option might be of greatest benefit. Contact us today: