How We Work at Whereby: Empowering Leaders to Strengthen Remote Team Processes, Performance, and Culture
Ashley Williams from Whereby's People team, shares how they built Empowering Leaders, a course that helps the entire team better understand the ‘Whereby Way’ of leading, managing, and building a team.
13th Sep 2021
As the Whereby team and product continue to grow and evolve, finding new ways to automate processes, align employees, and understand what makes Whereby Whereby is key. That’s the key mission of Whereby’s People team (of which I’m a part) and allows everyone here to create beautiful, tech-enabled products that save our customers time and money, and connect business and users around the globe.
To serve this mission, our People created an asynchronous course called Empowering Leaders that helps the entire team better understand the ‘Whereby Way’ of leading, managing, and building a team.
Here’s how we did it...
Building great teams remotely
The foundation of every high performing team is great talent. So to help us hire the best talent out there, we developed a five-part, five-hour Hiring Training program for our hiring managers.
Whereby’s Hiring Training modules walk through best practices for defining job descriptions, creating practical projects, and how to effectively evaluate candidates. The program ensures our hiring teams uncover candidate ability, personality, skills, and motivation in the interview process without bias.
Understanding how leaders operate in a distributed workplace
Next, we surveyed our team to determine if current managers fit criteria based on a set of values, the Whereby ETHOS. The survey helped us get a baseline for how the team feels about leadership – whether they’re embodying the values we strive for and how the experience is for people working under them. The data was captured through a Manager Effectiveness survey inspired by Lattice and by our ongoing Platypus surveys, which are sent out as one question emails every two weeks to the entire team. We’ll follow up with similar questions later in the year to see how responses change over time and see what we can attribute to the launch of our Empowering Leaders program.
At the end of the quarter, we’ll match this data with our next Rands Test. We run The Rands Test twice a year to understand how communication is evolving, changing, and breaking within the organisation. Combining these two data sets, we are able to better understand the impact of the Empowering Leaders initiative and understand where it can continue to be improved.
Just like a customer-facing product, we believe in iterating with our internal products and tools to ensure they’re meeting the needs of and changing with the team. To do that well, we look for measurable data that helps us set OKRs and qualitative benchmarks over time.
Sharing best practices for remote team leadership
With a better understanding of how managers operate, we set out to redesign our Becoming a People Leader Program. This program was the first task our VP of People, now COO, Jessica Hayes, took on when she joined Whereby. It offers a framework for how employees can progress to a manager position at Whereby. Just this year, the team also established a new set of company values, a progression framework for all employees, and a performance rubric. As a result, it was time to revisit that first framework to calibrate the program with all the new developments and look for redundancies in other new management tools. We recognised opportunities to develop modules on delegation, effective feedback, and embedding happiness within a remote team. The program was also revamped to be a 10 week, asynchronous, experience that is self-led to accommodate managers logging on from disparate locations like Santiago, Bali, and London – and everywhere in between.
A performance assessment for work from home employees
Our team also recognised the challenges in starting conversations about and assessing individual and team performance – especially remotely. One of the most important aspects of leadership is being able to lead and manage a team by matching the skills of direct reports to performance. While it’s critical, it’s also challenging, especially when accounting for differences in roles and departments. To simplify the process for managers and their direct reports, we developed a rubric every team can use to create a snapshot of individual performance at a moment in time.
Our performance assessment offers a quick tool to measure performance and define expectations, and provides a clear snapshot for each team member to review, discuss, and reflect on with their manager.
As an organisation, we want to develop a culture rooted in effective feedback – and we hope this performance snapshot rubric continues to move us in that direction. The ‘snapshot’ approach – rather than a retrospective annual assessment – mirrors our agile work pace and offers flexibility for teams working on different deliverables and project horizons. It was important that we created a global rubric for all of our teams so everyone could be measured in the same way.
Practical tools for hybrid work managers
To bring these pieces together, we mapped the Empowering Leaders project to key situations, responsibilities, and leadership skills Whereby managers are required to learn and personify in our teams. By digging into the more general question, ‘What does it mean to lead at Whereby?’, we identified some key traits to build documentation around and support our managers in practice every day.
These are a few of the key questions we identified and aimed to answer in our Empowering Leaders documentation:
- What does it mean to have psychologically safe spaces at work?
- How do we actively combat power dynamics within our teams?
- How do we explicitly build examples of how to run proactive and effective conversations?
- How do we deliver meaningful feedback?
- How do we prioritise work to be our most productive selves?
- How do I help my team achieve a state of flow?
Using a values-driven approach, we realised that the answers to these questions should drive behaviour. The resources we built needed to offer actual guidance on how to implement and embody these qualities and practices in managers’ work and encourage our managers to self-reflect with a series of questions for each topic. As a result, we now have a full suite of resources for managers.
So, whether they’re just stepping into a role leading a team, or need a refresher when adding a new member to their team, it’s a rich set of resources that offers a concrete understanding of the Whereby way of leading. The resources offer enough detail and actionable tools to be practical, and enough flexibility to ensure managers’ own style of leading can come through.